Man the decks matey it’s time to talk about the Canon: A book review

 

Canon Revisited cover How did the New Testament Canon come to be and why should we regard it as authoritative? My own denomination has historically affirmed scripture as’ the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine and conduct,’  but is this position defensible?  Where does biblical authority rest if the canon was decided upon by the church.

Michael Kruger, professor of New Testament and academic dean at Reformed Theological Seminary, has written a lucid and helpful examination of issues surrounding the formation of the canon and argues convincingly for a self authenticating model of the New Testament canon.  Kruger is remarkably gregarious in his approach, often affirming the good in the models he opposes while trying to establish a model of canon which is both faithful to scripture and tradition and  can stand up to critical scrutiny.  If you read one book about canon formation this year, this book should be it.

The book is organized into two parts. In part one, Kruger presents and evaluates various approaches to Canon formation. In chapter one he critiques ‘community determined models’ which argue that the basis of a book’s canonicity is solely determined by the book’s recipients (the church or faith community).  Of course there are a wide range of community determined approaches: historical-critical, Roman Catholic, Canonical criticism, and Existential/Neo Orthodox.  Because of the range of approaches and brevity of Kruger’s treatment, he runs the risk of oversimplifying but is generally fair and well documented in his treatment of each model (even separating out the strand of Roman Catholic teaching which seems to affirm his self-authenticating approach from the strand which places the authority of scripture as subservient to the authority of church). In Chapter 2 he critiques the historically determined models (canon within a canon, or criteria for canonicity model) which argue that the historic, apostolic origin of the books in question are the sole basis for their place in the New Testament. Over and against these approaches Kruger presents the Self-Authenticating model (chapter 3) but he draws generously on the insights from both the community and historic models.  His self authenticating model has three features:

  • Providential exposure (only the books the church has or have been exposed to can be considered for canonization
  • Attributes of Canonization (the New Testament books have a ‘divine quality,’ they are recieved corpoartely and affirmed by the church at large and they have apostolic origins).
  • The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit confirms the authority of a book and it’s place in the canon for believers.
In part 2, Kruger looks more in depth at the attributes of canon (second in the series above) in order to articulate more fully what he means by each and answer particular ‘defeaters’–scholarly arguments against each of these elements. This gives part 2 of the book a sort of apologetic feel (obviously you need to account for counter arguments in all academic discourse but Kruger places himself firmly on confessional grounds). In articulating the divine attributes of Scripture, Kruger points to the beauty and excellence, the power and efficacy and the unity and harmony of scripture. By beauty and excellence, he isn’t referring to literary style or rhetorical flare but the manner that the Bible puts forward the beauty and excellence of Christ.  The divine stamp is further evidenced in the power of scripture as a means of grace for people and providing  authority in action. God is also seen in the Divine unity of scripture,  doctrinally, in articulating  the whole redemptive story, and structually. This doesn’t mean that each book does not have their own peculiar emphasis and distinctives but that together they present a full picture of who God is and what he is doing in our world.
In articulating the apostolic authorship and the reception of the canon Kruger sets up a rational for trusting the authority of the canon and is able to demonstrate that those who question the canon, have not removed all rational basis for believing in it.
On the whole, this is a carefully reasoned and accessible presentation of issues surrounding the Canon. I think Kruger does a very good job of articulating his case and I am in substantial agreement with him.  In an era where the authority and truthfulness of the New Testament is often questioned, a book like this provides a powerful apologetic. I highly recommend this book, particularly for students and ministers who are faced with questions and are looking for solid answers for why we trust our Bible and not every other unearthed gospel.
Thank you to Crossway books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

3 thoughts on “Man the decks matey it’s time to talk about the Canon: A book review

  1. Nice review – just added the book to my Amazon wish list. I’ve been reading Vanhoozer’s Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament and I like what he has to say about OT canon formation and authorship.

    Speaking of authorship, I’m curious. How does Kruger address the issue of the apostolic origin of NT gospels/epistles whose authorship is unknown?

    • He takes a conservative view on most traditional authorship attributions (like he argues for Peter’s authorship of 2 Peter). When a clear apostle is not specified (like Hebrews), he tends to lean on the ‘divine marks’ on scripture and the inner witness of the Spirit. By arguing that apostlic authorship is one of the attributes of canoncity, it gives him some leeway to lean somewhere else if it’s not a knock down case. Part of me wants to lean more Barthian than his model, but I kind of like that, for him Scripture is something.

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