Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review: Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life by Stephen J. Nichols

I am a long-time Dietrich Bonhoeffer fan. I have been since I read The Cost of Discipleship as a 17 year old newly minted Christian. His challenge that “When Jesus bids a man come, he bids him come and die” has stuck with me all these many years. He has been a fellow traveler with me, and I feel as though I spent time with him in Flossenburg Prison, having read his letters. It is with great excitement that I finally got around to reading Stephen Nichols’ book Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life [WTS Books/Amazon], and I am glad I finally did. Keeping book reviews brief is always a challenge for me. Instead of saying everything there is in this book, I’ll try to give a sense of Nichols’ structure and a few of the highlights. 

Bonhoeffer’s foundation for the Christian life is the cross (26). Nichols begins with Bonhoeffer’s christology, followed by his ecclesiology, both of which, as many have noted before, loom very large in Bonhoeffer’s theology. Under this heading is Nichols’ chapter on Bonhoeffer’s view of community. This may have been my favorite chapter, where Nichols summarizes Bonhoeffer’s insistence that the church must come to grips with her own weaknesses and the weaknesses of her members. If Christians could permit themselves to be appropriately disillusioned, this communal realism could go a long way to helping the church. I found myself overjoyed in reading this chapter. It is filled with needed correctives, in my opinion.

Nichols goes on to summarize Bonhoeffer’s three essential disciplines of the Christian life as “reading and obeying Scripture, prayer, and the practice of theology” (26). In discussing these three essentials of Bonhoeffer’s, Nichols spends time discussing his doctrine of Scripture in chapter 4. Nichols rightly identifies his doctrine of Scripture as a linchpin issue in the debate over Bonhoeffer’s questionable status as a conservative. Offering an important caution, that “We need to be careful in these debates over who gets to claim whom, so that we so not do injustice to these figures in their own contexts,” (80-81) Nichols nevertheless concludes that “Bonhoeffer should not be counted among theological liberals. He was a theological conservative” (81). He goes further, claiming that Bonhoeffer is an evangelical, measured by the Bebbington four (82). There are certainly remnants of neo-orthodox elements in Bonhoeffer’s theology, but I think that Nichols is right. Based on everything I’ve read from Bonhoeffer (4 books, 2 biographies, and a collection of essays by him) I agree with his conclusion.

His chapter on prayer (chapter 5) contains some interesting nuggets that are worth chewing on, particularly in his insistence that seminary students should be force to pray and taught to pray. Bonhoeffer also saw an important relationship between how we read Scripture and how we pray, and the two ought to go together. Nichols later says and then quotes Bonhoeffer: “If we do not have a Scripture-saturated approach to our praying, we risk becoming ‘victims of our own emptiness’” (108). A Scripture-less person’s prayers will be filled with himself, and a prayer less person’s Scripture readings will be nothing more than intellectual exercises.

Nichols then discusses (in chapter 6) Bonhoeffer’s third essential, asking the question of how the Christian is to “think theologically and then live theologically” (27). Bonhoeffer encouraged his students and readers to not pit theology against the Christian life, but to integrate the two.

 Practicing the three above spiritual disciplines would never lead, in Bonhoeffer’s way of thinking, to an isolated or monastic existence. Instead, theology works its way out into community. While it is popular today in theological circles to emphasize community, Bonhoeffer offers some helpful and sound counsel that Christians would do well to heed, whether they think the contemporary emphasis on community is simply a fad or is here to stay.

Nichols, in summarizing Bonhoeffer’s “worldly Christianity,” (chapter 7) is careful to bring out what Bonhoeffer really means when he uses that phrase. Nichols summarizes Bonhoeffer by saying that Christians should be neither monastics, nor “cultural Protestants.” Instead, Christianity must ask something of its adherents. It must challenge churchgoers in deeply personal and costly ways, while at the same time insisting that they not cease their callings or jobs.

Nichols discusses Bonhoeffer’s view of freedom (ch. 8) “disguised as service and sacrifice” (27). Anyone who has read his book The Cost of Discipleship (which he later came to regard as too legalistic) knows that Bonhoeffer is adamant in his insistence that the Christian life is one that requires self-denial and sacrifice. For Bonhoeffer, however, love (ch. 9) is the thing that “accents” all of the above disciplines and expressions of faith lived out.

What makes Nichols’ book great is his willingness to let Bonhoeffer’s own ideas breathe. Reading Bonhoeffer can be maddening sometimes because he lived in such intense and formative times. The atmosphere of all his writings and sermons is thick with ominous threat both politically and to the Church. Knowing his biography first often brings some needed context - something that not all readers can have the luxury of exploring. Nichols does a nice job of pulling out the disparate elements, though, and giving the reader a nicely formed whole. I very gladly place it on my shelf along with my collection of other Bonhoeffer books, and I think that I will find myself turning it to it often.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Enemies of the State?

Michael Gerson, in a Washington Post op-ed, asks the question, "Can Muslim Lands Learn to Tolerate Christianity?" Near the end of the article, Gerson makes the following observation:
“Including World War II,” argues Inboden, “every major war the United States has fought over the past 70 years has been against an enemy that also severely violated religious freedom.” The reverse is equally true. “There is not a single nation in the world,” he says, “that both respects religious freedom and poses a security threat to the United States.” 
There are a number of possible explanations for this strong correlation. The most compelling is that religious freedom involves the full and final internalization of democratic values — the right to be a heretic or infidel. It requires the state to recognize the existence of binding loyalties that reach beyond the state’s official views.
I wonder if those who favor state-sponsored execution of heretics, adulterers, and children who disobey their parents have ever considered that this would not only place them in unpleasant company, but (if Gerson is right) it would also make them enemies of democracy.

Michael Kruger's The Question of Canon - Chapter 5 Summary and Conclusion

This is the longest chapter in the book. Instead of giving Kruger’s arguments in this chapter, to keep things as short as possible, I’m largely going to be sharing his conclusions in each section. If the reader wants to see how he argues for these conclusions (which he does very persuasively in my opinion) I strongly suggest that they purchase a copy of The Question of Canon and read it for themselves.

The last chapter asks the question, “When did New Testament writings first begin to be viewed as Scripture?” According to the extrinsic model - Kruger calls this view the “big bang model” of canon - it was not really until the end of the second century that these documents came to be viewed as Scripture. Of all the chapters in the book, I think the average reader will probably find this chapter the most interesting, because Kruger goes through sources prior to the end of the second century to show that these writings were regarded as Scriptural and authoritative at a time when the extrinsic model should regard as shocking.

Irenaeus and His Contemporaries
Kruger begins with Irenaeus, whom most advocates of the extrinsic model offer as the singular most important figure. To these scholars, “Irenaeus is an innovator” (157). They see his naming of a canon as something prior Christians would have been scandalized by. But Kruger argues that “there are indications that books were received as Scripture prior to the time of Irenaeus.”

One of the first things Kruger argues for is that Irenaeus does not see himself as an innovator, but as passing along that which he himself has already received. After sorting through some of the opposition that is often made to Irenaeus in this regard, Kruger concludes that “there are no reasons to regard Irenaeus’ most controversial claim - that the church receives four and only four Gospels - to be a new idea in his day” (162).

Kruger then looks to the Muratorian fragment, arguing that its existence contemporaneous with Irenaeus “is problematic.” It means that there was already “restriction and limitation” to the canon by 180 A.D. and that it was not Irenaeus who was responsible for it.

Another important figure is Theophilus of Antioch, who wrote an important document, To Autolycus in 177 A.D. Kruger notes that “Theophilus places the ‘Gospels’ on the same level of inspiration and authority as the Old Testament Prophets” (164). He also puts a citation of Luke 18:27 alongside of “citations from Genesis and Isaiah” (165) which shows the significance he attached to the Gospel writings.

Clement of Alexandria, writing in 198 A.D. (“slightly later than Irenaeus”), affirmed many books of the New Testament canon. “He received all thirteen Epistles of Paul, Hebrews, Acts, 1 Peter, 1 and 2 John, Jude and Revelation” (168).

So far in the book, Kruger helpfully summarizes: “According to…influential and geographically diverse sources at the end of the second century - there was a core collection of scriptural books in place that the church fathers themselves did not view as newly established” (169).

Prior to Irenaeus
In the next section, Kruger goes back before Irenaeus. “If the New Testament canon did not pop into existence overnight, then we should expect to find some remnants of its existence during this earlier time period” (169). Justin Martyr, for starters, in 150-160 A.D. knew Paul’s letters. In addition, “Justin also seems to show knowledge of Acts, 1 Peter, Hebrews and Revelation” (176) and regards them with the same authority he regarded Old Testament books.

Papias, writing around 125 A.D. was a friend of Polycarp and “had heard the apostle John preach…he knew the daughters of Philip the Evangelist…[and] plainly declares that the source of his information is ‘the Elder’ who is likely to be ‘John the Elder’” (182). Papias is helpful with regard to Mark’s Gospel, because he “assures the reader of the reliability of Mark’s account when he says that Mark made sure ‘to leave nothing out that he heard’” (183-184). “It appears that Papias also knew 1 John, 1 Peter, Revelation and also some Pauline epistles…[and] would have known John’s Gospel” (186). All of this “suggests a Fourfold Gospel in the first half of the second century” (186).

The Epistle of Barnabas, believed to have been written around 130 A.D., appears to cite Matthew 22:14. Kruger spends some time arguing that this is probably a written source, not an oral source as some scholars speculate.

Ignatius, writing in 110 A.D., seems to have had an extensive knowledge of the writings of Paul. One scholar is “quite confident that Ignations knew at least four of these - 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and 1 and 2 Timothy” (188). Kruger says that he also “seems to know Romans, Philippians and Galatians…the key point is that Ignatius not only has a Pauline letter collection, but mentions it to the Ephesian church with full expectation that they are also aware of it” (190).

Polycarp, writing around 110 A.D. “distinghishes Paul’s authority as an Apostle from his own authority as a bishop” (193). “Scholars generally agree that Polycarp knew Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and 1 and 2 Timothy. Again, Polycarp may have known more letters of Paul than these, but he simply doesn’t use them in his letter to the Philippians” (194). There are also “indications that Polycarp regarded Pauline letters as ‘Scripture’” (195). “Polycarp also knew 1 Peter and 1 John…[and] does appear to quote from some of the Synoptic Gospels on a number of occasions” (196). It is highly significant that these things are happening so near to the time of their writing. This would have been within 50-60 years of the time of the writing of most of the books of the New Testament!

1 Clement, written in 96 A.D., uses many New Testament texts. “At a minimum, scholars are agreed that 1 Clement certainly uses 1 Corinthians, Romans and Hebrews, and a number of scholars find it probable that he also knew Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Titus” (197). One scholar argues that Clement knew all of Paul’s letters. Kruger finds it significant that, like Ignatius, “clearly expects that his audience also has access to the very same ones” (197). Among the most amazing things Kruger quotes is a passage from 1 Clement 47:1-3 where he refers to 1 Cor, telling his readers to read Paul’s epistle and attributing inspiration to Paul by saying he sent the letter “pneumatikos” or “in the Spirit” (198). He also appears to be exhorting his people to read Paul’s letter publicly in the worship service.

Kruger also goes back further than 96 to the actual New Testament itself. He points to 2 Peter 3:16 to show that Peter regarded Paul’s writings as Scripture. He also points to 1 Timothy 5:18, arguing that Paul quotes from Luke 10:7 in the second half of the verse. Even if the reader is skeptical about Kruger’s argument here, he points out that “it should still be acknowledged that 1 Timothy at least regards some book…to be Scripture alongside the Old Testament” (202).

All of this, of course, lends credence to Kruger’s contention in this chapter that “the origin of a new corpus of scriptural books should not be conceived of as a ‘big bang’ type of event, extrinsically imposed on the church, but as something that grew gradually over time with roots that extend further back in the history of the church than previously allowed” (158).

Having pressed back hard on these five major tenets of the extrinsic (“big bang”) model of canon, Kruger draws out three major conclusions.

1. “Historical investigations, like scientific ones, often operate on the basis of models, or what we might call paradigms” (209). His point here being that he hopes proponents of the extrinsic model will acknowledge the place of presuppositions in their own argumentation and especially in their standards of what they will and will not accept as evidence.

2. “There are enough problems with the extrinsic model to raise serious questions about its viability” (209). This doesn’t mean that the extrinsic model doesn’t have positive aspects to contribute, but that it ought not to hold the field in canon studies.

3. “More scholarly consideration should be given to what we have called the intrinsic model” (209).

Kruger offers his concluding paragraph:

The intrinsic model argues that the idea of canon was built into the DNA of the Christian religion and thus emerged quite naturally. In this sense, the canon was like a seedling sprouting from the soil of early Christianity—although it was not fully a tree until the fourth century, it was there, in nuce, from the beginning (210).

Monday, December 23, 2013

Michael Kruger's The Question of Canon - Chapter 4 Summary

It is popular in modern canonical studies to believe that the New Testament authors “wrote unaware of their own authority and without any intention that their writings would be ‘Scripture’” (119). In fact, I can attest that as a new Christian I believed this for years, not really knowing any better. And a form critic I was not! The chapter is one that I would guess even average Christians could read and benefit a great deal from.

Kruger argues in this chapter of The Question of Canon that “the New Testament authors, generally speaking, demonstrate awareness that their writings passed down authentic apostolic tradition and therefore bore supreme authority in the life of the church” (121). Kruger says that if one requires the word “Scripture” to be used in order to consider a reference one bearing apostolic/divine authority, then that misses the point that these authors “wrote books that they understood to contain the new apostolic revelation about Jesus Christ and therefore to have supreme authority in the church” (122).

a. Paul’s Letters. Kruger says, for example (and demonstrates well, I think) that Paul’s writings bear numerous marks of Apostolic self-awareness. Not only does he openly defend his apostolic authority and the divine nature of his message in Galatians, but in 1 Thessalonians he insists that his letter be read publicly in the same way it was customary to read the Old Testament texts. Kruger summarizes several pages analyzing the Pauline letters in three ways: “Paul (1) affirms his own apostolic authority to speak for Christ, (2) makes it clear that this apostolic authority not only applies to his oral teaching, but is being employed in the very letters that he is writing, and (3) indicates that anyone who rejects his teaching (oral or written) is thereby rejecting the commands of Christ and subject to prophetic condemnation or excommunication” (129-130).

b. The Gospels. It’s common to point to the anonymity of the Gospels as a negative against their authenticity as Scripture. However, the Old Testament history books such as Chronicles, Kings, Samuel, etc. are anonymous. “The anonymity of the Gospels, far from diminishing their scriptural authority, actually served to increase it by consciously placing the Gospels ‘in the tradition of Old Testament historiography’” (130-131).

The Gospel of Matthew, Kruger argues, saw itself as completing the Old Testament story. He bases this on the unique way that Matthew begins his Gospel. His discussion of this issue is worth the reader spending time over. His comparison between the opening words of Matthew in the Greek and the LXX name of the book of Genesis are very insightful, as well.

The Gospel of Mark, Kruger points out, begins with language that “matches language from the opening of some Old Testament prophetic books” (132). He also spends time drawing out the connection of Mark to the Apostle Peter by pointing to the similarity of the structure of Mark and Peter’s sermon in Acts 10:34-43.

The Gospel of Luke has an introduction with highly significant content. For starters, he is confident that what he is conveying is apostolic in origin, using the uncommon word “eyewitnesses.” Kruger concludes his section on Luke by suggesting that “Luke is presenting his Gospel as the embodiment of the authoritative apostolic ‘word’ that had been delivered and entrusted to him” (141). Later, Kruger says, “Luke is presenting his Gospel as an apostolic document designed to show how Christ completes the story of the Old Testament and thereby to bolster confidence in foundational Christian truths” (143).

The Gospel of John. Kruger spends some time speaking of authorship, but what is of greater interest is John 21:24, which Kruger says seems to be “a declaration to the reader that Jesus’ promise in 15:26-27 to send authoritative witnesses has been fulfilled - the very book they are reading is the authoritative testimony of Jesus’ Spirit-filled disciples” (137, his italics). He also mentions something that I found very interesting - namely, the phrase γεγραμμένα ἐν τῷ βιβλίῳ τούτῳ doesn’t occur only in John 20:30, but also in LXX Deut. 28:58; 2 Chron. 34:21; and Jer. 25:13. He calls these parallels “suggestive that the author of the Gospel of John saw himself in a prophetic role” (138, his italics).

c. Other Texts. Kruger also spends time looking at Revelation 1:1-3, 1 John 1:1-4, 2 Peter 3:2, and Hebrews 2:1-4 to support his thesis, though readers will have to get the book if they want to see Kruger’s discussion of these specific texts. I found the discussion interesting, but we need to leave some mystery so folks will actually buy the book!

Kruger concludes the chapter by bringing things back home. It’s important to remember that Kruger’s larger purpose here is to defend the intrinsic model of canon. “If the New Testament writers were aware of their own authority, then this gives further confirmation to the intrinsic model. Although they could not have foreseen that the church would be guided by exactly twenty-seven books, they did intend to write books that would guide the church” (154).

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Michael Kruger's The Question of Canon - Chapter 3 Summary

In Chapter three of The Question of Canon, Michael Kruger is concerned to address the popular notion among some scholars that early Christianity was “a predominantly, if not exclusively, oral religion that would have been hesitant to place value on written documents.” As readers who have followed the previous two posts can see, this argument by advocates of the extrinsic model of canon fits nicely into the overall case made by the extrinsic advocates that a written canon of Scripture would have been foreign to the earliest Christians. This chapter is largely negative in the sense that Kruger is interested in casting doubt on the three pillars of this above mentioned claim.

Claim #1: Early Christianity was an Oral Culture. Pointing to the fact that the majority of people other than leaders could not read, these critics go so far as to argue that early Christians would have thought that a written medium of communication “might compromise the Gospel” (to use Kelber’s words; 85). While Kruger acknowledges that this is largely true (Christians were not as literate as today, and oral tradition did have a high place in that time period), these facts are not “a sufficient basis to characterize it as having an ‘oral state of mind’” (86). Kruger argues that (quoting Mary Beard) “the number of literates is a secondary issue” (87).

a. Kruger argues that there is nothing self-contradictory about a culture where a high value is placed on text but also the majority of that culture or community cannot actually read. These are not mutually exclusive features for a community to possess. In fact, argues Kruger, “they exist within a symbiotic and mutually reinforcing relationship” (89).

b. Kruger also argues that early Christianity, contrary to the popular perception, was actually a highly textual culture. In support of this he points to (1) Early Christian writings, (2) the obvious textuality of the Old Testament, and (3) early evidence that Christians were producing books. In the end, he says, “to reconstruct the history of Christianity solely through the lens of orality is to significantly distort the history of Christianity” (103).

Claim #2: Early Christians Expressly Stated their Aversion to Writing. Two primary examples of this thinking come from Papias and from the Apostle Paul. Kruger points out the irony, of course, of someone expressing their dislike for written words in writing. Regarding the Papias quote, he says that “for Papias the ‘living voice’ is not antithetical to written texts, but often the foundation for them.” The quote from Paul that is often pointed to is in 2 Cor. 3:6 where he says, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” implying that this passage teaches Paul’s great dislike of literal letters. Kruger spends more time on this passage than I think he needs to, but he does conclude, accurately, that “Paul’s contrast between these two mediums is really a contrast between two covenants,” the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant (110). 

Claim #3: Early Christians Expected the Imminent Return of Christ. Implied in this argument is that if they believed the world was about to end, Christians would have had no reason, early on, to produce written works. This thinking is heavily influenced by Albert Schweitzer and Bart Ehrman. Kruger responds by pointing out

a. that one must understand the apocalyptic language of the New Testament by taking into account the already/not yet distinction. “In a very real sense, the kingdom of God did come in the lifetime of the disciples (Mt. 12:28; Lk. 4:21; 17:20-21); but in another (apocalyptic) sense, it is still yet to come when Jesus returns to judge the world (Mt. 7:21; 8:11; Mk. 14:25; 15:43). Failure to make this careful distinction leads to an all-or-nothing approach to the coming kingdom of God and thus creates the impression that Jesus was mistaken about his own return” (113-114). Kruger then argues that
b. even if the early Christians believed the return of Christ and end of all things was imminent, that still isn’t any reason to think this would mean Christians wouldn’t produce written documents. He points to the Qumran community which, though highly apocalyptic in their orientation, still produced numerous written documents. Kruger ends this response to claim #3 by quoting Gerd Theissen: “The thesis about the imminent expectation of the end as a factor impeding literary creation is false. Jewish apocalyptic writing is full of imminent expectations and yet attests to a flourishing literary production” (as quoted on 117).

In the end, says Kruger, “In many instances Christians may have even preferred oral modes of communication over the written. But this is not the same as a prejudice against writing" (118).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why Christians Should Listen to Punk Rock

Punk rock music is the true Christian art form. I know it's hard to believe, what with all that rebellion and screaming, but hear me out. Nancy Pearcey in her book, How Now Shall We Live? discusses classical music, and in so doing argues (I'm going from memory here since my copy of the book has gone the way of the buffalo) that classical music is an especially Christian form of art because it embraces narrative, motion, beauty, structure, and elegance; all of which are part and parcel of the Christian worldview. As her foil in the book, she sets up John Cage, the prince of musical disorder. His music, so she says, embodies chaos, detachment, and lawlessness (all of which reflect the ethos of the serpent in Genesis 3). Now, Nancy Pearcey is just wrong, and I'll tell you why. There is a far more superior musical art form to classical music: namely, punk rock. The author of this blog post is a fan of punk rock, and I like it for one simple reason: It is the Christian form of music.

First of all, not all music that is classical in form is Christian in content. Think of the Mephisto Waltzes by Franz Liszt. But even excluding disturbing exceptions like this, its form is all wrong, as well. Whereas classical music embodies order, law, structure, and beauty, punk rock embodies--not the world as it should be--but the world as it is. Also, punk music has a social awareness that would put Beethoven and his ministry to the deaf to shame.

Punk music has its feet firmly on earth and deals with the nitty gritty of a world in chaos, scrambling for some moment of sanity. Think of The Clash in their song "Straight to Hell." This song addresses in rather painful fashion the mistreatment of immigrants, as well as the love children of American G.I.s who procreated with the unfortunate female population of Vietnam during the war. Gritty, painful, dirty. Punk lives in the here and now--the already, rather than the not yet. Or consider a song by The Dropkick Murphys called "The State of Massachusetts," which faces head-on the effect that drug-abuse has on families.

These singers sound more like the Psalmist or Habakkuk and less like the sort of feel-good Christianity that gets day-in and day-out dumped out of the musical sugar jar we call K-LOVE. The world is plunged into sin, and Jesus Christ has brought hope. Yes, punk music reflects a genuine attempt to push back against authority, but Paul speaks in Colossians of the fact that Christ "disarmed the rulers and authorities." Jesus was the original punk (minus the wallet-chain). Things aren't right in the world as we know it, but Jesus Christ will one day come to consummate what he began in his incarnation. There's some already in there with the not-yet, but the structured, ordered, law-abiding nature of classical music misses out on the already and exchanges it for cherubs floating on clouds clutching harps.


One thing that we see a lot of in our world today--especially when it comes to interchange between Christians and the cultural enjoyments they partake of, is an impulse towards baptizing our own particular preferences. Nancy Pearcey did it in How Now Shall We Live?, we just did it in the first part of our post above (for purposes of illustration), and bloggers and Facebookers the world over do it all the time. It's that human religious tendency to take something that we like, and to say, "You know? This makes sense to me when I look at it a certain way," and then jump to the conclusion that the music or the art or the movie or the political party that we enjoy may just have some warrant in Scripture.

This doesn't mean that we ought to despair ("Oh no! The Bible doesn't tell me which political party to join! What will I do!?"). Instead, it means we ought to be modest about our own views and preferences if Scripture doesn't speak to the matter. We use common sense, we use reason and thoughtfulness (all aspects of the imago dei) to arrive at correct conclusions. I do not need the Bible to tell me that the stock market crash of 1929 happened because of X, Y, or Z in order to arrive at a correct conclusion (obviously it was because the U.S. left the gold standard and started printing money, but that is beside the point and has nothing to do with Scriptural teaching).

This issue doesn't only affect politics. As seen above, it affects Christian attitudes towards music, as well. We shouldn't come at issues of music as people who are aesthetically relativistic. But we ought to acknowledge that the Bible just simply doesn't spell out musical forms. At all. Like, ever. The most we know is that the people of Israel celebrated using a range of instruments in the praise of God. We don't know if it sounded like a drum line, a flute sonata, or De-loused in the Comatorium. What we do know is that instruments were involved and there was some dancing. End of story. Anything that is "derived from Scripture" beyond this is almost always a mixture of speculation and taste, brewed together, and then served up to perfection as someone else's new normative standard.

But there is a way out of this conundrum, and it's something that many Christians are uncomfortable with. The Bible doesn't speak about everything that ever happened in the history of mankind. The Bible does not tell us who is funnier: Hugh Laurie or Stephen Fry. The Bible does not tell us if a certain kind of musical beat is sinful. The Bible does not tell us whether or not to shave our head or do the comb-over. The Bible doesn't tell us if we should have oatmeal for breakfast or eggs. There are just issues in life that the Bible doesn't directly teach on, and when it doesn't, that becomes an area where we ought to be extremely careful about making dogmatic declarations. Many a Christian are guilty of taking their pet peeves or their pet preferences, or even opinions they've arrived at via a very rational and thoughtful mental process and making it an issue of dogma.

The hard thing that we're calling for is a good bit of modesty about many of our views, recognizing that we do not need a "thus saith the LORD" in order to justify every decision or choice that we make in life. In other words, stop baptizing your preferences.

But seriously, God may not say so, but you should really start listening to punk music anyway.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Michael Kruger's The Question of Canon - Chapter 2 Summary

In chapter two of The Question of Canon, Mike Kruger takes aim at a second claim made by those who propose an exclusive extrinsic model of canon. They say that there was nothing inherent in earliest Christianity that might have led to a canon (23-24). Kruger has a quote from Harry Gamble that expresses this idea well: “There is no intimation at all that the early church entertained the idea of Christian Scriptures…” (47-48). The canon, so they say, was brought in 300 years later and imposed upon a Church for whom such a concept would have been unnatural. Kruger, argues, in response to this line of thought, that the theological climate of the early church would have been very conducive towards the production of new Scripture based on three overarching arguments.

a. Eschatological Expectancy in the Early Church. In responding to this challenge, Kruger points to the theological state of the early Church to demonstrate that they had major theological expectations which would have made a great deal of sense of canon. The first thing he argues is that Second Temple Judaism stood in an eschatologically expectant posture, even ending their canon with the expectancy of 2 Chronicles (and the decree of Cyrus) rather than the more chronologically sensible Ezra-Nehemiah. Looking at intertestamental writings such as Tob. 14:5-7; Bar. 3:6-8; 2 Macc. 1:27-29; Wis. 3:7 and Qumran, Kruger argues that “the Jews of this period viewed the story of the Old Testament books as incomplete” (50). With the arrival of Jesus, early Christians would have transferred that eschatological expectation to Christ and viewed him as the long-awaited one. He even points out that this theme is not only present in others’ statements about Jesus, but in his words regarding himself as well (51). He makes three sub-points here that are worth noting:
1. The forward-pointing nature of the Old Testament expectation indicates an environment where a written ending to the Old Testament would have been sensibly expected.

2. The OT itself demonstrates that periods of redemption are followed by periods of revelation and inscripturation. There is a [Redemption ——> Revelation] tendency in the Old Testament and early Christians would have expected writings to accompany the redemptive activity surrounding Christ. Kruger argues this point very persuasively, pointing to Gaffin’s work in Resurrection and Redemption to anchor some of his argument.
3. The OT also teaches that “this new era will be accompanied by a new divine message,” (54) and that divine message entails writings. In passing I will mention that he spends time discussing Deut. 18:18; Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 61:1-2; Isaiah 2:2-3. All of these passages, says Kruger, demonstrate that the coming eschaton, from the Jewish perspective, would have been one of divine message and the sorts of writings that these revelations had always entailed.
All of these observations lead towards one conclusion: “there appear to be ample reasons to think that a new revelational deposit might have emerged naturally/intrinsically from within the early Christian movement rather than being foisted upon it by later ecclesiastical pressures” (57).

b. Covenant in Early Christianity. After pointing to the eschatological expectations of the early church, Kruger then points to the importance of covenant in early Christianity. As N.T. Wright observes, “Covenant theology was the air breathed by the Judaism of this period” (57). Because of the close connection in the Jewish paradigm between covenant and written text, Kruger says that the emergence of a fulfilling of the David and Abrahamic promises in Christ and the consequent “new covenant” ratified by Christ “suggests that the emergence of a new corpus of scriptural books…could not be regarded as entirely unexpected” (62). Briefly, he points out five worthy observations in this regard:
1. “The New Testament has its own ‘inscripturational curse’ in Revelation 22:18-19” (63).

2. “The New Testament has its own declarations that it should be read publicly,” specifically in 2 Cor. 10:9; Col. 4:16; and 1 Thess. 5:27 (63).

3. “The New Testament writings seem to perform the same covenantal functions as their Old Testament counterparts” (63).

4. Paul viewed his own second letter to the Corinthians as a “covenant lawsuit,” again reinforcing the idea that not only was his letter authoritative, but that he viewed his letter as functioning as a covenant document with God’s own authority.

5. “The fact that the new corpus of Christian Scripture eventually was called the ‘New Testament’ or ‘new covenant’ is indicative of the close relationship between the concepts of ‘covenant’ and ‘canon’” (65). He draws attention to the fact that in Exodus the tables of the law are actually called “the covenant.”

And so, argues Kruger, the covenantal focus of early Christianity meant that “the emergence of a new corpus of covenantal books would not have been something entirely unexpected” (67). 
c. Apostolic Authority in the Early Church. Finally, after pointing to the eschatological expectancy of early Christians, and after pointing to the covenantal focus of early Christians, he finally argues that the authority of the Apostles would also have contributed to an environment of expected inscripturation. “If apostles were viewed as the mouthpiece of Christ, and it was believed that they wrote down that apostolic message in books, then those books would be received as the very words of Christ himself. Such writings would not have to wait until the second-, third-, or fourth-century ecclesiastical decisions to be viewed as authoritative” (70). As is his pattern, he gives three sub-points in support:
1. “The disposition toward written covenant texts would no doubt have played a part” (70).

2. “The textualization of the apostolic message would have occurred quite naturally as the apostles…began to die out” (71).

3. “Many New Testament writings share elements of the ‘testamentary’ genre” (73) which implies a written record of one’s final words. In fact, Kruger is stronger: “It was the mission of the apostles which would have made writing…a virtual inevitability.”
In the end, Kruger concludes chapter two by summarizing his argument that there are sundry theological reasons why the early Christian environment was one that was quite friendly to the idea of producing new Scriptural documents which would have been viewed as on the same canonical level as the writings of the Old Testament.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Michael Kruger’s The Question of Canon - Chapter 1 Summary

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to spend some time summarizing each of the five chapters in Michael Kruger’s new book The Question of Canon, published a couple months ago through IVP. I first began reading the book for the purposes of writing a review, but since I am not an expert in canon studies I don’t feel I am adequately qualified to review the book, though I find myself highly appreciative of what I see in this volume. What follows is a summary of the introduction and the first chapter. This may be especially helpful to those who have read Canon Revisited and want to understand what Kruger is doing in this new volume.

Kruger’s Introduction
Kruger has written this book, not to defend a model of canonicity, per se (as readers may recall he did in Canon Revisited), but to answer the more basic question of “why is there a New Testament at all?” (17). In this book, Kruger is out to show the problems with the extrinsic model of the canon (which views the canon as, “to some degree, imposed upon the Christian faith” by outside ecclesiastical concerns in the fourth century). Kruger says this extrinsic view is the dominant model of canon in academia today. As its alternative, he presents the intrinsic model of canon, which views the canon as something that “is not …imposed from the outside but develops more organically from within the early Christian religion itself” (21). He summarizes the extrinsic model by its 5 major tenets, which he spends one chapter each in the book addressing. These are the five tenets of the extrinsic view:

1. We must make a sharp distinction between Scripture and canon.
2. There was nothing in earliest Christianity that might have led to a canon.
3. Early Christians were averse to written documents.
4. The NT authors were unaware of their own authority.
5. The NT books were first regarded as Scripture at the end of the second century.

Kruger’s book is structured into five chapters, each intended to deal with one of the above five tenets of the extrinsic model. In the end, he does hope readers will see the problems with the extrinsic model and see that the facts seem to line up with aspects of both the intrinsic model and also the extrinsic. He does not see the two models as mutually exclusive but as capable of harmonization. It is those who claim the extrinsic model is the only viable model of canon on whom Kruger sets his sights, as he sees much to be appreciated in both models.

Chapter 1: The Definition of Canon
Kruger agrees with Brevard Childs: “Much of the present confusion over the problem of canon turns on the failure to reach an agreement regarding the terminology” (27). This chapter is dedicated to finding a helpful definition of canon. Kruger narrows the possible definitions of canon down to three, and he finds each of them on their own to be insufficient apart from the others. They are:

1. The Exclusive definition: “Canon as a fixed, final and closed list of books” (29). This view puts the canon’s formation in the fourth century.
2. The Functional definition: “The term canon need not be restricted to a final, closed list but can ‘encompass the entire process by which the formation of the church’s sacred writings took place.’” (34). This view puts the canon’s formation in the second century.
3. The Ontological definition: Canon as defined by God. “What the canon is in and of itself, namely the authoritative books that God gave his corporate church” (40). This view sees the canon as existing as soon as it is written.

Kruger says that all three of these views complement each other because they each encompass a particular "phase" of the formation of the canon. He calls this a “multidimensional approach to the definition of canon” (43). To appreciate exactly how he sees them complementing each other, the following quote is helpful:
When the three definitions are viewed together they nicely capture the entire flow of canonical history: (1) the canonical books are written with divine authority; —> (2) the books are recognized and used as Scripture by early Christians; —> (3) the church reaches a consensus around these books. The fact that these three definitions are linked together in such a natural chronological order reminds us that the story of the canon is indeed a process; and therefore it should not be artificially restricted to one moment in time. Put differently, the story of the canon is organic (43).
Kruger argues that this “multidimensional approach” allows scholars to understand the canon in a way that is more in keeping with historic Christianity while at the same time appreciating the most helpful aspects of all three definitions.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"A Milestone in Contemporary Hebrews Research"

In his recent book from the Topical Line Drives series, The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul, David Alan Black makes a reference to fellow Bring the Books blogger Josh Walker's work with Andrew Pitts regarding Pauline authorship of Hebrews. Here is what Black has to say from the book's introduction:
[A] recent study by Andrew W. Pitts and Joshua F. Walker has challenged the consensus opinio by reexamining the raw data, drawing heavily from my previously published work on the subject. Their essay is entitled "The Authorship of Hebrews: A Further Development in the Luke-Paul Relationship." In it they conclude that Hebrews is "Pauline" in a very real sense, in that Luke took a discourse given by Paul in a diaspora synagogue and subsequently published it as a written text. They write, "Although Hebrews has been handed down to us without an author, we have argued that both external and internal considerations suggest that Hebrews constitutes Pauline speech material, recorded and later published by Luke, Paul's traveling companion." In my view, this essay marks a milestone in contemporary Hebrews research. Few have attempted this kind of close scrutiny of the text because it necessitates a highly critical stance toward recent tradition, in this case at least a century of tradition that has rejected the Paulinity of Hebrews. I am grateful for essays like this one. They ask us to "revision" the text in ways that are perhaps more faithful to the evidence, both external and internal. Revisioning is a difficult process. It is difficult because it is hard for us to look past our own traditional blinders in the light of serious exegesis. It can create dissonance between ourselves and our theological heritage. It is fraught with problems and challenges. Yet the rewards can be remarkably satisfying.
I thought this would be a good opportunity to brag on the work of my friend Josh Walker, as well to draw attention to Black's book. You can find Black's book The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul by clicking here (it is quite affordable!). You can also find the book containing Walker and Pitts' chapter on Amazon by clicking here (it is quite unaffordable - but still worth it).