Saturday, August 25, 2012

3.2 Grudem: NT Canon

... continued from yesterday
Someone who sees the Bible as Scripture is going to agree with Grudem that the books of the New Testament are the right books and that no more books should be added to the Bible. But there is a dreamy quality to the way he unfolds it that again is more like a two-dimensional legend with flat characters than reality. And there's no reason for it other than a compulsion for certainty.

Ironically, there is a great deal of "common sense" to his argument that implies what he will not tell you--he cannot rely on the Bible itself for the answers to which books are in the canon. This is a massive hint of the inadequacy of his overall view of Scripture. When it comes to justifying the contents of Scripture he must resort to a common sense completely outside of the text.

So it is "not accidental" that Revelation comes last or that Genesis comes first in the Christian canon 63).  It "must" be that way. Why? Because it makes sense to him. Smile. Or is because there is a circularity to your argument, Wayne? Convinced that the Bible as it stands has to be the canon, you will find any argument that sounds like it makes sense to justify it?

What's the bottom line?  It is because we can have confidence in "the faithfulness of God" (65). I agree. But where was that faithfulness manifested?  Say it; say it.  In the church.  AD367. He acknowledges it. No writing prior to 367 has the same list of New Testament books that are now in our canon.  AD397 before any official recognition of these books as the New Testament canon anywhere that we know of. Looks like the church wrestled a little with the question--and that it wasn't the first order of business (which contradicts the all-importance these issues have for his theology).

His argument for the finality of the New Testament canon gives a glimmer of depth. If Christ is the final revelation, then it makes sense that the canon would not be far behind. This Christ-focused approach points us toward substance, revelation as something more than words, something deep and cosmic. But Grudem is so written word focused that this hint of depth comes only because he has no recourse in the biblical text itself. There's no text that says, "And with Revelation, the canon is closed." Grudem himself admits that the words about adding and subtracting were about the book of Revelation itself, not the Bible or the New Testament as a whole (65).

Ultimately, the collection of the canon--and the collection of doctrine and ethics--require mechanisms that are outside the biblical texts themselves. Some external organizing principle is required to determine the limits of the canon, as well as to systematize biblical teaching. Grudem is forced to engage such factors in this chapter, but he will return to pretending they are not at work in later chapters. His answer is actually quite good: we must rely on the faithfulness of God... in the church, through the Spirit to affirm the canon of Scripture.

Of course those who argue for the Majority Text (roughly that behind the KJV) use this argument as well--surely a faithful God would have preserved the precise text.  Of course the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches use this argument as well--surely a faithful God would have preserved the right interpretations and applications of these texts.

Again, Christians will agree with the destination.  These are the books that belong in the New Testament canon.  Historically, though, that conclusion was won with far more disagreement and real debate than Grudem imagines.  He imagines that it was almost obvious from the very beginning that Paul's writings were Scripture, that the gospels were Scripture. Galatians 2 points to much more conflict and disagreement in the early church. The real story was much more real, much more three-dimensional, like real history.

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