Gavin Ortlund on Pre-Reformation Theology

Gavin Ortlund pens an excellent article at thegospelcoalition.org on the resurgence of interest among Protestants and Evangelicals in pre-Reformation theology. The context behind this article is a “marked movement” of Evangelicals and Protestants to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. This movement is not limited to the layperson in the pew, but includes such figures as Francis Beckwith (former ETS president). Such conversions have also garnered attention from secular media such as The Washington Post and their story on two former Southern Baptist twins – one who converted to Catholicism and the other to Anglicanism (see a summary here and the link to the article).

Ortlund notes one reason for this movement, particularly among younger generations:

I think one significant factor is the sense of rootlessness and restlessness many younger postmoderns feel today. At the heart of my generation is a profound emptiness—a sense of isolation and disconnectedness and consequent malaise. We’re aching for the ancient and the august, for transcendence and tradition, for that which has stability and solidity and substance. And it’s driving many of us out of evangelicalism.

The thrust of Ortlund’s article is that Protestant Christians can find much value in the study of ancient Christianity. One can be Protestant and still read medieval theologians and the church fathers.  Even John Calvin appealed to Augustine in his works. While one must be careful not to lose the distinctions between Protestantism and Catholicism,

it’s also possible to so bask in our particular denominational enclave that we lose touch with the entire Christian tradition. We contemporary Protestants need a balanced historical identity. We need to engage with both the last 500 years and also the previous 1,500, recognizing areas of discontinuity as well as encouraging points of overlap. As an African Christian in the patristic era remarked, “I am a Christian, and nothing which concerns Christianity do I consider foreign to myself.”

Ortlund’s article is a timely encouragement to those in Protestant and Evangelical circles rediscovering pre-Reformation theology. It mirrors a growing interest in ancient Christianity at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as a result Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin‘s influence. One way in which Southern Baptists have joined in the growing interest in early Christianity is the formation of the Center for Ancient Christian Studies by Shawn Wilhite and Coleman Ford. According to its website,

The Center exists to provide an evangelical voice to the academic fields engaging ancient Christian literature. We aim to provide material, coalesce sources, and encourage the scholarly enterprise of ancient Christian studies (2nd Temple Literature, New Testament, and Patristic).

May the Lord bless this movement of rediscovering early Christian theology, and may it strengthen our roots to historical Christianity in the ever-shifting sands of our culture.

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