July 8th 2012, 08:27 PM #1
A review of Michael Kruger's- Canon Revisited
Michael Kruger's Canon Revisited or CR was a book which genuinely surprised me. My initial expectation was that this would be little more than a scholarly albeit standard evangelical defense of the traditional Protestant canon. To a degree I was right in that this book did provide a scholarly evangelical defense of the traditional Protestant Canon. I was wrong, however, in believing it to be a standard one. Instead of focusing primarily on issues related to the dates, authorship, and reception of the various New Testament and wannabe New Testament books, Kruger's work zeros in on the more fundamental issue of what basis Christians have for even believing in a New Testament Canon.
To understand why Kruger makes this issue the focus of his book one needs to understand the difference between a de facto argument against the New Testament Canon and a de jure argument. According to Kruger a de facto objection is one which argues against the NT canon on the basis that it is a false belief. An example of this would be someone who argues against the NT canon by asserting that the NT books are all forgeries therefore it's wrong to believe they're inspired by God. On the other hand, a de jure objection is one which says that Christians have no sufficient intellectual basis for believing in a New Testament canon. An example of such an objection would be one which states we can't believe in the canon, because we can't actually tell the difference between books which are inspired by God and those which aren't, thus we have no compelling rational basis for belief in a NT canon.Anyone familiar with Alvin Plantinga, or reformed epistemology will understand what Kruger is driving at.
The focus of his book is on the de jure objection to the NT Canon. In other words, Kruger wants to show that Protestants do in fact have a solid intellectual foundation for believing in the twenty seven books of the NT canon and nothing else. In order to do this, he divides his book up into two parts. Part one focuses on exactly what canonical model best provides sufficient grounds for a belief in an NT canon. Kruger briefly reviews what he calls community determined models such as the Roman Catholic view of canon and the historically determined models e.g. those models which try to base canon on authorship, dates, reception, and other historical issues. Although he offers specific critiques of each of these models, his main criticism of all of them is that they rely on an external criteria to authenticate the canon. The problem with this according to Kruger is that this makes the NT canon in a sense subservient or reliant on whatever criteria is being used.
To solve the problems engendered by these standard canonical models, Kruger suggests the use of what he calls a self-authenticating canonical model. Just as it sounds, this model claims the grounds for a belief in an NT canon lies within the NT canon itself. The NT canon is the NT canon because its the NT canon and thus shows signs both external and internal of it being such. The second part of the book is spent arguing this positions and its the meat of this academic tome. While it would be too much to list the different arguments he uses to make his case, it can be said that the arguments he uses are a mixture of standard apologetic arguments and some ones even veteran of Christian apologetics may find new.
A particularly great example of the latter is his argument that the NT canon isn't just some happy accident of history, but has its roots within the story and history of the Old Testament. It's arguments like these which make this book such a breath of much needed air in the otherwise crowded field of NT apologetics and evangelical scholarship. Kruger's fundamental argument isn't simply that there's evidence for the authenticity of the NT canon, but that there is a meaningful context for belief in the NT canon. The importance of this can hardly be overstated. One of the major lacunas in contemporary apologetics is that so often we present evidence or arguments for this or that Christian dogma without providing a meaningful context for the dogmas in question. In other words we present bare facts or arguments devoid of inherent meaning which we then try to use to prove things which are supposed to be meaningful. A poignant example of this would be arguments for the Resurrection of Jesus.
Two of the best books on the resurrection are Mike Licona's book The Resurrection of Jesus and NT Wright's The Resurrection of the son of God. Both of these books argue for the historical resurrection of Jesus, but they differ in approach. Mike Liconas book for the most part presents bare facts and arguments which while compelling can only be used to argue for the historicity of the resurrection and not the Christian doctrine of it. NT Wright on the other hand argues that the resurrection of Jesus isn't just a freak historical accident, but is the logical culmination of the history and story of God and his people. It's this approach to the resurrection which supports both the historicity and doctrine of the resurrection. Like NT Wright, Kruger's approach allows him to both argue for the historical truth and dogma of the NT canon at the same time. We need more scholarly apologists like Kruger, who provide a holistic approach to apologetics.
All is not well, however, with Krugers work. Although he tries to draw a distinction between himself as a reformed apologists and evidentialists like Gary Habermas, more often than not it's hard to tell exactly what makes Kruger's approach differ from an evidentialist approach. Kruger criticizes evidentialists for trying to prove to skeptics on a "neutral" basis the authenticity of the NT canon, but one can easily criticize him for doing the same. After all, he spends almost four hundred pages interacting with the skeptical literature and rebutting their objections. His approach may be more holisitic than the standard evidentialists, but it still attempts to argue the position from a neutral intellectual basis.
An even bigger problem with this otherwise sound academic tome is the practically fideistic stance of Kruger on rare occasion. This comes out especially in a footnote in which Kruger flat out states that if he was transported back in time and found out that the resurrection of Jesus did not occur he would still believe in Christianity. Such a comment is extraordinary in light of 1 Corinthians 15 for one thing. Kruger claims in line with reformed epistemology that one can believe in certain things without evidence. Fair enough, but it one thing to believe in something without evidence and to believe in something contrary to powerful evidence. The former can be perfectly reasonable while the latter is indefensible to say the least.
All in all, Canon Revisited is one of those rare books that is not only a must have, but a genuine breakthrough. It is certainly not the be all end all of canonical apologetics, but it's a giant leap in a new and promising direction. Hopefully, the future brings us more scholarly work along the lines of what Michael Kruger has done so admirably.
July 9th 2012, 09:46 PM #2
Re: A review of Michael Kruger's- Canon Revisited
Thank you, I'll have to add this to my pile of 500+ books that I still need to get to."Everybody wants to go to heaven. They just don't want God to be there when they get there." Paul Washer
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