Anthony BriggmanI have now spent four months as a part of the Candler community. My first impression of Candler has now been confirmed several times over – it is warm here.

My first encounter with Candler was two days removed from a February day in Chicago that refused to climb above seventeen degrees below zero; the sixty-degree weather I encountered in Atlanta seemed downright tropical. That balmy day left an impression – of that you can be certain – but it is not the warmth which left the strongest impression upon my mind. The warmth of which I am speaking characterized the encounters and conversations I enjoyed with many faculty members and several students. I flew back home with the strong impression that Candler is one of the few places I have encountered where people successfully combine the academic study of theology and religion and a commitment to live out their understanding by caring for each other.

This initial impression was strengthened during the summer months as my family and I prepared for our move to Georgia. Two weeks before the moving truck arrived at our door, a routine physical suggested my wife had a serious cardiac condition. Dean Love and several members of our faculty and staff arranged for a temporary place for us to stay and connected us with a desperately needed physician. We are grateful that the feared prognosis was overturned, and while we can’t say we enjoyed going through that experience, we are grateful that those stressful days were the occasion for continued insight into the people who make Candler what it is.

The many formal and informal conversations and meals shared with colleagues and students during the course of the Fall semester repeatedly confirmed my first impression. Candler is a special place. Not primarily because of the ecumenical vision which permits the coexistence of differing theological perspectives, or because of the commitment to influence society through Christian convictions, or for many of the many other values espoused at Candler, but rather because of the very people who hold those perspectives. It is the people who make a community, it is the people who make it warm and welcoming, and I am pleased to be a member of this one.

For those of you whom I have not yet had the opportunity to meet, I suspect it might be helpful for me to briefly discuss my professional role in our community. My particular contribution to understanding the Christian faith lies in my focus on early Christian life and thought. I hope that my presence at Candler will enable the members of our community to better grasp the earliest ways that those who followed Christ understood and lived out their beliefs.

It is my conviction that having a thorough understanding of the differences and similarities that exist between today’s church and the church of the past will enable a better understanding of one’s own theological commitments, as well as a better understanding of the variegated nature of our churches and those throughout the world. To be specific, I believe that studying the early church should improve your comprehension of today’s Christianity  and your own faith in at least three ways. First, most contemporary theological constructs engage in some way with those of the early church (even if simply to stand in opposition to them). Studying early Christianity should enable you to better understand your own theological commitments and other theological positions advocated today. Secondly, the social, economic, racial, and theological diversity that exists in our churches today is not new. Studying early Christianity should enable you to better understand the people you encounter in your churches today, for you will learn that diversity of thought has always been a part of the Christian tradition, and you will discover that many traditions of thought that exist today have their roots in the earliest church. Finally, one of the primary goals of a theological education is to learn how to interpret and understand Scripture. Studying early Christianity should enable you to approach Scripture with a more nuanced perspective, for the theological debates of the early church brought to light many possibilities surrounding the interpretation of Scripture.

I’m happy to be a part of a community interested in both understanding and living out the Christian faith. I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of you during this past semester, and I hope to get to know many more of you in the upcoming months and years. I particularly look forward to thinking through the Christian tradition with those of you I find in my classes.

I wish you a blessed Advent season.