Great Book on Canon

This book is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and that for a number of reasons. I tire quite easily and quickly of theologians who, being experts in one discipline (say, Old Testament), look down on the other theological disciplines (like, say, systematic theology). Kruger will have none of that. He mixes in exegetical, systematic, historical, apologetic, and practical disciplines in one happy feast. Of course, that might be grist for criticism from some reviewers, but this reviewer found it quite refreshing. We need more generalist theologians rather desperately.

A second reason I really like this book is the wealth of scholarship on offer. Kruger has really done his homework, and there is no doubt that he is one of the world’s experts on canon. And yet, this scholarship never overwhelms the prose, which is compact, pithy, and accessible.

A third reason (and the reason I picked up the book to read in the first place) has to do with his treatment of Roman Catholicism vis-a-vis the canon. Kruger is always quick to point out strengths and truth in opposing viewpoints while pointing out the extremes. In his treatment of Roman Catholicism on the question of canon, for example, he points out that the community does have a role in the formation of the canon. It just doesn’t have the exclusive role. The primary driver in the Reformed position on the canon is the self-authenticating nature of Scripture. But that does not meant that history and community play no role whatsoever.

Among the many insights that Kruger offers, I want to point out some of the most important answers to Roman Catholic objections to Sola Scriptura. First of all, he notes that there are plenty of Roman Catholics out there who do not believe that the church created the canon (see p. 41). Even Vatican I states that the church holds these books to be canonical no because of the church’s authority but because they have God as their author. To put it lightly, this is not the position of most Roman Catholic apologists today who argue against the Protestant position. In addressing Patrick Madrid, for instance, and his objection about the “divinely inspired table of contents,” Kruger rightly notes that this objection is artificial, since, even if there was a divinely inspired document that was a table of contents, that also would need to be authenticated by the church, and would never satisfy Roman Catholic objections, “because they have already determined, a priori, that no document could ever be self-attesting” (p. 43).

He mentions that the early Christian church did have a canon: it’s called the Old Testament now (p. 44). So, unless the church wants to claim that it created the Old Testament canon as well (before the church was even officially in existence), we fall back to the Protestant position that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20).

This raises the question of how the Roman Catholic church establishes its own authority. If the church is to be infallible, then it must have an infallible foundation for its infallible authority. Where is this infallible foundation? Kruger remarks on the three possibilities: 1. Scripture is the source for the infallibility of the church (which would be rather viciously circular if the church grounds the canon, and the canon grounds the church); 2. external evidence from the history of the church (his reply here is that historical evidence cannot be infallible. His footnote 79 on p. 47 is particularly telling); 3. the church is itself self-authenticating (the church is infallible because it says so, to which Kruger responds that the Roman Catholic church chiding the Reformers for positing a Sola Scriptura self-authenticating model seems a bit hypocritical when it is advocating a self-authenticating Sola Ecclesia model).

This book is essential reading on the canon, all the more so for those engaged in Roman Catholic-Protestant debate. Tolle lege.

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