Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Book Review: The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Kostenberger/Kruger

In today’s society, there appears to be only one unassailable absolute truth—there is no absolute truth. Further, the quickest way to be labeled hateful, intolerant, or mean spirited is to suggest that the gospel as revealed in scripture is true and is the exclusive way to God. It used to be that those who would label you hateful or mean spirited for saying that were those outside of the church. That is no longer the case, however, and in fact it is among those who profess Christ that you are likely to find the loudest, most shrill voices railing against the notion of absolute truth. Many of those who advocate accepting any and all beliefs as being equally Christian base their position on the works of German theologian Walter Bauer and a contemporary disciple of his, Bart Ehrman. In short, Bauer, and now Ehrman, propose that what we know today as Christianity is not the Christianity of the apostles and certainly not what Jesus taught. Rather, they propose, there was a diverse opinion about Jesus, what He taught, and what the apostles taught and that there was no one view that was more “right” than any of the others. The fact that we today believe that there is only one correct theological position on, for instance, the Virgin Birth is because the Roman church finally won enough theological and political power to squash any theological opposition to their positions. In fact, they assert, what we know today as orthodox Christianity represents the view of the winning side rather than the truth of the gospel.

The book The Heresy of Orthodoxy was not written to refute this Bauer-Ehrman thesis. Rather, as the authors’ state, the purpose of the book is to determine “why the Bauer-Ehrman thesis commands paradigmatic stature when it has been soundly discredited in the past”. As such, the authors’ review three areas where this idea of multiple but equally valid “Christianities” has been thoroughly refuted in the three sections of the book. They first examine whether, as the Bauer-Ehrman thesis suggests, there were actually a wide array of theological beliefs in the early church and that heresy (diversity) actually preceded orthodoxy. Further, they review material related to the development of the New Testament canon and attempt to determine from the historical evidence if the 27 books we know as the New Testament are more the result of random chance (“some books have all the luck”), as Bauer and Ehrman, would have us believe rather than there being something peculiar about these books that makes them Scripture. Finally, they evaluate the assertion made by Bauer and Ehrman that the New Testament Text is so riddled with errors and inconsistencies that it is virtually unreliable as a record of what Jesus and the apostles taught.

Through the 8 chapters, the authors Kostenberger and Kruger deliver a slam dunk in their presentation. They take the thesis that there were no absolute truths in the early church and we certainly have no way to know exactly what they believed anyway and clearly present convincing evidence to the contrary. In fact, as the reader discovers, the evidence for what we know today as orthodox Christianity is overwhelming and that the thesis presented by Bauer-Ehrman ignores significant historical and textual evidence that discredits their position in addition to engaging in occasional circular reasoning. In short, the book would encourage any Christian to have confidence that their faith is in fact “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. (Jude 1:3-NASB)”.

I would recommend this book for all Christians who are interested in a better understanding of their faith or who are looking to better educate themselves in issues related to apologetics. The work is a scholarly text and as such is not a “casual read”. I could see this being used in a college or seminary classroom. If you’re looking for a resource to gain a better understanding of issues related to postmodernism and its effect on Christianity, this would be a great book to add to your library.

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