I’m reading through Christopher Hall’s Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers and in his introduction he very accurately describes most people’s feeling when it comes to reading the Fathers. He writes:
Why should we take the time to read them? Were they not all wild allegorizers? Did they really understand the Gospel?..Didn’t they believe in salvation by works? Isn’t their understanding more Greek or Roman than Christian?
These are interesting and honest questions – but they should be actual questions and not reasons to dismiss the Fathers outright without giving them a fair shake. The second question is of particular interest to me and something on which I will blog more extensively. In my class on Hermeneutics at Southeastern, Dr. Akin discussed the Church Fathers in rather broad terms and “allegorizers” was one of them. It was used with a negative connotation, in comparison to the “sober-minded” exegesis of…well, I guess himself. I think this question assumes two things: 1) All the Fathers were “wild allegorizers” and 2) Allegory is wrong. Neither is true. In fact, Andrew Louth has a chapter in Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology entitled Return to Allegory in which he argues for the validity (and necessity) of allegorical interpretation. It’s really a very good read and later I’ll blog on it more specifically.