Athanasius Addresses the Contemporary Church

Thomas G. Weinandy concludes his book Athanasius: A Theological Introduction (Aldershot: Ashgate, 207) with a set of brief, but penetrating reflections upon lessons that the contemporary North American church and academy would do well to learn from the 4th century Church Father.  Here are a few of the incisive paragraphs on what Athanasius has to teach us about reading Scripture:

“To the detriment of contemporary Old Testament interpretation, emphasis is often placed solely upon the political, social, economic and cultural settings of the various books and the theological interpretation and significance is then limited to a particular historical milieu.  Such an academic undertaking undermines the seamless progressive evolution of God’s revelatory acts, and so destabilizes their future prophetic revelatory significance.  What is missing and what is sorely needed today is what Athanasius gloried in — rereading the whole of the Old Testament having discovered its surprise ending, Jesus Christ.  Athanasius realized that, as a Christian theologian, he was not only able to perceive the ultimate significance of Old Testament revelation, but also, in so doing, to grasp even more deeply the novelty, import and meaning of the New Testament proclamation.” (134)

“Here resides another lesson of contemporary significance.  Biblical interpretation must not reside simply within the boundaries of an academy that is permitted to isolate itself from the ecclesial community and its living interpretive tradition.  Christian scripture scholars are called, by the nature of their vocation, to aid the church and its members to comprehend more deeply the significance and relevance of biblical truth, but they can do so only as believing members themselves, residing within a living ecclesial body and doctrinal tradition.  They are to bring new light, clarity and nuance to that living ecclesial interpretive tradition, to that Christian faith, and not, under the guise of scholarship to undercut or negate essential truth of the church’s biblical faith.” (135)

“Athanasius teaches us one last lesson, implied in all of the above, that is, scripture is in itself doctrinal and the doctrines perceived within scripture allow the church and its members to deepen their knowledge of and love for scripture.  Scripture, for Athanasius, is the heart of doctrine, and doctrine, in turn, is the life blood of scripture” (136).

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