I admit it. I tried to trap my Baptist friend Shawn, beginning around here in the comments.
Yes, it’s back to the canon again. The issue that will never die, and can never die, until we come to unity. Here’s the background on my latest tack to make progress in the discussion.
Bogged down in the Old Testament
The canon debate got mired in the muddy waters of the history of the Jewish canon, whether they had a closed canon prior to Christ, what such-and-such Church Father and council said (or didn’t say), all to try to buttress the argument for the Protestant or Catholic OT canon.
Catholics tried to impress upon the Protestants that the historical evidence was ambiguous and could not provide certainty in any OT canon.
Protestants fought back seeking to argue that the Jews had figured out their canon and fixed it before Christ’s Incarnation.
And we argued over the historical evidence and came to no agreement.
But in the midst of this discussion, I had…an idea.
Why not grant to the Protestants that the Jews already fixed the OT before Christ, and that it’s the Protestant OT, and that that is the true one?
How did the Jewish people get the canon right, especially since their was no authoritative pronouncement, no big council that decreed it in ancient times? Simple, God guided them, the Israelites, to know their Scriptures. After all, my friends pointed out, they were “entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2).
But after thinking about their position on the OT for a while, I realized, just like Bruce Pandolfini did in Searching for Bobby Fischer, that “that was a mistake.”
Of course, it’s not really a “mistake,” since it’s a belief that they hold. But it leads to an inconsistency which I sought to demonstrate. And the syllogism goes like this:
1. God guided the Jewish people in the Old Covenant to discern the OT books He inspired
2. The New Covenant is equal to or greater than the Old in every way
3. God must have then guided the Christian Church in the New Covenant to discern the NT books He inspired
I had learned that I had to phrase things carefully not to get diverted off this syllogistic track, and so I avoided the pitfalls I had seen occur in previous dialogues with my friend. But Shawn’s a straight shooter (which I greatly appreciate) and told me to get to the point.
Which I did. I tipped my hand to him and then asked whether he agreed with #3, the conclusion. And he said that he did.
So why does that concession lead to an inconsistency? Several possibilities.
If God guided the Christian Church on the issue of the canon, why did He not guide them on, say, baptism? Or on any other doctrine? It becomes ad hoc to claim He guided the Church on one issue but not another, unless a principled reason for making this distinction can be given.
I happened to already know that Shawn believed the Church had begun corrupting baptism early on in her history, so this was a tack that I thought would be fruitful in demonstrating the inconsistency in his position. As it happened, Shawn stopped responding and so we never got to the payoff. I don’t presume to know why. Maybe he saw where it was going. Maybe he got busy and more important things had to be taken care of.
In any case, I hope that this elaboration is helpful to seeing how positions and arguments can be explored. The hope would be that, when someone realized that their position was ad hoc, they would seriously consider the implications and, through prayer and further study, come to take the next step of faith: that God guided His Church into all truth, not just on the canon, but on all her teachings.