book report: The Heresy of Orthodoxy (29010)

When my family needs something from Amazon that doesn't qualify for free shipping, I'm always willing to help them out by adding something from my wish list to reach that 25 buck threshold. This time I happily added to our cart, The Heresy of Orthodoxy by A. J. Kostenberger and M. J. Kruger. This book is for you if you are someone daunted by Bart Ehrman's books which explain why he has such little confidence in orthodox Christianity, doubt which he hopes to ensnare his readers with as well. But even if you haven't even read Ehrman, our post-modern American churchianity, christian-lite, is a product of historical speculation by Walter Bauer, Koine Greek linguist extraordinaire. His weak speculations were that what we now call orthodox, was just one option among many, that eventually prevailed in the Constantinian world that produced the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds. These speculations were confined to the academic theologians who could read German until Bauer's works were translated. But those speculations were no match for actual history either, which was explained in the theological journals and academic meetings. But Ehrman did not agree with the evidence and revived it with his elegant prose and presentation of some but not all the evidence. Kostenberger and Kruger attempt to nip the heads off of this hydra in this short book. There are always more details to every argument and the examples would fill several books and the authors need to point this out at least once in every chapter, which became tedious after the third mention. But the counter arguments and counter examples they provide do a great job making Ehrman look silly.

Bauer/Ehrman question whether the oral teachings of the Christ's apostles were ever intended for pen and ink, and since they were, weren't they accidental and not intentional, and, if the first, whose to say which ancient documents matter? Are not all those ancient documents about Christ on equal footing? This last question, Kostenberger and Kruger say, is the high orthodoxy of our time, that values diversity to the point of not prioritizing any point of view over another, by calling one "orthodox" and another "unorthodox." In regards to the first question, they write,
First, the entire covenantal structure of the Bible (New Testament and Old Testament alike) suggests that written texts are the natural, and even inevitable, consequence of God's covenantal activity. Thus, the earliest Christians would have had a disposition toward, and an expectation of, written documents to attest to the covenant activities of God.
Second, it is clear that God's decisive act of redemption in Jesus Christ would have led to the expectation of a new word-revelation documenting that redemption. It is through Christ's authoritative apostles that this new revelation comes to us, not as part of church history, but as part of redemptive history. Thus, apostolic books were written with the intent of bearing the full authority of Christ and would have been received in such an authoritative manner by its original audiences. p. 124
This addresses the documents but what about the diversity of options/unorthodoxies in the young church?
Indeed, it seems that Ehrman has presented the existence of diversity as if it were contrary to what we would expect if an original, apostolic version of Christianity really existed. But is this a reasonable assumption to make? Ehrman slips this assumption into the debate, expecting everyone would agree that high levels of diversity must mean that no version of Christianity is the apostolic and original one. Thus his argument succeeds only if he sets the bar artificially high for the traditional view - it is only if there are very few (if any) dissenters, and virtually immediate and universal agreement on all twenty-seven canonical books, that we can believe we have found the original and true version of Christianity. But such an artificial standard decides the debate from the outset, before any evidence is even considered. After all, no historical religion could ever meet such an unhistorical standard. Ehrman never bothers to tell us what amount of diversity is "too much" or what amount is "reasonable." One gets the impression that he has challenged Christianity to vault over a bar where he gets to control (and can quickly change) the height. p.159
Three italics and two scare quotes in one sentence means this very serious. It is, but I do feel it is a little over the top stylisitically.

I recently taught a class at church on the canon of the Bible, textual transmission and textual criticism. I'm not an expert by any means, but I learned a little from my biblical Greek class a few years ago and in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king. So when the authors, turned to this important topic, I wasn't sure if they would have more than the softball stuff. Perhaps they didn't but they at least presented me with some new softballs, or at least some more perspective on the topics. The following quote are a couple paragraphs I really enjoyed.
Although Ehrman presents his who-knows-what-the-text-originally-said approach as part of mainstream textual criticism, it actually stands in direct opposition to many of his fellow scholars in the field (and even seems to be out of sync with his own writings elsewhere). Historically speaking, the field of textual criticism has not embodied the hyper-skepticism evident in Misquoting Jesus but has been more optimistic concerning the recovery of the original text (or at least something very close to it). In response to Ehrman, therefore, this chapter will put forward four theses that embody an approach that is more consistent with the kind traditionally taken in the field of textual criticism.
  • We have good reasons to think the original text is preserved (somewhere) in the overall textual tradition.
  • The vast majority of scribal changes are minor and insignificant.
  • Of the small portion of variations that are significant, our text-critical methodology can determine, with a reasonable degree of certainty, which is the original text.
  • The remaining number of truly unresolved variants is very few and not material to the story/teaching of the New Testament.

If these four these are valid, then we have good reasons to thinks that we are able to recover the New Testament text in a manner that is so very close to the original that there is no material difference between what, say Mark and Matthew wrote and the text we have today. Although we can never have absolute certainty about the original text, we can have sufficient certainty that enables us to be confident that we possess the authentic teaching of Jesus and his apostles. pp.204-5
I like those italicized words. Unlike the Islamists and King James only people, we don't need a perfect text, we need a sufficient text. The places where the text is imperfect, are not places that throw the main points of orthodoxy into confusion. The give examples of some of those places in dispute, such as whether the original text included Jesus's sisters with his mother and brothers who were seeking him out, Mark 3:32, or what emotion Jesus had when he saw some lepers, Mark 1:41.

So, is Ehrman honestly arriving at historically driven conclusions that should command much attention from the reading public?
It seems clear that Ehrman has investigated the New Testament documents with an a priori conviction that inspiration requires zero scribal variations - a standard that could never be met in the real historical world of the first century. Ironically, as much as Ehrman claims to be about real history, his private view of inspiration, be definition, prevents there from ever being a New TEstament from God that would have anything to do with real history. Not surprisingly, therefore, Ehrman "concludes" that the New Testament could not be inspired. One wonders whether any other conclusion was even possible. p.230
Since Ehrman is the Walter Bauer for the 21st century, he attracts the author's fire, and rightly so. The loss of Ehrman's faith is not good reason to evangelize others with sloppy scholarship and his endeavor to replace orthodoxy with diversity. This is a good read for the committed reader, not for the casual one. Consider it meat, not gravy, but well worth the effort.
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