Summary: John Michael Talbot’s memoir-ish look at how the Early Church Fathers changed his faith.
I grew up Evangelical, I went to an Evangelical College and seminary. But honestly other than a couple of songs I don’t really know anything about John Michael Talbot. I have always kind of thought of him as similar to Michael Card. They both are known for writing theologically sophisticated Christian music that I don’t really listen to. This book has made me re-think my previous uninformed opinion.
The Ancient Path is half memoir and half exploration of the early Church Fathers. I really was assuming that this would be more exploration of the church father’s writing, but the memoir parts were an unexpected help.
John Michael Talbot dropped out of school at 15 and was in a band with his brother. After an early marriage and a conversion to Christianity through the Jesus Movement, Talbot became an early CCM musician. But his marriage still fell apart. He started meeting with a Franciscan spiritual director and eventually, in large part through his studying of the Early Church Fathers Talbot converted to Catholicism and later founded a lay monastic community that invited both married and single Catholics and other Christians to live and serve in community.
Talbot has a couple books from Intervarsity Press (an other Evangelical/Protestant publishers) and his music sells fairly well in the Evangelical world. The Ancient Path is a good example of how he can communicate to a broad Christian world without hiding his Catholicism. I have read other Evangelicals that have converted to Catholicism and this is one of the better at communicating to Evangelicals. There is no interest in the book at trying to convert the reader to Catholicism.
Talbot talks about the impact of reading the Early Church Fathers’ writing such as the Didache. The Didache was an early pastoral manual. Scholars date as early as 40 AD. If it is that early (and some date it as late as 100 years after that) then it was being written about the time Paul was writing the church letters and before the gospels or Acts.
After the discussion of the Didache, Talbot is mostly thematic, talking about using early Christian writers to talk about Church authority (Bishops), charity, ecology, community, prayer and more. Talbot keeps his story as a integral part of the book. In 2008, there was a significant fire at his community. Talbot funded much of the initial start up of the community from his income as a musician and after the fire, Talbot felt called to go back on the road again. Partially to fund the repairs to the community and partially as a calling to teach. So for the past several years Talbot has been actively touring as a musician and teacher. Often spending several days in a location teaching about the Church Fathers and worship.
This is a book that is an easy entry point to the early Church Fathers if you have not read anything about their writing before. It is also an easy entry point for Protestants that have not read much by Catholics. Talbot makes a good case for the importance of Church Fathers that is a little stronger for his Catholic readers, but I think is probably more important for Protestant readers. Catholics never lost seeing early Church Fathers as important, but Protestants often have forgotten broader church history even while claiming to try to go back to the type of church that existed during the time of the apostles.
The publisher provided a digital copy of the book for review.