What Is So Important About The Second Century?

The church was at a serious crossroads in the second century

“The second century has much to teach the modern church.  My research about what second-century Christians were like, and the opposition they received, made me see that there is much more in common between the second-century Church and the twenty-first century Church (at least in the Western world) than I originally thought.


Due out this Summer (hopefully by July) is my latest book: Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church (London: SPCK/IVP Academic, 2017).

For some, the rationale for a book on the second century is quite obvious.  But others may wonder, “What is so important about the second century anyway?”

So, just a few quick thoughts on why I wrote this book:

1. It fits with my prior research.  For those who are familiar with my earlier books and articles, it is evident that my primary areas of research – NT canon, apocryphal gospels, transmission of the NT text, the battles over heresy and orthodoxy – all seem to play out largely (or perhaps most critically) in the second century. So, this current volume is an extension of what I have already been doing.

2. There’s a gap in scholarship on the second century.  Despite the importance of the second century for the development of early Christianity (more on this below), it has arguably received the least attention from modern scholars. Christianity in the first century, of course, has been extensively studied, primarily through the lens of the New Testament writings themselves, our earliest Christian texts. And the third and fourth centuries (and beyond) have generated quite a bit of scholarly attention because, by that time, Christianity’s presence and influence was on the rise.

But the second century, bracketed by these two well-known periods of Church history, has been all too easily overlooked. As Everett Ferguson observed, ‘In spite of its importance, the second century is a period inadequately understood in its own right. It might even be said to have been a neglected period.’

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