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Book Defines Methodology to Study Christian Theology  

Ellen Scully

Ellen Scully, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair of Undergraduate Theology

The study of early Christianity has evolved in the last few decades, growing from a field of interest only to Christian historians and theologians, to a rich interdisciplinary field with scholars from several disciplines bringing their own approaches to studying the field. Over time, this diversifying attention on the area unveiled an important, yet missing element needed for success: the need for each contributing discipline to have a sharp, articulated, well-defined methodology.

Associate Professor Ellen Scully, Ph.D. of Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology aims to provide an answer to the field’s missing piece in her newest co-edited book, New Narratives for Old: Reading Early Christian Theology Using the Historical Method: Essays in Honor of Michel Rene Barnes. The volume defines and illustrates the methodology of historical theology and how it relates to the study of early Christianity – the first book of its kind.

"Although much has been gained from the interdisciplinarity that now characterizes the academic study of early Christianity, one element in danger of being lost is the academic drive to understand the theological beliefs, positions and developments of early Christian authors," noted Scully.

Offering a solution, the volume of more than twenty essays orients readers to the various approaches to early Christian literature, defines the historical method of studying early Christian theology and illustrates the practice of the method by examining examples from the first century through the dawn of the seventh.

"Out of all the disciplinary approaches to early Christianity, only historical theology tries to understand the rich, theological thought-world that early Christian authors explicitly delineate as the context for their own writings. This work demonstrates that an attention to the theological concerns of early Christians – not just their social or political maneuvering – is a methodological approach to early Christianity that bears a lot of fruit," said Scully.

The foundations for the book were laid almost ten years ago with her co-editor Anthony Briggman, Associate Professor of Early Christianity at Emory University. The two scholars shared a dissertation director at Marquette University, Michel Barnes, who fervently believed in the importance of a well-defined methodology for the field and that bad methodology ultimately produces bad scholarship. “This book is our homage to the essential truth of his concerns, developed in honor of his vision,” commented Scully.

For more information about New Narratives for Old, please visit its listing on The Catholic University of America Press website »


Immaculate Conception Seminary is a House of Formation for the Roman Catholic priesthood and the School of Theology of Seton Hall University. Forming priests for God's people has remained the Seminary's constant focus, and the Seminary faculty—well-educated authors and scholars in their own fields—devote their time and energy to preparing these men for priesthood amidst the challenges of the 21st century. The School also focuses on the education of lay men and women in theology, permanent deacons, religious who are not studying for ordination, and already-ordained priests—not only providing for them academically, but also for their personal, pastoral, and spiritual formation.

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