I have the privilege to co-present a paper at the 2011 Evangelical Theological Society Meeting in San Francisco this week with Liberty University church history adjunct David Alexander. Our topic deals with the development of Christian orthodoxy within the early North African context. The introduction is below but you can download the entire paper here. It's still in draft mode as we prepare to publish it in a book called Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts (Eugene, OR: Pickwick) edited by Paul Hartog.
Christianity in North Africa (as distinct from Egypt) did not emerge until late in the second century– a genesis period which lies outside the ‘earliest Christianity’ considered by Walter Bauer in his famous research. And the story of North African Christianity, including the thought of its leading Christian theologians (Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine), was generally regarded by Bauer as too late and thus inadmissible evidence for the debate on the emergence of orthodoxy and heresy. Nevertheless, North Africa is an area of early Christianity with well-documented character, conflicts and rapid emergence. As R.A. Kraft acknowledged in the 1971 English edition of Orthodoxy and Heresy, “a fresh approach to the origins of Christianity in North Africa” was among the important explorations “still lacking” from Bauer’s line of research. This chapter is designed as a first step in just such an approach. The basic question is whether the emergence and development of North African Christianity is of any relevance to the Bauer thesis? In answering this question positively it is hoped that North Africa might point to a more general “fresh approach” for understanding the unity and diversity of Christian origins and early Christian “orthodoxy” itself.
In fact, the character and development of early North African Christianity provides a useful case study, or parallel test, on a number of fronts for elements and implications of the Bauer Thesis. It is valid to ask whether the implied interpretative assumptions, methods and conclusions Bauer and others have applied to areas of more sparse earlier evidence of Christian origins would prove historically viable if they were brought to bear on such origins in North Africa. Such an examination reveals weaknesses in several key implications of Bauer’s thesis (and its more recent presentations). In this connection the case of Tertullian, whom Bauer does appropriate for his arguments, is particularly relevant.
Yet even beyond Tertullian, a number of unique aspects of North African Christianity’s emergence, which had they occurred 50-75 years earlier in abstracted form in the evidence would undoubtedly be grist to the mill of Bauer’s arguments, in context actually illuminate that “orthodoxy” was something conceived too narrowly by Bauer and that an “orthodox” penumbra allowed for considerable diversity and even competition. The local flavors which emerged in Roman Africa were not different entities or segments of a broader group competing in terms of essential authority and doctrine. Nor did the distinctives and internal conflicts derive from pluriform or repressed origins. Seen in situ such developments in Africa show that strongly distinctive regional Christianity (singular) and even competition between distinctive regional groups need not imply the existence of different or “lost” Christianities (plural). The distinctive nature of North African Christianity is clear from its earliest moments right through to Augustine. Yet it was not superseded by an authentically different “orthodox” Christianity over time. In sum, Christian emergence in Roman Africa manifests considerable diversity within a core unity; successful resistance to the church at Rome precisely on the issue of right beliefs; and a broad commitment to a Christian experience which centered on the action of the Spirit in the world and both “Apostolic” and Jewish Scriptures. That is, it seems to be a microcosm of what Bauer argued was not the case for earliest Christianity.
 Bauer does draw on Tertullian, as will be discussed below, and extends his discussion in a number of locations to the end of the second century and beyond. However, the bulk of Bauer’s treatment centers on developments before 180. And unlike most areas focused upon by Bauer, there are no clear candidates for a first century Christianity in Roman North Africa.
 Walter Bauer, trans. team Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 315.
 There are certainly elements of the Bauer Thesis that early North African Christianity has a bearing upon, as will be discussed; however, North Africa does not qualify as an example of “earliest Christianity.”
 cf. e.g. D.F. Wright, “The Latin Fathers,” in I. Hazlett, ed. Early Christianity: Origins and Evolution to AD 600 (1991), 148-150 and R.D. Sider, “Africa,” in E. Ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 15.
 Terminology is key in this discussion. When R.A. Kraft’s introduces a citation of Betz by saying: “Clearly there was no ‘pure’ form of Christianity that existed in the beginning and can be called ‘orthodox’”(Bauer, 309 in App. 2), we get an illustration of how essential defining terms is to avoid extremes. Three levels of meaning for “orthodox” are used in this chapter. 1. Conscious connection or perceived dependence on connections to Jesus as Messiah and risen Lord through apostolic Christianity as it was broadly received. 2. Teachings which were held to be consistent with the open, general teaching of the Scriptures in the broader (“catholic”) church. 3. “True” as opposed to “false” teachings labeled as “heresy” in contemporary sources. All three aspects, not just a narrow focus on the last, are important to retain in a consideration of unity and diversity within Christian origins.
 Though the forth century requirement from Rome to support Caecillian’s party only if they renounced the African practice of rebaptism does represent loss of an aspect of African tradition and a portion of Cyprian’s theology it did not constitute a loss of the legacy of Cyprianic theology, cf. J.P. Burns Cyprian the Bishop (2002), 166-177.
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