Wednesday, September 27, 2006


In the comment section on the previous post on the Fathers, I was asked about what to read of the Fathers. Everyone who has studied the Fathers will have his or her favourites. Here are some of mine.

I would say Jaroslav Pelikan’s first volume in his history of Christian doctrine, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, is an excellent place to start. JND Kelly on Early Christian Doctrine is another excellent starter. Other secondary sources that provide a good introduction include the works by Christopher Hall (Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers and Doing Theology with the Church Fathers) and Robert Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Thought. Gerald Bray’s Creeds, Councils and Christ is also very good. I also like Henry Chadwick’s two works on the early church: The Early Church (Penguin) and The Church in Ancient Society (OUP).

For primary sources, see Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers and his The Later Christian Fathers give good overviews. Augustine’s Confessions is a natural place to start. You may not agree with all you read, but it is a gem. Also the second-century The Letter to Diognetus is a gem—the cream of second-century Apologetics. I would also strongly recommend Basil’s On the Holy Spirit.


Our generation is afflicted with a kind of historical amnesia, which, unfortunately, has not left the Church untouched. For instance, Malcolm Muggeridge, who became a professing Christian after a lifetime of skepticism, in remarks made in the account of his conversion, stated that in the final analysis “history is phony.” As he went on to say: “…in the case of the greatest happenings such as Christ’s life and death, historicity is completely without importance. It is very important to know the history of Socrates because Socrates is dead, but the history of Christ doesn’t matter because he is alive.” [Jesus Rediscovered (London: Wm. Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., 1972), 204].

In such an intellectual ambience—which is nonsensical to anyone who values the historicity of Christian origins—the question, “Why study the Fathers?” must be asked again and answered afresh. Listed below are a number of reasons that can be considered an initial step in this direction.

First, study of the Fathers, like any historical study, liberates us from the present [C.S. Lewis, “De descriptione temporum” in Walter Hooper, ed., Selected Literary Essays (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1969), 12]. Every age has a certain outlook, presuppositions which remain unquestioned even by opponents. The examination of another period of thought forces us to confront our innate prejudices which would go unnoticed otherwise.

For instance, Gustaf Aulén, in his classic study of the atonement, Christus Victor, argues that an objective study of the Patristic concept of Atonement will reveal a motif which has received little attention in post-Reformation Christianity: the idea of the Atonement as a divine conflict and victory, in which Christ fights and overcomes the evil powers of this world, under whom man has been held in bondage. According to Aulén, what is commonly accepted as the New Testament doctrine of the Atonement, the forensic theory of satisfaction, may in fact be a concept quite foreign to the New Testament. As to whether he is right or not—and I think he is quite wrong—can only come by a fresh examination of the sources, both New Testament and Patristic.

Then, the Fathers can provide us with a map for the Christian life. It is indeed exhilarating to stand on the east coast and watch the Atlantic surf and hear the pound of the waves. But this experience will be of little benefit in sailing to England. For this a map is needed. A map based upon the accumulated experience of thousands of voyagers. Similarly, we need such a map for the Christian life. Experiences are fine and good, but they will not serve as a suitable foundation for our lives in Christ. To be sure, we have the divine Scriptures, an ultimately sufficient foundation for all of our needs (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But the thought of the Fathers can help us enormously in building on this foundation.

A fine example is provided by Athanasius’ doctrine of the Spirit in his letters to Serapion, bishop of Thmuis. The present day has seen a resurgence of interest in the Person of the Holy Spirit. This is admirable, but also fraught with danger if the Spirit is conceived of apart from Christ. Yet, Athanasius’ key insight was that “from our knowledge of the Son we may be able to have true knowledge of the Spirit” (Letter to Serapion 3.1). The Spirit cannot be divorced from the Son: not only does the Son send and give the Spirit, but the Spirit is the principle of the Christ-life within us. Many have fallen into fanatical enthusiasm because they failed to realize this basic truth: the Spirit cannot be separated from the Son.

Third, the Fathers may also, in some cases, help us to understand the New Testament. We have had too disparaging a view of Patristic exegesis, and have come close to considering the exposition of the Fathers as a consistent failure to understand the New Testament. For instance Cyril of Jerusalem in his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:5, which concerns temporary abstinence of sexual relations between married couples for the sake of prayer, assumes without question that the prayer is liturgical and communal prayer (Catechesis 4.25).

Cyril may be guilty of an anachronism, for he was a leader in “the hallowing of the time,” that is, the observance of holy seasons. Nonetheless, there is good evidence that such communal observances, in some form or other, are quite early. The liturgical life of the Church of Jerusalem in the fourth century was not that of Corinth in the first, but nevertheless there were links. Possibly it is the Protestant commentators who are guilty of anachronism when they assume that Paul meant private prayer; such religious individualism is more conceivable in the Protestant West than in first-century Corinth.

As T.F. Torrance writes, “[There is a] fundamental coherence between the faith of the New Testament and that of the early Church…  The failure to discern this coherence in some quarters evidently has its roots in the strange gulf, imposed by analytical methods, between the faith of the primitive Church and the historical Jesus. In any case I have always found it difficult to believe that we modern scholars understand the Greek of the New Testament better than the early Greek Fathers themselves! [Space, Time and Resurrection (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1976), xii].

These three reasons are only a start towards giving a full answer to the question, “Why study the Fathers?” There are certainly other reasons for studying these ancient authors which may be more obvious or even more important. But these three reasons sufficiently indicate the need for Patristic studies in the ongoing life of the Church: to aid in her liberation for the Zeitgeist of the twenty-first century; to provide a guide in her walk with Christ; to help her understand the basic witness to her faith, the New Testament.


Paul W. Martin asked for more on “Troublechurch Browne”. Here is a wee sketch.

In the latter part of the sixteenth century, a number of Puritans came to the conviction that the Church of England would never be fully reformed, and thus they decided to separate from the state church and organize their own congregations. These Puritans would be known as Separatists and they would argue for what was essentially a Congregationalist form of church government.

One of their earliest leaders was Robert Browne (c.1550–1633), who in a tract entitled A Treatise of Reformation without Tarrying for anie (1582), provided the “clarion-call” of the Separatist movement. Browne—nicknamed “Troublechurch” Browne by his opponents—came from a family of substance and was related to Robert Cecil, Elizabeth I’s Lord Treasurer and chief minister. During his undergraduate years at Cambridge University, Browne had become a “thoroughgoing Presbyterian Puritan.” Within a few years, though, he had come to the conviction that each local congregation had the right, indeed the responsibility, to elect its own elders. And by 1581 he was of the opinion that the setting up of congregations apart from the Established Church and its parish churches was a necessity for, he wrote that year, “God will receive none to communion and covenant with him, which as yet are at one with the wicked.” That same year he established a Separatist congregation at Norwich. Experiencing persecution he and his Norwich congregation left England the following year for the freedom of the Netherlands.

It was in the Netherlands that Browne published the book for which he is remembered, A Treatise of Reformation without Tarrying for anie (1582). In this influential tract, Browne set forth his views that, over the course of the next century, would become common property of all the theological children of the English Separatists, including the Congregationalists and the Calvinistic Baptists.

First of all, Browne willingly conceded the right of civil authorities to rule and to govern. However, he drew a distinct line between their powers in society at large and their power with regard to local churches. As citizens of the state the individual members of these churches were to be subject to civil authorities. However, he rightly emphasized, these authorities had no right “to compel religion, to plant Churches by power, and to force a submission to ecclesiastical government by laws and penalties.”

Then, Browne conceived of the local church as a “gathered” church, that is, a company of Christians who had covenanted together to live under the rule of Christ, the Risen Lord, whose will was made known through his Word and his Spirit. Finally, the pastors and elders of the church, though they ultimately received their authority and office from God, were to be appointed to their office by “due consent and agreement of the church … according to the number of the most which agree.”

The key principle that Browne had seen clearly was that the kingdom of God cannot be brought about by the decrees of state authorities and that ultimately Christianity is “a matter of private conscience rather than public order, that the church is a fellowship of believers rather than an army of pressed men” and women.

Browne returned to the British Isles not long after publishing this treatise. To the consternation of many of his friends he subsequently recanted his views, and rejoined the Church of England. But he had begun a movement that could not be held in check. Browne’s mantle fell to three men—John Greenwood (c.1560–1593), Henry Barrow (c.1550–1593) and John Penry (1559–1593)—all of whom were hanged in 1593 for what was regarded by the state as an act of civil disobedience, namely secession from the Established Church.

Prior to his death, Penry rightly emphasized to the state authorities that “imprisonment, judgments, yea, death itself, are not meet weapons to convince men’s consciences, grounded on the word of God.” The response of the English state was swift and brutal. In April 1593 a law was passed that required everyone over the age of sixteen to attend their local parish church. Failure to do so for an entire month meant imprisonment. If, after three months following the individual’s release from prison, he or she still refused to conform, the person was to be given a choice of exile or death. In other words, the Elizabethan church and state was hoping to rid itself of the Separatist problem by sending those who were recalcitrant into exile. But the preaching and writings of Greenwood, Barrow and Penry led a significant number in the English capital, London, to adopt Separatist principles. And as British Baptist historian Barrie White has noted: “For many it was but a short step from impatient Puritanism within the established Church to convinced Separatism outside it.”

Browne also ended up spending his final days in prison. He was arrested when a very old man for striking a village constable. His own personal walk may have been wanting—but he set in motion a train of events and ideas that could not be held in check.


Lisez-vous français? Here is a new blog by three dear brothers—but it is in French: Yanick Éthier, Stéphane Gagné, & Francois Turcotte.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Some historians are arguing that Baptist thought about individual freedom and soul-liberty is an influence of the Enlightenment. While there are definitely some good indications of such an influence in the 19th century with Francis Wayland and his exaltation of individualism at the expense of the community, I fear this line of thought is a failure to see that the roots of Baptist convictions about individual freedom before God are rooted in the Separatist movement of the late 16th century, hardly a period of Enlightenment thinking!

Men like Robert “Troubelchurch” Browne were central in the development of thinking in this direction. And even earlier than Browne, Jean Morelli, that remarkable Huguenot author with whom Bèze clashed over church government and who defended a Congregationalist polity, developed some of these ideas. No, the roots of Baptist thinking in this regard lie in the 16th century and that because of the re-reading of Scripture in fresh ways.


There is a one-volume history of the Church by a single author that I have found scintillating and that is Jeremy Jackson, No Other Foundation: The Church across Twenty Centuries. (1980). He has well captured a biblical perspective on the metanarrative of the history of the church. On details, I would differ here and there.

Jackson studied under Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri, Switzerland, and later became his assistant, editor and historical advisor. He has also taught European history at the College of William and Mary and at Syracuse University, and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. He co-pastors Trinity Fellowship in Syracuse, New York.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Back in March of this year, Tim Challies asked me for a suggestion of a one-volume history of the Church. I am glad I am finally able to say a few words on this subject.

I am leery of one-volume histories of the church, since they tend to be written by single authors, who, no matter how gifted they are as historians in certain areas, simply cannot know the entirety of church history well enough to provide a summary of it all. One sees this, for example, in K.S. Latourette’s history of Christianity. His specialty was the history of mission. In other areas, he is so-so. Even the great historian Jaroslav Pelikan, who has recently gone to be with Christ, has his weaker moments in his five-volume magnum opus on the history of doctrine. The first volume, on the patristic era, I consider utterly splendid and standard reading for anyone studying that era. But I found his treatment of post-Reformation Puritanism, Jonathan Edwards, and the New Divinity men sadly lacking.

With that said, then what would I recommend? Well, the text that I have used consistently over the past few years is Tim Dowley, ed., An Introduction to the History of Christianity (1990 Rev. ed.; repr. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995). It has a number of advantages. It covers the entire history of the church. It has been written by experts in the numerous fields. So it capitalizes on the strengths of a number of great historians of the church. And then Dowley has good editing skills and has produced a seemingly seamless text. I also admit to loving the many pictures, maps, sidebars (the latter essential for the post-modern reader who cannot handle large blocks of text without break!), and mini-chronologies.

I may find time to make a comment or two on church history sets. But that will have to wait.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Nathan Finn has a wise post on Hyper-Calvinism in the SBC here.

Having spent significant time studying Hyper-Calvinism—a real-life problem in the 18th century in the UK and in parts of the South in the 19th century—I would ditto all that Nathan is asserting here: The Specter of Hyper-Calvinism.


Dr. Mohler’s recent comments on the brouhaha about the Pope Benedict XVI’s words about Islam are right on: see his The Pope, the Prophet, and the Crisis of Truth” on his commentary (see


One of the constant issues of seminary life is chapel attendance by students. For some students it is irksome to be required to attend. They have other things they need to do. Some of these things are undoubtedly good things. But I for one would argue that one key difference between a seminary and other types of academic schools of higher education is that a seminary is not only a place of academics. It should be that. But it is not only that. It is also a community of men and women learning to be servants of Christ and His Church. And as such a community there needs to be times when the doxological goal of their studies finds corporate expression. And chapel is the perfect place for this.

Here is a great testimony as to why students at a theological seminary need to attend chapel: "Mother Never Told Me Not to Pee in the Neighbor's Yard".

Monday, September 18, 2006


I have always loved the poetry of John Donne. I recently found this poem that I do not recall ever reading.

It was posted by Bruce Keisling, Librarian of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on the website/blog of Third Avenue Baptist Church, Louisville (, a church I deeply love and admire.

Wilt thou love God, as he thee? Then digest,
My soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by angels waited on
In heaven, doth make his Temple in thy breast.
The Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting, (for he ne’er be gone)
Hath deigned to choose thee by adoption,
Co-heir t’ his glory, and Sabbath’ endless rest.
And as a robbed man, which by search doth find
His stol’n stuff sold, must lose or buy’t again:
The Son of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom he’d made, and Satan stol’n, to unbind.
’Twas much that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Although my list of Eminent Christians has focused on well-known figures (and some not so well-known), I would not wish to give the impression that only such are vital for the kingdom and its advance.

I take it as a cardinal rule of doing church history—see Romans 16:1-16 and 1 Corinthians 12 for corroboration—that every believer’s life is of value and has meaning and plays a role. I suspect that this is why I am just as interested in men like Eusebius of Samosata, Hercules Collins and William Fraser as I am in Basil of Caesarea, Benjamin Keach and Robert Haldane.


I spent the weekend at a church retreat in Quebec. I have blogged before on the joy of being with Québécois brothers and sisters in Christ. Being with these brothers and sisters for the past few days was a fresh reminder of the grace of God that is at work in that province. Not that they do not have their problems—in this saeculum problems are par for the course. But there is a freshness and joy that is captivating.

I was speaking on four aspects of Baptist spirituality—persecution in the 17th century, friendship (esp. that between Andrew Fuller and John Ryland), the evangelistic piety of Samuel Pearce, and the contours of the spirituality of Charles Spurgeon. I was reminded again that basic resources in English with regard to church history, especially Baptist history, that we take for granted are simply not available in French. This is an urgent need and well worth praying about.

And while you’re at it, remember the church in Québec. Evangelicals there number 0.5%—a far, far smaller percentage than many countries in sub-Sahara Africa or the Orient.

Lord: raise up an army of witnesses for that province for your glory and honour!

Monday, September 04, 2006


Just a word about the series “Eminent Christians.” It started in this blog back on Janaury 30, 2006, as a response to The Church Report’s list of what they considered to be “The 50 Most Influential Christians in America.” As was said then, “It is a surprising list, to say the least, both with regard to those who made the cut and those who did not!”

Eight months later this alternative list is only up to #12. But, Deus vult, I do hope that this alternate list will be populated with 50 names of truly influential believers.


The facts of Augustine’s early life are well-known, because he wrote them down in his Confessions, one of the most famous of his books. Augustine was born on November 13, 354, the son—perhaps the eldest; we know of a brother Navigius and a sister—of a pagan father, Patricius, and Christian mother, Monica. The fourth century was an age of mixed marriages at this level of society, in which devout Christian women like Monica were often to be found praying for the conversion of their irreligious husbands. Her prayers were not unavailing; Patricius accepted baptism on his deathbed.

Patricius was a municipal official and small property-holder at Thagaste in Numidia. Aspiring to better his lower middle-class family, Patricius sacrificed in order to give his son the sort of liberal education that would lead him into an honoured position in Roman society.

Augustine thus studied first at Thagaste, and afterwards at Carthage, where he went to university in 371 at the age of 17. He was to remain there until 383. His father, who became a believer late in life, seems to have had little influence on his son. On the other hand, his mother Monica was a devout Christian, one whose prayers were used of God to bring her son to Christ.

Before he left for Carthage, Monica warned him earnestly not to engage in fornication and above all never to contemplate committing the sin of adultery. But, Augustine said, “I went to Carthage, where I found myself in the midst of a hissing cauldron of lust… My real need was for you, my God, who are the food of the soul. I was not aware of this hunger.”

Given a love for wisdom

In his first year at Carthage Augustine led what many might regard as a typical life of a student: enjoying the bawdy theatre of the day, using sex in search of love, consorting with a group called the Eversores—“the Smashers.” Within two years all had changed though. He had taken a concubine to live with—this arrangement was not regarded as scandalous by pagan Roman society, since many pagans of the upper and middle classes would have such an arrangement with a social inferior until the complicated arrangements for a financially advantageous match with some girl of their own class could be made. He had a son by her—Adeodatus (“Gift from God”). And he had been smitten by a desire to find the truth after reading the dialogue Hortensius by Cicero. This book, since lost and known only from fragments quoted by Augustine and other ancient writers, was a protreptic, that is, a treatise designed to inspire in the reader an enthusiasm for the discipline of philosophy. Through all his other vagaries of interest and allegiance, until the time of Augustine’s conversion to Christianity Cicero would remain the one master from whom the young African learned the most in terms of literary style.

Seeking for wisdom and truth, Augustine fell prey to a cult called Manichaeism.  Founded by a Persian named Mani (216-276), who claimed that the Holy Spirit had come upon him in such a way as to reveal hidden mysteries to him and with the result that Mani was wholly united with the Spirit. The end result? Mani was the promised Paraclete of John 14-16 and the Holy Spirit spoke through him.

The views promoted by the Manichaens familiar to Augustine were very similar to Gnosticism—combining a radical cosmological dualism with ascetic practices. Little fragments of God were scattered throughout the universe, in both animals and plants, a result of the war between good and evil. Melons and cucumbers were considered to contain a particularly large amount of divinity, and were therefore prominent in the Manichaean diet. Mani, moreover, regarded the lower half of the body as the disgusting work of the devil, and thus viewed sexuality as the devil’s invention. Celibacy was encouraged, and having children frowned upon.

Augustine was a member of this cult for roughly 9 years, from 372 to 383. Augustine was too brilliant to settle for such vacuous theology for long. His most poignant moment of disillusion is recounted in the Confessions, when he finally met Faustus, the Manichee sage who would (Augustine had been promised) finally answer all the questions that troubled Augustine. When the man finally turned up, he proved to be half-educated and incapable of more than reciting a more complex set of slogans than his local disciples had known.

The impact of Ambrose’s witness

In 383, at the age of 28, Augustine moved to Rome to reach the apex of his career ambitions. Rome of the fourth century was no longer a city with political or military significance for the Roman empire, but nobody at the time dared say such a thing.

Augustine was seeking academic prestige, the emptiest of glories. But in Rome everything went wrong: his health began to suffer, his students would not pay their fees, and soon he became quite discouraged. Finally, hearing of a professorship in Milan he moved to northern Italy in 384 and rented a home belonging to a man named Verecundus. There his mother Monica joined him along with his common-law wife (whom he never names), Adeodatus, his brother Navigius, and two life-long African friends, Alypius and Evodius.

At the same time he started to go back to church. The pastor of the congregation with whom he was worshipping was Ambrose (c.340-397), the bishop of Milan and a famous preacher. Augustine found in Ambrose a man whose piety was fused with an intellect matching his own. Here Christianity began to appear to him in a new, intellectually acceptable light.

Slowly God began to bring conviction regarding his sinful ways into his heart. Describing Ambrose’s preaching, Augustine says this: “I was all ears to seize upon his eloquence, I also began to sense the truth of what he said, though only gradually. …I thrilled with love and dread alike. I realized that I was far away from you…and, far off, I heard your voice saying I am the God who IS.”

This experience, though, was not yet what we would call conversion. In Augustine’s own words: “I was astonished that although I now loved you…I did not persist in enjoyment of my God. Your beauty drew me to you, but soon I was dragged away from you by my own weight and in dismay I plunged again into the things of this world.”

Wrestling with sin

The central thing in what Augustine calls “the things of this world: was his relationship with his concubine/common-law wife. Now, Monica, his mother, had come to Milan with the express purpose of persuading her son to give this woman up and preparing for a proper marriage with a well-to-do Christian woman. Augustine gave in to his mother’s sinful suggestion and sent his concubine of fifteen years back to Africa. “The woman with whom I had been living,” Augustine later wrote in his Confessions, “was torn from my side as an obstacle to my marriage and this was a blow which crushed my heart to bleeding, because I loved her dearly. She went back to Africa, vowing never to give herself to any other man. …But I was too unhappy and too weak to imitate this example set me… I took another mistress, without the sanction of wedlock.”

This is the immediate background to Augustine’s conversion in 386.  One day in August of that year, while Augustine was labouring under deep conviction of sin, a fellow North African, Ponticianus, came to see him. In his Confessions 8.6-12 he tells the story of what transpired that day as God converted him to himself (Confessions 8.12). It really needs to be read entire, for no adequate summary can do it justice.

In the spring of 387, at the Easter vigil service on the night of Holy Saturday, Augustine was baptized by Ambrose. Many people at that time, when Christianity was the fashionable road to success in the Christian empire, may have taken such a step casually and returned to their old ways, but Augustine was not one of them.

Presbyter and bishop

That autumn Monica died at Ostia, rejoicing in the knowledge that her son was safe in Christ. In 388 Augustine made his way back to Africa, hoping to establish a kind of philosophical monastery for himself and his friends at Thagaste.

But God had quite different plans. When, in 391, he was visiting the coastal town of Hippo Regius, some 150 miles from Thagaste, he was grabbed by the congregation and ordained as elder/presbyter. In a sermon that he preached in the city much later, Augustine recalled this important event:

“A slave may not contradict his Lord. I came to this city to see a friend, whom I thought I might gain for God, that he might live with us in the monastery. I felt secure, for the place already had a bishop. I was grabbed. I was made an elder…and from there, I became your bishop.”

He broke into tears as they laid hands on him in the church and his calling became clear. Agustine asked his new bishop, Valerius, for a little time to prepare himself for his duties. Now, he devoted himself to the mastery of Scripture that made him a formidable theologian in the decades to come. His abilities were quickly recognized, and by 393 he was being asked to preach sermons in place of his bishop, who was a Greek speaker by birth. The old man died in 395 and Augustine assumed responsibility for the church at Hippo the following year. He would remain at this post until his death thirty-four years later.

Augustine the author

Conventional accounts sketch Augustine’s career in terms of the controversies in which he took part. But at the centre of his ministry was daily preaching; presiding at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper; the leadership of elders and other clergy in Hippo; extensive travel in North Africa to minister to Christians and debate with heretics; copious correspondence with Christians throughout the Empire; and a life-time of writing and commenting on Scripture. He produced the largest corpus to survive of any ancient author. This corpus was catalogued a few years before Augustine’s death by Augustine himself in his Retractiones, best translated Reconsiderations. As Otto Bird has noted:   “Augustine was…a very bookish person. Reading and writing meant a great deal to him. [“Saint Augustine on Reading”, The Great Ideas Today (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1988), 135].

Of his vast amount of books, three are central to understanding his thought and the impact of that thought upon the history of the West: the Confessions (397-401), the City of God (413-426) and On the Trinity (399-419). Outside of Scripture, the books of no other figure had a greater impact on Christian thought down to the time of the Reformation than Augustine. It can be said of him with regard to the realm of theology what Cassius says of Julius Caesar in William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar: “he doth bestride the narrow world like a colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs” [Julius Caesar Act I, Scene 2, lines 135-137].

Augustine died on 28 August, 430, with the city of Hippo Regius being besieged by a Germanic people known as the Vandals, who were originally from the region of the Baltic Sea. We are thankful to God that they did not destroy the greatest North African theologian’s library in their sack of the city.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Leadership studies have become a significant sub-discipline in recent years and rightly so. Leadership is absolutely central to the success of any organization or endeavour. The danger of some of these studies is that they emanate from a purely theoretical perspective. Only those who have known the rigours of leadership are really qualified to talk about it.

David L. McKenna’s Never Blink in a Hailstorm and Other Lessons on Leadership (Baker, 2005) is by a man who knows the contours and challenges of leadership. McKenna was the youngest college president in the United States of his day and later served as the president of a number of other schools in his career, including Asbury Theological Seminary. In total, he has spent fifty years in education and leadership ventures.

The fourteen chapters are organized around time-tested maxims—such things as “Never Go Solo,” “Never Steal a Paper Clip,” “Never Expect Thanks” and the title of the book—and purposely seek to be a means of mentoring leaders. McKenna rightly states that by “recognizing that past leaders have something unique to contribute to future leaders, mentoring is a direct repudiation of a secular and postmodern mind-set” (p.12). He also acknowledges memory as a motive for writing the book: “the record of the past needs to be preserved for the time when sound bites fade and celebrities fail” (p.11).

Like every good writer, McKenna has a knack in expressing himself in rich aphorism:

“Management is a science of learned skills; leadership is an art of intuitive sense” (p.15).

“Dependence upon competency is my temptation; dependence upon God is my thirst” (p.29).

“Human beings make symbols; great leaders master them” (p.113).

And while willing to learn from secular discussions of leadership—McKenna can say “astute leaders are students of culture” (p.113)—he unabashedly gives the reader a Christian model of what leadership is about. Thus, he can affirm, for example: “Unconditional love is the ultimate competency for Christian leadership. It cannot be earned by degrees, conferred through titles, given with awards, or written in books. Competency in unconditional love comes only through utter dependence upon God” (p.29).

After perusing a lot of secular material on the art of leadership, I found the book a refreshing read and a powerful encouragement to model my leadership on the principles for such found in Holy Writ.