Saturday, March 20, 2010

Why the Canon Argument is Connected to Playing "Freebird" for Two Hours

I recently posted The Canon as Infallible Sacred Tradition over on I realize this type of post is... well, argumentation that has been presented before. I wanted to explain the odd circumstances that provoked me to put it together.

I was looking at recent threads over at Catholic Answers, and came across this post: how do we defend against this Catholic slam? The post states,

A prominent central NJ pastor is doing a month-long series on Catholicism. See and You can listen to his messages at or on iTunes (search for 'Liquid Church').

How do Catholics respond to what he says? Does he misrepresent Catholic theology? He doesn't put it in a good light, despite that he says he's not out to "trash Catholics".

Now normally I wouldn't even bother to visit a site like the one mentioned. I'm sure there are a number of ministers takings shots at Romanism, and probably some using horrendous argumentation. I was recently made aware of this particular church ("Liquid Church"), and it's actually not far from where I live. It's a church geared toward the youth, and I've heard it's quite successful (in terms of popularity and attendance). They've got the great band, and all the media enhancement, and probably are somewhat emergent, though I haven't looked over their site very closely. They do appear to be non-Reformed, lacking creeds, and dispensational in eschatology. I wouldn't expect to find the same quality of argumentation against Romanism as say found as that put forth by a Reformed church.

Now here's where it gets personal. I sort of know the minister of this church. He actually grew up in the same church I did. He was at least 4 or 5 years younger than I. I was actually good friends with his older brother back in my teens- we were both guitarists, or rather, guitarist wanna be's. I have very fond memories of the "Freebird" two hour jam sessions in which two 14 year old boys traded riffs, blew up amplifiers, broke strings, and had the police show up telling us to turn our amplifiers down. I think we also had a few good doses of electricity pumped through us by plugging too many amplifiers into one ungrounded outlet. Great times!

Now fast forward 27 years. I have no idea where this brother is, but little Timmy is now a very successful local pastor. It was probably out of sentiment that I went and visited the web page that so infuriated the Romanists on Catholic Answers. I ended up getting involved in the blog comments. I'm not sure how skilled Pastor Tim is with basic Romanist epistemological argumentation. I watched a few clips from Pastor Tim on Roman Catholicism, basic stuff, not bad, but definitely not able to meet the epistemological issues raised by Romanism. I don't even know if Pastor Tim reads his blog comments, or even remembers me. But if he does visit his blog, he'll see that I interacted with the old rewarmed canon argument. It's funny, I would've thought this argument would've been retired by now. I know I haven't listened to or played Freebird in many, many years.


Ken said...

On the canon issue -

If any of you have time, I would appreciate yours (Dr. White and Turretinfan and/or Jason Engwer's also) analysis of this article on the canon by Tom Brown:

Also, comment on my approach - I gave up at comment box # 121. (Too time consuming)

What do any of you think?

steve said...

Ken said...

On the canon issue -

If any of you have time, I would appreciate yours (Dr. White and Turretinfan and/or Jason Engwer's also) analysis...


Well, that let's me off the hook (sigh of relief!).

Ken said...

You could have a crack at it too!

Any thoughts?

James Swan said...

Well, I'm of the opinion Steve must be chained to a computer in a small room with no windows. That's why he's always a step ahead of everyone else, and why his writing is far above about 95% of what out there in cyberspace.

So by all means, include Mr. Hays.

Turretinfan said...

I've started working on a response to the canon question article. I haven't made it a high priority, though perhaps I ought to bump it up a little.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

All I can say is I'm glad I'm too dumb to not be included in Ken's invitation. I'll check out the combox, though.

Mathetes said...

steve, you're not allowed to post until you can play freebird...or even whipping post

steve said...

I've presented my own approach to the canon on numerous occasions. Here are some representative posts:

Constantine said...


I'll have to thank you to never post such an interesting article again on a Saturday! I spend far too much time away from my family as it is and you certainly don't help! ;) (Insert smiley face here.)

Any way, perhaps some discussion starters, in several installments.

Mr. Brown violates the Apostolic warrant for Christian epistemology. By setting up a framework whereby agreement between “any two Spirit-filled Christians” is the criterion for certainty he contradicts Paul who said that our “faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:5). Mr. Brown doesn’t tell us what happens in his scheme if these two Christians happen to agree that NONE of the books of the Bible are canonical. Would their agreement nullify God’s purpose? If so, he thereby opens the door to skepticism and uncertainty that are hallmarks of unbelief and not of the true believer. Alternatively, the Apostle Paul anticipated this eventuality and forcefully proclaimed that even if every man were to deny God, God would still be true. “Let God be true, and every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). In point of fact, Paul set himself to demolish this type of argument (2 Corinthians 10:5) and to be sure that no one was taken captive by this sort of “vain philosophy” (Colossians 2:8). Mr. Brown’s extensive use of extra-biblical sources leads him away from the cornerstone of Christian knowledge as expressed by the Apostles themselves. The true mark of the Christian is to make every thought obedient to Christ and to “demolish arguments…that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

It is also interesting that Mr. Brown nowhere interacts with the Scriptural framework and claims for the canon. Perhaps he is unfamiliar with them but their absence is telling. The Psalmist tells us “The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.” (Psalm 19:9) How could the Psalmist make such a claim of surety if later “two Spirit-filled Christians” had the power to nullify it? The writer of Proverbs tells us “Every word of God is flawless” (Proverbs 30:5). That’s an odd claim if “every word” is in dispute.

This lack of Scriptural understanding also shows itself in his belief about man’s nature and the work of the Holy Spirit. Brown thinks “Christ has given authority to the Magisterium in such a way that grace builds on nature.” But Brown leaves us hanging as to God’s assessment of that “nature”. We know from Genesis 6:5 that God’s opinion is that “all of the thoughts of man’s heart are only evil, all the time.” So were God to do what Brown supposes, His grace would be set on an evil foundation, an arrangement for which there is no biblical or extra-biblical support. Likewise, God’s assessment of human nature undoes Mr. Brown’s “two Christians” framework for “only evil thoughts” could never assemble the correct canon. be continued.

Constantine said...

Take 2

We see Brown’s diminished view of the Holy Spirit in his assessment of Calvin. As Brown notes that Calvin believes that, to a believer, understanding the canon is like differentiating black from white to a sighted person. It seems to Brown that the latter is self-evident while the former requires a little more effort. But just as “black and white’ is self evident to the sighted, so too is the canon to God’s people with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The prophet Daniel says, “He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” (Daniel 2:21). The prophet Jeremiah, “I will give them a heart to know me” (Jeremiah 24:7); the prophet Ezekiel, “And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:27) How could the Spirit move people to follow his decrees if there was any doubt, whatsoever, as to their nature or extent? So there was no doubt in the God-inspired prophets of the Old Testament, about the canon. And, of course, Christ promised that His Father would send His Holy Spirit to remind us of “all things”. (John 14:26) The canon being but one element in the superset of “all things”, we take Christ at His word.

Now Mr. Brown might object that these are old books and may not have relevance to Christ and His Apostles. So we turn now to Christ’s own affirmation of the Hebrew canon.

...still to be continued.

Constantine said...


In Matthew 5:17-21 Christ Himself affirms every “jot and tittle” of the Scriptures. “Jots and tittles” being printing terms, we note first His preference for the written Scriptures. Secondly, such specificity necessarily implies an exact, precise and undoubtable knowledge of the smallest detail of every word in the canon. In other words, Christ’s affirmation is proof of a perfect understanding of the exact nature and extent of the canon . So what was it? The Septuagint or the Hebrew canon? It was the Hebrew canon.

In Luke 11:50-51, Christ Himself says, “Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah…” Christ’s point is that the culpability He assigns to “this generation” extends from the very beginning of time (i.e. Abel) to the end (i.e. Zechariah). But Zechariah was not the last prophet to be martyred in a chronological sense. As one Protestant scholar notes,

The traditional Jewish canon was divided into three sections (Law, Prophets, Writings), and an unusual feature of the last section was the listing of Chronicles out of historical order, placing it after Ezra-Nehemiah and making it the last book of the canon. In light of this, the words of Jesus in Luke 11:50-51 reflect the settled character of the Jewish canon (with its peculiar order) already in his day. (Bahnsen, “The Concept and Importance of Canonicity”)

Therefore, by His use of this canonical anomaly, Christ Himself affirms the fixed nature of the Hebrew canon during His earthly life – and for His followers eternally. Any use of the Septuagint by those who came after Christ is irrelevant for it contradicts the very Creator of the canon. And to the extent that some used the deuterocanonical components of the Septuagint, they run the very great risk of incurring the curses promised to those who add to God’s word. (Deut. 4:2, Joshua 23:6, Proverbs 30:6, 1 Corinthians 4:6, Revelation 22:18-19). be continued, just once more.

Constantine said...


In sum, Mr. Brown leaves us with a rampant skepticism that results from human knowledge. His framework requires the ascent of man and thereby puts “God in the dock”. His construction fails to account for the fact that, if the canon were reasonably arrived at, why some reasonable men do not so arrive. And he misses Christ’s own thoughts on the matter.

A topic that deserves some attention that will have to be foregone here – and perhaps Mr. Brown addressed this in a previous paper – is the grave theological errors of the Apocrypha. It teaches that the earth was formed out of pre-existent matter (Wisdom 11:17), Tobit claims to have been alive when Jeroboam revolted (931 B.C.) and when Assyria conquered Israel (722 B.C.), despite the fact that his lifespan was only a total of 158 years (Tobit 1:3-5; 14:11)! Judith mistakenly identifies Nebuchadnezzar as king of the Assyrians (1:1, 7). Tobit endorses the superstitious use of fish liver to ward off demons (6: 6,7)! Mr. Brown would have to explain how God could make such grievous errors as these.

So we return to the Canon Question that Mr. Brown poses: “By what criterion do we know which texts comprise the Bible?” And we answer that the only infallible criterion for such knowledge is the written Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. The New Testament canon not being in dispute and the Old Testament canon as being affirmed by Christ, Our Lord, as the Hebrew canon. The nature of the canon being known to God’s people as required by His promises in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and through the Apostolic preaching which was done with “the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:4) and definitively, finally and perfectly through the very words of Christ (Matthew 5:17-21, Luke 11:50-51). And we acknowledge that not all can perceive (John 10:26) according to God’s will and not due to some intrinsic reasoning deficiency on their part. And that any man’s failure – or the failure of any group - to perceive the nature of the canon in no way negates its nature, extent or veracity. And that the requirement of an extra-biblical authority violates Christ’s clear teaching, apostolic authority and leads to rampant skepticism.


Ken said...

Thanks Steve for links to your articles on the canon; and I look forward to Turretfan's specific interaction with the Tom Brown article at Called to Communion.

Pilgrimsarbour - you are welcome to tackle it too; I don't mean to imply anything by leaving anyone out.

The more the better; this is the linchpin argument that seems to have convinced so many of the former Evangelicals to become Roman Catholics in recent years. (with Newman's apologetic and evangelicals who had not read the Early Church Fathers before, suddenly being overwhelmed with RC apologetic quote books of the EFCs; the personal discovery of Patristics of these folks.)

James Bellisario said...

Ooops! Begging the question again I am afraid!