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New Testament Canon

Michael Kruger, New Testament professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina has written a provocative, winsome, and persuasive book on the new testament canon. Rather than going to great lengths to explore each book's reception in church history, Kruger seeks to narrow his focus to two areas, namely 'if Christians have adequate grounds for thinking they can know which books are canonical,' and unpacking the self-authenticating model of the canon (23). The first section deals with what grounds do we have for believing the NT books that are in the canon are the ones that are supposed to be there and why. The second sections deals with a specific model of the canon that seeks to see the church as recognizing the canon but not creating the canon that we now have.

In the first chapter Kruger goes to great lengths at describing various community driven models of the canon; namely, the historical critical model, the Roman Catholic view, the Canonical model (Childs), and the neo-orthodox view. One of the strengths of this chapter is that Kruger rightly brings out the positive merits of each view while also engaging in serious critique. Kruger carefully critiques the Roman Catholic view of the canon by saying, "On the Catholic model, the Scripture's own claims should not be received on their own authority, but apparently the church's own claims should be received on their own authority. The Roman Catholic Church, functionally speaking is committed to sola ecclesia" (48). Rather than seeing God's activity influencing and using the authors of the Bible, the RCC brings the beginning of the canon back to a infallible authority. Even at this point, Kruger points out that there are differing models within the RCC that bring out certain positive strands regarding the canon. "Trent recognized the Bible; it did not create it. The Bible is in the Church, but not from the Church" (41). Kruger rightly takes to task the neo-orthodox dismissal of the use of history in seeing the canon as not closed but open to revision. Kruger writes, "Brunner takes advantage of this door opened by Barth and walks right through it, arguing that the the borders of the canon are not fixed" (62). An experience or existential encouter with the books of the canon is more important than a historically driven pattern when engaging with the books of the New Testament.

Kruger's next chapter gets into the canon as historically determined. First, he looks at approaches to the canon that seek to peel back the layers embedded in the text to find the true center (which is still in focus in Jesus studies). If the center of the New Testament is Jesus, as James Dunn indicates, what other details are of primary importance (his life, death, divine nature)(71, footnote 21). Often, a specific methodology gets elevated to the place of prominence over against the meaning of the text (i.e. feminist, liberation, what Christ preaches).

The next chapter is quite possibly the best in content and in scope. Kruger develops an understanding of the canon that is self-attesting. What he means by self-attestation is that the canon relies not on an external authority for its truthfulness but on its intrinsic qualities. The three marks of characteristics of self-attestation for Kruger rest upon three components: Providential exposure, attributes of canonicity (divine qualities, corporate reception, apostolic origins), internal witness of the Holy Spirit (94). The people of God cannot respond to a book 'of which it has no knowledge' (95). Therefore, God has placed the books of the Bible in the hands of his people from the beginning. "When people's eyes are opened, they are struck by the divine qualities of Scripture-its beauty, harmony, and efficacy-and recongnize and embrace Scripture for what it is, the word of God" (101). I would say as well that the Scriptures attest to its divine origin also because they correspond to reality in such a way that not other books does. Kruger also brings out practical examples of his ideas regarding John's first letter (113). Overall, Kruger sets forth a view that pays careful creedence to God's overarching purposes in using his people to bring about Scripture while also seeing the foundational role of the church in the canonical process.

In one of the last chapters Kruger deals with problem books and canonical boudaries in a very succinct and thought provoking manner. His goal in this chapter is to provide a continuum upon which to understand heretical, rejected, disputed and recognized books. Helpfully, Kruger goes through each book individually and gives reasons for its inclusion or exclusion in the canon. Kruger comments regarding the Gospel of Thomas that the 'book has a strong Gnostic flavor, advocating a Jesus less concerned with showing that he is divine and more concerned with teaching us to find the divine spark within ourselves" (278). In this case, there are both historical and theological reasons why the Gospel of Thomas is branded heretical (Gnosticisim was not a rampant philosophy until the 2nd century).

Overall, this was a wonderful book and one that I will go back to reference.

Thanks to Crossway for the review copy of this book.


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