Quick Response to Dr. Kruger’s Thread on the Canon

Dr. Kruger had a blog post that generated a canon of Scripture discussion, but then he closed comments. Here’s my last response to one of the Protestant interlocutors:

Hi John,

It takes faith to believe in Jesus Christ. It takes faith to believe that God inspired men to write letters and books, such that they are inerrant. It takes faith to believe that the deposit of faith was not corrupted sometime in the past 2,000 years of history since Christ. It takes faith to believe that Christ established the Church and that the gates of hell won’t prevail against it. I would not expect any of this to be controversial. Do you take exception with it? Do you reject the claim that believing in these things takes faith? If so, then you would be claiming they are demonstrable through reason alone, which is false. Reasons and motives of credibility support all these beliefs, but cannot prove them.

You wrote, quoting Dr. Kruger (and let me see if block quotes work):

to say the canon is self-authenticating is to say that these books objectively bear qualities that show them to be divinely-produced books. It is analogous to our belief that natural revelation (the created world) exhibits qualities that show it is divinely-produced. Do we not believe that ‘The heavens declare the glory of God’ (Ps 16:1; cf. Rom 1:20)? In the same manner, why would we not believe that God’s special revelation also bears evidence of his handiwork?

Let’s assume I agree that this is true. The idea then is that the books God inspired would sort of “jump out at” the attentive reader (and we might add, one who has the Holy Spirit within him). God inspired these psalms, proverbs, histories, apocalyptic writings, letters, gospels, and epistles. Jesus’ sheep will “hear His voice” and recognize each of these writings through prayerful reading (if not outright divine illumination/private revelation).

Yet, you have faithful men in the early Church who erroneously included non-inspired books, or excluded inspired ones, as any glance at the various canonical lists proposed during the first 400 years shows. Either they didn’t have the Holy Spirit and so missed those objective qualities of the divine, or their Spirit-gauges were not completely accurate. (But we are to believe, I suppose, that John Calvin’s is? Or John Bugay’s?)

Dr. Kruger would say, it seems, that it was through the gradual consensus of all these broken-gauged men across centuries that the Holy Spirit worked, something that is not too far off from Catholicism’s claims. But Catholics believe that God guided the Church in her discernment, not just on the canon, but on all doctrines of faith and morals. This is consistent. Protestants, like you and Kruger, do not believe this, and so your belief that God guided these men to the true canon over time, but didn’t guide the Church on the other doctrines she discerned, is ad hoc. You say that Protestants have answered the canon question, but I have not heard an answer that avoids being ad hoc in just the way I described.

Regarding interpretation and the accusation that the Catholic Church interjects itself as a lens between Scripture and the believer, even Keith Mathison admits that Protestants also required an interpreter: “All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture. The only real question is: whose interpretation? People with differing interpretations of Scripture cannot set a Bible on a table and ask it to resolve their differences. In order for the Scripture to function as an authority, it must be read and interpreted by someone.”

So is that someone John Bugay? Or Dr. Kruger? Or Mathison? Or the PCA, PCUSA, OPC…? How do we know? (And if you choose the “church” based on the one whose interpretation of the Scriptures matches your own, you just created that circular reasoning you’ve been trying to avoid.) So you cannot avoid an interpreter, the only question is, which interpreter do you choose? Protestantism’s sola Scriptura, the Called to Communion guys demonstrated, reduces to solo Scriptura with respect to ultimate interpretive authority. Mathison failed to rebut their argument.

God bless,
Devin

18 thoughts on “Quick Response to Dr. Kruger’s Thread on the Canon”

  1. In the comments of his post, the Dr. responds to you with this:

    “The self-authenticating approach simply argues that God’s people, as a corporate whole, will eventually recognize these books as from Him. This does not mean there will never be pockets of disagreement.”

    Eh? POCKETS of disagreement?
    Between 21% (Protestants) and at most 36% (protestants plus other sects) of christians reject the deuterocanon.

    A full 62% of Christians use the deuterocanon and have used it without argument for a millenia. Are 62% of Christians a “pocket of disagreement”? What is this Orwels 1984 with the newspeak?

    Give me a break. Having been a hardcore Reformed Calvinist, I can say I used to think that way to. The Reformed are the angry Chihuahuas of Christianity. They act as if they are the measure of all things, when in reality they are a tiny sect within a sect within a schism. The pocket of disagreement is them.

    1. David,

      What’s left unsaid by Dr. Kruger and the Reformed interlocutors is obvious to me: Catholics and Orthodox are not Christians. They are not part of the People of God. Hence they don’t listen to the Holy Spirit and failed to recognize the correct canon.

      Sometimes these particular Reformed Protestants come out and say that directly. Usually they don’t.

  2. “It takes faith to believe that the deposit of faith was not corrupted sometime in the past 2,000 years of history since Christ.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by that, Devin. Could you put that another way for me?

    Thanks.

    1. Hi Steve,

      I simply meant that the truth that God revealed via Christ 2,000 years ago, if He left humans to our own devices, could have gotten corrupted through malice or ignorance or catastrophe.

      But I believe (as do all Christians) that God protected the deposit of faith from corruption. Protestants would say that that deposit is found in the Bible alone and that the books of the Bible were preserved and faithfully copied such that no substantial errors or corruptions were introduced. Catholics would agree but also add that God preserved His truth in sacred Tradition via the bishops in succession from the Apostles and in full communion with the bishop of Rome.

      So, quite, simply, it takes faith to believe that God would protect His truth from corruption. As opposed to being a fact that was provable through reason alone.

      1. Thanks, Devin, for clarifying your views for me.

        We believe that God sill protects the faith that He gives us (as gift). And that He does that through His Word, which is not merely Bible, although the Bible is an aspect of it.

        We don’t discount tradition, but only where it does not contradict Scripture, and the Word of God.

        For example, if tradition says that we can gain merit from an indulgance, we look to Scripture to see that all merit comes only from Christ, as a free gift. Nothing to be earned, or bought by us.

        We believe this is consistant with the gospel and faith from the start. But sinful men corrupted that gospel, and still do.

        1. Hi Steve,

          Jesus refers multiple times to treasury in heaven which is the consequence of doing good works (for instance, give all you have to the poor, so that you will have treasury in heaven).

          Scripture also says we are judged by what we have done according to the grace we were given to do these things. (Luke 14:14, Romans 2:6-10, 13, 2 Cor 5:10, 2 Cor 11:15, Eph 6:8, Col 3:24-25, 1 Tim 6:18-19, Heb 12:14).

          Jesus’s death atones for our sins and through grace makes living faith possible. But the fact that we can do nothing worth doing without grace doesn’t negate what scripture says about judgment. It is only because of grace that we can indeed be judged righteous at that final judgment.

          Jesus’s Parable of the Talents is a good analogy for the Church’s understanding of grace and merit. The infinite treasury of merit given to the Church is indeed a free gift that comes from Christ’s work on the cross. So when God gives us the free gift of justification, He also gives us the grace to cooperate with Him in his work of salvation. We can accept this gift and indeed cooperate according to His will, or we can reject the grace He has given us. When we do cooperate according to His grace, the merit from that action both affects our eternal judgment, and is added to His merit, because we are part of His Body, the Church.

          But when we reject the grace He has given us to do His will, we don’t earn the merit which He intends for us, and in the case of final rejection, He takes away even the initial gift which He gave us.

          I think if your tradition believes in “imputed righteousness” rather than “infused righteousness”, you will reject this interpretation. But infused righteousness is the Church’s understanding of the gospel. That is why we think it is so important to persevere in faith. Under grace, there is indeed an economy of merit, merit which is impossible without grace.

          1. We believe, as Paul wrote in Romans (and elsewhere) that we are saved by faith not of works. Will there be works in the life of the believer? Sure! But thoe are God’s business.

            We believe that if there is anything that needs to be added (by us) to the cross, then the cross was in vain and totally not necessary. He (God) could just as well line us all up and judge us on the basis of our works, and Jesus would not have had to come and die for us.

            Unlike some denominations or religions, we don’t believe that we are the only ones who know or have the truth. But we do believe that we know it and have it.

            Thanks.

            1. Hi Steve,

              In addition to Ephesians 2:8, Paul also says in Galatians that “the only thing which counts is faith working through love”.

              The difference between living faith and dead faith is the presence of works in the life of the believer. So we’re not justified by grace through faith “alone”, but only through the kind of faith which works through love. And it is these works, the fruit produced by living faith, which are meritorious.

              Without Christ’s work on the cross, we would be slaves to sin and not be able to bear good fruit. But because we now live new lives as “slaves to righteousness” through our faith, because we abide in Him, we can now produce good fruit, also known as meritorious works. And this by no means lessens the glory of Christ’s work. Because Christ’s work is a cause of our work, anything we merit in grace was in fact earned by Christ even before we acted out of our faith in Him.

              What Paul means when he says we are justified “by grace” and not “by works” is that man cannot by his own works, without grace, merit justification. Works only justify if these works are produced through living faith, by grace.

              1. that was the most beautiful thing ive read in a long time. thanks jonathon. praise the Lord for such wonderful good news.

  3. Devin, I get the concept of “faith”. As I noted in my reply, the question is “the object of faith”. I also clearly outlined what the two “objects” were, and how these differed.

    I do not reject the concept that the gates of hell won’t prevail against the church. But I strenuously disagree with what your definition of “church” is.

    Reasons and motives of credibility support all these beliefs, but cannot prove them.

    Modern history and exegesis can get us a long, long, long way beyond what Roman dogma is stuck on. When you make generalizations like this, it makes me think you don’t really know what you’re talking about.

    The idea then is that the books God inspired would sort of “jump out at” the attentive reader (and we might add, one who has the Holy Spirit within him).

    This is actually a caricature. In fact, much of your comment here is caricature. It is clear you have not read the book. As I said in the comments, I hope you do read the book.

    I provide large selections at these three posts, and I intend to provide more:

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2012/05/attention-roman-catholics-sola.html

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2012/05/canon-of-new-testament-as-self.html

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2012/05/michael-krugers-criteria-for-canonicity.html

    These three links will provide you with a good overview of the rationale for the book. The remainder of the book involves genuine historical details and responding to objections.

    Here, for the benefit of your readers who might not be inclined to follow my links, is his stated purpose:

    This volume is concerned with the narrow question of whether Christians [today] have a rational basis (i.e., intellectually sufficient grounds) for affirming that only these twenty-seven books rightfully being on the New Testament canon. Or, put differently, is the Christian belief in the canon justified (or warranted)? (20)

    The idea is not that the canon would “jump out” at anyone. The idea is that the early church did have good reason for holding on to the books that they did have access to.

    I’m also planning a more detailed response to the rest of your post.

    1. John,

      You’ll be glad to know I just purchased the book and will begin reading it tonight. I hope to consider the arguments made and review the book sometime in the near-ish future.

      While I have many things to say in response to your comment, we can save further discussion on it until I read the book and write a post about it.

      God bless,
      Devin

        1. But I only bought the Kindle version for about $11 so I still have $9 more dollars to donate. 🙂

          Seriously though, I hope your family is doing okay, John. I know we have differences on theological issues that are serious and important, but we are all human beings and can wish each other the best.

          God bless,
          Devin

  4. I’m still trying to figure out how private correspondence (Timothy, Titus) can be “self-authenticating” when it wasn’t even a public letter?

    Obviously, it was written by Paul so it holds some kind of weight, but surely not every private letter that was written by an Apostle was Scripture.

    1. Good question, Nick. I don’t know how quickly or how widespread some of the personal letters were. Maybe Dr. Kruger delves into that. I recall 2 Timothy or maybe the first letter had a late acceptance as Scripture.

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