In (Glowing) Praise of “Passages: Nicaea” by Mere Orthodoxy

In 2019, I began my studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in pursuit of a Masters of Arts of Biblical Studies. I had been told by fellow students that an easy class to dip my toes into would be the first of two required Church History courses, and by the time I finished the first course I was deep in lament that I could not change my major to pursue a Masters of Arts of Church History – if such a degree even exists. My world had been absolutely rocked, and I could not get enough of not only church history, but specifically the Patristic fathers and their writings. I was eager to lead my friends and family into this strange and beautiful era of my history, but soon realized that the guides that led me to this world may not be the most helpful guides to lead them to the same destination.

Protestants, especially in America, have a turbulent relationship with church history (at best) and an outright agnosticism towards it (at worst). In the broader Reformed world, there is a greater openness to studying church history, but rarely does it extend beyond Martin Luther and the Reformation, and usually such histories are presented as a polemic for Reformed theology against a backdrop of borderline hero worship than they are actual history. Protestants who care about the world before the Reformation, much less resources to educate them about that world and tools to make sense of that world, are scarce, and I recognize that my voyage into this world was due to the privilege of a graduate school education and the luxury of full time theological studies. Little was available for the everyday saint.

Enter Passages: Nicaea, an extremely well produced and thoroughly engaging podcast that gives Protestants a guided introduction to some of the greatest Patristic theologians through the backdrop of one of the greatest treasures of the Christian faith: the Nicene Creed. More than just a teaching series through the articles of the Creed, or a crash course on the people, places, and events of the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, Passages: Nicaea is a study guide on the statements of the Creed given through the words and writings of those who helped shape it’s theology. Through its twelve episodes, Joshua Heavin and Caleb Wait introduce you to some of the most important people of the Christian faith – men and women such as St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Basil the Great, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Macrina the Elder, and more – and guides us through the highlights of their lives and writings, exploring the Creed’s depth of richness and beauty with each passing line.

It would be easy for a podcast like this to get lost in the weeds of Patristic history or the technicalities of Nicene theology, with little patience for the average believer who may not be able to follow along or keep up with intricate distinctions or the names and places of a distant world. Thankfully, Passages not only avoids this problem, but sets a golden standard for how to take the riches and depth of biblical theology and connect it to tangible, embodied living. Modeling the character of the Patristic theologians highlighted in the series, Joshua and Caleb are not content to performing the intellectual exercises of theology and then calling it a day; they both recognize that the intellectual exercises of theology ought to produce practical fruit as well, and show not only how these theologians matched their intellectual rigor through their sacrificial and cruciform living in their own day, but how we might apply such deep truths to our own day and age as well. Any Christian can listen to Passages and walk away deeply enriched not only in their orthodoxy, but their orthopraxy as well.

Around the same time I began my first course in church history, a new small group from my church began meeting at my house. One of my requests for this new group is that we recite the Nicene Creed together each week, and barring the time we met on Zoom during Covid (where reciting it together was a hilarious exercise in technological futility), it has become one of the most life-giving practices of my entire week. I have longed for an accessible resource to recommend to anyone who wants to understand why we believe this strange document and to guide them into this strange and beautiful era of their Protestant history, and at last, such a resource exists. You can listen to Passages wherever you get your podcasts, and Season Two cannot get here fast enough.

If you have thoughts, let me hear them!

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