Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger
The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture's Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped our Understanding of Early Christianity
Foreword by I. Howard Marshall
Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.
The early church was characterized by a deep-seated diversity where proto- orthodox and proto-gnostic Christians existed side-by-side from the beginning, there were yet no heresies or heretics (except perhaps for Paul), neither were there any hierarchical orders, no single theology of Christ’s person was in expression, and it was a period of innocent pluralism; but this ended some time between AD 80-100 when a vociferous minority of proto-orthodox leaders sought to silence certain voices within the Christian movement and imposed their own rigid theology, ethical rigorism, sacred texts, and ecclesial hierarchy upon a religious movement that was beginning to tire in the absence of Christ’s parousia and this led to the eventual catholizing of the church (see my TynBul article on New Testament Theology Re-Loaded).
In light of this now all too standard mantra of "diversity, diversity" and the wicked orthodox who imposed their views on everyone else, the volume by Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger is a breathe of fresh air that ably tackles these revisionist histories of early Christianity.
D.A. Carson's endorsement of the volume rings true: "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 'orthodoxy' 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. As widely and as unthinkingly accepted as this reconstruction is, it is historical nonsense: the emperor has no clothes." And Carson is right that Kostenberger and Kruger have exposed his nakedness.
The book moves in three parts. Part one examines "The Heresy of Orthodoxy: Pluralism and the Christian Origins of the New Testament". This is by far the best section of the book as the Bauer thesis is taken apart brick by brick. Bauer over-estimated the influence of the Roman church, certain groups like the Valentians were parasitic on the proto-orthodoxy rather than prior to and independent of them, and Bauer claimed to know too much based on far too little. There is no denial that Christianity was diverse, but there are good arguments provided to support the notion that the groups that were later judged as "heretical" deviated from a common core of widely accepted beliefs and traditions.
The second section covers "Picking the Books: Tracing the Development of the New Testament Canon" where it is claimed that the canon was not created by the church but received by the church, meaning that it was not an arbitrary collection based on little more than ecclesial politics. The third section "Changing the Story: Manuscripts, Scribes, and Transmission" directly challenges Bart Ehrman's claim that the text of the NT is highly corrupted and was deliberately molested by scribes who sought to conform the text to their own theological perspective. Here I would highlight the discussion on canon, covenant, and community that demonstrates the dynamic relationship between the faith of a community, the expectations of new Scripture that accompany a new covenant, and the textual tradition that the community itself creates.
This is a great book that deserves to be read and it is an excellent counter-point to the repeated assertions that the early church was just a nebulous array of diverse sub-groups until one was able to strong arm the rest. That said, there were a few points that I would contest.
First, Paul's opponents in Galatia are called "Judaizers" and "Heretics" in the book (p. 90). Strictly speaking only Gentiles can Judaize while Jews can proselytize. This is a term that needs to be eradicated from our nomenclature for Paul's adversaries in Galatia. But calling his opponents "heretics" is anachronistic as well. Heresy should be reserved for those who depart from the mature creedal statements of the Church's faith. Galatians was written during a period of the church's formative theological development where the issues of how much of the old carries over into the new was still an open question. Paul calls his opponents "false" not "heretical" since their position departed from an agreed norm with the Jerusalem apostles. But Paul's own view of the Law was developing as well and Galatians is a very raw and radical response to an intrusion onto his turf. Paul's Christ/Law contrast remains fairly consistent throughout his epistles, however, his remarks in Romans are obviously more mature and moderate compared to the explosive rejoinder in Galatians. In fact, if Galatians was the first and last word on the Law, Marcion might well have had a better case for rejecting the Old Testament. In the NT we can identify various positions concerning the Law (Matthew, James, Luke, Revelation) and the early church exhibited a wide diversity of opinion on the matter. Paul was right to object to any view of the Law that denigrated the work of Christ and argued that Christian Gentiles must embrace Judaism, but Paul's own formulation of Christ vis-a-vis the Law was not the unanimous view in the early church at this juncture.
Anyone studying NT Theology, unity and diversity in the early church, or historical theology would do well to consider this book.