If they venture into the fourth and fifth centuries, though, they are looking at a church that might, to them, look disturbingly medieval and even Catholic. This was very much a hierarchical church with strong ideas about the status of clergy, and definite rules about clerical celibacy and monasticism. From the second century, moreover, ideas about the exalted role of the Virgin Mary were becoming ever more popular and mainstream in the church. Are they then any less authoritative than doctrines like the Trinity?
So why not Mary?
Evangelicals, then, should be more explicit about how they are prepared to use tradition. In raising this point, I am not seeking to embarrass evangelicals, but rather to suggest that Christians of all shades are already far closer to doctrinal unity that they might think.
Philip Jenkinsis a Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor Universityand author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade.