The “Jesus Seminar” quietly evaporated some years back, but the same attitude continues in other venues. One of my colleagues just brought in the Philadelphia Inquirer for 3/3/2013 (pp. C-1-2) and lo and behold, there’s A New New Testament coming out this week (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) with 37 books. From the news story:
“This… is the first revision of the Christian canon. Period.”
(With reference to Athanasius in the 4th C.): “As the new orthodoxy and its standardized Bible became ascendant, the noncanonical books declined in circulation, uncopied, and fell into desuetude.” [i.e., the usual Bauer hypothesis of the history of orthodoxy]
They gathered “a panel of national spiritual leaders to consider which of those many texts merited inclusion in an expanded canon. [They] chose not to rely …on gospel scholars but ‘people I knew to be committed to raising spiritual questions for themselves.’ [who] ranged theologically from centrist to very liberal with a strong feminist outlook.”
[The] “very premise seems to question whether Christianity got Jesus right.”
[The editor] “came to see the Bible not as history but poetry. The ancient writers seeking to grasp the astonishing new Jesus movement ‘didn’t write down what happened … they wrote what it meant. Harking back to ancient documents helps us think about things in new ways…. The more good ones the better’.”
Such people have all the right in the world to publish new ideas, but I take umbrage at their having the audacity to call it Christianity. Invent a new religion that fits a postmodern view of truth if you like, just be honest and call it something other than Christianity. Another warmed-over view of the Bauer hypothesis (not much different than Bart Ehrman’s efforts in recent years) that takes no account of the massive critiques of Bauer cannot be taken seriously.
As if another book were needed (maybe it is!), there is another book poking more holes in the Bauer hypothesis being published later this year, edited by Paul Hartog, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts (Wipf & Stock); I wrote the introductory chapter for the book: “The Rehabilitation of Heresy: ‘Misquoting’ Earliest Christianity.”
Dan Wallace has just posted a more detailed review of the New New Testament with information that was not yet available when I wrote my initial reaction above—though his reaction is very similar:
In short, the New New Testament is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The council that put these books forth is a farce. It has nothing to do with the councils of old, yet implicitly seeks to claim authority on the basis of concocted semblance. The books were selected by those who, though certainly having a right to scholarly examination of the Christian faith, are not at all qualified to make any pronouncements on canon.