Thursday, March 5, 2015

Heresy and Orthodoxy in Early Christian Contexts: A Review

Scholars like Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels have brought to the masses the Bauer thesis. What is the Bauer thesis? In a nutshell, it is the theory advanced by German scholar Walter Bauer that states early Christianity was composed of multiple "orthodoxies"/"heresies." It was until later that the church at Rome established its dominant form of orthodoxy that destroyed all competitors. In this way, Bauer advanced the idea that there was no true orthodoxy. We should consider even gnostic forms of Christianity as acceptable. Therefore the history of Christianity is one of silencing different views.

So here is the deal: Bauer's thesis has been basically refuted on EVERY SINGLE point over the past century. The details of his argument just cannot sustain his reconstruction. However, the History Channel and Ehrman, Pagels and Karen Armstrong seem insistent on spreading this view as if it is fact. Because they write at a popular level, their views have really caught on. I have had a few of my students basically trumpet that view. "What is orthodoxy anyway," they ask rhetorically. What indeed...
Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis
Now, from Pickwick Publications comes Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis, a book dealing with refuting (again) the Bauer thesis. This work is composed by multiple authors, each dealing with early Christianity, orthodoxy and heresy. Some chapters include dealings on the apostolic father's understanding of orthodoxy, Montanism, heresiologist and more. The basic conclusion of all these studies can be summed up in the last argument:

"In a closing reflection for future trajectories of inquiry, the decisive issue does not seem to entail a historical discernment of precedence (which could theoretically vary by locale) or of plurality (which all scholars acknowledge in some form or manner) but of the possibility and nature of a focused normativity." (pg. 248)

Yes, there was diversity but there was always a consist stream of orthodoxy. To argue otherwise is to go against history and the New Testament texts. This book functions as a great refutation of Bauer/Ehrman's thinking.

That said, I wonder who this book was written for. It is too detailed and complex to be considered a "popular" level work. Those convinced of the Bauer thesis will not give much attention to this work since all the contributors are evangelicals. There have already been many works dealing with refuting Bauer's thesis so I don't feel like anything new is really presented here.

I guess the best part of this work is found in the fact that it brings most of the best arguments against Bauer's thesis together in one book. For that reason alone, I highly recommend this work. We live in a world that is skeptical of the truth of orthodoxy. Thus it is impossible to ignore this highly important book.

*Thanks to Pickwick publications for the free review copy which I received in exchange for a fair review*

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