Tuesday, June 3, 2014

An Early Church Father we should know more about

Everything I know about Basil of Caeserea I learned from this book.  Seriously.  Before reading this new work from Marvin Jones, I knew absolutely nothing of this immensely important Church Father and I would not be surprised if you knew almost as little I did.  That is a shame. 

I was stunned to come to know that we (yep, I am throwing you under the bus with me) knew so little about someone who played such a pivotal role at such a crucial point in church history.  But fret you not, this newest volume in the Early Church Fathers Series is set to rectify this massive injustice!  And it does a fine job.

This work serves the reader in many ways.  It introduces us to Basil and shows us the Christ-centered way in which he filled the numerous roles entrusted to him.  We see Basil-the humble theologian as he grows in his understanding of the Trinity and wrestles with ousia and stases  and all those issues that are complex to us with 1600 more years of Church history to draw from than that to which Basil was privileged. 

We see Basil the moderate monk who sought to bring some outward focus to the monastic life.  We see Basil the courageous Church statesman as he went to war for truth and Scriptural fidelity, losing friends and prestige along the way but being used by God posthumously in a mighty way (Council of Constantinople).  We see Basil the pastor as he guides his flock through the depths of Genesis in a world of heresy-breeding allegory, ever-concerned with the spiritual health of those entrusted to him.  You will not walk away from this work without an appreciation of the grace of God that operated lavishly in the life of Basil of Ceasarea. 
As far as this volume goes, there were points that it was a bit redundant.  I’ll let you decide if this is a benefit or detriment since the redundancy is good in that it reinforces the information but bad since this can also be a bit tedious.  Also, for one who has a basic working knowledge of early church history, some of the coverage (of Arianism and Nicea and elsewhere) is a bit of rehash. 

The ordering of the book at times was confusing.  The chapters did not seem to necessarily build off each other and had some overlapping content.  If you are reading this straight through that can be slightly off-putting, but it is neat because the chapters have an essay feel where they can be read individually and still be beneficial.

The chapter on Basil’s Hexaemeron was really good in parts (the pastoral aspect of Basil’s teaching is a wonderful challenge and ecnouragement) but Jones’ focus on the anti-evolution aspect of Basil’s Genesis exposition does not simply “risk being anachronistic”, it runs head on into anachronism and embraces it fully.  The comparison between Basil’s rejection of a Platonic worldview and the modern Evangelical’s struggle with a Darwinian worldview was interesting and helpful, if at times a tad overstated.

That being said, this is an excellent work that covers topics that are just as crucial today as when they were being formalized and attacked early in our history.  The Trinity, the deity of Christ and the Spirit, the strange bed-fellows of Secular/civil government and the church, all are areas of importance today.  There is so much in Christian thought and practice that we, almost 2000 years removed from the cross, take for granted.  Issues that had to be discussed and debated and fought for and we are the recipients of so much work and struggle, hardship and enduring.  God blessed the Church with men like Basil that we might enjoy the fruit of their effort and God’s grace.  We would do well to learn about these men so that we might thank God for his continued faithfulness to his people throughout the ages.  that we would benefit from learning from Basil’s teaching and experience.  

I received a copy of this book for review purposes.