The dissatisfaction with the Reformation and the Reformers did not lead to further chronological study going backwards. I did study Anglicanism and the Anabaptists a little, but I did not study much prior to the Renaissance. Ironically, at this point I jumped to studying the early church rather than looking at Eastern Orthodoxy or Catholicism – at the time, like many Protestants, I just assumed that they would not be satisfactory either. I was thinking more along the lines of the emerging church movement – like much of my generation, moving away from evangelical denominationalism and established churches.
I started studying the early church – in the Biblical texts, histories and the early church fathers. Of course I had studied the Bible quite a bit; I had read through all sixty-six books over a dozen times in many different English translations and had studied Biblical (Koiné) Greek for a few semesters. Also, I already had a passing familiarity with Augustine, Josephus and Philo. I had read the deuterocanonicals, the apocrypha, most of the new and old testament pseudapigrapha and most of the dead sea scrolls while in college. I had read excerpts, but had never sat down and read the Apostolic Fathers. As I began to read texts like the Didache, I Clement, the Shepherd of Hermes and the writings of Ignatious, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian the early church sounded more and more… for lack of a better word, Catholic.
Dr. Frank Beckwith was reconciled with the Catholic church and resigned his post as president of the Evangelical Theological Society earlier this year (May 5th, 2007). He had come to the same conclusion, which he articulated very well on his blog. He writes, “However, in January, at the suggestion of a dear friend, I began reading the Early Church Fathers as well as some of the more sophisticated works on justification by Catholic authors. I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant and that the Catholic view of justification, correctly understood, is biblically and historically defensible. Even though I also believe that the Reformed view is biblically and historically defensible, I think the Catholic view has more explanatory power to account for both all the biblical texts on justification as well as the church’s historical understanding of salvation prior to the Reformation all the way back to the ancient church of the first few centuries. Moreover, much of what I have taken for granted as a Protestant—e.g., the catholic creeds, the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the Christian understanding of man, and the canon of Scripture—is the result of a Church that made judgments about these matters and on which non-Catholics, including Evangelicals, have declared and grounded their Christian orthodoxy in a world hostile to it. Given these considerations, I thought it wise for me to err on the side of the Church with historical and theological continuity with the first generations of Christians that followed Christ’s Apostles.”