Review: The Rule of Faith

PrintEverett Ferguson is no stranger to the many discussions that center around the life and theology of early Christianity. Ferguson is Emeritus Professor of Church History at Abilene Christian University and holds numerous academic and scholarly honors. Ferguson has a doctoral degree with distinction in History and Philosophy of Religion from Harvard University. He is also the author of a long list of important works pertaining to the history of Christianity, including, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 2nd edition (Routledge, 1997), Church History, Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context, 2nd edition (Zondervan, 2013), Church History, Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context (Zondervan, 2013), and Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd edition (Eerdmans, 2003).

Most recently, Ferguson has brought together a small but welcomed addition to the growing Cascade Companion series. The Rule of Faith: A Guide fits well within the overall aim of this ambitious series, as it couples academic rigor and readability with intentional precision. Ferguson presents the “rule of faith” (or regula fidei) as a necessary companion to the well-known creeds of early Christendom and something that developed as an outcome of the written Scriptures. It is the summary of apostolic preaching and teaching, found most authoritatively in the canon of Scripture (p. xi). But, interestingly enough, as Ferguson articulates clearly in the initial chapters of the book, the “rule of faith” obtained ecumenical support far before the fourth and fifth centuries. In other words, Ferguson demonstrates without a shadow of a doubt, a clear consensus among early Christian writers concerning some of the most foundational tenets of the Christian faith prior to the traditionally agreed upon date for the canon of Scripture.

Ferguson begins the journey with a survey of the “rule of faith” in early Christian literature and guides the reader through the fluidity of terminology that unites the underlying concept among the primary sources. Chapter one and two are necessary starting points for the unfamiliar reader, but I think Ferguson’s handling of the passages will benefit the familiar reader as well. Chapter three brings clarity to the concept as Ferguson guides the reader through interpretation of the “rule of faith” among the various early Christian authors. This section is well written and appropriately placed within the book. Chapter four outlines the history of the study of the “rule of faith” and familiarizes the reader with the various theories that emerge within the discussion. This section is helpful and builds a context for the fifth chapter in which Ferguson carefully summarizes and articulates the function of the “rule of faith” in the life and practice of the early Christian communities. Lastly, Ferguson applies the academic investigation of the “rule of faith” to the contemporary church, suggesting it’s usefulness in bringing to bear a succinct statement of core doctrine, discerning a center from the periphery in Christian doctrine, testing teaching, as well as keeping the focus on Christ and his story.

The Rule of Faith: A Guide is a helpful little book that successfully examines an often overlooked reality within early Christianity. Despite the lack of the Bible as we know it today, the early community of God’s people overtly gathered themselves around a common core of beliefs—the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Everett Ferguson was an ideal candidate for the task that a book of this caliber required, and his contribution is sure to be enjoyed by readers of all educational backgrounds. It’s an intentionally short read that is guaranteed to perk interest in the right places. If you are looking for an intriguing and well-written study on one of the most foundational aspects of early Christianity, then look no further.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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