Attitudes toward second century theology
Sometimes when I read scholarship on early Christianity I am struck by the scholar's superior and disdaining attitude toward these writings. Reading between the lines, I get the impression they are thinking something like:
Gee, these guys' theology sucks. They've just got no idea. They don't get original sin. They don't understand grace. Their understanding of the atonement is woefully inadequate. Their understanding of Paul's theology is non-existent. They've just got no concept of the proper Christianity, the good Reformation doctrine that I hold. Really, they can hardly even be called Christians.Whereas my attitude has always been that the second century church's theology is of great importance in understanding what the first Christians believed. I take the phrase "modern protestant Christian theology looks nothing like second century theology" to mean "modern protestant Christian theology is badly wrong and has radically departed from authentic Christianity." When I read a scholar who writes "Christians of this period had a woefully inadequate understanding of original sin", I mentally translate this to "Modern Christianity needs to reexamine its doctrine of original sin, because there is a serious mismatch with early Christianity." In my view, it is early Christianity that is normative and to which modern Christianity needs to conform and not vice versa.
Now I'm not for a second saying there was no theological development from the time of Jesus until Origen. Of course there was some development - that's one of my fields of interest. But anyone who thinks there was a world-wide 100% u-turn within Christianity with no dissenting voices within a hundred year period is surely dreaming. So if modern theology is substantially different to second century theology on large numbers of major issues, then it surely demands a serious reexamination of our doctrines. We don't necessarily have to end up agreeing 100% with second century theology - we might identify and avoid some of their mistakes as we study the development of doctrine during this early period... however the fact that their theology differs to ours really ought to ring alarm bells and lead to into a serious reexamination of our supposedly 'biblical' theology. Yet so many scholars seem to take a "no way my interpretation of the bible can possibly be wrong, it's just second century theology that sucks" attitude.
What I find interesting to do, is for each of the differences in theology, to trace the development of doctrine from the second century until today and see where and why changes occurred. It has been this process of study more than anything else that made me lose faith in modern protestant theology. I found what is taught today is simply a result of two millennia of theological development where theological changes happened over the course of time for poor reasons. In basically every aspect where modern and second century Christianity disagree, modern Christianity's reasons for its view are poor and unjustified.