Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Creedal Celebration!

Carl Trueman's new book The Creedal Imperative is out. Broadly speaking, the book is a defense of the importance of creeds. It is very popular today to reject creeds or to see them as passe. The number of non-creedal, non-denominational churches in the United States, for example, is exploding. In his new book The Creedal Imperative, Carl Trueman explains "why creeds and confessions are necessary, how they have developed over time, and how they can function in the church of today and tomorrow. He writes primarily for evangelicals who are not particularly confessional in their thinking yet who belong to confessional churches - Baptists, independents, etc. - so that they will see more clearly the usefulness of the church's tradition."

Now, since this is a celebration of sorts, here is what Westminster Books is doing:

I forgot to mention: they have free eBook versions of the Westminster Standards as well!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book Review: Canon Revisited by Michael Kruger

Canon Revisited is an important book, and I hope everyone reads it. The first chapter leads off with a quote from Ernest Best: “No one has come up with a satisfactory solution as to how we determine which books should be in the canon” (15). It might be simplistically summarized that from beginning to end, this book exists to prove Best wrong. There are objections from many different quarters, all basically arguing that the Christian cannot know that the twenty-seven books in the Christian canon of the New Testament are the right books. According to Michael Kruger, the church is not under threat of a historical crisis, but rather, what is at its core, an “epistemological crisis” (19). And so Kruger has written this book with a modest goal: to show that “Christians do have sufficient grounds for claiming that they know which books belong in the New Testament” (295).

I say this is a modest goal. To some, it sounds like a herculean task. It is crucial for understanding this volume, however, that readers keep in mind what Kruger is not out to prove. This book is not an all-out apologetic argument for the truth of Christianity. It is not a one-stop book to give to an unbeliever who wants a good reason for why he should believe that Jesus is Lord, and the Bible is telling the truth about Him. As Kruger helpfully states in summary fashion:
We are not asking how a person comes to believe in the canon (for the first time). Nor are we trying to prove the truth of the canon. We are asking whether the Christian religion can give an adequate account for the knowledge it claims to have. But such a question can be answered only on the basis of the Christian faith itself – that is, on the basis of the Christian conception of God, his purpose and plan, the nature of human knowledge, and so forth. And where else would we turn to acquire this information but to the very scriptural books in question? (289-290)
It is here that one sees most clearly the method and assumptions Kruger will be employing in this book. Those with a bent towards presuppositional apologetic methodology will find themselves very much at home in this book. Since I lean that way in the first place, it was nice to see argumentation that did not seek to placate unbelieving approaches to the canon. Rather as Kruger points out, if the argument is that Canon can only be explained in Christian categories, and if he is right that canon is ultimately a theological issue (294), then an accounting for the canon must take place on the Christian’s turf. There is simply no way to provide a theologically cogent account of canon in a satisfactory way while granting the skeptic’s presuppositions, since he brings assumptions to the table which already discount the answers which make the Christian view cohere.

The book rests in some respects upon Alvin Plantinga’s work in the area of epistemological justification. Particularly, Kruger distinguishes between two specific challenges to the canon: de jure objections and de facto objections. De facto objections argue that a belief that we have the right books in our canon “is intellectually unacceptable on the grounds that it is false” (288). De jure objections, on the other hand, argue, “not that it is false, but that it is intellectually unjustifiable” (288). Kruger is clear that it is the de jure objection which this book is responding to. Once he has responded to the de jure objection, he reacts: “Whatever other objections the critic may have, it can no longer be this one” (295). It is not a book to destroy skepticism altogether, but to eliminate one powerful objection.

The first half of the book is devoted to exploring the various canonical models that are out there and then concludes with a presentation of the self-attesting model of canon, which Kruger if himself advocating. The self-attesting model, Kruger is seeking to show, not only avoids the problems that the other views of canon present, but also provides a valid model for canonization which faithfully reflects the teachings of Scripture regarding itself.

What is the self-attesting model of canon? In the simplest terms, Kruger explains that to say the Scriptures are self-attesting means that one turns to them in order to understand them. Put another way, “self authenticating” refers to the fact that “one cannot authenticate the canon without appealing to the canon” (91).
A self-authenticating canon is not just a canon that claims to have authority, nor is it simply a canon that bears internal evidence of authority, but one that guides and determines how that authority is to be established (91).
This is something which is denied by all the other models of canon. As Kruger says, “all these models share one core characteristic. They all ground the authority of the canon in something outside the canon itself. It is this appeal to an external authority that unites all these positions” (88). What are these positions? Put briefly, the other models can be reduced to Community Determined models and Historically Determined models. There are variations within each of these models and nuances which deserve attention, but at the end of the day, as Kruger has already said, the determination of the canon is either put into the hands of the church, church leaders, or church historians with these views.

While Kruger does spend some time arguing that this view of the canon does have a historical basis in authors such as Turretin, Calvin, and Bavinck, I certainly would have appreciated a bit more than one paragraph on the historicity of this view. It is, of course, far more important to see if Scripture teaches this view, and so this semi-lack of historical material can easily be forgiven. It is certainly a subject worth following up on, however, as many in the Reformed community seem to be opposed to the self-attesting model in favor of a strictly historically-determined model. Regarding the Historically determined model, Ridderbos offers a helpful criticism:
Historical judgment cannot be the final and sole ground for the church’s accepting the New Testament as canonical. To accept the New Testament on that ground would mean the church would ultimately be basing its faith on the results of historical investigation (113).
The choice is between models which rely upon various external authorities an finding a model which is consistent from beginning to end in its theology of canon. Kruger argues (and I agree) that the self-attesting model is such a model.

Kruger argues, as he develops the self-attesting model, that the Bible testifies to an “epistemic environment wherein belief in the New Testament canon can be reliably formed,” including three features: (1) Providential exposure of the church to the canon, (2) Attributes of canonicity, and (3) Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. As Kruger explains, “These three components must all be in place if we are to have knowledge of the canon” (94).

Kruger also spends much time on (2) discussing what exactly the attributes of canonicity are. He argues that there are three attributes of canonicity – each of which make appearances – to a greater or lesser degree – in the other models of canon. What makes Kruger’s approach different, however, is his insistence that a canonical book will possess all three of these attributes: (a) divine qualities, (b) corporate reception by the church, and (c) apostolic origins. Now, these three attributes are not enough. Even if a book does possess all of these things, features (1) and (3) must also be present. Kruger looks to Scripture to derive this model and all of its features – I think he does it quite effectively. In fact, much more could be said. Kruger shows much restraint, in a lot of ways. Meredith Kline’s discussion in the first hundred or so pages of The Structure of Biblical Authority make a strong case that the canon itself can be entirely constructed based on the Bible’s internal covenantal structure. Kruger gives Kline a brief mention, and if you follow up on Kruger’s footnotes you’ll find a wealth of information which is highly beneficial in this respect.

The second half of the book is meant to deal with potential defeaters which might be brought up against the self-attesting canonical model. One argument is that it is not the apostolicity of many New Testament books are not unanimously agreed upon. However, Kruger points out that the lack of a consensus can hardly constitute a defeater since there is also not a “consensus” against the apostolicity of the canonical books. Furthermore, those who are critical of apostolicity oppose it on the basis of modernistic assumptions. Kruger rhetorically asks, “Why should we think Enlightenment-based methodologies are more likely to produce true conclusions than Christian ones?” (291)

In the last two chapters, Kruger addresses other defeaters. Modern liberal scholarship largely tends to claim that there was disagreement over the contents of the canon, and assumes that a divinely inspired canon would not entail as much disagreement as was involved in the development of the canon. Of course, this assumption of such scholars is highly questionable and assumes that disagreement in the early church is inconsistent with the self-authenticating model (which Kruger makes clear it is not – in fact it is expected). Furthermore, Kruger says, the critics are exaggerating the nature of the disagreements.

So much more could be said in commendation of Kruger’s book. It is my personal belief that Canon Revisited will be key in providing structure for future discussions of the canon. The book is logically structured, rigorously argued, and is Biblically centered, as would be expected for a book seeking to consistently apply the teachings of Scripture to the structure of the Biblical canon. After reading Canon Revisited, my own understanding of the canon has been deeply enriched. I want to recommend this book to others as highly as I possibly can. It will be considered the major work on canon from an advocate of the self-attesting model for years to come.

Friday, September 14, 2012

eBook Special: Bruce on the Lord's Supper

Carl Trueman has already shared this, but since our readers find it relevant I thought I'd pass this along.  Robert Bruce (the successor of John Knox) preached a series of sermons on the Lord's Supper in 1589, and Christian Focus' republication of those sermons has been out of print for awhile.  I had the privilege of putting together the eBook of these sermons for them, and now Christian Focus has made this out-of-print book available in Kindle format.  For the next two weeks it's being sold at a special reduced price.

I can't recommend a book more highly.  These sermons on the Lord's Supper are well worth your time.  According to Trueman, they are "some of the most helpful ever preached on the topic."  You can get the book here.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Reading Richard Sibbes Aloud

For more than two years, Mark Dever has been quietly at work creating a collection of audio files.  These are recordings of himself reading the sermons of Richard Sibbes, as though he were preaching them.  If you have not been listening to these sermons, I highly recommend them.  He has around 40 files so far, and shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

Check out the growing archive here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Amazon Kindle Fail

Amazon has announced its new line of Kindles, which will release on October 1st.  Among them are the new Kindle Fire, the Kindle Fire HD, and the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" (which is a horrible name).  I have absolutely no interest in any of the Kindle Fire family.  Go buy an iPad.

What does interest me, however, is the new Kindle Paperwhite.  Evidently, the screen is higher resolution and has a special backlight technology that is way less obnoxious than LED or LCD, which bounce light back into the space surrounding the screen.  It also has 2GB of memory and the ability to change spacing and font size in your eBooks.  BUT...

There's a huge but.  BUT Amazon has also announced that none of their future Kindles will support text to speech.  They supposedly tout this new line as upgrades.  Yes, they have a slightly larger memory.  Yes, they have the ability to change fonts.  And yet they have still not given me a reason to ever update my three year old Kindle 2 3G.  In fact, now I am clutching it tighter!  It still runs like a top, it still holds its battery charge for weeks. It holds all my books, and reads to me when I can't give it the attention it deserves.  Because Amazon has still not given me a reason to abandon my Kindle 2, I declare the new line of Kindles a complete and epic fail.

Why would you come out with a new line of Kindles and actually remove features that were there before?  It just makes no sense - it borders on stupidity, from a business perspective.  Without the text-to-speech, there is honestly no differentiating the Kindle from the Barnes & Noble Nook or any of the other e-Readers out there.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Christian Apologetics Kindle Deal

The price on Douglas Groothius' Christian Apologetics for the Kindle is pretty extraordinary.  Right now, you can buy the book for $17 off the price of the hardback.  That means you can get it for $4.08 over at Amazon right now.  Why is it $4.08?  I have no idea why the cost is so precise.

The book is a real monster, weighing in at over 700 pages (the book itself is a classical argument for the existence of eBooks!).  It has endorsements from William Dembski, Sean McDowell, J.P. Moreland, Paul Copan, and William Lane Craig.  You can tell from this list that this is your sort of book if you're into Classical Apologetics.  I'm more of a Van Til man myself, but far be it from me to scare someone off from a good deal because of my own prejudices.

Get the Kindle version here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Has the Era of the eBook Officially Arrived?

Look at these citations from footnotes 10 and 11 in Jonathan Edwards and Justification, edited by Josh Moody.  The Kindle has been out since 2007, but this is the first time since it was released five years ago that I have seen a Kindle edition actually cited in a book.  You can buy the book from Westminster Bookstore, but let's admit - it's becoming more scholarly now to buy the Kindle version.