Unity and Diversity: A Review
Though I agreed with the basic position that there is substantial diversity within the NT and early Christianity such that it is probably not best to speak of single "orthodoxy" during the first centuryI found it hard to be convinced, as is Dunn, that the one unifying strand that creates unity amongst the diversity is simply the person of Jesus. This claims Dunn is the one thing that allows Christianity to be diverse, but at the same time also acts as protective barrier to ensure that the diversity does not get out of hand and so become unacceptable. However, this is simply to cast the net too wide. There needs to be a standard, uniform tradition which further keeps Christianity in check. Because without further qualifications it is difficult to see why extreme versions of Christianity such as later Gnosticism should be regarded as unacceptable diversity since for all their excess, they could still be said to be centered around an exalted Jesus thus meeting Dunn's criteria.
To Dunn's credit, he tries to bracket this diversity with a discussion concerning the Christian canon as the "norm that norms the norm" such that later diverse forms of Christianity can be deemed as unacceptably diverse since they are not within the canon. But to use this argument one has to address the question of the "authority" of the NT. And though Dunn has a section specifically concerning this topic he does not offer any answers but simply raises questions to leave with his readers to ponder. So then to use the NT as the endpoint of diversity is of no use without a reason for first accepting the NT as authoritative. In short Dunn leaves us with a severely pluralistic understanding of early Christianity and then proceeds to assert the validity of each simply because they remain centered on the person of Jesus. Dunn downplays the importance of tradition significantly and though I do not wish to impose later creeds onto anyone I think there is still a need to adopt a common tradition that can serve to keep in check diverse forms of Christianity. Otherwise we are forced to call any movement that claims to center itself around the person of Jesus as a genuine development of Christianity no matter how far off from the center they may be.
To conclude, I still thoroughly enjoyed reading the book even if most of its conclusions failed to convince me. The important contribution of Dunn's book is to highlight that a certain amount of diversity did exist during the 1st century and can be found in the pages of the NT documents themselves. But I remain unconvinced that the person of Jesus is enough to hold the thread of unity together.