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…