Friday, April 12, 2013

Canon Revisited: a response

I suspect that most Christians regard the Bible as a single book and take for granted how and when those constituent parts were composed, much less how and when those 66 (or more?) books came to be collected and arranged into a single book. I myself became more aware of this process several years ago when I began looking into the claim that the King James Version was supposedly the only un-corrupted English translation. Bound up in that issue was, of course, the question of why certain books were included in the Bible and why others were left out. Not long after, I became embroiled in a lengthy online debate with a Roman Catholic over the question of canonicity. For those not aware, Catholics include some books in their Bibles that Protestants do not.

After the debate, which I felt I had "won", I came away with the sneaky suspicion that there were apparent weaknesses in the Protestant argument that my Catholic opponent had failed to point out. Perhaps the reason why that person didn't point out those weaknesses was because their argument was in many ways susceptible to the same sorts of critiques, namely the question of authority. My Catholic opponent would've done well to expose the fact that when I said that the Bible as a whole and the books individually attest to their own authority, my argument was completely circular. Of course, had my Catholic friend done that, I would've countered that relying on a supposedly infallible church body to decide what belongs in the canon only introduces one more participant into the circle.

I revisited the subject a few years later when I was teaching part of a Sunday School series on the doctrine of Scripture and the topic I was to teach on was the canon. Again I discovered the same problems, but this time I sought resolutions to those difficulties. What I discovered was that even Protestants within the Reformed tradition disagreed with one another over how best to go about addressing those issues and, in truth, none of them could satisfactorily escape the problems of circularity and subjectivity. This was certainly one of the things that helped precipitate my questioning of other doctrines with problems I had been brushing aside and ignoring.

Fast forward to a few months ago when I revealed to my church leadership that I no longer believed. When I mentioned in a discussion that the question of canonicity was one of the problems that led me to begin questioning the claims of Christianity, I was told that there was "more recent scholarship" that would address those questions. This, of course, raises the question of why it took 2,000 years for theologians in Christ's chruch to come up with a reasonable justification for the belief that the 66 books of the Protestant Bible are the right ones.

What follows is my written response to that "more recent scholarship" which turned out to be a book entitled Canon Revisited, written by a New Testament professor and president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. I wrote this response after the book was presented to me and I returned the book along with this response, so I no longer have a copy in my possession. Keep that in mind if and when you decide to comment.

On a personal note, I think it's noteworthy that after I took the time to read this book and type up this response, the person who sent the book to me decided they no longer felt the desire to "cross swords" over this issue and instead just wanted to "express [his] love." In all honesty, it's hard for me not to see that as little more than an emotionally manipulative cop-out, even though I don't doubt the sincerity of the expression itself.

I certainly haven’t invested years in the study of this topic like the author, nor do I have any impressive letters after my name from prestigious institutions. While I certainly do not consider myself anti-intellectual, I don’t subscribe to the notion that just because someone has invested much time and effort in the study of something and been recognized in that field by various institutions it means I have to automatically yield to their opinion on a matter.

This is especially the case in subjects like theology and metaphysics which have such a wide range of thought and where appeals to authority can be made for any number of contradictory positions. Theology is especially unique in that scholars within this field usually lack the academic freedom afforded to those who study other disciplines. They are often required to sign statements of faith, are usually accountable to ecclesiastical bodies and have deep, abiding emotional attachments to their views. On top of that, their peer review is often limited to the scope of those who are already mostly aligned with them. This doesn’t even take into account what is personally at stake for most of them should they conclude they are mistaken about a key component of their discipline. Dr Kruger is no exception. This is not to say that I think people like him are being purposely insincere. It’s merely to say that I don’t personally regard clergy participating in the study of religion the way I would regard the expertise of professionals in other fields of study. At any rate hopefully my comments below will at least prove useful in understanding why I didn’t find this book particularly compelling.

The book was mailed to me and I was a bit disappointed when I opened the package. I had been told this book would address the objections I had expressed with respect to the formation of the biblical canon, but it only addresses one section of the canon, the New Testament. This was a bummer because for me the larger problem is the fact that never in the history of Christendom has the church been able to agree on the entirety of the canon. That’s OK. I dealt with what I was given. I contend, however, that the larger issue must include a discussion of the Old Testament as well as that is the component that Christians even today are still in disagreement over.

I can understand why Christians would want to focus on the NT. It’s easier to find consensus, the manuscript evidence is much easier to come by, copies are far more numerous and better preserved, and the oldest extant scraps could be within 100 years of when Jesus was supposed to have lived. As for the OT, the oldest Hebrew manuscripts are separated by hundreds and sometimes thousands of years from the events they purportedly record and the time in which they were supposed to have been written. Furthermore, establishing a canonical consensus for the OT whether in Judaism (as late as the second century AD and beyond) or Christianity (still no consensus today) is much more difficult.

I was further struck with disappointment when it became apparent in the introduction that Dr. Kruger had no intention of addressing the questions related to the factual basis of the canon, but rather he was merely concerned with constructing an intellectual excuse or rational justification for the Christian belief that the 27 books of the New Testament are the right ones (pp. 20-21). This is not at all addressed to outsiders or skeptics and Dr. Kruger admits as much. At the time I was wondering if I should stop reading there.

This had all the appearances of being fodder for pseudo-intellectual Christians who are looking for more than a mere fideistic approach to the subject and are rightly dissatisfied with nebulous arguments based merely on arbitrary historical criteria or some kind of corporate recognition. I was wearily anticipating what I’ve come to expect from most Reformed theologians, which is an exercise in intramural mental gymnastics that ultimately falls back on a gnostic “because the Holy Spirit tells me so” approach somewhere in the formula. I'd hoped I was wrong, as this would make the claims in the book just as unfalsifiable as most other similar religious claims and that’s not a good thing. In any case this wasn't a great start.

Chapter 1

In his evaluation of the Historical-Critical model (p. 35), Dr. Kruger’s final paragraph of this section is puzzling. He tries to shift the burden of proof to adherents of this method, requiring them to demonstrate how they could establish that the canon is solely a human enterprise. He states that, “One not only would have to rule out the possibility that these books bear intrinsic qualities that set them apart, but also would need to show that the reception of these books by the church was a purely human affair.” He says that a naturalistic position would be difficult or impossible to prove and that there would be no way to demonstrate humans were solely involved in the process.

This requirement is puzzling to me. Of course it’s not provable that God was not involved in the process of canon formation, just as it’s not provable that God is not involved in any other process either. There would also be no way to prove that invisible space aliens, fairies, demons or the devil himself were not involved in the process. Whether one posits an invisible, undetectable supernatural force or not the end result looks the same. Furthermore it is not necessary to rule out the possibility that the books of the NT bear intrinsic qualities that set them apart with the understanding that the pro-orthodox won the day and these books were the popular ones that fit best with their theological persuasions and required the least amount of shoehorned interpretation or padded out redaction. I don’t think Dr. Kruger has done a very good job of explaining why the Historical-Critical model should be saddled with this burden of proof when it has a perfectly reasonable mechanism for explanation in place. That some invisible, divine force directed the formation of the canon is the extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence.

In addressing the Roman Catholic model, I got the sense that Dr. Kruger was not doing a fair job of representing their position. For one thing, he cites mostly private Catholic theologians rather than official Church documents or pronouncements on the subject. I also got the feeling he’s misrepresenting or misunderstanding some of their positions. I can understand this as they often seem confusing and contradictory to me as well. However, in his discussion about distinguishing between ultimate and proximate causes beginning on page 45, Dr. Kruger appears to be uncharitably assuming that when Dr. Kreeft speaks of the church being the “cause” of the canon, that he means to imply that the apostles, who Dr. Kruger admits were part of the church, were somehow not instruments through which God was working. He even accuses Kreeft of confusing, “the instruments God used to produce the Bible (human beings) and the ultimate cause of the Bible (God himself).” I don’t believe this is a fair statement given the citations that Dr. Kruger has provided to support this accusation. I suspect this more closely resembles Dr. Kruger’s straw man than Dr. Kreeft’s actual position.

This isn’t really important enough for me to go out and hunt down the works of the Roman Catholic theologians Dr. Kruger has cited in this section so I can read fuller quotations that aren’t isolated from their context with individual words like “caused” and “derivative.” I’ve read enough from Roman Catholics to know that they would not claim that the Bible is not really a product of God’s activity as Dr. Kruger claims they would have to. They merely see both the scriptures and the church as products of God’s activity, with the scriptures being proximately caused by the church and God being the ultimate cause of both.

This is enough for me to suspect that Dr. Kruger is not fairly representing their position and is using the most extreme interpretations of their views.  Given this, I’m inclined to believe that most Catholic theologians would regard the pithy quote from J.I. Packer on page 45 as a really bad false analogy: "the church no more gave us the New Testament canon than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity. God gave us gravity, by his work of creation, and similarly he gave us the New Testament canon, by inspiring the individual books that make it up."

I’m sure the quote is good for a chuckle for most of Dr. Kruger’s Reformed Protestant readers. I did find it noteworthy that Dr. Kruger did not attempt to answer Roman Catholic objections to the Protestant approach no doubt found in most of the works he has cited in this section.

Oddly enough, many of the criticisms Dr. Kruger levels against the Roman Catholic model respecting ecclesiastical infallibility seem to apply to the model he is trying to develop. If the same sorts of inconsistencies and contradictions can be found within the scriptures themselves, then don’t the same problems arise? Put another way, if showing that popes and councils have demonstrably been contradictory and in error in the past is a defeater to their use of sola ecclesia in determining the canon, then wouldn’t showing that the scriptures are demonstrably contradictory and in error also serve as a defeater for any sola scriptura method of determining the canon as well?

Chapter 2

Just as a side note, on page 75 Dr. Kruger gives Warfield as an example of an adherent to the Criteria of Canonicity model and then argues against this very position. The work cited is Warfield’s Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. This is the same work that was recommended to me along with Canon Revisited. I must admit that I found that somewhat amusing.

The main gripe Dr. Kruger seems to have with this canon model is that not only does it subject scripture to an authority outside of itself, but also if one uses historical methodology that doesn’t already presuppose Christian theism (the formulation of which would incorporate the same propositions found in the very 27 books one is seeking to externally examine) one might just end up with a different canon. Basically if one doesn’t begin by assuming that the 27 books of the New Testament canon make up the New Testament canon, one may very well conclude differently. This seems obvious to me, so there’s no disagreement here. However, isn’t that blatant question begging?

It’s like Dr. Kruger is saying that historical methodology and criticisms will do just fine, except when they reach conclusions that he doesn’t like. If that happens the person must have used the wrong methodology. Go back and start again and let him know when you get to the 27 books he wants. He’s clearly laying the groundwork for a circular, supposedly self-authenticating, presuppositionalist argument. This is the very problem I had with the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura as it pertains to canon formation in the first place. It’s just floating out there. One can’t rely on an external source of authentication like Roman Catholics do as that would undercut the doctrine and only move the wrinkle in the carpet, but in order to rely on scripture itself for authentication you need a circular argument.

The only way to break the circle is to appeal to the “inner witness” of the Holy Spirit, which seems like just another way to say, “God told me so.” In that case the individual becomes the ultimate arbiter of what they will recognize as the word of God, making the whole thing completely and utterly subjective. To overcome the subjectivity one could buttress this position with an argumentum ad populum and point to some corporate body that is in agreement. To discount those in disagreement with that corporate body, one could then appeal to something like the noetic effects of sin impairing those other people’s reason and intellect. One now has an argument that is convenient, unfalsifiable and impervious to external critical evaluation. Internally, however, it’s rather weak when one examines the content of those 27 books.

The circularity of the argument with regard to the arm of “apostolicity” rings loud and clear on page 85 when the author states:

We derive the principle of apostolicity not from probabilistic historical investigations, but from the Scriptures themselves. After all, who has authority to tell us what constitutes a divine book? Only God himself. And where would God tell us such a thing? In the Scriptures.

Laying aside for a moment the problems with attempts to determine which books actually have “apostolicity” without appealing to sources outside of the supposed canon and even granting such criteria could somehow be found within the canon, it seems we’re still left with a tautology. One could just as easily write on a piece of paper something like, “This paper contains a message from God. You can know it’s a message from God because it says so on this paper and this paper is a message from God. To figure out how to determine if something is a message from God, read this paper.” One could then say that God told them directly in some internal or mysterious way that paper was a message from him and perhaps one could convince lots of other people to believe the same thing. Maybe they could call that piece of paper the Quran or the Book of Mormon? I’m pretty sure that’s been done.

Similarly, I was thinking that Dr. Kruger’s paragraph in the last chapter where he discussed the hypothetical 28th book of the New Testament that contains a table of contents might be relevant here, as I feel those criticisms apply in this case as well. If the canon did contain criteria for determining what its contents should be, how would that not be like having a cryptic table of contents? I had hoped Dr. Kruger would do a good job supporting some of the assertions he’s made later in the book. He makes a really big one on page 85 when he says, “all historical work is done on some religious foundation.” I was especially interested in seeing his support for that one. Sadly, it never really came.

Chapter 3

Dr. Kruger begins to lay out the need for his self-authenticating canon model. He quotes Ridderbos at the top of page 89 to illustrate that with the other models, human judgment is the final court of appeal. I was curious how he was going to escape this with respect to his own model. How is this "self-authenticating model" not simply the work of Dr. Kruger’s own reason and ingenuity? How is it not simply another ad hoc solution to this problem? In the end I suspected Dr. Kruger’s model, however elaborate, would still be an appeal to human judgment. It still relies on his interpretation of scripture. It just contains of twist of, “God told me so in some internal, indescribable way that I can’t really adequately express and neither can anyone else. If he didn’t tell you the same thing then obviously you’re not one of his people.”

True to the methods of nearly everyone in the Reformed camp, Dr. Kruger tries to find historical support for his position among the Reformers. I guess he knows his audience really likes quotes from the Reformers. In doing so, he pulls quotes from them that deal with the subject of scripture, not canon specifically. I can’t help but think that he’s playing a semantic game when he does this.

The bottom of page 92 and top of page 93 illustrate where I think a fundamental problem lies. There Dr. Kruger posits a typical Reformed critique of other epistemologies and declares that epistemic circularity is impossible for any of them to escape, yet he fails to recognize that not all forms of epistemic circularity are equal (I’ve seen a fairly solid argument for Empiricism that did a pretty good job of escaping the charge of circularity altogether). He then equivocates and jumps to the conclusion that his preferred epistemology is therefore equally valid. I don’t think it is. It’s not just that it’s circular. It’s not just that it’s applicable across several mutually exclusive belief systems. The real problem is that it’s internally inconsistent to a high degree in that the propositions it seeks to safeguard repeatedly contradict one another and fail to prove useful in making accurate and falsifiable predictions about reality. It seems to me that such an epistemology is worthy of about as much notice as solipsism and irrationalism. In my opinion it serves no purpose other than to protect unwarranted religious assumptions; assumptions that I suspect most people originally arrived at through cultural and emotional means and now need somehow to find reasonable justification for them in the face of post-Enlightenment criticisms and the steadily mounting empirical evidence that stands in opposition.

It seems that in taking this approach, Dr. Kruger is not only positing that belief in God is properly basic, but also that belief that the 27 books of the New Testament are the canon is also properly basic. Sure, why not? I suppose one can justify belief in pretty much anything with Reformed Epistemology, right? Since everything is circular, one could just choose their own reality. I don’t find this approach trustworthy or even workable in a practical sense. Just because we can't have absolute certainty of something doesn't mean all we have left is blind faith, nor does it mean that everything that is "unprovable" is suddenly on equal epistemological footing.

Dr Kruger wants to claim that empiricists share a gap of unproven beliefs and then he wants to sail a giant barge of presuppositions through that little crack. If Dr. Kruger wishes to reside in Alvin Plantinga’s floating house of cards, he’s welcome to do so. I used to count myself among its residents. I’ve since left and I see no compelling reason to return. Empiricism has been shown to work again and again. Other methods of obtaining knowledge, if they exist, have not. So while I personally allow for the possibility that other ways of obtaining knowledge may exist, I only know of one that actually works.

In his discussion of the attribute of the divine qualities of the canon beginning on page 97, Dr. Kruger asserts that scripture bears objective marks of its own divine origins. He says these objective marks are clearly evident to anyone with the Holy Spirit. People who don’t recognize these marks have obviously fallen victim to the noetic effects of sin on the mind (p. 99). It’s as though he’s saying that if you see things the way he does, then congratulations, you have the Holy Spirit. If you don’t agree with him, well, you must be a corrupt sinner who just wants to deny the obvious. If you’re truly one of Jesus’ sheep, you’ll hear his voice and recognize these 27 books as scripture.

This seems like a really convenient way to look at things. I can’t help but think that every other group on the face of the earth that disagrees with Dr. Kruger’s theology could adopt that position and state the very same things about their beliefs or even their interpretations of the same scriptures. Would it be fair to borrow Dr. Kruger’s approach here and say that the reason why believers see divine qualities in scripture is because they’ve been conditioned to do so within their religious community and that cultivated delusion is preventing them from recognizing what is obvious to many outside that community? Maybe if believers could approach the subject without all their biases, prejudices and cultural baggage they would see what the nonbeliever sees. Namely that the Bible is a thoroughly human book with no divine marks whatsoever. Actually, I don’t think it’s fair to say that would be an example of borrowing Dr. Kruger’s approach because that hypothesis would be falsifiable and has an observable mechanism. His is unfalsifiable and its mechanism, the Holy Spirit, is conveniently invisible and undetectable. In scientific terms, his hypothesis is not even wrong.

Dr. Kruger draws a comparison to the way in which the natural world supposedly attests to God as creator (p.98). I think that is a fairly good analogy. When I was a Christian, I did like to point out all the things I found beautiful, complex and wonderful about the cosmos that I thought pointed to a benevolent creator. Admittedly I ignored all the flaws, randomness, chaos and ugliness that points to time and chance operating under the constraints of natural laws. In the same way, as a Christian I liked to point out all the wise sayings, good advice and sound moral principles in scripture and pretend those things had to have originated from the mind of God. On the other hand I would try to either ignore or make excuses for all the silliness, backward cosmology, confused expressions, contradictions, double binds, generally bad advice and especially the moral reprehensibility that God displayed in those scriptures.

On page 100 Dr. Kruger makes a creative effort to escape the charge that this sets up a completely subjective approach to recognizing the supposedly objective divine qualities of scripture by saying that the Spirit is not giving private revelation, but rather removing the blinders of sin as it were, so people can then see what is already there. However, functionally isn’t it the same thing? It still requires private revelation of the Spirit to remove those blinders. Come to think of it, isn’t that what revealing something is?

I was disappointed to see Dr. Kruger address what I think is a very important objection merely in a footnote on page 101. There he makes an effort to stave off the problem posed by textual variants of any length. He gives the example of the Markan Appendix. I don’t think addressing this objection is footnote material given Dr. Kruger’s thesis. His first point in dealing with this problem seems dismissive in that he says it’s an issue of textual transmission and not canon recognition. That might work for most variants, but I don’t see how this can be the case for something like the Markan Appendix or even the Pericope Adulter√¶. These are long variants that contain doctrinal information. Are we really to understand that the testimonium has nothing to do with the final shape of the text as Dr. Kruger asserts simply because these things made it into the text allegedly by accident and not by the intention of the church? How is that not merely an arbitrary and artificial distinction? Furthermore, how does he even know these passages were added by accident? Didn’t someone put them there intentionally? Was it someone outside the church? What about his whole discussion about providence?

In his second point in this footnote Dr. Kruger makes the baffling assertion that “we should not view the church’s acceptance of a book as an endorsement of a particular version of that book.” I understand how that might apply to smaller textual variants and that is what Dr. Metzger indicates certain Fathers (namely Eusebius and Jerome) were referring to. But with respect to larger passages, are we just to accept the fact that the wider church acknowledged as scripture things like the longer ending of Mark for hundreds of years and this plays no role whatsoever in determining whether or not it should be regarded as part of the inspired canon? Dr. Metzger certainly didn’t agree: “There seems to be good reason, therefore, to conclude that, though external and internal evidence is conclusive against the authenticity of the last twelve verses as coming from the same pen as the rest of the Gospel, the passage ought to be accepted as part of the canonical text of Mark” (Metzger p. 270). Dr. Metzger, contra Dr. Kruger, seems to suggest this is indeed an issue of canon recognition and not just textual transmission. Also, why are these Church Fathers being appealed to anyway? Most of them accepted any number of seven books that Dr. Kruger thinks should be left out of the canon. I suppose it’s because we’re only looking at the New Testament canon and the Old Testament must be a completely separate issue as well.

His third point in the footnote addresses an objection that the smallest portions of a book would have to be identified as of divine origin. That doesn’t seem like a big issue. The issue is not the broader meaning that could be equally and accurately conveyed by any number of variants. And the issue is not just the doctrines that can be derived from the larger sections, especially something like the Markan Appendix which contains implications regarding things like Christology, snake handling, baptism and exorcism. The Pericope Adulter√¶, while not exactly loaded with doctrinal implications, contains one of the most moving passages in the Bible about forgiveness. Many Christians instinctively call it to mind every time someone wants to go on a witch hunt. The line from Jesus about casting the first stone is one of the most memorable in all of scripture. Is this not the sort of inner testimony that Dr. Kruger would appeal to in support of including an entire book in the canon?

There are all kinds of things at play here. What happens if an early Greek codex is discovered with a copy of John that lacks the 21st chapter, as even many conservative scholars acknowledge that it bears the marks of later addition? What happens if that same codex has copies of Luke or Matthew without the genealogies and birth narratives? What if an early copy of 1 Corinthians is discovered that lacks 15:3-11? Even the wackiest KJV Only fundamentalist can rightly recognize that things that are different are not the same. I’m inclined to see this as Dr. Kruger merely sidestepping these very important issues with this footnote. The question of “Which Bible?” is a potential defeater for Presuppositionalist apologetic arguments and it cannot be satisfactorily answered unless one addresses these textual issues within the context of canon.

On page 102 Dr. Kruger tries to explain just how his model escapes the charge of subjectivism by claiming that the Spirit is the means to recognizing the canon and not the ground of the canon’s authority. I’ve already discussed how this kind of approach looks like a game involving perspective. If the Spirit is necessary for removing the noetic effects of sin so that a person can even begin to recognize the supposed divine qualities of scripture, it’s functionally identical to subjectivism. How else are we to interpret his employment of, “My sheep hear my voice”? The sheep that are his hear his voice. The one’s that aren’t don’t. That’s completely subjective and dependent on the individual sheep. In Dr. Kruger’s model the work of an invisible, undetectable force within an individual is required for that individual to recognize the divine qualities that supposedly form the ground of belief that scripture is true. Regardless of how Strauss understood the testimonium, his conclusion stands. Just because Dr. Kruger wants to split the Spirit’s work in two and call one activity “removing the noetic effects of sin” and another activity providing internal witness, doesn’t make this appear any less subjective on the outside. Of course I understand that Dr. Kruger has no choice but to do this in keeping with his interpretation of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 2 which seems to reduce to “We’ve received the Spirit of God. We have the mind of Christ. Human wisdom can’t touch us. Take my word for it.”

In unpacking the corporate reception component, Dr. Kruger engages in more question begging. The reader is, of course, to believe that a corporate body that doesn’t recognize the right books is not a true church. In his footnote he appeals to “overwhelming consensus around these twenty-seven books” still ignoring the complete lack of consensus regarding the Old Testament to this day and barely giving lip service to the fact that consensus for the New Testament took nearly 400 years to fully emerge. Dr. Kruger then assumes a paradigm of covenant theology and props up his subjective testimonium appeal with an argumentum ad populum (or the Reformed populum, at least). He then finishes out this section with what amounts to an unsupportable assertion that books are not canonical because they are recognized, but rather they are recognized because they are canonical. Somehow I don’t think a Roman Catholic is going to find that compelling any more than telling him that a particular citrus fruit is called an orange because it reflects a portion of the light spectrum between red and yellow rather than a portion of the light spectrum between red and yellow is called orange because a citrus fruit of the same name bears that property.

It seems to me that the section addressing apostolic origins amounts to framing a definition of “apostolic” that ensures the 27 books Dr. Kruger is seeking to establish as canon in this model fit that definition. As before, any criterion of establishing apostolicity or any historical methodology that does not support his conclusions is to be discarded.

Chapter 4

This chapter begins part 2 of the book in which Dr. Kruger was to defend his model, having put forth his assertions in the first part. He ended part 1 with the claim that he was going to address defeaters to his model. Rather than go section by section I decided to read the entirety of chapter 4 and see if he went any way toward accomplishing this goal. This chapter was supposed to put down the first of three anticipated challenges set forth on page 122.

The first two sections of this chapter didn’t do that at all. Instead Dr. Kruger merely makes more assertions about the “beauty and excellency” and “power and efficacy” of scripture. This does not address objections and Dr. Kruger apparently takes for granted that a reader will just find these things self-evident. He provides no real examples of either attribute in either section. Instead he posits examples of other theologians from the past who share his views that scripture does indeed possess these attributes. The evidence put forward in these two sections could simply be stated as, “look, other people agree with me.” That’s not particularly compelling to me. Surely if such beauty, excellency, power and efficacy are indeed objective then compelling concrete examples could be provided for the reader. I considered providing my own examples of general ugliness, discernible weakness and literary incompetence to counter, but since Dr. Kruger didn’t give any examples I don’t feel inclined to either.

The larger section is the one addressing unity and harmony. In this section Dr. Kruger at least attempts to engage defeaters. As I read each subsection I thought of ways of addressing each one. I thought of how Dr. Kruger’s argument that the Old Testament canon could be used as guide for the orthodoxy of the New seemed to rely on a New Testament reading of the Old Testament that was completely foreign to it and that no modern exegete of any stripe would ever employ and that Jewish interpreters nearly universally rejected (the noble [and most probably fictional] Bereans mentioned in Acts notwithstanding, of course). I thought of how weak and unsupported the idea of a “core” of New Testament books struck me. I thought of how Dr. Kruger’s argument from the use of the regula fidei in support of the canon seemed like putting the cart before the horse.

However, when I got to the section where he addresses orthodoxy within the complete canon and tries to argue against the criticisms of both Walter Bauer and F.C. Baur on the grounds that their positions are mutually exclusive, I began to wonder if Dr. Kruger was even capable of seeing some of the points that critical scholars are trying to make. I wondered that if he couldn’t even see how both of them could be right in their assessments that the NT canon represents both the proto-orthodox theological and political winners and yet still betrays a damning amount of doctrinal (to say nothing of factual) diversity, then I don’t see how he can ever hope to properly address these defeaters. To top it all off, he simply punts the Synoptic problem to people like Carson and other conservative New Testament scholars, as though their commentaries, books and articles have thoroughly answered the critics’ objections. He gives one softball example of James vs. Paul; as though everything else is exaggerated and overblown and that’s the best critical scholars have to offer, and then moves on. Tellingly, he never really touches on Christology.

The last section of the chapter was just a clinic on how to employ the Texas sharpshooter fallacy. That was disappointing enough, but it was not nearly as discouraging as what I encountered on pages 147-148. It is there that Dr. Kruger gets to what he calls “the crux of the matter.” After reading that section, I’m inclined to agree that it is indeed the focal point. Here Dr. Kruger essentially equates critical scholars with tone deaf subway rabble incapable of appreciating good music, no doubt to the delight of most of his readers. Not only did I find these analogies false, but also insulting. How would Dr. Kruger feel about an analogy that suggests otherwise intelligent, capable scholars such as him are like nearly-grown children who still want to believe in the magic of Santa Claus in the face of overwhelming evidence and so invent all kinds of contrived excuses for how he really can deliver presents on Christmas Eve? How would he feel about an analogy that equated critical scholars like Ehrman with TV critics trying to show zealous and emotionally committed reality TV viewers or professional wrestling fans that much of what they think on the show is real, in fact, is not? Would he appreciate an analogy drawing a comparison between the efforts of critical scholars and all the effort that the publishers of Popular Mechanics put into debunking 9/11 conspiracy theorists that goes largely unheeded by the tinfoil hat wearing anti-government nut-jobs hiding out in their bunkers in Idaho? I suspect he would not appreciate those comparisons.

At this point in the book it appeared to me that Dr. Kruger was not merely misunderstanding or misrepresenting critical scholars; he wasn’t even interested in hearing what they had to say and he was trying to give his readers warrant to completely ignore them and their objections. He was even discounting the fact that many of these people once shared the same views as many conservative Evangelicals and that it was through their honest study of the Bible that they altered those beliefs. This is not what I expected when he said he was going to address potential defeaters. This isn’t addressing defeaters. It’s dismissing them.

Making mostly assertions and then being dismissive of one’s opponents’ potential objections is not a good way to make a case. I’m certain Dr. Kruger is a very educated man, but at that point I had no more use or respect for his book. I can be equally dismissive. I finished reading it, but I was done writing a response to it. I remain convinced that if this is the best contemporary Christendom has to offer on this subject then it has nothing substantial to offer anymore. Apparently all it is capable of doing is constructing mental safeguards to help prevent its adherents from giving honest consideration to other views, which is what I suspect most Christians looking to satisfy their confirmation bias really want anyway. It’s a shame that such effort is wasted in the employment of preventing others from escaping religious superstition.

I should have realized after reading the introduction that this would probably not be worth the effort as it was obviously written for those within the Reformed echo chamber. According to Dr. Kruger’s Jesus, if I’m not a sheep I can’t hear anyway, so all I did was waste my time with this exercise. According to the apostle Paul, without the mind of Christ, I’m incapable of seeing this as anything other than foolishness. If scripture is true then Yahweh takes great delight in furnishing people with overwhelming evidence and then either hardening their hearts or sending deluding influences so they can’t believe. After this he is somehow justified in punishing them and their progeny with death angels, curses that include eating their own children, terrible diseases and eventually eternal torture. It seems I'm damned either way and providing more evidence is only going to make hell that much hotter for me.

On the plus side I became more interested than ever in hearing what the other side had to say. I decided to invest some time in the works of some of those tone-deaf critical scholars Dr. Kruger mentioned to see what they had to offer. Soon after reading this book I read Bart Ehrman's Jesus, Interrupted and a good bit of D.F. Strauss' The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. I highly recommend both works.

Dale Martin's Yale lecture series on the New Testament is pretty good too.

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