Religion in Communist Lands journal now on-line

I am pleased to announce that the journal Religion in Communist Lands is now available on-line here. Although its subject matter might be considered peripheral to Biblical Studies it represents a unique archive of an important period in modern church history which will be of great interest to many. The articles will later be listed on my missiology website when time and resources become available to proceed with its development. I am grateful to the Trustees of the Keston Institute for their enthusiasm to see this journal and its successor Religion, State and Society placed on-line for free public access.

Book Review: The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Andreas J. Köstenberger & Michael J. Kruger

Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy. How Contemporary Cultures Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity.  Leicester: Apollos, 2010. Pbk. ISBN-13: 978-1-84474-446-6. pp.250.

This is a timely work for those wishing to answer the stream of recent books and articles arguing that we cannot know what the first followers of Jesus actually believed. What we can be sure of – writers such as Bart Ehrman assure us – is that the Church in the third and fourth centuries imposed is own interpretation of Jesus and suppressed the earlier “original” Christianity – which is now lost forever. As fictional as this interpretation of history might be it does require a considerable amount of time and effort to refute. I for one and very grateful for Köstenberger & Kruger for doing so in this volume.

 

The book is divided into three sections, answering in turn the three assertions of the Bauer-Ehrman hypothesis. Section 1 asks what is the evidence for a plurality of “Christianities” vying for supremacy in the early church. Drawing on some superb recent research by Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses), Larry Hurtado (Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity – now sadly out of print) and others, the authors make a convincing case that there was substantial and very early unity in the church about central issues of faith. Section 2 answers the issues of whether the later church decided which books were canonical in order to exclude “true Christianity” from the church. It demonstrates that the concept of “canon” is found within the New Testament itself and that even before the NT was complete parts of it were being recognised by apostolic witnesses as being of equal or greater authority than the Old Testament scriptures. Although a small number of books were still disputed until fairly late on, the core of the NT was very quickly accepted as Scripture. The third and fourth century church did not therefore invent the canon, they simply listed those books that had already been recognised as being authoritative.

 

The third and final section turns to the subject of textual criticism and focuses quite narrowly on how texts were copied in the ancient world and whether it was possible for a theological change made by a scribe could have become universally accepted without modern textual critics being able to identify it. Because of the vast number of NT manuscripts available and the speed in which they were disseminated throught the Empire we now know that this sort of theological change would have been impossible.

 

This book would prove a valuable addition to the library of anyone involved in apologetics today and anyone starting a theology course this Autumn. Some knowledge of early church history would be helpful, but not essential, as the authors do their best to explain who the characters they discuss are. It is a masterpiece of summarisation and deserves a wide readership.

I would like to leave the last word to D.A. Carson, who writes on the back cover:

In the beginning was Diversity. And the Diversity was with God, and the Diversity was God. Without Diversity was nothing made that has been made. And it came to pass that nasty old ‘orthodox’ people narrowed down diversity and finally squeezed it out, dismissing it as heresy. But in the fullness of time (which is of course our time). Diversity rose up and smote orthodoxy hip and thigh. Now, praise be, the only heresy is orthodoxy…

Let Go and Let God by Andrew Naselli

I love reading Ph.D. Theses and so I was delighted when Andy Naselli sent me a copy of his to review. Naselli’s thesis – Let Go and Let God – is a historical and theological analysis / critique of the theology of the Early Keswick movement. For those who are not familiar with this – and I include myself in that number before reading this book – it involves the belief that the work of sanctification in the believer is wholly the work of God which requires a “second blessing” baptism in the Spirit. This Second Blessing transforms the believer from a “carnal” to a “spiritual” Christian. Although I was unfamiliar with the movement I did recognise many of the names of those who propagated Keswick theology and have read their books. Naselli’s historical section very helpfully demonstrates how Keswick teaching was worked out in their lives and ministries – not always with positive results. The theological analysis / critique of the movement is concise and telling, demonstrating that early Keswick’s teaching on holiness was based first on experience and then on faulty exegesis which attempted to support that experience. The Keswick Movement – which continues to this day – stands apart from its early forebears and no longer holds to this teaching, yet early Keswick’s influence continues to make itself felt.

With around 30 pages of endorsements in its introduction I feel that I can add little more, except to commend it to any thinking Christian who wants to understand more clearly the New Testament teaching on holiness / sanctification. You can read some sample pages here. The book is due to be published in electronic form by Logos (details here). I hope that a printed version will also appear in due course – I will certainly be adding it to my library.