While trying to cultivate appreciation of early church authors, you will encounter some who push back and protest as though they are being asked to choose between exegesis and Ignatius.

The argument might go something like this:

Either one exegetes scripture or one listens to the witness of early Christians.
I do exegesis.
Therefore, I cannot listen to the witness of early Christians.

That is:

Either A or B.
Therefore, not B.

This argument is an example of a classic logical fallacy: ponendo tollens, denial by affirmation. You see, "both" is always an option, unless the either/or combo is contradictory, which it clearly isn't in this case.

Affirming the value of exegesis does not mean one cannot listen and benefit from the witness of early Christians, and choosing to read and study early Christian writings doesn't mean one does not value exegesis.

Why would someone want to dismiss reading and learning from Clement, Origen, or Ignatius? What can we do to help? I want to offer a few thoughts and words of encouragement.

First, if students or colleagues hear us saying, “Choose between exegesis and Ignatius,” then we are likely, at least partially, responsible. We should find ways to better explain and model the relationship between exegesis and early/ancient Christian studies.

Secondly, we all want the world to be a bit more neat and clean, but it's a mess. The witness of the church is no exception; it's filled with discordant voices from whom we have plenty to learn. But it is difficult to listen and learn from those with whom we disagree. How can we create an atmosphere in our classrooms or in our discussion groups that encourages listening well and responding graciously to those with whom we disagree? We have to teach and most importantly model how to dialogue respectfully.

Third, when highlighting the value of the Puritans, some will readily quote C. S. Lewis on chronological snobbery. The same open ear is not always extended, however, to early Christians. It would be a helpful starting point to press students to articulate why exactly we should listen to modern theologians and scholars, but not early Christians, some of whom wrote less than a century after Christ.

Finally, we all have too many books on our "to-read" list. Students coming out of their first year of Greek perhaps are not able to imagine reading all the way through their Greek New Testaments, much less the Apostolic Fathers in the original languages. What can we do to make approaching early Christian literature more inviting and accessible?

It can be frustrating to have students or colleagues essentially say, “We don’t need the early church because we have BDAG,” but bear with them and take the opportunity to model what it means to dialogue graciously and with respect.

About the Author:
Brian W. Davidson

Brian W. Davidson teaches Greek, Latin, Logic, & Rhetoric at Highlands Latin School in Louisville, KY. He is also an Old Testament PhD student at SBTS.

Brian W. Davidson