Van Til Tool

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Christianity Reaffirmed:

A Refutation Of The Bauer – Ehrman Thesis

A review of

Andreas J. Kostenberg & Michael Kruger The Heresy Of Orthodoxy (Wheaton, IL:
Crossway Books, 2010)
$17.99 250 pp ISBN-13: 978-1-4335-0143 ISBN-10: 1-4335-0143-0

Reviewer: Forrest W. Schultz

Although the facts concerning the birth and growth of the Early Church have been known for a very long time, there are still many Christians and many educated people who do not have (or accept) this knowledge. For this reason sundry fallacious notions on the subject continue to be concocted and accepted. This reminds me of the line in that old folk song: “When will they ever learn??!!”.

The book under reviews here amply refutes one of the latest of these fallacious notions – the Bauer-Ehrman Thesis – which has gained a lot of notoriety by its outrageous proclamation of “the heresy of orthodoxy”: thus the title of the book

The “Bauer” of this thesis is the 20th century Walter Bauer, who is not to be confused with the 19th century Ferdinand Christian Baur, although it is very interesting (something this book surprisingly fails to point out!) that there is a parallel between the two. Just as F. C. Baur’s notion of the church resulting from a Hegelian synthesis of a supposed clash between “Petrine” and “Pauline” factions was popular in the Hegelian Zeitgeist of his day, so Walter Bauer’s notion of orthodoxy as the winner of a power struggle among competing “Christianities” is popular in the postmodernist ethos of our day.

[By the way, this is not the only example of this sort of thing happening. There is another parallel I can cite, this one between two Episcopalian bishops, both named Robinson. Fifty years ago in ENGLAND Bishop JOHN Robinson scandalized that nation with his notions, just as today in NEW ENGLAND Bishop GENE Robinson is scandalizing our nation with his!]

Although most of the book under review here is a restatement of the aforementioned long known facts about the New Testament and the Early Church, there is some new material presented. For example, the authors note a fact I was hitherto unaware of, namely that Rudolph Bultmann accepted Bauer’s idea. But this, of course, is to be expected due to the similarity of the existentialism of that time with the postmodernism of ours – something which the authors surprisingly fail to mention!
Another addition is the book’s discussion of the diversity matter. A careful distinction is drawn between “legitimate” diversity and “illegitimate” diversity. For example, the attempt to make heresy acceptable is an example of illegitimate diversity. Although what is said in the book is true and helpful, it does not go far enough. It fails to mention, let alone discuss, the all important foundational principle of the equal ultimacy of the unity and the diversity in the nature of God, which was discussed at great extent in the 20th century by Francis Schaeffer and Cornelius Van Til. This right kind of unity/diversity relationship in God stands in sharp contrast to the false notions of unity/diversity relationship in the Bauer-Ehrman thesis and in postmodernism. It is extremely important to set this truth of God into antithetic contrast with the falsehood of postmodernism. It is also needed to refute the idea in many people’s minds that orthodoxy and God are somehow associated with a stifling narrowness. The precise opposite is the case when we consider the enormous abundance of variety found in God’s creatures – f or example the millions of biological species. This foundational material needs to be included for a thorough refutation of the false notions noted and for a right understanding of what orthodoxy means.

There seems to be a pattern here in this book. The book keeps omitting important stuff that should be included for a thorough treatment of the subject. Here is another example of this kind of omission in the book: the way they handle refuting the notion that the Roman church stamped out all the diversity and imposed its version, which was then called orthodoxy. The book does rightly point out that this did not happen in the Early Church. BUT it totally ignores the all important fact that LATER in church history the Roman Church DID impose its notion of orthodoxy (which was partly orthodox and partly heterodox) on everyone else. We need to be very concerned about this LATER tyranny, which can then be contrasted and seen as evil by contrasting it to what happened in the Early Church. It is also directly relevant to the matter at hand because one of the reasons a lot of modern people are being attracted to postmodernism is due to their concern about the horrifying tyranny of the Roman Church in later church history. Therefore, a discussion of this is needed for completeness here if we want to get to the bottom of what draws people into postmodernism.

The third section of the book, dealing with the text of the New Testament, is very well done and is one of the best treatments I have seen of the subject. It is both an excellent introduction to the topic and also contains good critiques of Bauer and Ehrman in light of the actual facts brought to light by textual studies. It also contains a good discussion of the Christian book publishing industry in the first and second centuries, which apparently was much greater than normally supposed, if it is thought of at all!

The discussion of what is commonly called the canon is quite good also, but it should be pointed out, which the book fails to do, that the term canon, as defined by Irenaeus, which is the correct definition, refers to the truth-system proclaimed by the apostles in their preaching and their writings. The canon is NOT the list of books in the Bible. It is the truth system taught in these books. This point needs special stress in drawing the contrast between the objective truth of orthodoxy (which means “straight” thinking) and the subjectivistic notions of “truth” found in postmodernism and the Bauer-Ehrman Thesis.

This book should be read by anyone concerned with this subject. However, due to the omissions noted, it should not be regarded as a complete treatment until those lacunae are filled.


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