I want to add another book to discuss from time to time, as it works itself out. This one is Broken Lights and Mended Lives; Theology and Common Life in the Early Church by Rowan A. Greer. The author was on the faculty of Yale Divinity School and an ordained Anglican priest. Learning about the faith and practice of the early Church can be of benefit. I realize that we cannot copy their faith, or their practice, because their world was far different from the one we inhabit. However the young Church was a vital one, full of the excitement of something new which they felt to the depth of their being.
Greer’s book is a reflection of this. Today I would like to consider the direction Greer wants to take us, showing what he wants to do, and how he intends to do it. He talks about this in the first page of the Preface where he says
the only thesis of the book is that theology in the early Church was always directly or indirectly concerned with the common life of Christians. From one point of view theologians attempted to put into words the corporate experience of the Church. The Christian story, continuously repeated in the reading of Scripture and in the liturgy, found its focus for the Fathers of the Church in the victorious Christ, the new humanity. …. From another perspective the Fathers sought to use their ideology to explain and to shape the everyday life of Christians. To study the dialogue between theology and common life is to realize … that no broad thesis is possible save to argue that there was a persistent concern with the dialogue.
Now — just for a comment: If we would stop and think about the possibility of prayerfully considering and meditating on the above quotation. Perhaps I’m being far too simplistic, but it seems to me to hold tremendous power and possibility. Are we in our theological considerations attempting to put into words what it is that is happening as we repeat again and again our ancient Scriptures and conduct the liturgy in worship services? How is the victory of Christ happening today in our services? How is humanity being made whole? And just how is this affecting our common life? I have a feeling that we need to consistently talk to each other, in our churches, about what we believe is shaping our life together. We need to find some intentional ways of doing this. Greer, at this point is not doing this. It is my own idea.
He goes ahead to explain his approach by saying that he treats the Fathers of the Church sympathetically. He does this by attempting to enter into and imagine the world of the early Christians on its own terms. He also states clearly that he himself is a convinced Christian. Therefore he admits that he is not an impartial observer, and thus not totally objective in his study.
It may seem that I’m spending too much time on explaining his approach. But the remainder of the book cannot be properly understood without this understanding. In the next posting about Greer’s work, I want to explore this further.