Book Review: The Heresy of Orthodoxy

During a summer excursion to Edmonton to visit our grand-daughter, my biological clock refused to adjust to Mountain Standard Time and I found myself wide awake by ~4:30 am each morning with several hours before the rest of the house awoke.  With freshly brewed coffee in hand (an essential at that hour!), I experienced some especially precious times in God’s Word.  I also had the opportunity to review four new books I had taken along to evaluate for the upcoming fall semester.  Two of these recent releases proved to be particularly worthwhile reads: Don Carson’s The God Who Is There and Andreas Köstenberger and Michael Kruger’s The Heresy of Orthodoxy.  The latter will be the subject of this blog post while I will return to Caron’s work in a future posting.

In The Heresy of Orthodoxy, appropriately subtitled How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity, Köstenberger and Kruger (K&K, hereafter) not only shatter the foundation of the Bauer-Ehrman thesis regarding early Christianity but they dismantle the associated structures that are erected in contemporary discussions of the NT canon and the transmission of the text.  In arguing for radical diversity within early Christianity, in which no single version could be identified as normative until the fourth century, Walter Bauer and his influential disciple, Bart Ehrman, would have us believe that decisions regarding the canon were correspondingly late.  Moreover, they contend that the early transmission of the text was riddled with changes by those seeking to impose their particular version of Christianity.

Beginning with the Scriptures and relevant data from the early church, K&K provide compelling arguments that, while there was legitimate and expected diversity within the early church, the earliest followers of Jesus Christ were united around three integrating motifs: (1) monotheism, that is, belief in the one God, Yahweh, as revealed in the Old Testament; (2) Jesus as the Christ and the exalted Lord; and, (3) the saving message of the gospel. Moreover, orthodoxy as expressed by these unifying truths, preceded heresy, not vice versa – as Bauer-Ehrman advocates’ claim. In critiquing both its methodology and historical analyses, K&K expose the emperor of the Bauer-Ehrman empire as having no cloths. Yet, the emperor lives, since, with the rise of postmodernism and its religion of pluralism, the only heresy that remains is orthodoxy, that is, the belief in absolute truth.  In challenging the persistent assumptions of many Bauer-Ehrman advocates, K&K rightly assert: “As we recognize the manner in which assumptions are imported into the debate without expressly being proven, it reveals once again how the Bauer thesis is less a conclusion from the evidence and more a control over the evidence.” [p. 155]

Of particular value was the clear and cogent case K&K presented for early expectation of and recognition of a NT canon.  They highlight the following three historical and theological factors: (a) covenant; (b) redemptive history; and, (c) community.  Regarding covenant, K&K remind us that the NT canon does not exist “in a biblical or historical vacuum but finds its proper context within the larger covenantal structure laid down by the OT” [p. 109]. Just as God gave the terms and conditions of the old covenant in a body of writings, NT believers would likewise have expected the new covenant, which was enacted with the redemptive work of Christ, to be expressed in written form.  Regarding redemptive history, K&K note the important role of the NT apostles in overseeing and safeguarding the accurate transmission of the message of Christ (both the oral and written forms).  Finally, while it is generally argued that the Christian community was formative in shaping the canon, K&K argue, in keeping with the OT paradigm, “that canon constitutes and shapes community, not the other way around.” [p. 119] In other words, the church is the creation of the biblical canon, not vice versa.

Finally, K&K unapologetically affirm the essential role of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the specific writings of the NT, in superintending their collection, and as a powerful testimony within the early Christian communities in their receiving and recognizing these inspired writings as the Word of God.  Serious students of God’s Word who find themselves challenged by the contemporary questions surrounding the early forms of Christianity, the nature of the NT canon and/or the accurate transmission of the text will profit tremendously from this resource.  Köstenberger and Kruger are to be commended for their contribution.

About Al Huss
I am a professor of New Testament at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA

One Response to Book Review: The Heresy of Orthodoxy

  1. Great Review, I enjoyed this read as well.


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