Christians today often have little sense of the past, and a low respect for church history. And they are almost totally ignorant of old books. Not every old book is worth reading, but some shine as true classics of the Christian faith. "The Apostolic Fathers" is one such work. It remains important for the insight it provides into the world of Christianity in the first generations after the death of the apostles.
As I read "The Apostolic Fathers", I was reminded just how far removed I really am from the New Testament time period. I encountered much that was strange or different from my normal way of thinking. But I also found a good deal of continuity. Scripture is often quoted as Scripture. Justification by faith is stressed in 1 Clement, and a call to holy living pervades all the apostolic fathers. Even still, the Bible itself shines out all the brighter when compared with these non-inspired writings.
This Moody Classics edition is a handy sized, attractively presented book. It would fit in many pockets, and makes the task of reading "The Apostolic Church Fathers" much less daunting.
The book begins with a helpful foreword by Mark Galli. An introduction to each of the included works is provided and the merits of reading the Fathers is discussed. After the foreword you jump right into the Fathers themselves. 1 & 2 Clement, The Letters of Ignatius and Polycarp, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, The Didache, and The Pastor of Hermas are the included titles.
I was struck by the very first page of the Fathers, Clement's first letter opens up with this line: "The church of God, living in exile in Rome, to the church of God, exiled in Corinth-to you who are called and sanctified by God's will through our Lord Jesus Christ." (pg. 17) The idea of the church being exiled is also found in the opening of 1 Peter and James. It was special to see that sense of a pilgrim-mindset so clearly in 1 Clement.
1 Clement also showed an early example of typological interpretation. This book written in A.D. 96 already reveals importance placed on the "scarlet thread" of Rahab: "(She) should hang a piece of scarlet from her house... by this they made it clear that it was by the blood of the Lord that redemption was going to come to all who believe in God and hope on him." (pg. 25)
Polycarp's letter to the bishop of Smyrna exhorts the careful study of Paul's letters "that will enable you, if you study them carefully, to grow in the faith delivered to you" (pg. 127). Ignatius' letter to Polycarp revealed that he believed miraculous spiritual gifts were still to be sought in his day: "But ask that you may have revelations of what is unseen. In that way you will lack nothing and have an abundance of every gift." (pg. 121)
I must confess the Pastor of Hermas (sometimes called Shepherd of Hermas) was rather intriguing. It is a somewhat strange, allegorical tale of quite some length (around 150 pages in this edition). But even though much of it doesn't make sense to me, or even seems wrong headed, it contains plenty of good exhortations and admonitions. In fact I even found a statement that echoes John Piper's "Christian Hedonism" ideas: "Wherefore put on cheerfulness, which always is agreeable and acceptable to God, and rejoice in it. For every cheerful man does what is good, and minds what is good..." (pg. 222).
The back cover of this little book declares: "What you have in your hand is a modern translation of early Christian bestsellers." I would recommend you strongly consider putting down today's bestseller in favor of this convenient edition of The Apostolic Fathers. You'll be glad you did.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Moody Publishers for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.