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Michael Kruger – What’s Wrong With the Historical-Critical Model of the Canon

21 Aug


The fundamental problem with the historical- critical model is not its affirmation that the church played a role, but rather its insistence that the church played the determinative and decisive role. Quickly swept aside are any claims that these books contain any intrinsic authority that might have been a factor in their reception. The canon is instead explained as merely the result of the “contingent” choices of the church. Such an approach provides us with a merely human canon stripped of any normative or revelational authority and thereby unable to function as God’s word to his people. Thus, the historical-critical approach does not really construct a positive model of canon, per se, but rather deconstructs the canon entirely, leaving us with an empty shell of books.

Although most adherents of the historical-critical model would not likely view such a deconstruction as problematic, it does raise the ques- tion of how they establish that the canon is a solely human enterprise in the first place. How does one demonstrate this? 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. Needless to say, such a naturalistic position would be difficult (if not impossible) to prove. Appeal could be made to evidence of human involvement in the selection of books, such as discussions and disagreements over books, diversity of early Christian book collections, the decisions of church councils, and so forth.29 But simply demonstrating some human involvement in the canonical process is not sufficient to demonstrate sole human involve- ment. The fact that proximate, human decisions played a role in the development of the canon does not rule out the possibility that ultimate, divine activity also played a role. The two are not mutually exclusive. It appears, then, that the insistence on a human-conditioned canon may not be something that can be readily proved—or even something that its adherents regularly try to prove—but is something often quietly assumed. It is less the conclusion of the historical-critical model and more its philosophical starting point.

~Michael Kruger~

Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Wheaton, IL: Crossway; 2012) p. 34-35.

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