Michael J. Kruger. Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church. IVP Academic, 2017, 2018. See here to purchase the book.
Michael J. Kruger has a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, and
he teaches New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological
Seminary, which is in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is also the
As the title indicates, this book is about Christianity in the second
century C.E. Kruger engages such topics as who was attracted to
Christianity, the views of Christians that were held by the larger
non-Christian society, the church’s ecclesiological organization,
diversity and unity within second century Christianity, the importance
of texts to second century Christians, and the emergence of a New
Testament canon during the second century.
What marks this book is its judicious engagement of scholarship.
Kruger often identifies where there is scholarly doubt about certain
narratives, where scholarship has changed, and his own views on the
issues. Kruger’s conclusions tend to accord with a Reformed Protestant
view. He argues that churches were initially shepherded by elders, and
that the leadership of bishops, let alone an overarching bishop (i.e.,
pope), was a later development; Catholics, by contrast, would trace the
papacy back to Peter. In a passing comment on page 104, Kruger states
that “the particular way that connection [with Christ] was achieved [at
the Eucharist] was a continuing matter of debate” in the second century;
this statement would contrast with Catholics and other believers in the
real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, who would see the real
presence as the original Christian position and the view that the bread
and wine are mere symbols as a much later development.
Kruger also challenges claims from more “liberal” (my word) scholars,
such as Walter Bauer, Bart Ehrman, and Helmut Koester. Kruger contends
that the Christianity of the second century church fathers, which won
out, was the mainstream, majority Christianity, with a connection to the
apostles; other Christian sects, by contrast, were comparatively
marginal or were heretical deviations. Kruger holds that there was a
New Testament canon during the second century C.E., while acknowledging
that some books were still in dispute; he argues against scholars who
think that the canon came later, or that the second century church
lacked a canon because it valued oral tradition over written texts.
To determine whether Kruger characterizes the scholarly positions
accurately, one would have to read them, and Kruger provides secondary
references. Overall, however, in arguing for his own positions, Kruger
does so very effectively, as he looks closely at primary sources. One
argument that was impressive was when he contradicted the view that
Marcion’s version of the New Testament came first and that the
“orthodox” version was a supplemental response to Marcion; essentially,
Kruger pointed to scholarship that indicated that Marcion was
harmonizing the New Testament Gospels (or borrowing others’
harmonizations), indicating that the New Testament Gospels were already
widely respected by Christians in Marcion’s day.
Compared with his discussion of other issues, Kruger’s treatment of
the Eucharist was rather disappointing. He appeared to be implying that
Justin Martyr held a memorialist view of the Eucharist, whereas
Ignatius (and perhaps Irenaeus) saw the bread and wine as Christ’s
literal body. (I am inferring this from his references in a footnote,
on page 104.) His footnote did not cite Justin’s “First Apology,”
chapter 66, in which Justin seems to affirm that the bread and the wine
are Jesus’ flesh and blood.
I am somewhat ambivalent about Kruger’s argument that the second
century church fathers had a connection with the apostles. On the one
hand, the “orthodox” positions of the church fathers do appear to be
more consistent with the New Testament than are the Christianities of
the Marcionites and the Gnostics; the New Testament does not seem to
believe that there was a pure, anti-matter God who was above a sinister
sub-deity, the God of the Old Testament. Kruger may also be correct
that the “Gnostic” Christians were imitating the “orthodox” Christians
by claiming that their teachings went back to the apostles. On the
other hand, my impression is that the New Testament is too diverse for
one to claim that it accords with the second century “rule of faith.”
The synoptic Gospels may not depict Jesus as pre-existent, as the “rule
of faith” does; Paul may not have had a concept of a virgin birth, as
the “rule of faith” has. To his
credit, Kruger actually does mention and express doubt about the
argument that Mark’s Gospel may be adoptionist. My suspicion is,
though, that the line from first century Christianity to the second
century “rule of faith” was messier than Kruger might think.
Other critiques that I have: Kruger was a little uncritical in his
acceptance of Papias, as there are scholars who have questioned Papias’
reliability. Moreover, while Kruger did well to demonstrate that a
number of New Testament books were deemed to be inspired—-even
Scriptural—-in the second century, his explanation of Clement’s
quotation of extracanonical Christian works was somewhat of a stretch.
It reminded me of conservative Christians who try to argue that Jude did
not consider the I Enoch to be inspired Scripture when he quoted it.
One may get the impression from my review that this book is like the
numerous classical Christian apologetics books that are out there.
While Christian apologists may find this book to be useful, it is more
advanced and scholarly than popular apologetics books, and it also does
not recycle the same old hackneyed arguments. Overall, it is a robust
scholarly engagement with other scholars, even as it tells the stories
of second century Christians. The book also has a humble and modest
tone, in that Kruger distances himself from an apologetic agenda: he
states, for example, that orthodox Christianity being the mainstream
Christianity during the second century does not, by itself, mean that it
was true (even though he believes that it was true).
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.
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