Review: Destroyer of the gods

29894928Larry W. Hurtado is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. Hurtado has authored numerous books related to early Christianity, including Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity and The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. Most recently, Hurtado has written a blockbuster of a book and thought-provoking investigation into the distinctiveness of early Christianity within the Greco-Roman context.

Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World is an important and well-thought monograph that explores various aspects of the early Christian movement. The goal of the book is to display the uniqueness of early Christianity in the vast religious landscape of the Greco-Roman world. The book begins with a quick survey of early Christianity through the lenses of non-Christians, including both Jewish and Pagan critiques of Christians. Hurtado concludes, “a good many outsiders, who were the overwhelming majority of the populace, regarded Christians and Christianity as objectionably different and certainly not simply one group among an undifferentiated lot” (p. 35). It is this discovery that establishes the subsequent chapters as the reader is guided through the distinctiveness of early Christian ethics, worship, and more.

The entire book is fascinating and chocked full of rich historical commentary on the Christian movement of the second century. However, one of the most exciting chapters in the book has to do with the early Christian interest with the written word. That is, according to Hurtado, the early Christian movement was particularly interested in books—a “bookish” religion. The implications of this fly in the face of the popular misnomer that early Christians were primarily concerned with oral tradition rather than written words. Early Christianity, according to Hurtado, was uniquely fond of reading, writing, copying, and circulating text. In fact, the modern book likely discovers its origins in the early Christian utilization of the codex. Thus, Hurtado concludes, “the young Christian movement [was] distinctively text oriented in context of the varied religious environment of that time . . . ‘textuality’ was central, and, from the outset, early Christianity was, indeed, ‘a bookish religion’” (p. 141).

Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry W. Hurtado is a worthwhile investment for anyone interested in early Christianity. Hurtado is usually lucid in his presentation, but this book easily tops the charts of Hurtado’s life works. The reader will likely appreciate Hurtado’s interaction with contemporary scholarship and sensitivity to make the subject matter accessible to a wide range of readership. While much more could surely be said about Hurtado’s treatment of early Christian ethics and worship, in my opinion, the chapter outlined above is alone worth the price of the book. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

 

Review: Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity

173611Paul Barnett (Ph.D., London University) is recognized by many in the field of New Testament studies as one of the most respected historical scholars on the origins of Christianity. As well as being an Emeritus Faculty member of Moore Theological College, Barnett is currently a fellow in ancient history at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia and a teaching fellow at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada. Barnett has authored numerous books, including a number of commentaries and monographs related to the various aspects of New Testament studies.

Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times has been long acknowledged as a quintessential classic at the top of Barnett’s lengthy literary corpus. Barnett guides the reader through the complexities of the Hellenistic backdrop that characterized much of the culture during the ministry of Jesus—from the incarnation to the resurrection—and the development of the New Testament Church. The approach is both comprehensive and readable, and Barnett firmly roots his research in primary source material. This affords the reader a better grasp of the New Testament from within its historical context, and thus, allows for a better recognition of the significance of the early Jesus movement within the first century world.

The scope of this volume is quite impressive. Not only is the reader exposed to the historical landscape of the New Testament, but Barnett has likewise interwoven detailed interaction with contemporary critical scholarship concerning the Historical Jesus and other related issues. It is here that Barnett does well in demonstrating the historical shortcomings of the critical attempt to construct a chasm between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Moreover, the reader will certainly appreciate the emphasis Barnett places on the Christological motivation that underlined the missionary effort of the early Christian community, as well as the imperative nature of a bodily resurrection in early Christian worship. This is by any measure a breath of fresh air brought to a table that is far too often plagued with canonical discontinuity and confusion, and for this readers everywhere should rejoice!

Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times by Paul Barnett is an invaluable resource that should be read and re-read by anyone interested in the origins of early Christianity. Barnett is judicious and clear as usual, and his treatment therein is nothing short of comprehensive. Barnett leaves the eager reader with nearly no stones left to turn. This is a volume that should be consulted by many and done so often, both in the church and in the academy. It comes highly recommended!

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review:Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Context

00_PICKWICK_TemplateThe Bauer Thesis is an undergirding hypothesis running through the minds of individuals worldwide, but especially in the western world. It has been popularized on a large scale by scholars such as Bart D. Ehrman, Elaine Pagels, and Karen King. In fact, the Bauer Thesis is so widespread that it even witnesses some acknowledging support among laity and leadership in the Christian church. Still, the majority of individuals are familiar with the Bauer Thesis without even knowing it. So, what is the Bauer Thesis? The Bauer Thesis is a theory of Christian origins developed by the prolific intellectual voice of German scholar Walter Bauer. In essence, as Bauer peered over the landscape of early Christianity he saw a chasm of diversity with many forms of Christian orthodoxy and heresy. Bauer argued that the existence of a central Christian orthodoxy was nowhere to be found, rather with the superior influence of the Roman church, what we know today as Christianity is merely the outpouring of the victory of one form of Christianity over many others.

Many challenges have been directed towards the claims of the Bauer Thesis and its wide-range of scholarly support. Most recently, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Context: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis edited by Paul A. Hartog (Pickwick, 2015) seeks to reevaluate the grounds for Bauer’s assessment of early Christianity through the interdisciplinary effort of both New Testament and Patristic studies. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Context has brought together specialists from both fields of study to reexamine the Bauer Thesis “by taking a fresh look at orthodoxy and heresy, unity and diversity, theology and ideology, and rhetoric and polemic within early Christian context” (p. 4-5).

The essays are rich with content, “supplemented by post-Bauer discoveries and refined by post-Bauer scholarship, [and] reveal new insights through careful attention to historical detail and geographical particularity” (p. 5). If the reader is unfamiliar with Walter Bauer and his contribution to biblical scholarship, the introduction by Hartog and the first chapter by Rodney J. Decker has provided an excellent overview of the Bauer and the Bauer Thesis in general. Decker also provides an annotated list of scholarly contention with the Bauer Thesis. These two chapters work well in orienting the reader in the right direction. While all ten essays are collectively beneficial in their own respect, some sure highlights for the reader will include an essay by William Varner titled “Baur to Bauer and Beyond: Early Jewish Christianity and Modern Scholarship,” and an essay by Bryan M. Litfin titled “Apostolic Tradition and the Rule of Faith in Light of the Bauer Thesis.”

The Bauer Thesis has proven itself to be a lasting plague upon the conversations that surround early Christianity. Despite dozens upon dozens of critiques directed at Bauer and the growing number of contemporary proponents to the Bauer Thesis, the conversation shows little signs of slowing down in the near future. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Context: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis edited by Paul A. Hartog helpfully brings together an interdisciplinary team of scholars unified in the effort of honest discussion about the landscape of early Christianity. If you are looking for an up-to-date engagement with one of the most important and widespread theories related to both New Testament and Patristic studies, then Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Context will provide you with a wealth interaction that is certain to keep your appetite under control.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: The Rule of Faith

PrintEverett Ferguson is no stranger to the many discussions that center around the life and theology of early Christianity. Ferguson is Emeritus Professor of Church History at Abilene Christian University and holds numerous academic and scholarly honors. Ferguson has a doctoral degree with distinction in History and Philosophy of Religion from Harvard University. He is also the author of a long list of important works pertaining to the history of Christianity, including, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 2nd edition (Routledge, 1997), Church History, Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context, 2nd edition (Zondervan, 2013), Church History, Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context (Zondervan, 2013), and Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd edition (Eerdmans, 2003).

Most recently, Ferguson has brought together a small but welcomed addition to the growing Cascade Companion series. The Rule of Faith: A Guide fits well within the overall aim of this ambitious series, as it couples academic rigor and readability with intentional precision. Ferguson presents the “rule of faith” (or regula fidei) as a necessary companion to the well-known creeds of early Christendom and something that developed as an outcome of the written Scriptures. It is the summary of apostolic preaching and teaching, found most authoritatively in the canon of Scripture (p. xi). But, interestingly enough, as Ferguson articulates clearly in the initial chapters of the book, the “rule of faith” obtained ecumenical support far before the fourth and fifth centuries. In other words, Ferguson demonstrates without a shadow of a doubt, a clear consensus among early Christian writers concerning some of the most foundational tenets of the Christian faith prior to the traditionally agreed upon date for the canon of Scripture.

Ferguson begins the journey with a survey of the “rule of faith” in early Christian literature and guides the reader through the fluidity of terminology that unites the underlying concept among the primary sources. Chapter one and two are necessary starting points for the unfamiliar reader, but I think Ferguson’s handling of the passages will benefit the familiar reader as well. Chapter three brings clarity to the concept as Ferguson guides the reader through interpretation of the “rule of faith” among the various early Christian authors. This section is well written and appropriately placed within the book. Chapter four outlines the history of the study of the “rule of faith” and familiarizes the reader with the various theories that emerge within the discussion. This section is helpful and builds a context for the fifth chapter in which Ferguson carefully summarizes and articulates the function of the “rule of faith” in the life and practice of the early Christian communities. Lastly, Ferguson applies the academic investigation of the “rule of faith” to the contemporary church, suggesting it’s usefulness in bringing to bear a succinct statement of core doctrine, discerning a center from the periphery in Christian doctrine, testing teaching, as well as keeping the focus on Christ and his story.

The Rule of Faith: A Guide is a helpful little book that successfully examines an often overlooked reality within early Christianity. Despite the lack of the Bible as we know it today, the early community of God’s people overtly gathered themselves around a common core of beliefs—the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Everett Ferguson was an ideal candidate for the task that a book of this caliber required, and his contribution is sure to be enjoyed by readers of all educational backgrounds. It’s an intentionally short read that is guaranteed to perk interest in the right places. If you are looking for an intriguing and well-written study on one of the most foundational aspects of early Christianity, then look no further.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.