Do You Know Me? A Review of Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction (Bryan Litfin, Brazos Press, 2007)


Clay Belcher, March 5, 2008

     Bryan Litfin, associate professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute has written a fascinating and helpful book titled Getting to Know the Church Fathers. It slowly dawned on me as I worked my way through this book that the title must have been very deliberately chosen, for it is quite apt. By the time you read any of the brief biographies of these early church fathers (and a couple of mothers as well), you get the feeling that you are somehow connected to them and, more importantly, you have seen a glimpse of their personalities—in short, you are getting to know them. Far from just explaining their theology, Litfin actually introduces us to them. The sensation is not unlike when, at a social event, your friend introduces a newcomer with the words “George here rowed at Chicago too” or “Mary is also a bookstore owner”.
      Each of the ten chapters typically opens with an anecdote or scene from modern life which is then linked to the personage under consideration. For example, Tertullian is introduced through a long excerpt from the actual diary of a 19th century cowboy eating dust on a cattle drive. Here’s how Litfin explains the connection:
           "I want to suggest that in many ways the two men were cut from the    same cloth. Both possessed a kind of dogged determination in the face of adversity; both refused to shrink from challenge; both were audacious in what they dared to attempt. Tertullian lived in a time when his “herd” was not safely corralled, and so was exposed to danger from all sides. Instead of backing down, Tertullian rode into the fray with a rebel yell and both guns blazing."
      Tertullian the cowboy! How can we ever confuse him with some staid, dull theologian again?
      After the chapter’s introduction comes a summary of life events and discussion of the context in which the specific historic figure’s theology was shaped. This forms the bulk of each chapter. Litfin then provides his “reflections on” the church father. In keeping with the subtitle of the book, “an Evangelical Introduction”, the reflections segment is a sort of summarizing and synthesis of why this Father is important to evangelicals today.
      Litfin follows with “provocative questions” which could serve nicely in a group discussion session making this an excellent book for an adult Sunday School class or book club. Next comes one of this bibliophile’s favorite parts of each chapter: “Good Books to Dig Deeper,” a briefly annotated bibliography. Finally each chapter concludes with excerpts from the writings of the featured Father in the section labeled “a taste of.”
      The excellent introduction contains an explanation of who the church fathers were and discusses several fallacies concerning them. In answering the question “why study the church fathers” the author not only invites us to plunge into the pages of his book, but to embark on a fascinating exploration of our spiritual ancestors. Litfin provides a brief time line and a map in the introduction, but I would have liked to have seen more visual materials included within each chapter. Reproductions of bits of manuscripts, artwork from the period, and graphical presentation of related data might have counteracted the occasional tendency to doze off during my late-night readings.
      This book is very approachable by the lay reader who knows little about Church history. Dr. Litfin has succeeded in helping us “realize that the opening actors in the Christian drama were flesh-and-blood people who lived their lives in God’s presence just as we do today.”

Dr. Belcher is a former engineering professor, and currently owns an
independent bookstore/art gallery/coffee shop in Lawrence, KS, home
of the Jayhawks.
Check out his blog at


The views here expressed are those of the reviewer and may not reflect those of the editors of To comment on this review, send us an e-mail.