Creative Word: Canon as Model for Education

Brueggemann, Walter. Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Education.

*Canon is transmission process. Brueggemann argues it would have shaped education (Brueggemann 3). I think he has some interesting suggestions, though this certainly does not function as a complete curriculum. I do think in some ways it can be a necessary corrective to some classical models.

Canonical Criticism

Von Rad: early credos like Deut. 6:20-2426:5-9, and Josh. 24:13 could have functioned as early canons. Further, these texts are education. They were both continuous and discontinuous in receiving and repeating new data.

The dynamic of the canonical principle (stability/flexibility; recieving/repeating new data) is also epistemologically determinative: it engages both text and community (6).

Jeremiah 18:18:

“Inside the summons to conspiracy is a summary of Israelite authoritative knowledge:

Surely (ki) the Torah shall not perish from the priest,
Nor counsel from the wise
Nor word from the prophet” (7-8).

These represent knowledge and authority structures. Each of these three patterns of knowledge has a special substance and distinct mode.

Premise: what Israel knows and how Israel knows it are linked (10).

Narrative as Israel’s primal mode of knowing

  1. Dialogical. Ritual serves to evoke a teachable moment. The children see the “secret” and want to belong to it (16).
  2. The answer is a “set recital,” not an answer made up on the spot. Approaching Torah involves a “practiced naivete” (17).
  3. The child asks the questions, not the teacher. Epistemological structure: Knowledge in the Torah is a gift given with firmness, because it is undoubted–with graciousness, because there is eagerness to share–with authority, because the speaker both owns and is possessed by the story.
  4. Torah as Nomos as articulation of “world-coherence” (19). It shapes a reliable order, a barrier against the chaos that waits so close (Jer. 5:22). Torah stands against the ominous structures of Babylon, Canaan, Egypt.
  5. The mode of articulation must match the substance of the articulation (22).
    1. Story is the primary mode of education in Torah.
      1. Story is concrete
      2. Story is open-ended.
      3. Story is a practice of imagination
      4. Stories assume a public, shared experience.
      5. Story is the bottom-line. “It is told and left” (26).
    2. “The narrative form of Torah intends to nurture insiders who are willing to risk a specific universe of discourse and cast their lot there…The question was always alive to Israel: Shall we risk these stories? Shall we take our stand on them? If we do, we must do so with the awareness that not only the substance, but our modes of knowing are suspect and troublesome in the world” (27)

The Subversive Consensus of Torah

Events of taking/receiving the Land.

  1. Intervention of a new God whose name was not known before (28). Revelation and disclosure.
  2. The substance of the response is “wonderment.”
  3. Core tradition is about a shift in power among the gods in the arena of economics and politics
  4. Celebration of power but also a criticism of power. Torah delegitimizes Pharaoh.
  5. There is a paralle between Gen. 2.15-17 and Deut. 6:20-24.

    Vocation: “to till and keep it”
    Gift : “You may freely eat of the garden”
    Prohibition: “But of the tree…

Stories are defiant acts of politics: they invite the listener to live in the world of “this community” and from the “truth” of this community, and so to defy and to delegitimate every other world and truth” (129 n19).

The Disruption for Justice

The word of the prophet is a mode of knowledge that is not known until it is uttered (41). This prophetic epistemology challenges all public structures of knowledge:

  • Jeremiah’s prophetic knowledge ends the king’s social imaginary.
  • The king is supposed to have all the formal channels of intelligence, yet he is the one going to the prophet.
  • “There is no reliable one-to-one correlation between the structures of society and the in-breaking of the new truth from God” (43).

Poetic Rationality

A prophetic mode of knowledge concerns psychology (46). A spiritual power “impinged upon them from outside of their culture.” “Prophets operated with a sense of reality that lay outside of royal rationality” (47).

Sociology of the prophets: epistemology is partly shaped by our contexts, interests, etc. Epistemology has communal overtones. Prophets are “peripheral communities” (50).

Poetic rationality: by poetry the prophets create new arenas for discourse.

Brueggemann calls for a kind of teaching as an “imaginative ad hocishness” (80).

Bureaucratic consciousness is based on the notion that life is not organically connected (Berger, quoted in Brueggemann 84). There is no Logos. There are no logoi that instantiate the Logos.

Obedience as a Mode of Knowledge

Brueggemann sums up his earlier claims about knowledge: knowledge has a social dimension and it incoroprates intangible dimensions such as memory, but always in the context of obedience to Yahweh

Review: Metzger, The Canon of Scripture

Metzger, Bruce.  The Canon of The New Testament. Oxford.

Image result for bruce metzger canon of scripture

Metzger traces the historical development of the New Testament canon from apostolic times until the Reformation. Admittedly, there is little in here that is different from the approach of F. F. Bruce. However, Metzger does thoroughly cover much ground in relatively little space. The book is easy to read and follows a strict structure. There is some repetition, but it does not detract from the overall narrative. Metzger ends his book with a balanced and thoughtful discussion on the criteria of the canon.

Metzger begins with a survey of various works on the canon in the last two centuries. Much of this will not be useful to any except those who are working on theses and dissertations, in which case it is very useful because Metzger provides helpful bibliographies and discussions of various works.

Metzger surveys the Church Fathers in how they used various scriptures. While mainline scholars continue to debate the dates of the New Testament, and these debates are highly unsatisfactory, many scholars use the writings of the Church Fathers as a limit for the date of said book. It also clues scholars in to the extent of a book’s usage at a certain time period. Metzger uses this methodology and surveys the post-apostolic fathers, the apologists, and the Eastern and Western fathers. The problem with this method, as Metzger notes, is many fathers quoted the Scriptures from memory, and not from looking at a piece of writing. This is particularly problematic concerning quotations from the synoptic gospels. If a father quoted from memory, he probably collapsed a number of “bible verses” into one citation, making it difficult for scholars to tell if he is quoting Matthew, Mark, or Luke, or all three at once.

Metzger gives a helpful survey of the “Gospels according to…”, various apocryphal writings of mixed value and spurious authenticity. Metzger notes while many spurious gospels were obviously false because of Gnostic or Docetic tendencies, many did not have these tendencies and authors such as Clement, Jerome, and Athanasius had a neutral opinion on them. This section is valuable because of the “lost gospel” nonsense being perpetrated today. Metzger outlines many of their false teachings, almost all of which are wildly absurd even by feminist standards.
The most valuable part of the book is the discussion of the importance of the canon for the church today: how was it developed, is it still open, and how does it impact discussions of “inspiration?” Metzger gives the standard for determining canonicity of a book: authenticity and orthodoxy (Metzger 1997: 251). Is it written by an apostolic authority and does it conform to the rule of faith? (It is interesting to see that Scripture is being judged by tradition, and not the other way around). The test for apostolicity is a bit more difficult, though. Luke and Mark weren’t written by apostles, and Hebrews might not have been, either. However, one can say these books were written under apostolic authority, which then qualifies them for the canon.

Metzger notes that while the fathers thought the Scripture was inspired, they did not consider that a valid enough reason for canonicity. This is because they did not have the same distinctions about “inspiration” that moderns do. Clement of Alexandria thought numerous non-biblical writings were inspired, yet no one seriously thought they were canonical. Later fathers would acknowledge their predecessors as “inspired,” but no one thought St Athanasius should be in the canon (255). Many apologists love to point to the fact that St Paul says the “Scriptures are theopneustos” (God-breathed), but numerous Greek Christians afterwards applied that same adjective to their own theologians. Therefore, in the Greek-speaking cultural milieu in which the New Testament canon was formed, the fact that the Old Testament scriptures were designated *theopneustos* does not make them unique. Metzger ends the discussion on inspiration with a very important comment:

“While the fathers again and again use the concept of inspiration in reference to the Scriptures, they seldom describe non-Scriptural writings as non-inspired. When, in fact, such a distinction is made, the designation “non-inspired” is found to be applied to false and heretical writings, not to Orthodox products of the Church’s life. In other words, the concept of inspiration was not used in the early Church as a basis of designation between canonical and non-canonical orthodox Christian writings” (256).

Why is a book canonical?, Meztger rhetorically asks, because it is an “extent literary deposit of the direct and indirect apostolic witness on which the later witness of the early church depends” (257).

Metzger asks the popular question, “Is the canon open or closed” (271)? He frames his answer in a thoughtful way: either we believe in a list of authoritative books or in an authoritative list of books (282). From this discussion we see the problems both answers will take: if we say the former we lend credence to the idea that the Church created the canon; if we say the latter we end up with the idea that the church merely recognized the self-authenticating canon. Both answers are highly problematic. The Church did not merely create the canon, but received the Old Testament scriptures and the church did in fact recognize a list of authoritative books over time. On the other hand, it may be true that the canon is self-authenticating and the church simply recognized what was already true, but the fact of the matter is very few (if any) in the early church saw it that way.

At the end of discussion the issues of the canon today, Metzger ends with a few unsatisfactory conclusions, yet if dwelled upon and corrected at points, they offer more satisfactory answers. Metzger quotes St Paul’s words to the Thessalonians, “We thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of any human being but as what it really is, the word of God which is at work in you believers (I Thess. Ii. 13). Metzger places this “word of God” in some form of Scripture (287).  Further, as Metzger has noted elsewhere in his writings, the writers of the New Testament did not think they were actually writing inspired Scripture equal to the Old Testament when they sat down to write.

This is a fine work that summarizes all of the major developments in the canon from earliest times until now. It wrestles with extremely complex issues, but never does the argument get away from the author, nor is the reader ever lost or confused. The book is helpfully outlined and cross-referenced, and may it be a mandatory text for all introductory New Testament classes. Even when we disagree with some of Professor Metzger’s conclusions, we stand in awe of his magnificent scholarship.

Review: McGuckin’s The Path of Christianity

John McGuckin’s project is unique in that he starts his account in the 2nd Century, not the 1st.  This allows him to explore the different “secessionist” offshoots from the main church. This meant for the Church that the office of the bishop had to arise primarily to confront fringe and schismatic groups (Ebionites, Natsirim, Montanists, etc).

Post-Apostolic Fathers

Related imageWith Clement of Rome we see the terminology of presbytery as a group of elders but we are also beginning to see one presbyter/episkopos beginning to have administrative authority.  With Ignatius of Antioch the role of bishop is now monarchical.  Yet when Polycarp writes to the church of Philippi, he speaks not of a bishop but a council of presbyters (McGuckin 65; Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians 6.1).


For Cyprian there can never be schism in the church, it is always schism from the church. He isn’t just arguing for unity, but for unicity. Disobedience to the church is a crime against the unity of the church (220). If you are out of the church, you are cut off from the grace spigot.  Not surprisingly, Cyprian set himself up for failure.  His theory couldn’t answer later questions: like who is the true church when the patriarch is a slave to the Ottomans or the Soviets or to George Soros?  

Justinian Reforms

Justinian didn’t simply “shut down” the Academy in Athens.  He cut off govt funding and forced them to pay their way.  They couldn’t do that (because people didn’t want to see a mix of Plato and magic), so the magician-philosophers went to Persia (and then came back).

Early Liturgy and Prayer

It is very difficult for many people to approach the ancient fathers on prayer.  For some, it looks too much like Buddhism.  And for many activists theologians, it doesn’t make sense to do hesychasm when you can be lobbying on Capitol Hill.  Nevertheless, the “stillness” model rests upon a particularly sophisticated anthropology, one that can help us in our technological age.  Indeed, one that can counter (with God’s help) deep state monarch programming.

Now, on to McGuckin: “The heart is the inner place where the creature stood before God” (Path 865).  Heart isn’t quite the same thing as nous.

  • It is a biblical cipher for the whole spiritual personality.
  • It is sometimes expressed by the word wisdom (Prov. 19.8).
  • It is a synonym for the innermost self (Rom. 7.22).

McGuckin notes the effect of this practice, “Charging and reorienting the human  consciousness, focusing it, as it were, like a lens on the singleness of the idea of the presence of God” (871).  The ancients knew that our minds wander during prayer.  This trained us to begin the struggle of prayer.

The Bible

Very helpful section.  No matter where you fall on the tradition/scripture debate,  I am reminded of a comment from RC Sproul, “We hold to an infallible text in a fallible canon.”  How can that be possible.  McGuckin, probably not intending to carry on Sproul’s idea, points to an analogue in a “bounded infinity.”  We operate on the assumption that our universe is finite.  It is, yet it is constantly expanding.  

Christians and Magic

  • St Paul defined every magician as a son of the Devil (Acts 13:8-12)
  • All Greco-Roman rites were demonic (and thus the tie-in with daimonic, human contact with invisible world of spirits (1010)).
  • Athanasius best represented the Christian approach to cthonic forces and magic.  We have to understand how widespread this fear was in the ancient world (and pretty much everywhere that isn’t comfortable America). “At the sign of the cross all magic ceases, all witchcraft is rendered void, all idols are abandoned and denied, all superstitious longings cease, and everyone raises their eyes to heaven” (De Incarnatione 31).


Somewhat intermediate-advanced text, but clearly the best treatment of pre-schism church history

Frame, Review: Doctrine of the Word of God

A fitting end to a fine series. This isn’t Frame’s best work ever (that would either be DG or DCL) but it is good and there are legitimate reasons for this volume’s limitations. Frame wanted to get his book on Scripture out, but he also suspected he might die beforehand. So he gave a shorter version of it. The first 330 pages deal with a perspectival doctrine of Scripture. The last three hundred are book reviews.

Scripture is an organic revelation, but Frame doesn’t mean by organic what 19th century pantheists supposedly meant. For Frame, “Revelations in Scripture, world, and self presuppose and supplement one another; one cannot understand one of them without reference to the others” (Frame 350).

Frame’s book isn’t just another book on Scripture and how it is inerrant or from God or something. Rather, it calls forth our obedience, and this ties with the above thesis: “Every obedient response to Scripture involves knowledge of creation and self” (364). For example, whenever I reason about or from Scripture, that presupposes I know what logic is and how to use it.

The Personal-Word Model

“The main contention of this volume is that God’s speech to man is real speech” (3). Authority: the capacity to create an obligation in the hearer (5).

Covenant and Canon

God’s relation to us is always covenantal, so we should expect a written, covenant document (108). A canon naturally arises because we need to record God’s spoken words to us, and our God is a God who speaks.

Frame builds upon Meredith Kline’s 4 or 5 Point Covenant Model to show the unity of Scripture (148ff):

(1) Revelation of the Name of God
(2) Revelation of God’s mighty acts in history
(3) Revelation of God’s Law
(4) Revelation of God’s continuing presence to bless and curse
(5) Revelation of God’s institutional provisions.

Covenantal revelation is both personal and propositional (153). God reveals his Name, but he does so in propositions (and sentences and declarations).

Our relationship with God is covenantal, and in covenants God speaks to his people (212).

Some of the chapters were quite short and I wish Frame extended his analysis. However, the book reviews show remarkable analysis and depth. See especially his reviews of Enns and Wright.