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Early Christian Doctrines [Paperback]

J. N. D Kelly
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

22 Jun 2006
A history of the doctrines of the Early Church, this text describes the development of the principal Christian doctrines from the close of the first century to the middle of the fifth, from the end of the apostolic age to the Council of Chalcedon.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Continuum International Publishing Group - Mowbray; 5 edition (22 Jun 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826452523
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826452528
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 323,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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THE object of this book is to sketch the development of the principal Christian doctrines from the close of the first century to the middle of the fifth. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for Early Church history 31 Aug 2002
If you have read Chadwick's The Early Church, and want more, this is the book! Considering the book was first published in 1958, with a little revision, it remains one of the best books regarding the Early Christian Church.
Firstly, it is an account of the early period that goes into a greater level of depth than many do. It is a detailed book, following the arguments of the fist four/five centuries of Christian History; if it is complicated on occasions that owes more to the reality of those periods than the author!
Secondly, being an account it gives a context to the whole. It is very easy to understand Chalcedon, but a far greater depth of understnading will be gained from understanding it in the context of Nicea. Having some knowledge of Origen, will only help ones knowledge of Athanasius!
What this book provides is a detailed account around the events. If one is essay writing on standard patristic essays, it is a much better place to start than Chadwick. Its doctrinal focus is very helpful to the essay writer! It guides one through a complicated area with ease and precision, but not, simplification. In all a fine piece of work.
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23 of 31 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Though old fashioned and sometimes hard to understand, this book still has a lot going fot it. It provides an overview of the people and events of the Early Church, and is indispensible for anyone looking at Patristics and the Church Fathers and so on. However, the author's own opinion is always the most prominent one and the book is best read alongside others. It is incredibly useful so long as you don't depend on it alone!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The intention of this book is to set out in summary, the main christian doctrines that range from the close of the First century of the christian era to around the middle of the Fifth.
It is a task that Canon J.N. D. Kelly has executed admirably, breathtaking scholarship compressed into 511 pages.
We are taken on a quick background perusal that navigates the reader through an outline of Patrology, its relation to Judaism its initial mould, religious trends in the Graeco-Roman world. This is followed by a discussion on Neo-platonism (a blending of most of the preceding Philosophical Thoughts) and the threat posed to the christian church of the 2nd and 3rd centuries from Gnosticism. It is invaluable because it sets the reader up to explore Tradition and Scripture with Kelly. In broad terms he discusses the norm of Doctrine.
Authentic faith was to be found in'the Church's continous tradition of teaching and more concretely in the Holy Scriptures'(p.30). During the Primitive period of the church's existence when there was no official New Testament canon, she would find assurance in the
Apostolic Fathers collection; a corpus of writings,some of which date from a time prior to some N.T. books and shed light on early christian thinking and practice(p.35).
By the time of Irenaeus and Tertullian the Old Testament was re-examined in close proximity to the now canonical New Testament. Christ for these two christian Fathers was the pinnacle
in sourcing out christian doctrine(p.36). Two roles are set out by Irenaeus, for the safeguarding of christian revelation: the unbroken succession of bishops from the Apostles, and the sanction of the Holy Spirit(p.37).
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant summary of christian doctrine 17 Nov 2007
By Aquinas
If I may borrow from Newman, to be christian is to be deep in history. Where do christian beliefs come from? The bible? Yes, but only partly yes - there was a lot of unpacking to be done before the creeds came into being. Every text involves an interaction between the reader and the text, but in the case of the bible, it is the interaction between the reading Ecclesia and the Word of God. The Word of God ceases to be his Word outside the Church.

As each new christian came along, a new question would arise, if Jesus was son at his birth, what was he before his birth? Who is Jesus? is he God or is he man? Or is he true God/true man? Did he really suffer, if he was God, how could that be so?

All of these questions had to be worked out and were worked out by the early church councils, consisting of bishops (mainly Greek speaking)from the Roman World. Are these councils decisive (yes!) for us now or does each generation start again (No! but it needs to find its own understanding based on the infallible declarations of the councils)? Kelly gives us the history in detail. I would challenge any reformed christain to read this and not wonder: is the Church of Rome or Orthodoxy (with which Rome shares 99% of its faith) not right? Do the fathers of the Church not sound suspiciously catholic - no extrinsic justification doctrine to be found among them. And,the sacraments, is the eucharist not life giving food for the immortal soul (no mere symbol)? is it not also a representative sacrifice (which caused such offense in the reformation)? - in short, can one really be a sola scriptura christian? Is that not to deny that God does operate and has operated through history with the Holy Spirit speaking throught the councils and through Peter.

Read this scholarly work by Kelly, and pause. It is a classic. God bless his work. May he rest in peace.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  35 reviews
90 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Standard Historical Theology Text 22 Jan 2003
By T. B. Vick - Published on
Kelly's work is definitely a standard in the arena of historical theology. In fact, Kelly himself is considered one of the foremost authorities on Patristic Church history from the 20th century. That being the case, it goes without saying that this work is highly respected and thus a standard in its field. Nonetheless, the text is written in such a way that almost anyone who puts forth an effort to read it can understand it. Kelly has a style of writing that brings the reader into the book without actually confusing the reader in unexplained detail and jargon.
This text is divided into four parts. Each part covers pertinent topics and issues from certain time frames in Patristic Church history. For instance, part two covers the Pre-Nicene theology regarding the Trinity, Christology, Redemption, and Ecclesiology. Each part is broken down in a similar fashion thus working through the Patristic period from the First Century of the Church to Augustine and the fifth century (early medieval period).
All the major doctrines, theologians, apologists, creeds, and councils are covered in some sort or fashion. Moreover, Kelly provides a wonderful Prolegomena (which is part one) to introduce the time frame, setting, background, etc. which leads up the continued formation of the Christian Church.
The wonderful thing about this book is the wide audience it commands. Both theologians and historians will benefit from its pages. Moreover, lay people who are simply trying to gain a better understanding of their heritage and doctrine will find helpful information and facts well organized and easy to follow. Some of the major doctrinal issues in this text include The Trinity, salvation/redemption, original sin, grace and forgiveness, the sacraments, Mariology, and the authority of the Bible.
Other helpful features of this text include an extensive bibliography, the revised edition includes a new chapter on Mary and certain saints, exhaustive references and footnotes, and a very detailed index. This text is an absolute must for those who are studying Church history as well as theology, and for anyone who simply wishes to gain a better understanding of Christianity. I highly recommend this book!
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magisterial 27 Feb 1999
By A Customer - Published on
This is simply the definitive book on patristic theology. Kelly obviously spent years laboring in the primary sources. He rarely relies on secondary sources. The only real drawback to the book is its topical format. It is organized by subjects such as the Trinity, the Christology. This does have its advantages, allowing you to trace the development of a doctrine through several theologians. It is difficult, however, to comprehend the entire system of a single theologian. This is definitely not the first book you want to read on the subject, as Kelly assumes you are familar with the basics of early church history. For the more advanced theological student, it is indispensable.
50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Knowing where we came from 16 Dec 2000
By E. Johnson - Published on
One of the problems with the modern evangelical Christian church is that very few of its members know where they came from. History was reviled by many of us in school, so there are those who would make the mistake of ignoring history. The problem with this outlook is that, as someone famous once said, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. That is true in the historic Christian faith. Our spiritual forefathers worked hard to distinguish orthodoxy from heresy. From the person of Christ and the nature of God to baptism, Kelly explains what the early church fathers believed. He is quite honest about those early debates, and he shares with us the orthodox conclusions. Today, when we deal with heresy, we should feel free to see what those before us believed. Perhaps this will save a lot of heartache later on when deciding if a church is truly Christian or not.
One minor complaint. The footnotes are hard to read/understand. Most of us will have to take Kelly at his word, as he is the expert. But trying to understand these notes made me almost dizzy. Finally, I point out that the index is a great tool. Even if a person does not read this book from cover to cover--it can get a little dull for some of us, all that history!--the index makes this a wonderful resource when studying certain Christian doctrines. So, for instance, if you want to know what the early church felt about baptism, there are several dozen places in this book to look up. This makes it valuable on an available bookshelf.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Handbooks- detailed and clear 11 April 2004
By matt - Published on
Kelly presents a masterful summary of Church theology and history. This is a great price for the content. If you have even the slightest interest in the early Church, this book will serve to both satisfy your initial curiosities and spark new ones. This is one of the standard university texts with more than enough to chew on for the novice or master.

Other books of interst include Jaroslav Pelikan's The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Volume 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (The Christian Tradition: ... of the Development of Christian Doctrine)gence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600)", which is not the easiest book to read, but still accurate and reflective, not just a restatement. The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787): Their History and Theology (Theology and Life Series 21) by Leo Donald Davis is the best in English on the subject of the coucils. Of course, the four volume "Patrology, Volume 1: The Beginnings of Patristic Literature, by Johannes Quasten, is great for beginners and experts (so experts tell me!). A popular account of heresy in the early Church is C. FitzSimons Allison's The Cruelty of Heresy: An Affirmation of Christian Orthodoxy.Beginning to Read the Fathers by Ramsey is also organized and useful. Enjoy!

Please, let me know if yo have other suggestions.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Resource 3 May 2006
By Jan Peczkis - Published on
Kelly provides a concise overview of early Church history. He covers, in good detail, such diverse topics as early church government, the sacraments, the concept and practice of penance, Augustine's concept of predestination, and much more. He seems to take a view of the church fathers that is intermediate to those of Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants.
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