Christianity at the Crossroads
The Gospel Coalition Book of the Year
Christianity in the twenty-first century is a global phenomenon. But in the second century, its future was not at all certain.
Initially Christianity possessed little social or cultural influence and found itself fighting for its life. While apostolic tradition was emerging as a "rule of faith," factions contested the nature of the gospel, and pagan philosophers found its claims scandalous. And while its pathway was tenuous, Christianity was forming structures of leadership and worship, and a core of apostolic texts was emerging as authoritative. But it was the challenges, obstacles, and transitions faced by Christians in the second century that, in many ways, would determine the future of the church for the next two millennia. It was a time when Christianity stood at a crossroads.
Michael Kruger's introductory survey examines how Christianity took root in the second century, how it battled to stay true to the vision of the apostles, and how it developed in ways that would shape both the church and Western culture over the next two thousand years. Christianity at the Crossroads provides an accessible and informative look at the complex and foundational issues faced by an infant church still trying to determine its identity. The church's response to the issues of heresy and orthodoxy, the development of the canon, and the transmission of the Christian Scriptures not only determined its survival, but determined the kind of church it would be for generations to come.
"If you've ever wondered what happened to the church after the apostles, how the church began to expand and grow, and why it developed its particular beliefs, then Michael Kruger has written the book for you. In this learned volume, Kruger takes readers into the mysterious second century, where he lucidly explains things like the formation of a distinctive Christian identity, pagan responses to Christianity, the rise of certain heresies, and the canonization of the New Testament. This book will open a whole new world that you never knew existed!"
"This is a good introduction and overview of Christianity in the second century, which was a crucial period of growth, opposition, and development of doctrines and practices. Readable and informed, Kruger's book is a recommended choice for course readings and for individuals seeking to know more about early Christianity."
"Kruger takes us into a world in which 'Christianity' is still very much at risk and up for grabs, struggling to find its identity in the midst of forces within and without seeking to define its identity or suppress its existence. His book invites us into the tensions and trajectories that would eventually give shape to what we, in distant retrospect, take for granted as Christian faith, practice, and polity. I recommend it highly, alongside the texts that have richly informed it (the apostolic fathers, the early martyrologies, and the apologists), to all those interested in learning how 'New Testament faith' found its footing and began to take root."
"Though most of us are pretty sure that something happened between the apostolic era and the Council of Nicaea, even professional historians can be pretty foggy on what that 'something' was or why it matters; the second century has always been the black box of Christian history. Now with this well-researched yet highly accessible book, Kruger recovers important flight data that shows just how crucial this overlooked trajectory is to understanding Christian history and even Christianity as we know it today."
"The second century, a sprawling, fascinating, and formative period in the history of Christianity, may be well studied, but it is neither well nor easily comprehended. Mike Kruger's Christianity at the Crossroads is an excellent remedy for that problem! Any reader who wants a better understanding of the situation of the church in that period, its place in the world, its worship, its struggles, and its Scriptures will benefit from this highly informative compendium. Besides being a trustworthy guidebook, it is also a well-designed, source book for those interested in further study."
"Many scholars of early Christianity are pushing beyond the New Testament era, into the second century; however, the complexity of issues magnifies due to the intersection of such a diverse expression of Christian groups interpreting biblical texts and developing their approaches to theology and society. With Christianity at the Crossroads, Michael Kruger provides an orientation to the diversity of groups, texts, and practices that students and scholars of Christian origins will find invaluable. He summarizes the best of contemporary research about second-century Christianity and provides robust bibliographies for further study. This is definitely a book I wish I had a decade ago, when I began my work in this area."
"If readers are wondering whether a case can still be made from the primary sources for more traditional positions on 2nd-century Christianity, then this is a good place to look. It would serve well as an overview text in an introductory class on early Christianity, paired with primary sources—and with key secondary works arguing for opposing positions."
"Kruger provides a fine resource for readers so that the crossroads of the past can be seen in their historical settings and their relevance discerned for directions today's Christians may take."
List of abbreviations
Introduction: What is so important about the second century?
1. A peculiar identity: The sociological make-up of second-century Christianity
2. A strange superstition: The political and intellectual acceptability of second-century Christianity
3. Worshipping Jesus: The ecclesiological structure of second-century Christianity
4. Alternative pathways: Diversity in second-century Christianity
5. The Great Church: Unity in second-century Christianity
6. A textual culture: The literature of second-century Christianity
7. A new Scripture: The New Testament canon in second-century Christianity
Conclusion: Christianity at the crossroads