As I noted in a previous post, while the stated topic of this work was to deal with what's known as the "Bauer/Ehrman" thesis, it also has extraordinary implications for Bryan Cross's unique and novel concept of "Ecclesial Deism". As he has noted:
Deism refers to a belief that God made the world, and then left it to run on its own. It is sometimes compared to “a clockmaker” winding up a clock and then “letting it run.” Deism is distinct from theism in that theism affirms not only that God created the world, but also that God continually sustains and governs all of creation.There are a couple of things wrong with this definition. First, Bryan anachronistically reads the concept of "magisterium" back into the earliest church. He also misunderstands not only what "the church" is (or rather, he superimposes his own impressions back on it, but he also misunderstands (or mis-states) what's actually being promised to "the one true church" in John 16:13.
Ecclesial deism is the notion that Christ founded His Church, but then withdrew, not protecting His Church’s Magisterium (i.e., the Apostles and/or their successors) from falling into heresy or apostasy. Ecclesial deism is not the belief that individual members of the Magisterium could fall into heresy or apostasy. It is the belief that the Magisterium of the Church could lose or corrupt some essential of the deposit of faith, or add something to the deposit of faith.
In reality, it was not a "magisterium" that the earliest church had, but the concept of "covenant", and while the title of this work deals with heresy and orthodoxy, it could, in fact, have been entitled "Canon and Covenant."
The authors not only identify core orthodox doctrines (and locate the church within the doctrines -- not vice versa), but they also describe how the concept of covenant always brought with it the requirement for a written copy of the covenant documents -- which not only were kept in holy shrines, but which were also to be "read publicly at regular intervals."
"The new covenant documents are no exception to this overall pattern," they write. "The religious world of Judaism had already anticipated the reality" not only of God's covenant in Israel, but a "New Covenant" sealed by Christ's blood. And they point to the "clear expectation that this new covenant, like the old covenant, would be accompanied by the appropriate written texts to testify to the terms of the new arrangement that Gd was establishing with his people." So, rather than being an after thought, "the canon is a concept that has been indelibly part of the life of God's people from the very state of the nation of Israel," and thus, they were a part of the thinking of the earliest communities of Christians.
This work is incredibly valuable, as well, in providing a Scripture-based account that's totally at odds with the "ecclesial deism" assumption.
Because this work is so helpful, my hope is to work through this book in a way that is a bit longer than one might expect in a simple review.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction: The Contemporary Battle to Recast the Origins of the New Testament and Early Christianity.
Part 1: The Heresy of Orthodoxy: Pluralism and the Origins of the New Testament
1. The Bauer-Ehrman Thesis: Its Origins and Influence
2. Unity and Plurality: How DIverse Was Early Christianity?
3. Heresy in the New Testament: How Early Was It?
Part 2: Picking the Books: Tracing the Development of the New Testament Canon
4. Starting in the Right Place: The Meaning of Canon in Early Christianity
5. Interpreting the Historical Evidence: The Emerging Canon in Early Christianity
6. Establishing the Boundaries: Apocryphal Books and the Limits of the Canon
Part 3: Changing the Story: Manuscripts, Scribes, and Textual Transmission
7. Keepers of the Text: How Were Texts Copied and Circulated in the Ancient World?
8. Tampering with the Text: Was The New Testament Text Changed Along the Way?
Concluding Appeal: The Heresy of Orthodoxy in a Topsy-Turvy World
Again, while the authors make these points in the context of interacting with the Bauer/Ehrman thesis, point-by-point, I found myself agreeing with them as point-by-point, they address what Roman Catholics continually represent as the key core weakness of Protestantism, "that 'Sola Scriptura is not taught in the Bible.'"
The Reformers' doctrine of Scripture is not only incredibly biblical, but it is also the case that "God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass," including the development of the canon as a means of guiding His one true church into all truth.