Who Should I Select as my Historical Mentor?

One of the tasks we’ve been set in my Church History Course is to choose a prominent theologian from Church History as a sort of historical mentor. The idea is to get to know an important person from church history through what they have written and by seeking to understand what they have to offer us as followers of Jesus Christ today.

I’m quite excited by this opportunity, but as is usually the case, there are far too many interesting options available, and I must choose one. The only real restriction is that the person have produced a large enough body of work to engage with for a long time, and that they are dead.

If you read this, I’d love to hear your recommendation for a historical mentor and why.

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21 thoughts on “Who Should I Select as my Historical Mentor?

      • Irenaeus: He was bishop of Lyon. He was the successor of a bishop who was martyred by the state. He fought the gnostics. He was very witty. He had a very pro-creation view of the eschatology. He defended the four-fold gospel against alternative gospels. Most of these subjects are important today.

        Athanasius: He was at the Council of Nicaea. He was bishop of Alexandria, the second most important city in the church at that time (next to Rome). Alexandria has a rich intellectual history (e.g. Origen, Clement). He was very, very influential in the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity. He was influential in the development of Christian Pneumatology. He fought the Arians. He wrote a hagiography on St. Anthony. He was persecuted and had to flee his home numerous times. He was one of the first Christians to wrestle with the role of the state.

  1. Is there an era you need to choose from? Also what is meant by ‘prominent?’ There may be theologians who are not prominent for us in the west, but are for others within their sphere of influence. 😉

    Mine would be Jan Huss, or Zinzendorf.

    • No specific era, just not living as far as I know. Prominent is certainly subjective, but as long as they have made a sizable (I know, subjective) contribution and have enough material to work through, I think they would be okay. Obviously the final decision will be up to my professor, Marc Cortez.

      Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll certainly consider them.

      • Huss is my favourite. Though I’m not sure we can truly call him a theologian in the strictest traditional sense of the term. Though I will argue that ‘Pastoral Theology’ is just as relevant as any other theology, and in this regard, Huss was a living theologian, though he may not have written as much as others.

        I’d love to hear more about your travels and how your wife’s background has an influence on American culture.

  2. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Decades long preaching ministry, dogged determination to stay faithful to the Word despite frequent misunderstanding and criticism from well-known leaders in the church of England (eg, John Stott!). He warned against the dangers of theological compromise and the nose-counting system of evangelism, was derided for being so nit-picky and negative, and now, almost 30 years after his death–his warnings have all proven have been spot on, and prophetic. Great two vol bio on him by Iain Murray.
    Or, John Chrysostom. Much like Lloyd-Jones, preached courageously in Constantinople, had a passion for missions and biblical preaching, was a faithful adherent of the Antiochan school of interpretation (not the Alexandrian method), was hated by the N. African bishops, died on a death-march ordered by the Empress. Besides his insights (esp. in the area of pastoral theology) he’s interesting because he’s really quirky and sometimes cranky towards the rich and empowered, but kindhearted towards the poor.
    Or, Jonathon Edwards, who may be the greatest theological mind born on American soil, loved his church despite their frequent mistreatment, reached out to Native Americans, had a ravenous interest in sciences and such (I think he even wrote a treatise on spiders!) Loved nature, being out of doors (like you), saw the hand of God in nature.
    All three of these guys experienced the lion’s share of their sufferings from fellow churchmen, not the surrounding culture–I think that builds a lot of character in a man.

      • Cool, your Dad is quite a guy! I note a pull in suggestions towards Church Fathers, and Reformation figures… Are you drawn that way? I did a lot of reading and bio study on Augustine and Chrysostom, really enjoyed it. I’m glad you’re limited to dead guys–the one’s still living are too contemporary, and you could too easily become a copy-cat preacher/teacher/pastor, etc. One thing that I’ve noticed about the centuries-removed mentors is that it is often more difficult discovering and observing their faults and deficiencies from the perspective of their contemporaries, and through historical data itself. We are often forced to learn of their foibles and struggles either through their own writings (eg. Confessions) alone, or through writings by authors who are basically sympathetic towards them, and therefore prone to trivialize the serious areas of failure in the lives of their hero, or present them as quaint stories to reassure readers in the ages to come of how “real” they were…. If I were doing it again, I’d pick the historical figure who seemed to do/be the person that I aspired to be, and hoped to be doing once I settled into ministry….

  3. i might suggest augustine for a few reasons, one being the vast amount of stuff he wrote on including very practical things like ethics, lying, just war, etc. it is so satisfying to find stuff on issues you need a hear word on, and the words are good at that.

    I also love how he thought so critically and saw a dozen categories where we see one. it brings help and understanding to practical things we face and trains us how to think (yes, us. modern us. we can’t improve on much of this stuff. again, so satisfying).

    another reason is that the church universal looks to him as a father; descends (in terms of wisdom and spirituality) in many, many ways from him even if they don’t ever come to realise it; and is still spoken to by him the world over whether russian orthodox or the church that rents the school gym for services, who, whether by serious study or mere stumbling upon his words, are struck by them, and in turn share them with the congregation.

    if that’s not enough, his works are highly available online and have been commented on a very great deal through the centuries so you’re never in the dark. if you go with him, find good translations in English that speaks well (some translations are wooden or tough).

    if you don’t chose him, you might choose one of his contemporaries as, by virtue of their placement in history, these guys spoke natively the koine speech the NT was penned in, and when we find it impossible to understand paul for instance in English, you can look up the ancient commentaries of these native koine Greek speakers/readers and hear their natural take on things.

  4. Pingback: Historical Mentor Revisited – John Chrysostom | What I See

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