"In Search of Ancient Roots" by Kenneth J. Stewart. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Evangelical Protestantism is not the problem; evangelical Protestantism that has severed its roots in early Christianity is a problem” (273). So concludes Kenneth J. Stewart, professor of theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, in his new 304 page hardback "In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis." The author carefully and conscientiously presents his case in a way that is understandable for pastors, interested adults and those in the academy.
“In Search of Ancient Roots” develops the idea that Protestantism, including Evangelicalism, has roots that run back through popular late medieval movements and the earlier Patristic and Christian eras. Stewart contends that early Protestantism “chose to present itself as embodying a return to the less encumbered doctrinal allegiances of the earliest centuries of the church” (63). The author shows clearly how the Reformers, and their theological descendants, drew from the earlier church fathers in challenging Roman Catholic abuses in their day. He gives numerous examples with regard to the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, as well as the Protestant displacement of the Apocryphal and Deuterocanonical books. He also exhibits that the Protestant teaching on justification has clear connections with earlier Christian theologians, and even had sympathetic supporters among several 16th Century Roman Catholic cardinals and clerics.
“In Search of Ancient Roots” further demonstrates that contributing to many high-profile "Home to Rome" or "Home to Antioch" Protestant and Evangelical defections has been a 20th Century Evangelical identity crisis. The author argues that there are four factors that have subsidized this identity crisis. There is the “run-down” factor, where the initial momentum of the Reformation has begun to run down over the long years and changed environments. Also, larger portions of evangelical Christianity have pulled away from churches that have historical roots in the Reformation, which has unplugged many from the past. Next, there is a growing thaw in Protestant and Catholic relations. Finally, over the last one hundred years, evangelical Protestantism has dissociated itself from its long practice of “regularly drawing on the resources of the early church, assisted by the insights of the Reformation of the sixteenth century” in ways consistent with the supreme authority of Sacred Scripture (269). It’s from this cocktail of factors that a notion has been arising that sees Evangelical Protestantism as a rootless latecomer to Christianity. A further consequence has been that the resulting activism, pragmatism and doctrinal minimalism have left “large portions of the evangelical movement…especially vulnerable to what can only be called “faddishness”” (263).
“In Search of Ancient Roots” gives good, solid reasons for Evangelical Protestantism to take heart; and to reacquaint ourselves with our roots in the “Great Tradition.” This volume would make an ideal addition to a college course on church history, and it is well suited for adult Christian Education classes in congregations. Pastors should take it up and pour over its pages. And if someone is thinking about returning “Home to Rome” or “Home to Antioch,” hand them a copy. I highly recommend this book.
Thanks to IVP Academic for providing, upon my request, the free copy of the book used for this review. The assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).
(The book may be purchased at this link: IVP Academic)
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