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Getting to Know the Church Fathers, 2nd Edition

An Evangelical Introduction

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A Trusted Introduction to the Church Fathers

This concise introduction to the church fathers connects evangelical students and readers to twelve key figures from the early church. Bryan Litfin engages readers with actual people, not just abstract doctrines or impersonal events, to help them understand the fathers as spiritual ancestors in the faith. The first edition has been well received and widely used. This updated and revised edition adds chapters on Ephrem of Syria and Patrick of Ireland. The book requires no previous knowledge of the patristic period and includes original, easy-to-read translations that give a brief taste of each writer's thought.

1. Ignatius of Antioch
2. Justin Martyr
3. Irenaeus of Lyons
4. Tertullian of Carthage
5. Perpetua of Carthage
6. Origen of Alexandria
7. Athanasius of Alexandria
8. Ephrem the Syrian
9. John Chrysostom
10. Augustine of Hippo
11. Cyril of Alexandria
12. Patrick of Ireland


"For an evangelical world awakening to the importance of the early fathers of the church, this second edition of Dr. Litfin's work makes an important and continuing contribution to those seeking access to the writers and writings of that period. I am delighted to recommend this introductory work. The selection of twelve representative figures from the period of early Christianity is prudent and presented in an artful and practical manner. I am thrilled that the ancient church is being seriously retrieved by competent evangelical scholars, that valuable reservoir of the collected wisdom of the past brought to life for twenty-first-century readers."

John D. Hannah, distinguished professor of historical theology, research professor of theological studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

"After years of neglecting the fathers, evangelicals are waking up to the importance of the patristic era and the various significant authors who inhabited it.‎ And this new edition of Bryan Litfin's book on this period of church history is an extremely lucid and reliable guide. A must read."

Michael A. G. Haykin, professor of church history, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

"A tremendous service is provided by Litfin's introduction of the fathers for an audience that might be uninformed or even suspicious of an era of Christianity crucial to our identity. Insightful, studied, and clear, the work announces key figures, showing their relevance for the contemporary church. The new additions are a refreshing complement to the corpus of the early church where Christ-centered passion shaped writing and leadership from which the church eternally benefits."

Brian Shelton, provost, professor of theology and church history, Toccoa Falls College

"If you are an American evangelical who is curious about the strange world of the early church, this book is just what you need. The church fathers are both very like us and very different from us, and the differences will probably hit you hard when you first encounter them. Litfin is well aware of the disorientation you will feel, and he anticipates--and answers--most of the questions you might think to ask about what you are learning. In doing so, Litfin is a comforting and reliable guide through territory that is so unfamiliar. But this book will do more than allay your suspicions. The church fathers have much to teach us about Christianity, and Litfin's honest and probing discussions will help you think through your own faith in light of the grand narrative of the early Christian past."

Donald Fairbairn, Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

"Bryan Litfin introduces twelve towering figures from the church's history, from far east (Syria) to far west (Britain), inviting the reader into the thought world of the church fathers. Setting them within their social, cultural, and historical contexts, Litfin introduces the theologians, martyrs, pastors, and missionaries of the first five centuries, demonstrating their relevance for the church today. These men (and one woman) built on the apostolic foundation through their lives and ministries and made the church strong in times of persecution and doctrinal uncertainty. Didactic and well-researched, this volume portrays the fathers fairly, displaying both their achievements and flaws. It is perfect for evangelicals who wish to connect with those who shaped a vital and rich period in Christian history."

Stefana Dan Laing, assistant librarian, Havard School for Theological Studies, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Praise for the First Edition

"A lively and engaging introduction to the church's earliest and most venerable teachers for evangelical readers. Shattering the stereotypes of the church fathers, Litfin shows that they were animated by the Holy Scriptures and love for Christ. Getting to Know the Church Fathers challenges evangelicals to claim the great tradition of Christian thought as their own and invites them to embrace it as their story and their heritage, not solely that of Catholics and the Orthodox."

Robert Louis Wilken, University of Virginia

"A new generation of evangelicals is discovering the riches of the wider Christian tradition, including the wisdom of the early church fathers. Bryan Litfin's patristics primer is a perfect guide for those who are on this journey, and for others who would like to take the first steps. Well researched and well written, this is a gem of a book!"

Timothy George, Beeson Divinity School

"Bryan Litfin has written a lively, extremely accessible introduction to the church fathers that students unfamiliar with the patristic world will find very helpful. Litfin is particularly gifted at helping evangelicals understand why the church fathers should be embraced as worthy members of the church's family."

Chris Hall, president, Renovaré

"Litfin represents a new generation of evangelicals who have been trained in patristics and can make the ancient writers accessible to contemporary readers without sacrificing solid scholarship. This book, as the title suggests, offers a creative way to explain select works of the church fathers for Protestants whose religious traditions have long forgotten them."

D. H. Williams, Baylor University

"Evangelicals' longstanding neglect of the writings of the early church has impoverished both their lives and their theology. Bryan Litfin is a wise and welcoming guide to a firsthand, attentive knowledge of these forbears who enrich and guide our worship, service, and understanding. His thorough knowledge of these ancient Christian writings and the contemporary scholarship on them provides a winsome, accessible introduction and a sound foundation for further study."

Stephen R. Spencer, Wheaton College

"Bryan Litfin's Getting to Know the Church Fathers provides the reader with an inviting, manageable, and devotional introduction to early Christianity's indispensable deposit of faith and practice. I hope it will inform and enrich the contemporary evangelical community."

Jeffrey Bingham, Wheaton College

"This book is a treasure--an exposition of the writings of the early church fathers without an agenda to prove that they support either evangelical or Catholic theology, but rather to simply understand what they wrote and believed! This book fills a gap in evangelical theology, reminding us that every century of church history has something to teach us, including those early centuries when seeds were planted that later grew to have a profound impact on the Christian church. I recommend this book to all who care about doctrine and the progress of history from the early apostles onward. Here is a rudder to guide us, not an anchor to weigh us down."

Erwin W. Lutzer, Moody Church

"Bryan Litfin's book not only introduces ten key figures of the early church but also shows why the study of the church fathers is still beneficial for Christians today. This is an excellent primer to the life, faith, and writings of these pillars of the church. Litfin leads us smoothly from the age of persecution and martyrdom to the period of division and doctrinal controversy, always showing how Christ and his gospel remained the central concern and strength of early believers."

Glen L. Thompson, Wisconsin Lutheran College

"As they say, 'It's not what you know, it's who you know!' And in this case, knowing the church fathers will enrich what you know with confidence and fresh insight. A big thanks to my friend Bryan Litfin for getting us reacquainted in an understandable and stimulating way."

Joseph M. Stowell, Harvest Bible Chapel; former president, Moody Bible Institute

"Getting to Know the Church Fathers offers a clear and engaging introduction to the lives of some of the most significant Christians of the early church. Bryan Litfin has managed to take a subject that is often tedious and remote and transform it instead into one that sparkles with personal interest and contemporary relevance. The questions and bibliographies that end each chapter provide opportunities for further reflection and study, and the brief selections from these early Christian writers offer a glimpse into the hearts and minds of these key figures. Litfin's work offers a superb introduction to the formative Christian leaders of the church, one that is eminently readable and enjoyable."

Bruce A. Ware, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

"Bryan Litfin's work offers the everyday churchgoer windows into the shared heritage of the Christian faith. His assessment of the church fathers (and one mother) highlights their contributions to the flow of history and theology, as well as the contemporary impact that each one has today. Litfin is also careful to analyze their theological warts, while keeping the reader firmly grounded on the pathway of orthodoxy. Balanced and fair, Litfin brings back into the spotlight some forgotten Christian leaders. I recommend this book for every believer who wants a better understanding of our 'family tree.'"

James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel

The Author

  1. Bryan M. Litfin
    Jim Whitmer

    Bryan M. Litfin

    Bryan Litfin is the author of The Conqueror and Every Knee Shall Bow, as well as several works of nonfiction, including Wisdom from the AncientsEarly Christian Martyr StoriesAfter Acts, and Getting...

    Continue reading about Bryan M. Litfin


"[Litfin] offers a fresh translation of ancient texts in this book. . . . With his editorial comments, Litfin allows the ancient text to speak for itself. This book was written to be accessible for general readers and to be a great source for scholars. It would be suitable for both public and academic libraries."

David A. Ranzan,

Catholic Library World

Praise for the First Edition

"Those looking for an introduction to the patristic era will welcome [Getting to Know the Church Fathers]."

R. Albert Mohler Jr.,


"A clearly written, accessible introduction to the church fathers. . . . The author offers a winsome presentation of each figure. . . . These presentations are uniformly well done. . . . To encourage engagement with the material, each chapter also includes thought-provoking questions for group discussion; these questions unfailingly move into comparisons with contemporary challenges, showing that the patristic concerns are related to issues of the present day. These would offer fine aids for use by small groups in churches or discussion sections in a college course using this book. This reviewer expects it will receive warm welcome and hopes it will be highly successful in introducing evangelicals to the church fathers and inviting them to become more familiar with patristic literature."

James R. Payton Jr.,

Calvin Theological Journal

"[Litfin] writes with the instructive tone of a classroom lecturer, mixing a variety of thorny issues from ancient doctrinal controversies with the soft touch of a religious education teacher. His approach is unabashedly confessional; his analysis is steeped in biblical imagery; his illustrations access a variety of contemporary figures and modern literature. . . . Each patristic figure receives a fair and balanced presentation that is easily accessible to the nonspecialist. The text is exceedingly readable and non-technical in its presentation. . . . The project is well-conceived and executed for students new to the field."

Clayton Jefford,

Expository Times

"Litfin writes accessibly, admirably simplifying technical ancient debates without losing their theological substance. . . . Litfin proposes discussion questions geared toward the contemporary relevance of early Christianity for American evangelicals on issues such as legalism, consumerism, and the influence of popular culture on church life. This format would serve well a church adult education forum or book group. Writing a pastoral, readable, lively introduction to ancient theological figures is no easy feat. Litfin excels at it, particularly when he speaks out of his teaching experience. . . . The book provides a substantial introduction to early Christian thought. Litfin expertly crafts the book for his audience, and he joins a growing list of evangelicals advocating a ressourcement approach to early Christianity for their contemporary spiritual revitalization. . . . Evangelical readers will be well served by Litfin's introduction."

Kari Kloos,

Lutheran Quarterly

"[Litfin] offers short but substantial descriptions of ten of the real early [Church] Fathers. . . . The chapters are extensively and helpfully footnoted, and lucidly written."

David Mills,


"Throughout the book Litfin exhibits careful scholarship, relying on primary sources, interacting with current scholarly discussions, and offering a nuanced treatment of subjects under debate in patristic studies. Yet at the same time Litfin takes a decisively popular-level evangelical approach to the evaluation and presentation of the material. . . . Besides serving as a great introductory text for students at the college level, Litfin's Getting to Know the Church Fathers would be an excellent resource for serious-minded churches and small groups. To be sure, readers who want an accessible introduction to the early church will find this an easy, compelling book to read, but they will find themselves wanting to share the experience with others--especially the discussion questions in each chapter. Litfin's treatment does more than merely spin yarns about the saints of old; it serves as a well-rounded introduction to the people, places, events, ideas, and developments of the patristic period in lay-friendly terms that should prove compelling--even transforming--for evangelical readers."

Michael J. Svigel,

Bibliotheca Sacra

"An accessible book written to introduce early church history specifically to an evangelical audience. Many evangelicals have lost touch with the grand tradition of the Christian faith. . . . This book effectively addresses this shortcoming by exposing readers to ten significant early Christian people. . . . The end of each chapter contains a series of provocative questions that contain Scripture references. These questions are particularly beneficial for small-group meetings that would want to discuss early church history. . . . Litfin's writing is clear and engaging for a lay reader. . . . Getting to Know the Church Fathers is a fine introduction to early church history. It shares a number of meaningful stories of church fathers. It is particularly excellent for someone from an evangelical background. It will leave the lay reader desirous of learning more of the church's past. It is also recommended for pastors who want to refresh their understanding of church history and theological educators who are looking for fresh ways to pass along a love for early church stories to their students."

H. H. Drake Williams III,

Review of Biblical Literature

"A readable and engaging introduction to the early church fathers. . . . [Litfin] has done an excellent job producing a brief but helpful study that will encourage many people to explore this period of church history in greater detail. . . . One of this book's great strengths is that students will have a hard time putting it down and will actually want to read more about early church history on their own time. . . . [Litfin] has done evangelicals a great service by producing an excellent biographical introduction to early church history. No doubt this book will find its place on the textbook lists of many college-level church history courses. And this volume is one that Christian college and seminary libraries will want to acquire."

John Aloisi,

Trinity Journal

"Litfin's book is a welcome contribution to the growing evangelical interest in patristic studies. It is most appropriate for evangelical college undergraduates, seminarians, study groups, and others from that faith tradition wanting to learn about the first five centuries of Christianity. Nonevangelical readers desiring a popular introduction to patristics may also benefit from the author's ability to tell the stories of the church fathers in such a lively and accessible manner."

Andrew Hofer, OP,

Religious Studies Review