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Kenneth Stewart: In Search of Ancient Roots

Kenneth J. Stewart, In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past And the Evangelical Identity Crisis (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017).

The author of In Search of Ancient Roots, Kenneth J. Stewart, professor of theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, maintains that the roots of the evangelical tradition goes further back than the 17th and 18th centuries and even the Reformation era of the 16th century and be found as early as the middle of the 3rd century when Cyprian, about A.D. 280, questioned the authority of a single “pope” in his The Unity of the Church (De Unitate Ecclesia, PL 4.502).

Stewart is a specialist in the history of Christianity from the Reformation to the present, with particular interest in the development of the evangelical movement as it arose soon after the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Stewart holds a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, and has been a contributor to the Blackwell Dictionary of Evangelical Biography. He bases his argument for an ancient heritage for Evangelical Christianity upon the work of a prior researcher, John Jewel, who in his preaching in England in the late 16th century gave reference to Cyprian’s De Unitate Ecclesia in which this Church Father argued against the need of a pope and for the need of a plurality.

This reviewer feels that Stewart could not have done a better job of referencing. The reason for this reviewer’s praise is that as a student at the Divinity School of Duke University, this reviewer had the opportunity to read in Cyprian’s works in a Historical Theology class. Cyprian maintained that “upon this rock [petra]” did not refer to Peter since the feminine form for “rock” referenced his confession. Cyprian must have had Paul’s letter to the Corinthians alongside his other reading where Paul stated that no other foundation can be laid for the church than that of faith in Christ Jesus. That, in and of itself, is sufficient as an evangelical contention.

Chapter two of Stewart’s In Search for Ancient Roots traces the evangelical message as a recurring occurrence from the very beginning. In Chapter 3, Stewart addresses the need for appraising the Christian past prior to the 19th 18th, and 16th centuries and not treating evangelical Christian faith as product of the camp meetings of the early 1820’s and the later emergence of both Charles Finney and Dwight L. Moody. Chapter 4 does just that by examining the use of the past by Protestants beginning with present-day Protestant denominations and working backwards to the 16th Century and credits the advent of “type-setting” by Johannes Gutenberg (d. 1468) as enabling mass circulation of the writings of both the early patristic era of the church and of the classical writers of the Graeco-Roman era.  Stewart found that among the most used by the Reformers was the Comminatory of Vincent of Lerian composed in the early 5th century.

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Category: Church History, Spring 2018

About the Author: Woodrow E. Walton, D.Min. (Oral Roberts University School of Theology and Missions), B.A. (Texas Christian University), B.D. [M.Div.] (Duke Divinity School), M.A. (University of Oklahoma), is a retired Seminary Dean and Professor of biblical, theological and historical studies. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, he and his wife live in Fort Worth, Texas. Walton retains membership with the Evangelical Theological Society, American Association of Christian Counselors, American Society of Church History, American Academy of Political Science, and The International Society of Frontier Missiology.

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