Those of us who have immersed ourselves in extracanonical texts have been strengthened, shocked, inspired, and healed because of our relationship to them. We have come to realize that they contain extraordinary gems of wisdom. They also challenge preconceived notions about what it meant and what it means to identify oneself as a follower of Jesus.
There are many places within and without the world of Christian thought today where bridges need to be built. People don’t understand others on the opposite side of the divide — such as the divide between the Bible and extracanonical texts. Conversations, not dialogues, build the best bridges. If ‘dialogues’ consist of preconceived plans for a certain result, ‘conversations’ are intended to inspire humility to learn something new; they will strengthen our faith and change us in some small way.
Fragment of the Apocalypse of St. Peter, stored in the Coptic Museum in Cairo.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
Why should people in the twenty-first century care about the newly discovered texts circulated among Jesus’ earliest followers? Plenty of reasons. Here are the top ten:
- They reveal a bigger view of the Bible texts themselves when we consider that some of our assumptions might have been too narrow.
- They inspire us to ask new questions.
- They help put many puzzling pieces of antiquity together.
- They can deepen our spiritual convictions.
- They help us build bridges between polarized views of the world today.
- They help us understand the struggles inside and outside the new communities of Jesus followers.
- They give us a historical perspective on the way we confront contemporary challenges.
- Sometimes they bring to light enduring ideas we might have thought were only modern ideas.
- Many of them offer guidance to the healing of moral, social, political, and physical ailments.
- They’re full of surprises!
Shirley Paulson, PhD, principal producer of this website, is especially interested in the bridge-making, conversation-supporting, and healing role these ancient, long-forgotten extracanonical texts can be. From her 30 years’ healing experience as a Christian Science practitioner, she discovers messages of hope and healing from the ancient texts.
Her exploration and research into these texts ‘beyond the Bible’ began with her Master of Theological Studies work at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, which led to her PhD in Religion and Theology from the University of Birmingham (UK). The unique contribution of Shirley’s work is her research in extracanonical texts from the perspective of contemporary methodology in Practical Theology. The primary text for her research was The Secret Revelation of John. The combination of Shirley’s experience with healing, theological scholarship, and research in Practical Theology evokes ever-new questions and conversations based on ancient texts.
Shirley served as Head of Ecumenical Affairs for the world headquarters of The Christian Science Church for ten years and on the Board of the North American Academy of Ecumenists for 5 years. She has published several articles and book chapters on spiritual healing and on Christian Science in ecumenical settings. Read her article, “A Christian Science View on Climate Justice” by clicking here. Shirley has fifteen years’ experience as a public speaker.
Hal Taussig, PhD, collaborator at Early Christian Texts, follows 1st-and 2nd-century Christic imagination. His study of ancient Mediterranean practices opens up new historical perspectives and challenges conventional Christian dogma. Study of newly discovered ancient texts accesses different meanings for our time. Hal reimagines ancient texts, pretexts, and historical contexts as a way toward 21st-century trust, honesty, and—most of all—vulnerability.
He spends his retirement writing, publishing, researching, and playing in natural and urban settings, where he also pursues his interest in death and vitality. He is just finishing up his fifteenth and sixteenth books, and edging toward poetry and wilderness. He is still actively entangled in the mistakes and love of some books he has written in the past fifteen years: A New New Testament; The Thunder: Perfect Mind; In the Beginning Was the Meal: Social Experimentation and Early Christian Identity; and Re-reading the Gospel of Mark Amidst Loss and Trauma.
His professional career included a Professorate of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary in New York for 17 years, a Professorate at Chestnut Hill College, Pastor of Chestnut Hill United Church in Philadelphia, Graduate Faculty of Creation Spirituality, and Pastorate of the Oekolompadgemeinde in Switzerland. His recent lectures include Seoul, Korea; Melbourne, Australia; Holden Village, Washington; and Theologian in Residence in Boulder, Colorado.