Evangelicals and Tradition

The Formative Influence of the Early Church

series: Evangelical Ressourcement

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"A unique book. It is both an insightful introduction to the development of patristic thought and an eloquent plea for Protestants to re-appropriate the early Christian heritage. . . . It is a book that could be used in a classroom or in a congregation."--Anders S. Tune, Journal of Early Christian Studies

Evangelicals and Tradition is the first in a new series of monographs on the church fathers entitled Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church's Future. This volume lays the groundwork for the series by examining the concept of tradition--its definition, origin, and components. Williams addresses the issue of tradition and authority in the early church and discusses the relationship between tradition and the Protestant "traditions" of sola scriptura and sola fide. Finally, he examines numerous examples of how tradition was used in the early church, including confessions of faith, catecheses, rules of faith, commentaries, homilies, theological hymnody, and theological works.


About the series: The Evangelical Ressourcement series is grounded in the belief that there is a wealth of theological, exegetical, and spiritual resources from the patristic era that is relevant for the Christian church today and into the future. Amid the current resurgence of interest in the early church, this series aims to help church thinkers and leaders reappropriate these ancient understandings of Christian belief and practice and apply them to ministry in the twenty-first century.


"Williams has brought a new sense of engagement to the ancient task of relating Scripture, tradition, and spiritual experience. Evangelicals need to be reminded that there is a truly catholic tradition that goes back to the apostles that belongs to them as much as it does to other Christians. This book roots us in the living faith of every age and should be welcomed by everyone who wants to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ."--Gerald Bray, Anglican professor of divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

"There is a great need today to get behind the Reformers and rediscover the sources of their theology and piety. The substance of the great fathers of the church will propel evangelicals into a deeper level of theological thought and ecumenical dialogue. Evangelicals and Tradition will initiate that discussion and lead the way."--Robert Webber, Myers Professor of Ministry, Northern Seminary

"In this book, Williams expands an argument he has made before--that discerning appropriation of the early church is not just a proper but a necessary task for evangelical Protestants. Williams's careful recommendation of catholic tradition should promote the right kind of theological and practical reflection among his intended audience. His unusually balanced and well-grounded presentation should make the book helpful for Roman Catholics and the Orthodox as well."--Mark A. Noll, McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame

"This is a brief and accessible primer by a major evangelical historian on the indispensability of tradition for the church's life and worship. Written especially for free church Christians, Evangelicals and Tradition is a manifesto urging evangelicals to embrace the church's most ancient tradition, the age of councils and creeds. Williams shows that tradition is a form of communal memory and that, without its steadying presence, Christian congregations--even if they flourish in the springtime of their lives--will in time languish and wither."--Robert Louis Wilken, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity, University of Virginia

"Here is a classic introduction to theology. Focused on evangelicals, its deep vision and sharp statement make it invaluable for all Christians. In nearly thirty-five years of teaching introductory courses, I have never seen such a beneficial book about the nature of theology: small, packed, and clear. We are all in Williams's debt for this project."--Frederick W. Norris, professor of world mission/evangelism and Dean E. Walker Professor of Church History, Emmanuel School of Religion

"In response to the pressures of modern culture, the church has dulled its message. But that message can regain its edge if evangelicals will listen to the demands of the gospel through the ears of the church fathers. Tradition used to be a 'fightin' word' for Protestants, but Williams argues that, with the proper approach, tradition can be evangelicals' ally instead of their enemy."--David Neff, editor and vice president, Christianity Today

"This is a very rare thing: a necessary book. It undertakes to reconnect evangelical Protestants with the early church fathers and to acquaint them with the fundamental ways in which these remarkable thinkers shaped Christianity. Williams skillfully exposes the unfortunate myth that Luther, Calvin, and the other Protestant founders discarded the entire Catholic tradition and built anew from biblical foundations. In truth, these great Protestants acknowledged their immense debts to the fathers of the early church. If one is to grasp Christianity fully, one must grasp the contributions made by the patristic fathers."--Rodney Stark, author of The Rise of Christianity

"Evangelicalism is best defined as a renewal movement within historic Christian orthodoxy. This volume explores a major wellspring of that renewal--the evangelical appropriation of Christian tradition. It is an important contribution to theological ressourcement."--Timothy George, dean, Beeson Divinity School; executive editor of Christianity Today

"The Protestant Reformation began as a call for the church catholic to receive the evangelical word of Scripture. Over time, evangelical Christianity lost its sense of catholicity. Williams has emerged as one of the leading voices of this generation calling for the retrieval of the evangelical catholic heritage of the Reformation. More importantly, he shows how to integrate the retrieved tradition into the theological reflections of contemporary evangelicalism. This book deserves to be widely read and wisely practiced."--Curtis W. Freeman, research professor of theology and director, Baptist House of Studies, Duke Divinity School

The Author

  1. D. H. Williams

    D. H. Williams

    Continue reading about D. H. Williams


"Sociologists and theologians assert that we live in a post-Christian milieu. Such a claim may be overstated, but the Christian community at large is referred to as postdenominational. Theological and biblical illiteracy are the norm, not the exception; furthermore, the corporate or Catholic church has veered from tradition or lost its roots. Nature abhors a vacuum, and Williams fills the void with this first in a new series on the church fathers, 'Evangelical Ressourcement,' which exhumes exegetical, theological, and spiritual wisdom from the patristic church. As a professor of patristics and historical theology at Baylor University, Williams is qualified to tackle this subject. . . . The book should engender amicable and productive dialog and appeal to Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox believers alike. The end result: renewal, recovery, and revival of the 21st-century Church. . . . Although a primer, the book is most appropriate for serious readers. . . . Recommended without reservation for academic libraries and collections specializing in religion and theology."--C. Brian Smith, Library Journal

"This is an important book that deserves a reading exceeding the limits of its intended audience. For it offers an important insight into just how the first five centuries can, do, and should guide not only free-church evangelicals, but also other Protestants and even Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. I can't help but wonder, however, whether the target audience is seriously prepared to engage with Williams' argument. It will benefit global Christianity greatly if it is."--Tim Perry, Faith Today

"Evangelicals and Tradition may provoke some interesting rethinking of believers' assumptions."--Alan Cochrum, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"D. H. Williams is a Patristics scholar who has done as much as anyone in recent decades to introduce Evangelicals to their rich and neglected heritage in the early church. . . . As so much of contemporary Christianity struggles to come to grips with the issues represented in today's popular buzz-word 'Post-Modernism,' Williams is an invaluable source of wisdom that guides us back to the earliest centuries and the legacy that point us to a healthy integration of Scripture, heritage and ecclesiology."--Vision Video/Gateway Films

"This useful book, the first in a series entitled Evangelical Ressourcement, is also a manifesto. Its remedy for the 'theological ignorance' of the modern evangelical is a return to the traditions of the ancient Church."--Mark Edwards, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

"[Williams] offers us a clear and highly accessible introduction to his thesis. . . . A clear strength of the book is the reminder that the attempt to articulate our faith should never be separated from the practice of it. We have within the Church's canonical tradition the resources necessary to meaningfully engage in the theological task without sole recourse to the academy. On this point alone Williams' thesis should earn a hearing! The book opens to us potential avenues for further study as we are given glimpses of creeds and catecheses, biblical commentaries and ancient hymnody and what re-appropriation of these resources might look like. But this volume being the introduction to a series, we need to wait--expectantly!--for other volumes to see where these avenues will lead."--Luke A. Ijaz, Themelios

"Williams' style is as accessible as it is scholarly, and his book will be read with profit and enjoyment by anyone interested in the early Christian tradition itself, in the Reformation debates about tradition, in ecumenism, or in a contemporary theology of tradition."--Denis Minns, Expository Times

"This exceptional book is a must-read, not only for evangelicals, but for all Protestants in whom a distrust of tradition has been written into their theological DNA. Williams subjects to withering critique the all too popular notion that the great Reformers discarded early church tradition in its entirety and approached the interpretation of Scripture in a theological vacuum. Written in a very accessible manner, this book could be used as a textbook in an introductory theology course or as a foundation for interdenominational dialogue."--James Beilby, Religious Studies Review

"A careful but quite readable study, Evangelicals and Tradition explains in detail the early Church as a source of Protestant identity. . . . It includes a list of patristic resources in English, research tools, and useful websites."--David Mills, Touchstone

"[A] short but instructive book. . . . As an introduction to the topic, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church is a must-read by any evangelical who seriously values the life of the church as molded through history."--Donald Patten, Emmaus Journal

"The final chapter is a brief review of the various resources of the ancient tradition, which most readers who are not familiar with the patristic church will find very beneficial. The book also contains a helpful two-page bibliography of all the patristic resources available in English in print and on the internet. Williams' book has many valuable and helpful insights that will no doubt stimulate greater interest in the early church as he points today's church to the full-orbed Christianity of its ancestors."--Jacques Roets, Mid-America Journal of Theology

"Williams's patristic passion is contagious. Evangelicals and Tradition is at once erudite and pastoral, making it a great guide for those who want to retrieve the church's ancient roots and a challenge to those 'suspicious Protestants' who are evangelical enough to be skeptical of anything additional to the Spirit's spontaneity and Scripture's simplicity. It should be required reading for seminaries and seasoned clergy as I am confident it will reward readers with a penetrating portrayal of patristic tradition and with an itch to appropriate it creatively into current evangelical life."--James R. A. Merrick, Trinity Journal

"This is a unique book. It is both an insightful introduction to the development of patristic thought and an eloquent plea for Protestants to re-appropriate the early Christian heritage. . . . Williams's approach in Evangelicals and Tradition is complex, yet ultimately elucidating. It is a book that could be used in a classroom or in a congregation. His argument for the contemporary value and relevance of the achievements of the early church is an important one, especially for Protestants who might not otherwise appreciate this marvelous heritage."--Anders S. Tune, Journal of Early Christian Studies

"Williams argues his case well and helps evangelicals see that while Scripture is the highest authority, it is closely linked with tradition. . . . Readers of Williams' previous book, Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism, will appreciate this volume as a needed supplement explaining why it was legitimate for Williams to focus only on the first five centuries of church history when defining 'the tradition.' Readers from all levels of expertise will appreciate the book's list of patristic resources in English translation. . . . Williams does evangelicals a valuable service by calling them back to their roots in the early church. . . . This book can raise valid points that evangelicals might not otherwise consider."--David Roach, Eusebeia