Church historian Carl Trueman once wrote, “If I had my time over again, I would have studied patristics rather than [the] Reformation.”
Michael Haykin—my “doctor father” who serves as professor of church history at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies—recently wrote a Facebook post setting forth what he regards as “a four-step program” to becoming a church historian with a fifth vital point:
1. Spend your 20s getting Greek and Latin down pat, as well as getting a good grasp of at least French and German (and Italian and Dutch if you can get them).
2. Do a BA that has a good sprinkling of history (classical, medieval, modern) and philosophy.
3. Then when you do your MA/MDiv, focus as much as you can on Patristics. That will reinforce the Greek and Latin.
4. Do a PhD in Patristics. I do a lot of work in 18th-century Dissent, but the best foundation is still Patristics. Other areas of study can come later. Late medieval and Reformation studies with a good dose of Latin would also be nearly as good as Patristics!
5. Never forget the goal: to become an historian for the good of the church and the glory of God.
If you’ve always wanted to know more about the Church Fathers, you could consult the following to start:
- Michael Haykin, Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church
- Michael Haykin, The Church Fathers as Spiritual Mentors: Faith Is Illumined
- Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeing the Face of God
- Bryan Litfin, Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction
Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English