311: Syllabus

Semester: 2018 Spring
Credit hours: three
Lecturer: William VanDoodewaard; [email protected]; (616) 432-3409
Office hours:  pending
Facilitator: Chris Engelsma
Course Description:
A study of the developing theology, ecclesiology, piety, and worship of the Christian church from the close of the apostolic age to 600 A.D. Special attention will be given to main figures in the patristic age.
Course Objectives:

In the ancient church history course the student will become acquainted with:

  1. Christian historiography: a biblical and theological approach to understanding history, with particular focus on church history.
  2. The history of Christianity from the book of Acts to 600 A.D. This will include (1) an understanding of the narrative or chronology of the history of the ancient church; (2) an understanding of developments, continuities, and changes in doctrine and practice in the ancient church; (3) an understanding of debates, divisions, reform, growth, and decline in the life of the ancient church; and an understanding of the life and theology of key figures in the ancient church.
  3. The student will be able to analyze and evaluate the above biblically and theologically, as well as comparatively within the context of ancient church history. The student will also develop the ability to make comparative applications to later periods of church history up to the present day. The course includes a strong focus on student interaction with, and discussion of, primary source documents.

The course objectives as stated are pursued as a reflection and embodiment of the following degree program goals:

  • MDiv 2 – Articulate the major issues of faith and life that the church has confronted throughout its history.
  • MDiv 3 – Articulate confessional Reformed theology on exegetical, biblical, and theological grounds.
  • MDiv 4 – Systematize exegetical, historical and theological data into a consistent and coherent theology, and explain how theology applies to personal and church beliefs and actions.
  • MDiv 6 – Respond with biblical discernment to contemporary trends in biblical interpretation and apply a sound Christian worldview to contemporary cultural issues that impact the church today.
  • MDiv 10 – Conduct, evaluate, and articulately communicate, (in oral and written English) graduate level research, exercising critical analysis, constructing sound arguments and defensible theses reflecting advanced understanding of focused areas of theological discipline.
Course Requirements:

The following assignments and examinations are given in Ancient Church History and are weighted as follows.  The grade scale is here.

  • Discussions 25%
  • Writing 25%
  • Exams 50%

Late assignments will receive the standard PRTS deduction of 5% per day, unless special exemption (ie. for medical/family emergencies) is granted by the professor.

Course paper

The primary source analysis paper is a 2000-2500 word paper which will explore in depth a historical or theological topic drawn from one of the primary source class readings of personal interest to the student. The paper may not exceed 2500 words. It will reflect a thorough grasp of the primary source document, its author (if known), and the historical context of its writing. It will also reflect an awareness of continued scholarly discussion on the primary source expressed in journal articles and books to the present day. At least seven secondary sources should be referenced, along with the primary source itself. All primary and secondary sources will be listed in the bibliography. The paper must have a clear thesis statement, and will conclude with an assessment of the importance of its conclusions for the present day life and ministry of the church.

All assignments are due on Saturday at midnight.

Week 1  (Jan. 15-20):   9 hours

  Introduction to Church History

 Noll, Clean Sea Breezes
 Singer, Biblical View of History

Old & New Test. Background

 Old & New Testament Background

The Canon of Scripture


The Roman Empire and the Context of the Early Church


Week 2  (Jan. 22-27):   6 hours


Apostolic Fathers

 The Apostles & Apostolic Fathers



Week 3:   (Jan. 29 – Feb. 3):   8 hours

Second Cent. Apologists

Justin & Biblical Theology





Week 4  (Feb. 5-10):  6.5 hours

Second Cent. Polity


Second Cent. Worship

A Second Cent. Worship Service

Didache on office
Didache on the church meetings
Didache on work
Didache on baptism

Week 5  (Feb. 12-17):  8 hours


Plato’s wisdom


Origen & Scripture





Week 6   (Feb. 19-24):  Midterm Exam; 7 hours

Week 7  (Feb. 26-March 3):  6.5 hours

Third Century Worship Service




Week 8  (March 5-10):  6.5 hours

Hermeneutics & Preaching

Allegorizing in Diodore
Theodore & the Allegorizers

Week 9  (March 12-17):  7 hours

Empires & Religion


Final Wave of Persecution

Lactantius & the Persecutors



Week 10:  (March 19-24):  10.5 hours





The Lives of the Cappadocians


The Theology of the Cappadocians




Week 11  (March 26-31):  8 hours




The Growth of Hierarchy & Ceremony


The Rise of Ritual & Ceremony in Worship


Week 12  (April 2-7):  3 hours

 Fourth & Fifth Cent. Controversies


Spring Break

  Week 13  (April 16-21):  7 hours


Augustine, City of God



Augustine’s Confessions

Bibliography on Augustine

Week 14:  No further assignments

Week 15:  Final exam


Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers.  here and here

The Apostolic Fathers, trans. J.B. Lightfoot, updated by Harmer, more recently updated and edited by Michael Holmes. 2nd edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992. (p.v-596)

Athanasius, The Resurrection Letters. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1979. (p.13-197)

Augustine, The City of God. New York: The Modern Library, 2000. (p.v-868)

David Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1998. (p.vii-704)

Louis Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997. (p.1-93, 102-113, 127-139, 165-170, 203-210, 227-231, 259-269)

Gerald Bray, Creeds, Councils and Christ. Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1997. (p.vii-203)

Geoff Bromiley, Historical Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978. (p.v-155)

Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo. New York: Dorset Press, 1986. (p.1-452)

F.F. Bruce, New Testament History. Garden City, New York: Doubleday-Galilee, 1980. (p.ix-438)

F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame. Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1964. (p.7-432)

Earle E. Cairns. Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996. (p.1-158)

William Cunningham, Historical Theology. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994. (p.1-412)

Ivor Davidson, The Birth of the Church: From Jesus to Constantine. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004. (p.1-353)

Ivor Davidson, A Public Faith: From Constantine to the Medieval World. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004. (p.1-410)

Hubertus R. Drobner, The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007. (p.xvi-604)

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, trans. C.F. Cruse. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. (p. xv-468)

Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993. (p.1-612)

Everett Ferguson, Church History: Volume One – From Christ to Pre-Reformation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. (p.1-326)

Michael Haykin, Defence of the Truth: Contending for the Faith Yesterday and Today. Webster, NY: Evangelical Press, 2004. (p.9-149)

Joachim Jeremias, Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2004. (p.9-104)

J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines. New York: Harper & Row, 1960. (p.vii-489)

J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds. New York: Continuum, 2006. (p.vii-434)

J.N.D. Kelly, Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1995. (p.1-310)

J.N.D. Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1998. (p.1-353)

John Anthony McGuckin, Patristic Theology. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2004. (p.ix-367)

Melito of Sardis, On the Passover. (p.1-11)

N. R. Needham, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power. Part One: The Age of the Early Church Fathers. London: Grace Publications Trust, 1998. (p.7-384)

James Orr, Neglected Factors in the Study of the Early Progress of Christianity. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2006. (p.7-235)

Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975. (p.1-376)

Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996. (vol. 1, p. 1-45; vol. 2, p. 1-73)

Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrikson Publishers, 1996. (vol. 2, p.1-868; vol. 3, p.1-1040)

Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1995. (p.ix-160)

Roland Worth, Seven Cities of the Apocalypse & Greco-Asian Culture. New York: Paulist Press, 1999. (p.1-364)

Frances Young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and Its Background. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010. (p.vii-386)


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