I am a layperson writing a review of an academic text. My goal is not a scholarly review but to describe the possible insights laypeople can gather from reading this book about Christianity in the second century.
We may think Christianity in the world has always been as it is now. Kruger reminds us that is not the case. Christianity was frail in the second century. It had little cultural influence in a hostile environment. There was no clearly defined theology and heresies were running rampant. There was no New Testament and there were no longer apostles to lead the church.
Kruger notes this was a time of transition and important decisions for the church. It was the era in which Christianity was clearly recognized as separate from Judaism. Gentiles were being brought into the faith with their intellectual and cultural challenges. Apologetics developed in the midst of a pluralistic environment.
I found that some of the conditions of that century are similar to our contemporary situation. Even though the church had not developed a precise theology and there were heresies popping up, there was a core set of beliefs developing. There was also an interesting exploration by Kruger as to what it meant to be “Christian” at that time. Some designated themselves as such, as today. Their claims were considered with respect to the Apostolic teaching and the rule of faith. That's a wise practice for today too.
Kruger notes, “...it is clear that women played a substantive role in early Christianity...” (36) That's encouraging for this woman to hear. Kruger also notes a distinguishing characteristic of Christianity among religions is that it used books and written texts. We see that today with scores of new books on Christian faith and practice each year.
Kruger notes that his book is an introduction to and not an exhaustive study of Christianity in the second century. (9) It is a scholarly work and laypeople may have difficulty easily reading the text. There are some sections where Kruger concentrates on evaluating the works of other scholars, for example. Nonetheless, I appreciated learning about how Christianity developed in that era and how we can apply principles from it to Christianity today.
Michael J Kruger is president and professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can find out more at https://www.michaeljkruger.com/.
InterVarsity Press, 256 pages