Sunday, July 01, 2012

My Edited Review of Rebecca Lyman's Early Christian Traditions

General Overview

Rebecca Lyman's work Early Christian Traditions is volume six in the New Church's Teaching Series. It has been published to inform Anglicans about the origin, history and essence of the Christian religion. While Lyman's work contains few surprises, it is still informative and scholarly. She primarily reviews the historical activities of the first century and medieval Church. Lyman's coverage of how the Trinity doctrine developed also should prove to be useful for students of fourth century Christological disputes. Christology refers to the doctrine of Jesus Christ: it may include not only teachings about him, but also deal with how salvation is brought about through the Lord.

Some of the topics discussed in this book are the social world of the early church, what the expression "imperial Christianity" means and some early depictions of Jesus Christ. Lyman closes out this introductory work on a climactic note, detailing the theology of Bishop Augustine and his famed teaching about the city of God. These contents alone make the book worth purchasing for Church historians. But other details could be added to this review.

Specific Contents

Lyman adroitly employs sociological and historical tools with satisfactory results. Her knowledge and methodology are impressive though I was somewhat disappointed with the writer's seeming inability to "think outside the box" of orthodoxy. For example, we read: "For the most part in this early stage, the word 'God' was usually reserved for the Father as creator. However, in the Gospel of John the language of 'Father' and 'Son' was used to express the unique and eternal intimacy between God and Jesus" (113).

While it is correct to say that the word God in Scripture normally refers to the Father (and this term also has a unique reference to his unparalleled Deity), Lyman apparently is regurgitating well-worn claims when she writes that the expression "Son" (hUIOS) is used in the Gospel of John to express "the unique and eternal intimacy between God and Jesus." In the Hebrew writings, the word "son" (used non-Christologically) is utilized to express an intimacy between God and his spirit sons--without denoting an "eternal" form of closeness (Job 38:4-7). A suggestion that John employs "Son" in the way purported by Lyman does not seem to be justified.

I was also disappointed by Lyman's treatment of the Arian controversy. Contemporary research has revealed that Arianism and "orthodoxy" were not that far apart in terms of how they viewed Christ (Jaroslav Pelikan). The Arians worshiped the Son and regularly prayed or sang hymns to God's Messiah. Arius said that Jesus was "fully God" and "the strong God." The ancient presbyter's study of Christ was primarily driven by his soteriology and ardent desire to understand the biblical witness about the Lord. In my personal estimation, Lyman should have implemented what recent studies have unfolded about Arius. Despite these small quibbles, however, her book is well worth the money. I learned from the study's presentation of familiar events, and felt that Lyman was fairly objective. I give the book a 4 star rating out of 5 stars.

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