My rating: 3 of 5 stars
How did the earlier pastors and theologians of the Christian Church read Genesis one? Was it univocal or was there a breadth and variety? Craig Allert, professor of religious studies at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, has pulled together a goodly amount of material on this very subject in his new 368 page paperback, "Early Christian Readings of Genesis One: Patristic Exegesis and Literal Interpretation". It is written more for those who are "in the know," that is, those who (1) have a working knowledge of the patristics, and (2) who are familiar with the program and purpose of Biologos.
"Early Christian Readings of Genesis One" is a polemical book. It feels as if it is obsessed with arguing with Answers in Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, and other young-earth organizations who have enlisted some of the early church fathers to shore up their case. This contention runs (and dare I say it, ruins) the first three chapters, and keeps surfacing in the remainder of the material. If you want a ringside seat to a stout fight, this is the book. The good work that Allert did in this volume gets covered over and hidden by the cloudy dust-up.
Though I don't necessarily agree with the author's conclusions on Basil of Caesarea, Augustine, and others, nevertheless as long as he stayed with the patristic material it was highly informative. Allert works through the two ancient schools of biblical interpretation in Antioch and Alexandria and nicely explains the differences and how they worked. He spent quality and quantity time unpacking the ways Basil read Genesis One in the "Hexaemeron" and Augustine in his two main writings on the subject. His opening chapter on "Who Are the Church Fathers, and Why Should I Care" was magnificent. The author's broadly stated intention for the book is "to give a window into the strange new world of the church fathers and how they understood creation themes in Genesis 1" (3), and as long as he stayed on that task, he was successful.
Towards the beginning of the book "Early Christian Readings of Genesis One" twists it's ankle and hobbles through most of the material, sometimes regaining its pace, and at other times unable to do more than hop along. If you can filter out the squabbles and static, you will find it a useful read. This book would make a great addition to seminary level church history class. And it would be a valuable edition to a University library. It's a book worth getting.
My thanks to IVP Academic for sending me a copy of this book used for the review. It was sent at my request, and without any strings or obligations attached. This review is therefore freely given.
The book can be purchased here: "Early Christian Readings"
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