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This long-standing tradition

One of the most fun (and least expected) parts of being a pastor is hearing from someone about a topic that they would like to learn more about, realizing you have no plans to teach or preach on the subject, and offering to read a book with them one-on-one. And it is for that reason that one of my students and I have started reading theology together.


We have not just been reading any old theology though; we've committed to reading the Patristics, the writings and teachings of the early church fathers. As a church-goer, it's not likely that you would accidentally stumble across the works of Moses the Black, John Chrysostom, or Athanasius of Alexandria unless you went looking for them or had a very particular and peculiar kind of pastor, but these works form not just the root bed but the very bedrock of the Christian religion and tradition, and it's work worth investigating.


Even as a pastor, it's the kind of stuff that you're exposed to in your church history and theology and liturgy classes, and that quickly gets put back on the shelf for more urgent and contemporary concerns like finance and conflict resolution and figuring out how to get young people back in the church. Those things matter and they make up so much of our day-to-day lives as the people of God. And yet, there can be a temptation in every generation of Christians to imagine that we are inventing the wheel for the first time, that we are the first people to really, really get what Church is and is for and what the bible teaches and says. There is a temptation, and we can see it reflected in some of the modern Christian movements, to disregard the long tradition of the Church, in order to create something new and unencumbered. But the only thing more encumbering than tradition is hubris.


I feel the temptation too, sometimes, but what reading Athanasius' On The Incarnation has been for me so far is an unexpected experience of humbling. My relationship with scripture and my personal relationship with Jesus Christ are mine alone, and yet I am one of thousands and millions and billions of folks that have walked this path already and who've walked this before and who will walk it after me. It is heartening and necessary perspective to think that anything I think I've thought for the first time was already thought of by a man in a cave in the year 375AD or a martyr in her final moments of life in 200AD. To pursue the thought and faith of those who've come before us, is to shed the hubris and the pressure of innovation and to take our place in the company and on the team of the saints.


The teachings and writings of the old desert fathers and mothers are the centuries and millenia old teachings of church pressed through the sieve of time and that have come out over and over clean and clear, and how beautiful and good to have them preserved for our enjoyment still today.


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