A Review of Luke J. Wilson’s 40 Days With The Fathers

Hi readers, I’m taking a short break from my series on Pietism to share a review of a book I recently read. I will return to my series on Pietism next week. God Bless!

Luke J. Wilson’s 40 Days With The Fathers: A Journey Through Church History is an interesting work that connects modern readers with the Church Fathers in a creative way. A major goal of Wilson’s book is to introduce readers unfamiliar with the Patristic era to the writings of some of its most significant and influential figures. Wilson does this by carefully arranging excerpts of the Church Fathers’ writings into bite-sized readings that can be easily consumed over a forty-day period.

Wilson’s selections extend all the way from the earliest Patristic sources up to the ante-Nicene Fathers. Along with these excerpts of the Father’s writings, Wilson provides considerable background information as well as thoughtful commentary of his own. This helpful information allows readers unfamiliar with the Patristic era to situate the Church Fathers in their proper historical and cultural context, thus greatly increasing the reader’s understanding of these very important voices in church history.

Wilson writes passionately about the Church Fathers, and he has clearly invested a significant amount of time in reading and reflecting on their writings. He has also engaged in significant study of the relevant secondary literature. This project is obviously a labor of love and while Wilson is clearly appreciative of the Fathers and their tremendous impact on the church, this is not a work of hagiography. A few readers may find his writing style somewhat colloquial. However, most will probably find his conversational writing style refreshing. Readers who are unfamiliar with the Church Fathers, as well as theology and church history more generally, will find Wilson’s writing clear, approachable, informative, and often enjoyable.

While any survey of the Church Fathers’ writings will necessarily be somewhat piecemeal, all of Wilson’s selections are worthy of inclusion and they give the reader illuminating insight into the thought of the Patristic Church. After digging into Wilson’s book, readers will be introduced in an accessible way to the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Athanasius of Alexandria, Ambrose of Milan and many more besides. By making careful selections about which Patristic voices to include and providing helpful guidance along the way, Wilson has made it easier to digest the writings of the some of the greatest minds the church has ever produced.

I only have a few critiques of Wilson’s book. Occasionally, Wilson will appeal to church tradition somewhat uncritically. One example would be where he seemingly accepts the (likely legendary) account that the Didache was written by the twelve Apostles. This is remarkable as very few professional church historians would support such a view. Wilson also relies on Irenaeus of Lyons to provide historical insight into the writings of the Apostolic Fathers even while some scholars have seriously questioned how reliable of a source he is about this era. Furthermore, I think Wilson is sometimes more optimistic than I would be about the potential of Patristic exegesis to illuminate the New Testament when greater attention to the immediate historical, cultural, and linguistic background of the text would actually be more helpful.

Nevertheless, Wilson’s 40 Days With The Fathers: A Journey Through Church History is a good introduction to the writings and thought of the Patristic Church. Individuals and small groups will find the format of the book very helpful as it allows readers to absorb the writings of the Church Fathers over a longer period of time thus increasing reading comprehension. Accessible and clear, I will recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the Church Fathers and is new to the study of church history. I look forward to revisiting 40 Days With The Fathers anytime I need to be reacquainted with the great and spiritually enriching voices of the Church Fathers.

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