In the early 20th century German theologian Walter Bauer proposed that Christian orthodoxy is a historical fiction. Heretics were not those who departed from the original teachings of Jesus and the apostles, but those on the losing side of a political battle for dominance by one group of Christians over another. Orthodoxy represents the side who won, not the side of those who remained faithful to Jesus’ teachings. There is no such thing as Christianity per se, but rather a collage of various Christianities.
While Bauer’s proposal was severely critiqued by other scholars and joined the ash-heap of theological history, as is the case with most bad ideas, someone comes along later, picks up the idea, brushes off the ashes, repackages it, and tries to sell it again. Such is the case with the Bauer thesis. Today it is being peddled by people such as Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels. Speaking to a postmodern generation that prizes diversity, detests absolute truth claims, and thinks truth claims are an attempt to gain power and exert control, they have found a receptive audience for their pluralistic view of Christian origins and history. For them, the only true heresy is orthodoxy itself: the claim that there is one enduring truth, and one Christian faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints.