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The Missing Gospels

The Missing GospelsThe Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities

Author: Darrell L. Bock
Hardcover: 230 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN-10: 0-7852-1294-9
ISBN-13: 978-0-785212-94-2

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The good people over at Thomas Nelson were kind enough to supply me with a review copy of The Missing Gospels by Darrell Bock.  To them I’d like to say, thank you!

The Missing Gospels was written in the midst of discussion and debate between “the new school” and orthodoxy.  It sets out to survey both the writings of the alternatives to orthodox Christianity, as well as the traditional texts on the matter.  Dr. Bock has set his purpose as:

to write a work that gave people a solid taste of this material and did not merely talk about pieces of it.  [xiii]

Bock conducts his survey in a surprisingly organized way, much as if he were writing sections of a systematic theology, yet he manages to keep it simple enough that anyone can understand it.  He says:

The public square deserves to have access to the results of such work; it should not be the private domain of scholars.  [xvi]

In The Missing Gospels, Bock takes us through two main pieces.  First, he lays out the playing field.  He shows his reader basic outlines of the first few periods of the Church in order to more easily show his readers where specific people and texts fit into the early history of Christianity.  Bock also discusses the main alternative to orthodoxy: Gnosticism.  He sets forth a definition of it and various possibilities of how it originated.  Bock then discusses the ways that the Church was diverse in its earliest phases.  Finally, he sets forth the initial driving force of “the new school”: Walter Bauer.  He claimed that:

there were originally varieties of Christianities, not a fixed orthodoxy . . . What allowed for the development of orthodoxy was the Roman church’s successful control over other areas in the late second century.  [49]

Dr. Bock’s next eight chapters are the second piece of The Missing Gospels.  Here he goes back and forth on different topics, seeing how the alternative texts deal with them, then how the orthodox (or “traditional”) texts deal with them.  These topics

rotate around four areas: the view of God, the view of Jesus, the nature of salvation, and Jesus’ work.  [207]

He concludes that orthodoxy formed at a very early stage in Christianity and that those who developed their own form, outside the orthodox, were at every least “viewed with deep suspicion”  [208].  Unwilling to give in to what “new school” scholars want, Bock ends his last chapter by deciding that

What needs a makeover is not Christianity, but the new school.  [214]

Dr. Bock has certainly arrived at his goal.  The Missing Gospels is accessible to anyone who wants to learn, scholar or not.  It provides a good introduction into what “the new school” believes, as well as a systematic survey of the texts they use.  The study questions at the end of each chapter are a great help as well.  They help the reader grasp the important points that Bock makes better than just a quick read.

However, while the systematic nature of the book can be helpful, it also can keep its reader from recognizing where Dr. Bock stands on subjects at times.  When discussing an alternative text, he simply sets forth what it says without taking sides.  I understand why he would want to do this and it is not too much of an issue, as he does address his belief most clearly at the end of the book.  It could just keep some readers in the dark a little longer than others.

The issues that The Missing Gospels deal with are right up my alley.  I like anything having to do with New Testament backgrounds though.  To people like me, I think you should get your hands on this title.  It helped me see more specifically what the alternative texts say that is so different from what the New Testament and Apostolic Fathers say.

Grade: A-

MSE

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5 Responses

  1. I’m a university academic. What’s the “new school?” Totally unfamiliar with the term. Evangelical? There’s a whole new body of Christian practice and scholarship emerging.

    Really enjoyed your review. Will probably get the book now.

  2. David, this is a term that describes those who believe that the alternative texts of the first few centuries were just as Christian as what we see as “orthodox.” The new school believes that orthodoxy did not become such until the 4th century or so. Thus, they believe that the alternative texts deserve credence today. Bock points out that there was a clear line of orthodoxy from the beginnings of the Church to now and that these alternatives were put out of Christian belief because they did not line up with it.

    If you’re asking if I’m evangelical, yes. If it’s the author you’re asking about, yes. If it’s the new school, no (although I’m sure there could be some that might claim it).

    Thanks for checking out my review.

  3. Matt,

    Just wanted to drop of line and say “hello.” I, too, will be starting at DTS soon (currently the fall, but I may have to delay until spring; PhD in NT). Anyway, good review!

  4. Jason, thanks for letting me know. I’m pretty excited about going to DTS. Although I’m probably going to start with only one or two classes in the fall. I’m going to add your blog to my blogroll and hopefully I’ll see you next month.

  5. Matt,

    Thanks for the add (I’ll do likewise). If I do start this fall (which I hopefully can), I will only have two classes. Don’t want to be completely overwhelmed!

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