Item description for The Rise of Normative Christianity by Arland J. Hultgren...
The influences wrought by the ancient documents discovered at Nag Hammadi have given rise to the notion that various Gnostic interpretations are mere alternatives to more traditional interpretations of Jesus and His significance. Hultgren contends that such a tradition originated at the beginnings of Christianity and came to dominate as the most adequate expression of Jesus' legacy.
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Some very important ideas here Nov 18, 2007
Hultgren argues that there was a definite strain within early Christianity that he calls normative Christianity, a name he feels is better than those who have referred to this strain as "early catholicism" or "the Great Church".
This is an idea that needs to be discussed. The evidence for normative Christianity is indeed overwhelming, starting with Paul's epistles. Nor was normative Christianity hard to find. Pagan authors attacked Christianity--but only the normative strain. Celsus never wrote against the Gnostics. Nor do we have any instance of a Gnostic being killed for their beliefs as Christians were.
Normative Christianity was notable for its clear proclamation of theological beliefs held since Paul's epistles. It was also noted for its strict moral beliefs, including sexual beliefs, at odds with those held by the rest of the pagan world. "Even pagan observers and critics of Christianity, such as Celsus and Lucian, were impressed by the way of life that Christians practiced, particularly their effectiveness in providing material help for persons in need" (p 96).
"What is striking is that the term ekklesia, which would normally designate a local gathering, was also applied to the church in its entirety" (p 101).
Anyone interested in these ideas might also be interested in "When Children Became People".
An Adequate Historical Model Sep 9, 2007
Hultgren sets forth the task of promoting an adequate model by which to explain the rise of normative Christianity in first centuries of the church. By using the term "normative" Christianity, Hultgren means an expression of Christian faith that arose in the first three centuries that, in spite of the diversity of early Christianity, "claimed continuity with the faith of the apostles and is exhibited in the classic texts that came to make up the New Testament" (p. 4). Hultgren gives a brief summary and analysis of the existing models used to explain rise of a normative faith, which include:
* Truth preceded Error [considered the traditional view] * Heresy Preceded Orthodoxy [connected with Walter Bauer and his book Orthodoxy and Heresy in the Early Church] * Fixed and Flexible Elements [connected with H.E.W. Turner in his book The Pattern of Christian Truth] * Diverse Trajectories from the Beginning [a dynamic model proposed by James M. Robinson and Helmut Koester in their book Trajectories through Early Christianity]
By rejecting these previous models for one reason or another Hultgren spends the rest of his book arguing for a model based on congruence between worldview and communal ethos. Much has been written on the worldview or beliefs of these early Christian communities but "relatively little has been given to the ethos of the various communities that held those beliefs [i.e. how they practically lived out their faith]" (p. 21). Accordingly, Hultgren believes "a more appropriate analysis of early Christianity requires attention to both the confession of faith and the ethos of each of the various Christian communities" (p. 21).
Worded as a positive affirmation of his book's thesis Hultgren writes, "There was a stream of Christianity--which was indeed a broad stream--that claimed that there were limits to diversity, and that persisted from the beginning on into the second century, providing the foundations of orthodoxy....What emerged as orthodoxy was but the ecclesiastical validation of a broad stream of convictions and ways of living that had staying power" (p. 22). Hultgren later echoes these words when he emphasizes what became the necessary action of setting limits on diversity in order to maintain congruence between confession (i.e. worldview) and community ethos, thereby allowing the continuing dynamic formation of normative Christianity (p. 81). In order to give context and tangible reality to his model, Hultgren names six factors operative in the process of normitivization. Theses factors marked off normative Christianity from other forms that developed in antiquity (pp. 86-103).
While Hultgren builds a convincing model, his argument is heavily based in NT source criticism. As an example he spends some time discussing the Q community, particularly their specific Christian "tradition" and "interpretation" all of which is based on the similar passages found in both Matthew and Luke's gospel. Overall, this book provides a dynamic, rather than static, model by which to understand the rise of normative Christianity. In so doing he captures both the importance of worldview and ethos in the formation process which was quite messy during the first three centuries of the church.