I do not know many Christians who possess some working knowledge of Christianity in the second century. Some pastors might, and seminary students are more likely to know something, but generally, the second century of Christianity has been forgotten. According to Michael Kruger, this should not be the case. The second century is one of the most pivotal in the life of the Christian religion.
Kruger’s book, “Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church,” is one of the best books I have read on the topic. In fact, this book is the only one I have read concerning the second century. Scholarship does not seem to be focused on this time period. Kruger has taken up the gauntlet to present the vast wealth of knowledge to be gleaned by modern Christians from the ancient world.
The thesis of the volume can be summed up in a quote from Judith Lieu who states, “The second century has emerged as decisive for the shaping of what would become the Christian Church.” Kruger agrees and states that this is the “fundamental thesis” of his book. The following is a brief summary of what Kruger addresses in his book.
The first chapter covers the sociological make-up of the church. Here, Kruger breaks down the Galatians 3:28 which states there is neither “slave nor free,” “male nor female,” and “Jew or Greek” because all are one in Christ. The thrust of this chapter is not necessarily that Christianity and Judaism were becoming distinguished religions, they were, but the idea Paul envisioned Christianity being for all people in all places.
The second chapter discussed the political and intellectual influence of early Christianity. Christians in this time were viewed as atheists because Christians worshipped the one God whose Son is Jesus. Politically speaking, these followers of Jesus “were seen as subversive to the state” and the philosophers of the day viewed Christians as “intellectually defective.” Yet, the first Christian apologists such as Justin Martyr were being noticed as “intellectuals” of Christianity. According to Kruger in his conclusion, intellectualism is a core characteristic of what it meant, and means, to be a Christian.
The third chapter discusses the primary purpose of the early Christians: to worship Jesus. Kruger writes, “Despite the political and intellectual pressures that weighed heavily on the early Christian movement, the earliest followers of Jesus remained committed to one simple activity: meeting together regularly for worship.” Thought sources on worship in early Christianity are few, Kruger notes four (4) activities regularly took place: gathering, teaching, eating, and washing. Kruger also discusses the government of the churches and how many moved from a multi-bishopric to a mono-bishopric.
The fourth and fifth chapters are “two sides of the same coin.” The fourth chapter discusses the idea that Christianity, unlike the Greco-Roman religions, is monotheistic and focused not on “cult or ritual,” but on a message-the message of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians were defined by what they “believed.” Heresies, then, were bound to arise with diverse thought amongst Christians. The fifth chapter discusses the popularity of these heresies and the method, or lack thereof, to distinguish heresy from orthodoxy.
The sixth chapter notes the textual nature of early Christianity. Christianity was, and is a “bookish” religion. However, it is interesting to note that while Christians began publishing books “the vast majority of Christians could not read.” It is fascinating to think of Christianity as an early movement when the majority of its constituents could not read what had been published. Today, Christian publishing is a vast enterprise not only in the United States but around the world!
Finally, the book concludes in the seventh chapter challenging the idea that the discussion of the canon of the New Testament did not begin in the third century, or even fourth century, but in the second century. Kruger notes, “the evidence we surveyed suggests that Christians were using books as Scripture by the early second century, and a ‘core’ canon of books (around 22 of the 27) was firmly in place by the middle of the second century.”
This truly is a fascinating book. Personally, my interest in and knowledge of the second century of Christianity has greatly benefited from his work. I am thankful this book has been written and I hope you will strongly consider adding it to your library. Kruger has written an accessible work that seminary students, pastors, and Christians serious about learning how our faith developed should read.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from InterVarsity Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and a positive review is not required.