In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis, By Kenneth J. Stewart
In Search of Ancient Roots
  • Length: 304 pages
  • Dimensions: 6 × 9 in
  • Published: October 31, 2017
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 5172
  • ISBN: 9780830851720

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  • 15th Annual Outreach Magazine Resource of the Year - Also Recommended in Theology
  • 2017 The Gospel Coalition Book Award
  • Jesus Creed Book of the Year 2017, Church History

Protestant evangelicalism is in crisis.

Today it is increasingly difficult for Protestants to identify what counts as distinctively Protestant, much less what counts as evangelical. As evangelicals increasingly lose contact with the churches and traditions descending from the Reformation, and as relations with Roman Catholicism continue to thaw, it becomes harder to explain why one should remain committed to the Reformation in the face of perceived deficits and theological challenges with the Protestant tradition.

A common complaint about Protestant evangelicalism is its apparent disconnect from ancient Christianity. The antiquity and catholicity of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy seem to outshine the relative novelty of the Reformation. Some evangelical churches appear to be uninterested in the ancient historical roots of their faith as well as being liturgically and doctrinally unstable. Many within evangelicalism seem to have accepted at face value the suggestion that the evangelical faith is no more than a threadbare descendant of ancient Christianity. The result is that a number of younger Protestants in recent years have abandoned evangelicalism, turning instead to practices and traditions that appear more rooted in the early church.

In Search of Ancient Roots examines this phenomenon and places it within a wider historical context. Ken Stewart argues that the evangelical tradition in fact has a much healthier track record of interacting with Christian antiquity than it is usually given credit for. He surveys five centuries of Protestant engagement with the ancient church, showing that Christians belonging to the evangelical churches of the Reformation have consistently seen their faith as connected to early Christianity. Stewart explores areas of positive engagement, such as the Lord's Supper and biblical interpretation, as well as areas that raise concerns, such as monasticism.

In Search of Ancient Roots shows that evangelicals need not view their tradition as impoverished or lacking deep roots in the tradition. Christian antiquity is the heritage of all orthodox Christians, and evangelicals have the resources in their history to claim their place at the ecumenical table.

"If evangelicalism is to have a coherent future, it needs to understand not only its own past but also the past of the church catholic. In this collection of essays, Ken Stewart brings his typical combination of insight, conviction, charity, and catholicity to bear on evangelicalism's relationship to history. You do not have to agree with all of his conclusions to agree with his basic thesis—we need history—and to be challenged by the range of interlocutors he chooses—from the ancient church fathers to Cardinal Newman and beyond. This collection should provide professors and pastors with much food for thought."

Carl R. Trueman, Westminster Theological Seminary

"This remarkable book seeks to trace the deep roots and determine the DNA of evangelical Protestantism. Using his considerable and profound knowledge of a vast terrain, Dr. Ken Stewart digs deep to show that evangelicalism is firmly rooted in Scripture, the early church, and historical Christianity. His archaeology of doctrine and liturgy argues against the recent loss of confidence and self-identity of evangelical Protestants who may be tempted to seek more 'stable' pastures or to wander with historical amnesia into cul-de-sacs. Instead, evangelical Protestants are urged to share the confidence of their Protestant-era forebears who knew their ancient pedigree and stood on sturdy ground. This is an important and timely book."

Robert M. Solomon, bishop emeritus, The Methodist Church in Singapore

"Ken Stewart's In Search of Ancient Roots is a panoply of well-argued, well-documented, and well-written chapters centering on evangelicalism's engagement with its own pre-Reformation past. He provides a compelling case not only for the deep roots of evangelical movements throughout history but also for evangelicalism's attention to its historical Christian roots as the norm rather than the exception. Stewart also provides exceptional discussions on important practical matters facing evangelicals as they begin to engage with church history—matters like the frequency of the Lord's Supper, the apostolicity of infant baptism, the interpretation of Scripture, and justification by faith. In the process, Stewart also takes on many of the exaggerated claims made by evangelical converts to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy regarding the historical priority of those ancient traditions. Any evangelical should read this book before abandoning the orthodox, Protestant, evangelical faith for traditions that claim to be more authentically connected to Christianity's ancient roots. In all of these cases, Stewart's work becomes a conversation-starter rather than a conversation-ender. He is refreshingly irenic and candid. I enthusiastically recommend this book to anybody interested in the Christian past and evangelical identity as well as those who need to reflect deeply on the vital questions Stewart raises for today."

Michael J. Svigel, chair and professor of theological studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, author of RetroChristianity

"'To be deep in history,' said John Henry Newman, 'is to cease to be a Protestant.' But Ken Stewart begs to differ. In this learned and eminently readable volume, Stewart conducts a constructive assessment of the evangelical identity crisis currently facing the church. His informative and evocative reflection upon the ecclesial drama argues persuasively that instead of a wilting cousin of the 'Great Tradition,' evangelical movements are poised to flourish by extending their roots into the soil of pre-Reformation Christianity—that is, providing they do so with integrity. In Search of Ancient Roots provides such insight, enabling readers to give a clear answer for their evangelical hope."

Chris Castaldo, senior pastor, New Covenant Church, Naperville, Illinois, author of Talking with Catholics About the Gospel

"Present-day evangelicalism has a strange relationship with history. On the one extreme, there are those who endorse a 'gap theory' whereby their experience of the Christian life has little if anything to do with any sense of historical continuity. On the other extreme, recent fascinations with romantic and selective appropriations of 'tradition' show how easy it is to uncritically embrace beliefs and practices that are idiosyncratic with regards to Scripture. What is at stake is the historical nature of evangelicalism as such. As a learned historian and acute theologian, Kenneth Stewart helps the reader come to terms with the diachronic dimension of evangelicalism that runs through church history, taking different shades and colors but ultimately responding to the same principles of biblical faithfulness and spiritual involvement. This book is a vigorous and rigorous rebuttal to John Henry Newman, according to whom 'to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.' Stewart is convinced that to be deep in history one does not need to turn to Rome (becoming Roman Catholic) or to Antioch (becoming Orthodox). His case is convincing. A must-read for every person struggling with the question, 'What does evangelicalism have to do with history?'"

Leonardo De Chirico, pastor, Breccia di Roma, lecturer in historical theology, Istituto di Formazione Evangelica e Documentazione, Padova, Italy, director of Refomanda Initiative

"This book shakes us free from naive and romantic notions that Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are the best expressions of early Christianity. For evangelicals attracted by that fantasy, it is an urgent wake-up call to examine the full facts and rediscover the deep historic roots and spiritual riches of their own tradition."

Andrew Atherstone, Latimer Research Fellow, Wycliffe Hall, University of Oxford

"Indeed the whole book, while scholarly and intellectually responsible in its content, has a pastoral commitment. It could helpfully be used in a church small group discussion with questions provided at the end of each chapter which bring what could be an ivory tower academic discussion to the level of a living room discussion. We are grateful to Ken Stewart for this timely book. He makes 'we Canadians' proud."

A. Donald MacLeod, Haddington House Journal, 2018

"In Search of Ancient Roots asks much-needed questions and provides much-needed pushback on a dilemma that is overdue for attention."

Joseph T. Cochran, Presbyterion: Covenant Seminary Review, 44/2 (Fall 2018)

"In Search of Ancient Roots offers insightful advice on how evangelicals could overcome the historical amnesia that characterizes many of them in modern times."

Daniel Eguiluz, Calvin Theological Journal, 53.2

"In Search of Ancient Roots is a unique and important book for evangelicals and those critical of them. It counters the common charge that contemporary evangelicalism is a novelty, suffering from a lack of tradition and historical awareness, and it presents constructive proposals for strengthening the movement in ways consistent with Scripture."

Gregg R. Allison, Christianity Today, October 20, 2017

"There’s much to enjoy here, like renewing a conversation with a friend who knows us well, reminding us of long-forgotten truths."

Matthew Forrest Lowe, Faith Today, January-February 2018

"In Search of Ancient Roots is beautifully written, well researched, and easily read. It is incisive in its analysis, but irenic in its critique. Its investigation of why some younger evangelicals are turning to Catholicism and Orthodoxy is surely a call to evangelical pastors and leaders of parachurch ministries to pause in their activism. In effect, this book challenges readers to take a prayer-breather which will create space and make time to reflect on whether a laissez-faire ecclesiology, an obsession with cultural relevance, a proneness to divide, an addiction to faddism, may be asphyxiating some sections of the body of Christ in our generation."

Fergus Macdonald, Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, Spring 2018

"In Search of Ancient Roots is theological retrieval aimed at the lay level. Beyond its value for Protestants contemplating conversion to Rome, there are lessons here for all Protestants in their faithful witness."

John R. Muether, Reformed Faith and Practice, Spring 2018



Part I: Setting the Stage: Our Evangelical Identity Crisis
1. Only a Latecomer in Christian History? The Evangelical Identity Crisis
2. Evangelical Movements as a Perennial and Recurring Feature of Christian History
3. Needed for Appraising the Christian Past: A Principle of Authority
4. Needed for Appraising the Christian Past: A Concept of Development in Doctrine

Part II: Evangelical Engagements with Ancient Christianity: Examples to Encourage Us
5. Five Hundred Years of Protestant Views of Pre-Reformation Christianity
6. The Apostolic Fathers in the Hands of Protestants: 1600–2000
7. Eighteenth-Century Evangelicals and the Frequency of the Lord’s Supper
8. Early Church Baptism in the Hands of Evangelical Protestants
9. Theological Exegesis, Biblical Theology, and the History of Interpretation

Part III: Some Contemporary Examples That Should Give Us Pause
10. Short-Changed for Lack of the Apocrypha?
11. Bringing Back Monasticism?
12. A Tale of Two Newmans

Part IV: Three Challenges That Remain
13. Is Christian Unity Dependent on a Central Bishop of Rome?
14. Is Justification as Protestants Teach It the Historic Faith of the Church?
15. Why Are Younger Evangelicals Turning to Catholicism and Orthodoxy?

Appendix: The Colloquy of Regensburg on Justification
Author Index
Subject Index
Scripture Index


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Kenneth J. Stewart

Kenneth J. Stewart (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is professor emeritus of theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. His books include Ten Myths About Calvinism, Restoring the Reformation, and The Emergence of Evangelicalism.