Review - We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Ancient Christian Doctrine)

We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ is the second volume in the Intervarsity Press series Ancient Christian Doctrine. The series of five volumes is a commentary on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. The commentary in each volume is drawn from writings from the patristic period of church history: AD 95-750. In series volume 1, general editor Thomas Oden identifies nine purposes for the series. Most relevant of those for SI readers would be “demonstrating the authority of the Nicene Creed; furthering the new ecumenical movement; encouraging and expanding the readership of the fathers among ’ordinary believers’” (vii).

Editor

In keeping with the purpose of furthering the new ecumenism, consulting editors for the series and editors of individual volumes represent Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant branches of the church. We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ is edited by John Anthony McGuckin. McGuckin is a priest in the Orthodox Church and teaches at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary. He has written extensively on the Orthodox Church and patristic theology. In his introduction he echoes the aims of exposing readers to the fathers, expanding firsthand knowledge of the fathers, and furthering ecumenism (xix, xvii).

Scope & Format

We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ provides commentary on the section of the Creed beginning, “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ…” and ending with “and was made man.” Each phrase is given a chapter. Each chapter is introduced with a “Historical Context” discussion in which McGuckin offers background to the issues and disputes that contributed to that portion of the creed. Following that, there is a brief summary of the patristic quotations, and the patristic comments follow. (The series is in basically the same layout as IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.)

Strengths & Weaknesses

When the major contributors of any work are Augustine, Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers, the content is going to be strong. This work is no exception. There are places where some comments would seem to “fit” better under other sections of the Creed. But when the feast is as rich as this, one does not complain about the placement of the silverware. When they were not fighting for their own lives, the fathers were fighting for the life of the church. They gave us the terminology of an orthodox understanding of God and Christ. To ignore them is to take one of the “multitudes of easy solutions” in studying Christology and is a “refusal to take God seriously” (180).

Statements like this can put off someone raised with the mantra “the Bible alone is the sole authority,” but they need not be offended. What I so appreciate about the fathers, and what McGuckin does well to identify, is their absolute reliance on Scripture (p. 179). The writings of the fathers continue to survive and thrive because they are so saturated with Scripture. With hearts aflame with love for Christ and minds illumined by Scripture, the fathers show not only how to think and speak but also how to love Christ rightly. One need only read the chapter “For Us” to see this. We Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ moves the reader to love and worship the Lord Jesus Christ.

As an editor, McGuckin does an admirable job introducing each chapter and has helpful footnotes offering definitions and explanations where needed. The teaching of the Orthodox branch of the church is perhaps, more than anything, a liturgical theology, and McGuckin has written extensively on this. So I was not surprised to find quotes from Ephrem the Syrian, but I was surprised at the number of quotations. Though Ephrem wrote for liturgical purposes, it was the more rigorous theological statements of others that provoked my heart to worship.

Beyond this personal preference, there are some problems. Least problematic are errors in citations on pages 57 and 98. More problematic are two areas in which McGuckin allows his Orthodox faith to override the intent of the creed. Under “And for Our Salvation” McGuckin has a series of quotes on “The Economy of Salvation: The Deification of God’s Elect.” Deification is central to the Orthodox concept of salvation. McGuckin drops it like a bomb with no introduction or explanation (though he is often very helpful in his introductions and footnotes). In a work meant to demonstrate and expand the unity of the faith, this is unhelpful. Someone approaching the reading with no understanding of the concept will likely leave with no understanding of it. The Creed did not intend to speak to deification and McGuckin could have refrained from introducing this disputed issue.

Even more troubling is the chapter “From the Virgin Mary.” The point of the statement in the Creed is to emphasize Christ’s true humanity, and McGuckin does include a few quotes demonstrating this. The majority of the section, however, focuses on Mary and the veneration Orthodoxy teaches she deserves. This chapter is more of an exposition of what the Orthodox church believes about Mary than what the patristic church believed about Jesus’ birth from Mary. It is the weakest portion of the book.

Evaluation

Does the book succeed in its aims? In exposing the richness of the patristic teaching on the doctrine of Christ it unquestionably succeeds. But in expanding the reading of the fathers among “ordinary believers” I have serious reservations. How many laymen will spend $30-50 on this volume and $150-200 on the series? Indeed, how many pastors will do so? There are portions of this book and the others in the series available on Google Books; and IVP intends to release the series digitally; but I do not know how helpful those steps are either.

Does it succeed in furthering ecumenism? First of all, fundamentalists (whether ex-, neo- paleo-, young-, etc.) should not immediately dismiss this book or series because of this aim. McGuckin’s introduction contains much that would make the staunchest fundamentalist shout “Amen!” This volume—and the series—do actually show the way forward for successful ecumenism: faith in and obedience to a robust orthodoxy. As the saying goes, “Every heretic has his text.” It would be ideal if we could simply proclaim we believe the Bible and leave it at that. But in the most important doctrinal areas the church would struggle over, that battle was over what the Bible meant, not what it said. Unity can only occur when there is agreement about what the Bible teaches. The ecumenical creeds stake out the boundaries of orthodoxy.

Yet, paradoxically, the Creed itself demonstrates that the Ancient Christian Doctrine series cannot succeed in uniting the church. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, primarily the Filioque clause, actually serves to divide Rome from the East. So as valuable as creeds are, they are not ultimately efficacious. Whatever outward movements toward reconciliation occur, true union will only be achieved by the Holy Spirit uniting the hearts of believers to profess and live the truth of the glorious gospel of God’s salvation in Christ. This was the prayer of our One Lord Jesus Christ, and it should be our as well.

So fear not—this volume will not turn you into an ecumenical compromiser, but it will drive you closer to Jesus. This is a valuable resource for anyone needing an introduction to patristic thought or desiring a deeper understanding of the person of Jesus Christ.


Brad Kelly is a husband and father of three. After graduating from Northland Baptist Bible College he and his wife Abigail served for two years in China as English teachers. They returned to the States to pursue seminary education at Bob Jones University. Currently he is pastor at Banquo Christian Church in Banquo, Indiana.

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Joel Shaffer's picture

Quote:
Why Does IVP Want To Further Ecumenism?

For what purpose and to what end is that aim?

Because there is a market for it. Baker is doing the same as well. If there is money to be made, you will see these book publishers pursue it...

JobK's picture

Joel Shaffer wrote:
Quote:
Why Does IVP Want To Further Ecumenism?

For what purpose and to what end is that aim?

Because there is a market for it. Baker is doing the same as well. If there is money to be made, you will see these book publishers pursue it...

If the issue is a secular publishing company - or Christian publishing arm of a larger secular conglomerate - I can understand. But but a distinctly Christian publishing outfit should not be concerned with maximizing profits, especially since IVP, Baker etc. aren't exactly teetering towards bankruptcy. My issue is this: where will one who desires a distinctly (solely) Protestant viewpoint go to for resources? I would rather our pastors not use "ecumenical" sources like this when crafting their sermons, and I particularly don't want our seminary and Bible college students ingesting doctrines of devils.

And I am not certain that it is ALL about money. Couldn't they make a lot of money by promoting liberal theology ... pluralism, universalism, liberation theology etc.? Then again, that Orthodox priest that they used for this book is from the notorious Union Theological Seminary, so maybe they are pushing liberal theology for dollars after all.

It is frustrating to me ... I like to pick up church history and Bible commentary books every now and then, and I don't want to be bothered with wading through papist heresies to find good ones.

One of the reasons why I have difficulty embracing the "new evangelicals/conservative evangelicals" is that it is increasingly difficult to find one that will draw a hard line between Christianity and Catholicism. I even heard R.C. Sproul praising Thomas Aquinas and his abominable "Summa Theologica" on his radio show recently. Things like this book may only add to the trend, and result in fewer and fewer Christians willing to tell the truth. When so many books could be written and printed about the truth of Jesus Christ that the world would not be able to contain them all, why are so many folks rushing to waste valuable time and resources chasing lies?

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Forrest's picture

One of the reasons that may be behind this drive is the absolute demand for a universal, single church in early Christianity. You really can't read the early church without finding a striking demand for one church. There is no concept of independent churches; there is the church and there are heretics. So a push for an ecumenical church is in some ways a very natural development out of studying patristics.

Forrest Berry

Don Johnson's picture

This is what evangelicals do. Some are arguing that there is no new-evangelicalism anymore. I am constantly arguing that the reason for that is because all the evangelicals are new evangelicals. This example can only be cited as a case in point.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

JobK's picture

Forrest wrote:
One of the reasons that may be behind this drive is the absolute demand for a universal, single church in early Christianity. You really can't read the early church without finding a striking demand for one church. There is no concept of independent churches; there is the church and there are heretics. So a push for an ecumenical church is in some ways a very natural development out of studying patristics.

I have read the New Testament record from Acts onward, and I have also read several church history books. There was no "striking demand for one church" until Constantine. And even then, several bishops risked death by boycotting the first ecumenical council (called by Constantine) because A) they rejected the very idea of an ecumenical council and Cool they rejected the idea that Constantine had the right to call one. Beginning from the earliest days in Acts, churches were established locally and run by elders chosen from the congregation. The only thing resembling a central or overarching authority was that of the apostles. Far from "a striking demand for one church" and "no concept of independent churches; there is the church and there are heretics", instead you had the churches at Jerusalem, Rome, Antioch and Alexandria developing on separate lines - somewhat independently for each other - and jockeying for position. The Jerusalem church was originally regarded as "first among equals" (for obvious reasons, as it was originally led by the apostles, then led by James) and down the line Rome assumed that status. But even then, at best it was the other churches looking to a particular church or elder for leadership, not "one church."

Look at the beginning of Revelation. It did not speak of sending the letter to "one church." Instead, Jesus Christ sent the letters "to the churches", addressed to the pastor of each church, and also addressed issues that were unique to each independent congregation. This "there is the church and there are heretics" is Catholic propaganda, just like "apostolic succession." Such popish ideas are not supported either by the Bible or recorded extrabiblical early church history.

That said, I do agree that the desire for one universal church is natural. That is, of the flesh. A human invention. Like the folks who came together and built the tower of Babel.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

JobK's picture

Don Johnson wrote:
This is what evangelicals do. Some are arguing that there is no new-evangelicalism anymore. I am constantly arguing that the reason for that is because all the evangelicals are new evangelicals. This example can only be cited as a case in point.

For IVP, and not obviously a corporate entity with no principles or standards?

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Brad hints at this somewhere in the review: the church was once ecumenical. If it could be ecumenical again--truly--that would be a good thing. But there is no real "together" where there are deep and major doctrinal differences.

From Merriam Webster

Late Latin oecumenicus, from Late Greek oikoumenikos, from Greek oikoumenē the inhabited world, from feminine of oikoumenos, present passive participle of oikein to inhabit, from oikos house — more at vicinity
First Known Use: circa 1587

So where sound doctrine is being promoted as a rallying point, movement toward that would be a good thing.

Not that I'm in favor of the modern "ecumenical movement" which modifies doctrine to achieve organizational unity instead of modifying organizations to achieve doctrinal unity.

Brad Kelly's picture

JobK,

Quote:
I have read the New Testament record from Acts onward, and I have also read several church history books. There was no "striking demand for one church" until Constantine.

I am not sure what you have read or haven’t read as it regards church history books, but maybe you should read more primary sources than history books. I want to be careful in answering, because I think what you say is so obviously wrong to anyone who has read in church history that there would be a tendency to either ignore you or belittle you and I do not want to do either. So if here are some quotations that will perhaps fill out some your understanding of what Christians have believed about the church and its oneness:

Ignatius Epistle to the Smyrnaeans (c. 100 )
• …wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.

Martyrdom of Polycarp
(c. 150)
• Now, as soon as he had ceased praying, having made mention of all that had at any time come in contact with him, both small and great, illustrious and obscure, as well as the whole Catholic Church throughout the world, the time of his departure having arrived, they set him upon an ass, and conducted him into the city, the day being that of the great Sabbath.
• Having by his endurance overcome the unrighteous ruler in the conflict and so received the crown of immortality, he rejoices in company with the Apostles and all righteous men, and glorifies the Almighty God and Father, and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the savior of our souls and helmsman of our bodies and shepherd of the universal Church which is throughout the world.

Irenaeus Against All Heresies (c. 180)
• For the illustrious Church is [now ] everywhere, and everywhere is the winepress digged: because those who do receive the Spirit are everywhere. For inasmuch as the former have rejected the Son of God, and cast Him out of the vineyard when they slew Him, God has justly rejected them, and given to the Gentiles outside the vineyard the fruits of its cultivation.
• For the Church preaches the truth everywhere, and she is the seven-branched candlestick which bears the light of Christ.
• Now, such are all the heretics, and those who imagine that they have hit upon something more beyond the truth, so that by following those things already mentioned, proceeding on their way variously, in harmoniously, and foolishly, not keeping always to the same opinions with regard to the same things, as blind men are led by the blind, they shall deservedly fall into the ditch of ignorance lying in their path, ever seeking and never finding out the truth. (2Ti. 3:7) It behoves us, therefore, to avoid their doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures. For the Church has been planted as a garden in this world; therefore says the Spirit of God, “Thou mayest freely eat from every tree of the garden,” (Gen. 2:16) that is, Eat ye from every Scripture of the Lord; but ye shall not eat with an uplifted mind, nor touch any heretical discord.

Clement of Alexandria The Instructor (c. 195)
• The mother draws the children to herself; and we seek our mother the Church.
• The universal Father is one, and one the universal Word; and the Holy Spirit is one and the same everywhere, and one is the only virgin mother. I love to call her the Church.
• ...the true Church, that which is really ancient, is one, and that in it those who according to God’s purpose are just, are enrolled. For from the very reason that God is one, and the Lord one, that which is in the highest degree honorable is lauded in consequence of its singleness, being an imitation of the one first principle. In the nature of the One, then, is associated in a joint heritage the one Church, which they strive to cut asunder into many sects.
Therefore in substance and idea, in origin, in pre-eminence, we say that the ancient and Catholic Church is alone, collecting as it does into the unity of the one faith - which results from the peculiar Testaments, or rather the one Testament in different times by the will of the one God, through one Lord - those already ordained, whom God predestinated, knowing before the foundation of the world that they would be righteous.
But the pre-eminence of the Church, as the principle of union, is, in its oneness, in this surpassing all things else, and having nothing like or equal to itself. (Stromata)

Tertullian (c. 200)
• Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, (rounded) by the apostles, from which they all (spring). In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, whilst they are all proved to be one, in (unbroken) unity, by their peaceful communion, and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality, - privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the selfsame mystery. (Against Heretics)
• For our one Father, God, lives, and our mother, the Church (On Monogamy)

Origen Against Celsus (c. 250)
• the holy Scriptures declare the body of Christ, animated by the Son of God, to be the whole Church of God, and the members of this body - considered as a whole - to consist of those who are believers; since, as a soul vivifies and moves the body, which of itself has not the natural power of motion like a living being, so the Word, arousing and moving the whole body, the Church, to befitting action, awakens, moreover, each individual member belonging to the Church, so that they do nothing apart from the Word.

Cyprian (c. 250)
• The Church also is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness. As there are many rays of the sun, but one light; and many branches of a tree, but one strength based in its tenacious root; and since from one spring flow many streams, although the multiplicity seems diffused in the liberality of an overflowing abundance, yet the unity is still preserved in the source.
• The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. (On the Unity of the Church)
• There is one God, and Christ is one, and there is one Church, and one chair founded upon the rock by the word of the Lord. Another altar cannot be constituted nor a new priesthood be made, except the one altar and the one priesthood. Whosoever gathereth elsewhere, scattereth. (Epistle 39)

Are these sufficiently prior to the reign of Constantine to persuade you to reconsider your opinion?

Joel Shaffer's picture

Brad,

You are correct to point to the primary sources and with several quotes before Constantine, yet JobK is correct about the constant jockeying for position by each city church (Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, etc....) There are just as many quotes in early church history (from primary sources) that point to this fact as well.

Quote:
I am constantly arguing that the reason for that is because all the evangelicals are new evangelicals.

Just because some evangelical publishing companies are doing this (again follow the money), doesn't mean that others are as well. Crossway books is a publishing company that is staying conservative evangelical but they have a strong statement of faith too..........

http://www.crossway.org/about/statement-faith/

Don, to paint all evangelicals like this as new evangelicals is just plain broad-brushing, stereotyping and lazy. I've read your posts and been on your webpage and even though I don't agree with you most of the time, you are usually thoughtful in your arguments......You don't seriously believe this do you?

Charlie's picture

Joel Shaffer wrote:

You are correct to point to the primary sources and with several quotes before Constantine, yet JobK is correct about the constant jockeying for position by each city church (Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, etc....) There are just as many quotes in early church history (from primary sources) that point to this fact as well.

This is irrelevant to whether the early churches considered themselves part of a single visible church or as independent churches. In fact, jockeying for position proves that they did view themselves as part of a single church. You only jockey for position with the people in your own office or team. The Protestant Reformers didn't doubt the unity of the Catholic church; they disputed the primacy of Rome, and especially the papacy. It's only anabaptism that believes that local churches are entirely independent, and they have to resort to extreme primitivism to hold that position.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Brad Kelly's picture

Quote:
There are just as many quotes in early church history (from primary sources) that point to this fact as well.

Whether or not that is true, I never denied there were churches he denied there was a church. Indeed, we exists as Protestants because of the pride of Rome. First toward the East then toward its own.

I just don't understand why people who claim to so love the truth are so hostile to the proposition of uniting in it. Why should I not want to see East and West embrace true orthodoxy? Why should I not want to see Protestants, Evangelicals, and Fundies forsake their shallowness? Am I wrong to long for the churches to live as one church?

Or is it better that Christ be divided?

And I question the financial motivation that you and others have alluded to. It seems as if IVP were in it for the money they would price this series (and their other similar ones) at a more popular level. There are a lot more Christians than libraries. Obviously they are making a tidy profit on each volume they sell. But if I was in it for the cash, I would care more about the bottom line than the margin.

Don Johnson's picture

JobK wrote:
So, This Isn't A New Development? ... /snip/ ...

For IVP, and not obviously a corporate entity with no principles or standards?

No, nothing new. The evangelical pubilishing houses have long since ceased to be thoroughly evangelical.

Joel Shaffer wrote:
Don, to paint all evangelicals like this as new evangelicals is just plain broad-brushing, stereotyping and lazy. I've read your posts and been on your webpage and even though I don't agree with you most of the time, you are usually thoughtful in your arguments......You don't seriously believe this do you?

Actually, Joel, I do think that for all practical purposes, evangelicals are basically neo-evangelical in their philosophy. It is the distinguishing mark between fundamentalism and evangelicalism. That doesn't mean that every evangelical is as thoroughly imbued with new evangelical philosophy as another, but it is the essence of their philosophical orientation to reject separatism, to embrace error of one form or another, to inordinately admire scholarship, and to make compromises for the sake of unity. It will invariably show up somewhere in their ministry, though the individual himself may be fully orthodox and walk circumspectly in their personal lives.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Joel Shaffer's picture

Quote:
In fact, jockeying for position proves that they did view themselves as part of a single church. You only jockey for position with the people in your own office or team. The Protestant Reformers didn't doubt the unity of the Catholic church; they disputed the primacy of Rome, and especially the papacy. It's only anabaptism that believes that local churches are entirely independent, and they have to resort to extreme primitivism to hold that position.

Charlie, I agree with you.....

Quote:
And I question the financial motivation that you and others have alluded to. It seems as if IVP were in it for the money they would price this series (and their other similar ones) at a more popular level. There are a lot more Christians than libraries. Obviously they are making a tidy profit on each volume they sell. But if I was in it for the cash, I would care more about the bottom line than the margin.

I realize that they are going much deeper than the popular level. To be honest with you, it really doesn't bother me that they published this book. "I don't really mind eating the chicken and spitting out the bones" discerning truth from error as you did in this review. Because there is a market for this subject, they publish it. I am not even saying this is bad. But I know that among certain colleges and seminaries there is a market for this type of book (70% of IVP's audience is academia) especially in broader evangelical circles and certain mainline circles as well. And it also fits who they are as a publishing company (they specifically state that they are inter-denominational).

Forrest's picture

I certainly couldn't have produced such a robust list so quickly.

@JobK I would recommend reading a handful of original works. Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho is a good place to start. The Didache is also an interesting read. Also the Acta of many of the councils are preserved and available. Athanasius is always a good one. All of these can be found online for free!

Also, a really good synopsis of some of the best work in the field right now is The Cambridge History of Christianity: Origins to Constantine (Volume 1). However, Its really expensive ($194 in amazon right now for one volume alone!). But you can see a pdf here for free: http://lib.ololo.cc/b.usr/Avtor_neizvesten_Cambridge_History_of_Christia....

I'm currently working through most of Augustine's work. Although he is relatively late (early 400s) his writings rely heavily on the teachings of the catholic church to refute heresy. His works and understanding of the church really impact growth of the Catholic Church.

Happy Reading!

Forrest

Forrest Berry

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