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McGuckin, John Anthony. The Path of Christianity: The First Thousand Years. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2017. 1209 pgs., Hb.; $65.00 Link to IVP

John Anthony McGuckin’s new book is a substantial contribution to the intellectual and social history of the first millennium of Christianity. Intentionally designed for use in a college or seminary classroom, McGuckin provides an excellent overview of major historical movements from the apostolic era through the Great Schism.

The Path of ChristianityOften church histories from evangelical publishers lean towards a western, Protestant form of Christianity and move rapidly from the Augustine to the Reformation (when the church really started). This is not the case for The Path of Christianity for two reasons. First, the book intentionally limits itself to the first millennium of the church. Few church history textbooks limit themselves to this period. Second, McGuckin is an archpriest of the Romanian Orthodox Church and his academic interests are solidly in the pre-Reformation period. He demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of Church History, having written twenty-five works of historical theology, including major works on St. Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Symeon as well as a survey of Orthodox Church history (The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Theology, & Spiritual Culture, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). As a result, McGuckin’s history is richly illustrated with a wide range of voices from both the eastern and western church.

The first twelve chapters of the book survey the first ten centuries of church history, from the end of the first through the eleventh century. Each chapter is well-organized and carefully outlined. The clearly marked sections will assist students as they work through the often lengthy chapters. Following each chapter is a “short reader” with excerpts from key texts from the period covered in the chapter. McGuckin also includes a “for further reading” bibliography organized into sections matching the text in the chapter.

At 144 pages, the first chapter is by far the most comprehensive as it covers the “fertile second century.” McGuckin surveys Jewish Christian groups (Encarites, Nazorenes, Ebionites, Elkesaites), Gnostic writers and Apostolic Fathers along with substantial sections on Montanism, Marcion, the Quarterodecimans, and Irenaeus. The chapter ranges into the third century with a section on the Monarchic movement (up to Hippolytus and Novatian of Rome). What is surprising about the book is the detail McGuckin is able to include. His descriptions of the four Jewish Christian groups are longer than most Church history textbooks (if they include early Jewish Christianity at all). His brief descriptions of each of the Apostolic Fathers are excellent introductions and his thirty pages on the Monarchian movement is more than enough to sort out the complexity of this issue.

As the title “Blood in the Arena” implies, the second chapter survey’s Rome’s response to Christianity from Nero through the Diocletian persecution, with attention to the status of Christianity in the Roman Empire. He has a lengthy discussion of Tertullian’s social theology as a response to imperial oppression. McGuckin includes rival non-Christian groups in this chapter (Mithras, Isis, Cyble and Manichaeism) as well as Christian relations with the Jews. Finally, McGuckin devotes a section of the chapter to the second century apologists (Justin Martyr through Minucius Felix).

The historical section also covers the development of theology as well. For example, the fifth chapter “Reconciling the World” begins with a short overview of Paul’s doctrine of reconciliation and how this doctrine was developed in both eastern and western penitential theology. McGuckin devotes about ten pages to eastern penitential canons including the rarely-discussed Synod of Ancyra in 314 and the influence of the canons of this Synod on the eastern monastic movement. This chapter has a lengthy section on the development of the monastic movement, once again beginning with its intellectual roots in the Hellenistic world and the New Testament. McGuckin includes brief sections on Syrian, Egyptian, and Palestinian monastic orders, taking into account the impact of Islam on these monastic centers. The chapter concludes with a collection of short readings from several monastic canons as well as Augustine’s Letter to a Female Monastic Community.

The second part of the book is a collection of topics of interest to scholars and historians of the first thousand years of the church. These chapters are intended as a social history of ideas and therefore trace an idea through the full thousand year period surveyed in the historical section. The topics in this section are:

  • The Bible and Its Interpretation in the Early Church
  • The Church and War
  • The Development of Christian Hymnography
  • Ways of Prayer in the Early Church
  • Women in Ancient Christianity
  • Healing and Philanthropy in Early Christianity
  • The Exercise of Authority in the Church: Orders and Offices
  • Christians and Magic
  • The Church and Wealth
  • Church and Slavery in an Age of Oppression
  • Attitudes to Sexuality in the Early Church
  • A Brief Account of Ancient Christian Art

Most of the chapters begin in the world of Hellenism and trace the issue through the biblical material into the early church. Some of these issues concern developments in worship, liturgy and art, but others are social issues (magic, wealth, slavery, sexuality). This volume is worth the price for the second half of the book alone.

For example, in his chapter on Healing and Philanthropy, McGuckin begins with healing in ancient Hellenism before quickly surveying the New Testament and patristic writers. He traces the same history for philanthropy, although the Hellenistic section is longer in this case. These two threads are combined in a short section on philanthropy in the Byzantine liturgy and the Hospital as symbol of the church. He includes short readings on the topic from biblical literature (Wisdom, Sirach, Luke, James and Paul), Gregory of Nazianzus and Pseudo-Basil.

McGuckin’s chapter on the development of Christian hymnody also begins with origin of Greek hymns (perhaps found in the Pauline letters) and compares them to pre-Christian Hellenistic hymns. There is a larger collection of short readings for this chapter in order to illustrate some of the more obscure early Christian hymns. These hymns are often translated by McGuckin and are annotated with comments suggesting poetic allusions. For most readers, this collection of hymns may be a first introduction to the vast number of hymns, songs and sacred poetry from the first millennium of the church.

As the bibliographies make clear, each chapter in this book is worthy of a monograph. In fact, given the length of the chapters and the slightly small font, several chapters could have been published as short stand-alone books. Despite the length of the book, McGuckin distills complex historical problems into a readable chapters and offers the interested reader an excellent list of resources to go much deeper. For students, these chapters are excellent introductions, but also resources for further research and writing.

Conclusion. Because McGuckin’s The Path of Christianity is so detailed, it is an important contribution to the study of church history. It is written in a style which will appear to the general reader as well as a student in a seminary class. But the massive amount of data in the book makes in a valuable reference work as well. It is possible the book is too much for classroom use, especially in a single, general seminary church history class. Nevertheless, the book will serve well as a standard reference for early church history.


NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Last week I offered a brand new copy of Ernst Käsemann, On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene: Unpublished Lectures and Sermons (Translated by Roy A. Harrisville; Eerdmans, 2010). I bought the book this weekend at the Eerdmans Warehouse Sale (one of the major benefits of living in Grand Rapids). I had a suspicion I already had the book, but bought it anyway. Once again, my leaky memory is to your benefit.

With  twenty-two comments (I deleted a duplicate name), then I randomized the names and used to select a winner. For the first time I can recall doing these giveways, the first comment was the winner:

Tim Bertolet

So congrats to Tim being first and winning this excellent book. Please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) or a DM on twitter (@Plong42) with your mailing address and I will pop this book in the mail ASAP.

Somehow I lost a week in the flurry of a new school year. I promised to give away another book I have recent purchased then found it was already on my shelf. This week I have a brand new copy of Ernst Käsemann, On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene: Unpublished Lectures and Sermons (Translated by Roy A. Harrisville; Eerdmans, 2010). I bought the book this weekend at the Eerdmans Warehouse Sale (one of the major benefits of living in Grand Rapids). I had a suspicion I already had the book, but bought it anyway. Once again, my leaky memory is to your benefit.

Commenting on Ernst Käsemann, Scot McKnight said about

“Käsemann’s theology is about breaking free from the idols of his age, in fact of any age, and this collection of essays will put before readers a window into Käsemann’s brilliant explorations of how to live as a disciple of Jesus in a world gone mad at times, in a world where we are called to resist, in a world where we are called to follow The Crucified One.”

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment with your name so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.

I will announce the winner picked at random on September 20, 2017 (one week from now). Good Luck!

Cover ArtIt is time to give away my extra copy of  Charles Talbert’s Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matthew 5–7 . As I mentioned in the previous post, I plan on teaching through the Sermon in my Sunday School class (which is now called “Second Hour” for hipster reasons which sometimes escape me). Browsing through Sermon on the Mount titles at Baker Books in Grand Rapids, I bought a copy of Talbert, only to discover it was already on my shelf.

There were 25 names in the hat, I randomly sorted the names and then used to pick a number. The winner is:

Dwight Gingrich

Huzzah to Dwight for winning this  book. Please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) or a DM on twitter (@Plong42) with your mailing address and I will pop this book in the mail ASAP.

I will launch the next give away this afternoon, so be sure to check back soon.

Cover ArtOnce again, to celebrate the end of the summer and beginning of the new academic year, I am giving away a few books. In this case, it is another book I purchase and then discovered I already had it on the shelf. Since I am planning to teach through the Sermon on the Mount in my Sunday School class this fall, I went to Baker Book House in Grand Rapids picked up several classic books on the Sermon. I grabbed a copy of Talbert’s Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matthew 5–7 and did not realize I already had it until I put it on the shelf. The good news is I am now offering a copy to a reader of this blog.

In his back-of-the-book endorsement, Dale C. Allison Jr. said “Charles H. Talbert’s expertise regarding the relevant ancient sources, whether Greco-Roman or Jewish, is matched by his thorough familiarity with recent critical study of the Sermon on the Mount. He is also theologically sensitive and hermeneutically sophisticated. The result is a lucid and sure guide to the minefield that is the Sermon on the Mount.”

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment with your name so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.

I will announce the winner picked at random on September 8, 2017 (one week from now). Good Luck!

I have not given away a book on Reading Acts in a while, but a giveaway is a good way to overcome the summer blogging malaise.  I recently reviewed Gerald McDermott’s recent book, Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2017).  I ended up with two copies, so I am offer a copy to a reader of this blog.

From my review:

Gerald McDermott edited a volume of essays on the status of Israel in the current age (The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land, InterVarsity Press, 2016). The volume included essays by two scholars associated with progressive dispensationalism (Darrell bock and Craig Blaising), two writers associated with the Philos Project (an organization which promotes positive Christian engagement in the Middle East, Robert Nicholson and Shadi Khallou), two writers who edited an Introduction to Messianic Judaism (Zondervan, 2013; Joel Willitts and David Rudolph). This new volume by Brazos Press is an attempt to present the ideas of this previous work at a popular level.

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment with your name so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.

I will announce the winner picked at random on June 21, 2017.

mcknight-galatiansToday is the day I pick a winner for a hardback copy of the NIVAC commentary by Scot McKnight on Galatians.

There were 23 comments (after I deleted some duplicates), so I pasted your names in a spreadsheet, sorted them randomly, then generated a random number at

And the winner is…..

Sam Van Eerden

Congrats to Sam! His favorite commentary on Galatians was Leon Morris, but I think F. F. Bruce was the most popular among the comments, with Luther getting honorable mention. Please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) with your mailing address and I will drop the book in the mail ASAP.

If you have not already done so, head over to Jennifer Guo’s blog, she is giving away the NIVAC volume on Psalms by Gerald Wilson. You have until 11/13 and several ways to enter to win the Psalms commentary. Better luck next time for the rest of you, I have another book or two to give away soon. You can follow this blog or follow me on twitter (@plong42) to hear about future book giveaways.

Thanks to Zondervan for providing this book for the giveaway. Zondervan is offering the 42 volumes of the NIV Application commentary for $4.99 each for a limited time. You have until November 13, 2016 (11:59pm ET) to purchase any volume of this series in an eBook format for only $4.99. They also have a few “bundles” which offer more savings.

Papandrea, James L. The Earliest Christologies: Five Images of Christ in the Postapostolic Age. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 144 pgs., Pb.; $18.00 Link to IVP

In his introduction, Papandrea explains the challenged faced in the post-apostolic era. Jesus taught and did miracles, was raised from the dead. This lead to the worship of Jesus from the very beginning of Christianity (15). There were good reasons to understand Jesus as divine, yet he suffered and died on the cross. It was difficult for the first few generations to reconcile Jesus’ humanity and his divinity. If Jesus was God, then he ought to be immutable; how then could he live as a human?

Papandrea-ChristologyPapandrea has limited his study to the post-apostolic age, primarily the second century. One reason is to avoid monarchic modalism which flourished in the third century and was a Trinitarian heresy rather than an attempt to explain who Jesus was. It also limits the discussion to the period before Arianism, a far more complicated view of Jesus worthy of a monograph on its own. By limiting himself to the second century, Papandrea has set a manageable goal for a short monograph. He does, however, mention both modalism and Arianism as the legacy of adoptionism in his final chapter.

As believers genuinely struggled with defining who (or what) Jesus was, several competing views emerged. Papandrea places these views along a continuum, beginning with Angel Adoptionism and Spirit Adoptionism, both of which emphasize the humanity of Jesus. He then describes Docetic Gnosticism and a hybrid form of Gnosticism emphasize the divinity of Jesus, concluding eventually Jesus a kind of “Cosmic Mind” devoid of humanity.

These four views might be called heresy, and they certainly were by the time Christians began to define orthodoxy. But Papandrea rightly points out these views all represent the sincere efforts of genuine Christians within the church to make sense of the difficult problem of who Jesus claimed to be. For the most part, these views “grew up rather organically or around certain teachers” (15).

Each chapter begins with a short definition of a view of who Christ was and a short survey of the literature used by the group. Angel Adoptionism is associated with Ebionism and may be represented in the eighth Sibylline Oracle, the Shepherd of Hermas, and (perhaps) an edited version of Matthew’s Gospel. Angel Adoptionism essentially believed that Jesus was a righteous human who was rewarded by God with the gift of an angelic spirit, called Christ. Similarly, Ebionites were also associated with Spirit Adoptionism, in which the man Jesus was given the Holy Spirit like an Old Testament prophet. Relying on the Gospel of the Nazarenes (possibly another name for Matthew, perhaps in Aramaic) and apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, this group also rejected the preexistence of Jesus as well as the virgin birth.

Docetic Gnosticism is an early form of Gnosticism which held that Jesus only appeared to be human. It is customary to cite 1 John as engaging this form of early Christology, although Papandrea suggests Docetists may have used a text like 1 Corinthians 15:50, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” to support their view of Jesus. If he was human (flesh and blood), then how can he ascend to heaven? Papandrea suggests some documents in the Nag Hammadi library may have been Docetic, especially the Thomas traditions (Gospel and Acts of Thomas) as well as the Acts of John. In this book, Jesus is not only intangible, he is invisible (55)!

Papandrea’s fourth view is a hybrid form of Gnosticism which thought of Jesus as a “Cosmic Mind.” The problem for Docetism is that there are too many stories about Jesus eating for him to have been some sort of phantom. He therefore suggests later Gnosticism was also a variation on adoptionism. He cites the Carpocrations and Sethians, and the teachers Basilides and Valentinius as examples of this view that a cosmic mind inhabited Jesus unto the crucifixion. The mind abandoned the man Jesus at that point, or switches bodies with Simon of Cyrene (73). Papandrea is sensitive to the wide variety of Gnostic teaching in this period and he is well-aware there was no standard view. But proposing this new category of “hybrid Gnosticism” he hopes to highlight the elements of Gnosticism which see divinity as a spark within humans while avoiding hedonistic aspects of Gnosticism appearing later.

At the center of his continuum, Papandrea places Logos Christology as a balance between the humanity and divinity of Jesus. The view opposes adoptionism by arguing Jesus pre-exists as the Logos, part of the Godhead, and develops a view of incarnation that can affirm a real bodily death and resurrection of Jesus. This eventual orthodox formulation is represented by Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Tertullian.

Finally, Papandrea concludes with a short chapter asking “what is orthodoxy?” To a certain extent, the orthodox view is the middle course between two extremes. Rather than asking “humanity or divinity?” the orthodox view sought to balance both since both were part of the apostolic preaching. Papandrea points out the important implications of adoptionism or Docetism have for the resurrection of Jesus. Neither adoptionism nor Gnosticism leave room for union with God at the resurrection, so that only Logos Christology affirms the bodily resurrection of Jesus (117).

Conclusion. This book makes a good supplemental reading for a systematic or historical theology class. Papandrea clearly and fairly presents the non-orthodox position and is to be applauded for avoiding the language of heresy for many of these positions. The orthodox view of the two natures of Jesus simply had not developed in the second century. He also avoids any of the conspiracy theories often present in a popular presentation of this period of history. It is not the case that orthodoxy suppressed the more spiritual (or liberal) Gnostics. The second century was a time when honest Christians struggled to make sense Jesus’ own question, “who do people say that I am?”

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Published on August 2, 2016 on Reading Acts.


Samuel-AdamsI have a huge pile of papers to grade before the end of the semester, so I have decided to do a little spring cleaning in my office instead of dispatch my responsibilities.

I have an extra copy of Samuel V. Adams, The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N. T. Wright (New Explorations in Theology; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarstiy, 2015).

Alan J. Torrance (University of St. Andrews) says “Adams draws on the immense strengths in Wright’s program while offering critical yet constructive theological engagement of a kind that significantly advances the discussion of his work. As such it is an outstanding theological introduction to what Wright is seeking to accomplish that should also inspire and challenge biblical scholars and theologians to examine the interface between their work and the essential affirmations of the Christian faith. Not only should this book prove invaluable to academics and students alike, but its lucidity and eloquence should also make it accessible to a wider audience. Highly recommended!”

This is the first book in a new monograph series from IVP Academic which hopes to publish the work of younger scholars in systematic, historical philosophical and practical theology.

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment mentioning  Or just leave your name so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.

I will announce the winner picked at random on Monday, April 25.

Logos Bible Software is going with a historical text for their “Free Book of the Month” promotion. They are offering Athanasius’s On the Incarnation of the Word of God in the Logos library and they will add a free audio version of the book shen production is complete. Athanasius of Alexandria (c. A.D. 296–298 – Athanasius373)  wrote just before the rise of Arianism in AD 319. This is his best-known work and addressed to a recent Christian convert.  On the Incarnation “laid the foundation for the orthodox party at Nicea, was hailed as the noble champion of Christ.” (Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, 18).

This edition was published in 1903 by the Religious Tract Society, although the text first appeared in the third volume of the Christian Classics Series in 1887. T. Herbert Bindley revised that translation and wrote an introduction to the book and a summary of each chapter (about 40 pages). The second part of the book contains a refutation of the Jews and the Gentiles, providing a window into evangelistic apologetics of the fourth century.

Athanasius-of-AlexandriaFor a mere $2 more, you can add Tertullian’s Against Praxeas. Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240) wrote this text to combat the rise of Sabellianism. This edition was published by A. Souter in 1920 by SPCK. The 25-page introduction outlines a basic introduction to Tertullian’s life and includes a brief synopsis of Against Praxeas. 

I notice On the Incarnation is the free Verbum book this month, but for 99 cents you can purchase Historical Tracts of St. Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria translated and edited by John Henry Newman (the volume contains the encyclical epistles of St. Athanasius).  Noet is giving away a copy of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment in exchange for an email address.

As always, Logos is giving away something related to the Free Book, so you can enter to win Enter to win Life and Works of Athanasius the Great (7 vols., $89.99 value). Enter early, enter often, but the free book offer and contest ends on April 30.


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