The evangelical church, is beginning to see the value in studying the early church fathers. A slew of recent books from the likes of Haykin and Litfin among many more specialized studies, has reawakened the usefulness of the early church fathers (and mothers) to help in our own understanding of theology and living the Christian life today. Bryan Litfin has offered us another look into the early church, in particular with the martyrs of the early church in his book, Early Christian Martyr Stories. Here, Litfin provides for us a very readable, engaging, and useful tool in evaluating our own Christian devotion in light of the devotion of the early church.
After an introduction to Christian martyrdom Litfin begins to introduce us to the major martyrs of the early church period. Through brief, yet complete and interesting introductions, Litfin sets the contextual stage for the account of each martyr’s death to be understood. He begins in the pre-New Testament period with the Maccabean martyrs, and then the Apostolic martyrs, Peter and Paul, and then moves through those who have been martyred (Perpetua and Felicity for example), or those who have written on martyrdom (Augustine for example) within the early church. Following each introduction, Litfin rightly gives us the text as it was written and offers helpful editorial comments throughout. It’s important to let these early church writers speak for themselves first, and then through the helpful guidance of Litfin, see how their stories and their writings speak to us today.
In our easy, McDonald’s, “have it your way,” culture in the church in North America and the West, this reminder of what extreme devotion to Jesus looks like should be sobering, challenging, and encouraging to the broader church of Christ. Litfin offers four points of contact in which we can learn from these martyrs:
- The martyrs refused to make Jesus into just another god.
- The martyrs counted the cost and gave up everything.
- The martyrs were utterly confident in their eternal hope.
- The martyrs call us into unity with the ancient church.
So, take up and read and be challenged by both the writings concerning martyrs and martyrdom and the wise guidance of Litfin. Your life will be forever challenged and changed by the boundless devotion of these men and women for Jesus Christ.