One Can Happen

January 21, 2011

D. A. Carson: The Problem of the Canon Within the Canon — A subset of scriptures taught in exclusion of those that would result in true doctrine. “We badly need to listen to one another, especially when we least like what we hear.”

Filed under: Doctrines Demystified,Personal • ONE! — Jeff Fenske @ 12:22 am

Pushing the delete key:

The canon is the entire Bible, but most have their own personal “canons” within the canon.

* * *

The English word canon goes back to the Greek word kanon and then to the Hebrew qaneh. Its basic meaning is reed, our English word cane being derived from it. Since a reed was sometimes used as a measuring rod, the word kanon came to mean a standard or rule. It was also used to refer to a list or index, and when so applied to the Bible denotes the list of books which are received as Holy Scripture. Thus if one speaks of the canonical writings, he is speaking of those books which are regarded as having divine authority and which comprise our Bible. (source)

* * *

“Everyone has a canon within the canon, Zahl suggested, that sums up the Bible’s message. Most of us, he added, find it difficult to live with other parts of scripture that conflict with our personal canon. ‘God’s grace to sinners and sufferers,’ said Zahl, is his own canon. ‘The hurting person that lives inside me is galvanized by that saying.'”

– Joseph Wakelee-Lynch — Scripture’s Truth and Diversity

* * *

Two things will help us to escape from these traps. First, we badly need to listen to one another, especially when we least like what we hear; and second, we need to embark, personally and ecclesiastically, on systematic studies of Scripture that force us to confront the entire spectrum of biblical truth, what Paul calls ‘the whole counsel of God.

The name of the game is reductionism. … The tragedy of all these procedures is that by some route we may avoid hearing the Word of God precisely where we most need to hear it. In this way, an issue [that is] at first hermeneutical is in danger of overturning the reforming authority of the Word of God.

– D. A. Carson [text is below]

* * *

Having a canon within the Canon is a huge problem — a major reason why false doctrines are forefront in most ‘churches’!

For example, many of the texts I present in Who-Goes-To-Heaven Scriptures — Narrow is the Way | Who are the Children of God? were missing in our systematic theology text at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

In order to understand the truth about a subject, we must look at all the texts that discuss a subject — and in context in relation to the writer’s style.

Which is where Biblical theology (as opposed to systematic theology) comes in. I explain how Biblical theology affected my Who-Goes-To-Heaven essay here:

who-goes-to-heaven-scriptures/#comment-191

who-goes-to-heaven-scriptures/#comment-1058

Thanks to Jerry W’s wise advice, I took every Biblical theology class I could at Trinity, including Johnannine Theology with D. A. Carson. My paper is linked at the bottom.

Incidentally, I never did finish my seminary education, but am so glad that I was able to see firsthand what is going on in religious higher education. At this time, seminaries are basically toxic. There is too much disinformation and pressure to conform, mixed with “knowledge puffs up.” This is pretty good, though.

jeff

—–

From: http://www.maxddl.org/….pdf BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION AND THE CHURCH: TEXT AND CONTEXT, edited by D. A. Carson

A Sketch of the Factors Determining Current Hermeneutical Debate in Cross-Cultural Contexts
D. A. CARSON Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

[…]

C. THE PROBLEM OF THE CANON WITHIN THE CANON

Long recognized by biblical scholars, the problem of ‘the canon within the canon’ is that although the church officially recognizes a written ‘canon’,viz, the Bible (whether the sixty- six books of Protestantism, the inclusion also of the Apocrypha in Roman Catholicism, or some other refinement), it invariable shapes its theology by greater reliance on some parts of this canon that on others. This creates a shorter ‘canon within the canon’ that will almost certainly be at variance with some other ‘canon within the canon’ utilized by some parallel ecclesiastical grouping. In other words, two churches or two Christians may share a common canon, but disagree implicitly or explicitly over their respective ‘canons within the canon’. In such a case it is not surprising that their respective theologies differ substantially from each other. Whether this difference is the result or the cause of the disparate ‘canons within the canon’ cannot always be determined; and it is easy to suspect that with the passage of time result and cause intermingle.

What is not always perceived, however, is that there are at least three different ways in which the problem of the canon within the canon may develop. First, an ecclesiastical tradition may unwittingly overemphasize certain biblical truths at the expense of others, subordinating or even explaining away passages that do not easily ‘fit’ the slightly distorted structure that results. Galatians, say, may define a church’s grasp of justification and grace in such a way that 1 Corinthians or the Pastoral Epistles are somewhat muted. Second, an ecclesiastical tradition may self-consciously adopt a certain structure by which to integrate all the books of the canon, and earnestly believe that the structure is not only sanctioned by Scripture but mandated by it; and as a result, some passages and themes may automatically be classified and explained in a particular fashion such that other believers find the tradition in question sub-biblical or too narrow or artificial. Dispensationalists and covenant theologians, for instance, are on the whole equally convinced that their opposing numbers have imposed a grid on Scripture in such a way that the canon cannot enjoy its free and reforming power: some other, lesser canon has intervened. Third, many others reject parts of the canon as unworthy, historically inaccurate, mutually contradictory or the like, and adopt only certain parts of the Scripture. The parts they accept constitute their ‘canon within the canon’. Of course, this third alternative is the most serious, and reduces in one way or another to the question of the truthfulness and authority of Scripture.18 Even some who lie more or less within the evangelical camp have now defended the position that the New Testament documents, for instance, do not provide us with any unified theology, but with a range of acceptable (yet at places mutually contradictory) theologies.19

I have treated this question at some length elsewhere;20 [D. A. Carson, ‘Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: On the Possibility of Systematic Theology’, Scripture and Truth, ed. D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids and Leicester 1983) 65–95, 368–375]….

Suppose, for instance, that a pastor wishes to encourage people to accept his authority and to follow his leadership almost without question. This might arise because he is a demagogue; or it might arise because in his cultural setting people naturally reverence leaders and eschew iconoclasm. He can foster what he regards as a healthy spirituality in this respect by citing passages such as Heb. 13:17 ad nauseam; but he will probably be less inclined to cite 1 Pet. 5:11ff. or Matt. 20:24–28. Such a leader may have a theoretically unified canon; but he operates with a canon within the canon when it comes to certain preferred doctrines. The resulting aberration may be entirely unwitting, or it may be perverse; but either way it distorts the Scriptures and has important ramifications in the life of the church.

Many western Christians, for instance, simply do not hear the Scriptures when they speak about the poor; their own experience has been limited to segments of society which from a world perspective are immensely privileged. Their counterparts in the third world may feel very deeply the passages in Scripture which treat poverty; but by the same token they may focus primarily on a subset of those passages—viz. those which insist the rich be far more generous and which warn against hoarding. This situation is somewhat paralleled, at the microcosm, by the pastor of a small church who is very concerned to get across to his congregation the responsibility for the church to pay good teachers with ‘double honour’ and a respectable stipend, while the church leaders themselves may be very exercised about those passages which insist that spiritual leaders must be free from greed and covetousness and love of material goods. Not only is each side focusing a disproportionate amount of attention on passages which most tellingly apply to others rather than to themselves, each side is also developing, wittingly or not, a canon within the canon.

Two things will help us to escape from these traps. First, we badly need to listen to one another, especially when we least like what we hear; and second, we need to embark, personally and ecclesiastically, on systematic studies of Scripture that force us to confront the entire spectrum of biblical truth, what Paul calls ‘the whole counsel of God’.

The name of the game is reductionism. … The tragedy of all these procedures is that by some route we may avoid hearing the Word of God precisely where we most need to hear it. In this way, an issue at first hermeneutical is in danger of overturning the reforming authority of the Word of God.

Related:

A Call to Intimacy: The Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel & Epistles A paper I wrote for D. A. Carson’s Johannine Theology class at Trinity

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