Book Review: Elementary Principles

Hebrews 6:1–2 alludes to the “elementary principles” of Christianity and asserts that the epistle’s recipients should have mastered these teachings already and be able to move on to more advanced concepts. It is clear that the author considered the six principles to be foundational and commonly understood, not needing more explanation. Lancaster unpacks these teachings using his unique perspective from Messianic Judaism and drawing on early Christian literature and first- and second-century rabbinical writings as well as modern Christian authors such as Scot McKnight and N.T. Wright.

The six foundational principles begin with repentance and faith in God—both of which are somewhat neglected by mainstream “pop” American evangelicalism but should be familiar to anyone who has spent more time exploring Scripture or a more serious walk with Christ.

The third principle is rendered as “instruction about washings” by the ESV; Lancaster makes a compelling case that is talking about the teachings of the Didache and similar early Christian works that were almost a form of catechism used prior to baptism.

The fourth principle, the “laying on of hands” is not so foreign to believers with a more charismatic background and Lancaster makes a case from Scripture for its importance in ways that more reserved Christians are missing.

Lancaster’s discussion of the final two principles (the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment) follows the Scriptural analysis of N.T. Wright and other authors in upending the traditional modern American perspectives on Heaven and Hell by taking Scripture much more seriously. In short, Scripture does not support the pop culture notion of us going to some kind of spiritualized heaven for eternity but instead clearly anticipates a physical Earth that we inhabit with physical bodies that have been resurrected like Christ. This is a concept that many Christians fail to appreciate due to a lack of biblical literacy.

Overall, this is an excellent book exploring the tantalizing hints into the teachings the early Church apostles identified as foundational. The author has a high view of Scripture and relies heavily on Scripture to understand these teachings, and then uses early Church writings and other period sources to unpack and understand what Scriptural authors meant. This book’s conclusions are practically oriented and not heavy-handed.

My only qualm is that Lancaster, in this book and in other writings, emphasizes the insights gained from a messianic jewish perspective in such a way as to denigrate the studies of nearly all other Christian belief systems. Reading his works consistently leaves me with the impression that he believes Christian scholars writing after the first few centuries AD have completely missed the mark and are not useful in any way. This is an unfortunate overreaction.

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