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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2007
This book is part of a series of works aiming to bring patristic scholarship to bear on problems in interpretation and proclamation for evangelicals. The author makes simple observations - that the canon of scripture was not solidified and closed by the second century (as Harnack claimed) and that there was indeed a church before there was a canon. The first of his two observations is more controversial than the second, but has better support from patristic sources. Allert challenges the dominant evangelical understanding of "theopneustos" in 2 Tim. 3:16 by recourse to the patristic sources that use the same apellative to describe phenomena unrelated to scripture.

This is not a book that offers easy answers to the difficult questions surrounding what we mean when we say that scripture is inspired. Also, I would have appreciated a bit more interaction with the source material like the review of recent scholarship on the effect that Marcion, Montanism and Gnosticism had on the development of the canon. But as an introduction is it quite sufficient and I expect to use the footnotes to guide further study of this area of interpretation.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2009
I have been very grateful for the "Evangelical Ressourcement" series put out by Baker. To their credit, the series challenges many popular beliefs among Evangelicals regarding the nature of authority, church, scripture and tradition. One of the main critiques that is leveled against Evangelical Protestants is that their understanding of the nature of the Bible is highly ahistorical, anachronistic and circular, claiming the Bible is the word of God because it says so, without ever addressing how the Bible was written and collected together in the first place, totally ignoring the worshipping tradition of the early faithful. In such a view, there is no room for human agency. Such question begging is the wobbly leg of the chair, and this book seeks to remedy that problem without throwing the scriptural baby out with the evangelical bathwater. The author himself, by the way, is a committed Evangelical Christian, so he has no bone to pick with anyone. He is seeking to strengthen the case for a truly "High View" of the Bible that can bear historical critique and benefit from those who defended the message of Christ with their lives.

This addition to the series essentially poses these questions: "How did the Bible come about and what was the human activity involved in that process? And once we answer that question, what does that mean for our understanding of the nature and authority of the Bible?" While it is not always an easy pill to swallow, the truth is that modern American Christianity of the Protestant variety, and even the Lutheran Church in the more conservative synods (MS, WS), teach a view of the scriptures that is not in line with the early Church, and theoretically and functionally more akin to the Muslim view of the Quran. The author, Craig Allert, seeks to remedy this distortion by retracing the nature and tradition of the canonization of the Bible, and in particular the New Testament. In the process of this investigation, Allert covers some key doctrines of modern Evangelical hermeneutics (or their presuppositions) that he claims are in disjunction with the Apostolic/Patristic eras, and really with the Bible itself.

Challenging the idea that only those who hold to a verbal plenary understanding of inspiration can claim to hold a "High View" of the Bible, he shows convincingly that such a theory is not at all required to safeguard the inspiration of Scripture and is in fact not historically based and does a great deal to actually weaken the authority of the Scripture by providing critics of the Bible with straw men to flog and burn.

Here is a brief summary of his main points in chapter order: 1. Evangelicals have developed a mistrust of the historic tradition of the Church as a reaction to their understanding of Reformation history and the abuses of the Roman Church and also, more recently, in the reactionary theology that has characterized the movement since the mid-1800s. The narrowest narrowing of such a reactionary theology is centered around the nature of the Bible, which has become what I mentioned above- verbal plenary inspiration akin to the Islamic view of the Quran (the author himself never makes that comparison by the way, it's mine). 2. The canon was indeed open into the fourth century, although the influence of Adolf Von Harnak has tainted some to believe that it was closed by the end of the second. Moreover, the Rule of Faith (tradition) served as the true canon of the early church in defense against the heretics, not the New Testament. Canon does not equal NT. However, the criteria for scriptural canonicity had to do with how the Christians received the letters or gospels from the beginning and how they measured up against the tradition (Canon of Truth, Rule of Faith), and not as self-authenticating. 3 and 4. The Scriptures are the book of the Church, and they do not precede the Church like a pop-up book, and what constituted scripture in the early church differed from place to place and father to father- it was not a uniform collection; but that was fine, since the tradition safeguarded the gospel. 5. By examining lists of scripture, it is clear that it is anachronistic to claim that sola scriptura existed in the first four centuries. 6. Historical reflection shows us that we must trust that the Holy Spirit did not abandon the Church which formalized the canon of Scripture based upon her tradition. The Spirit is alive and active not only in the written word, but in the very life of the community which interprets the word. Scripture does not interpret itself, which is why sola scriptura was never used to combat the heretics, but rather the Rule of Faith was used to show how heretics were picking and choosing only the parts of the bible that suited their fantasies. This fact refutes the popular myth of a post-apostolic fallen church, a myth that was devised to divide the Scriptures from the Church, since much of the early tradition doesn't look Protestant (all those liturgies, saints, fasting, sacraments!). Moreover, the Bible does not give a clear teaching about what inspiration actually means, so we should be slow to make inerrancy the logical conclusion of it. In other words, we need to take the Bible on terms established by both itself and the community (Church) that created it by the grace of God, rather than imposing our own hermeneutical lenses upon it.

There is also a useful appendix that samples the fathers' writings to show that a closed canon of Scripture was not the case until the fourth century.

Other useful books include: Tradition, Scripture, and Interpretation: A Sourcebook of the Ancient Church (Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church's Future),Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church (Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church's Future),Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church: Exploring the Formation of Early Christian Thought (Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church's Future),Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants,Reading Scripture With the Church Fathers,The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism and By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition. Enjoy!
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Allert found it curious that evangelicals--and he calls himself one--rarely studied the historical process which formed the canon of the New Testament. For himself, he felt that "a high view of Scripture demands an understanding..of the Bible's very formation" (p 13).

About 1900, Zahn had argued that the canon was formed by the end of the 1st century. Harnack saw the canon as settled during the 2nd century, which became the standard approach for many evangelical biblical scholars.

As Allert dug deeper, he realized this was incorrect. In 1 Clement and the letter of Ignatius there are references to a common set of dogmas or tradition. "This tradition is guarded by the church leadership" (p 62).

Harnack may have argued that the canon was settled by the 2nd century, but the facts do not fully support this thesis. The church fathers cited many noncanonical literature as Scripture. Their view of what formed the books of Scripture was clearly broader than ours today.

In fact, "the Bible grew in and was mediated through the church...Scripture and church function together--they coincide" (p 84-5). He notes that Irenaeus stresses the process of succession from the apostles to the bishops. Against the heresies of the Gnostics, Irenaeus points to the body of doctrine proclaimed by the church as consistent everywhere.

A well thought out and well argued approach. Much recommended.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Dr. Allert adds argument to the growing number of evangelicals challenging their fellow evangelicals to correct their interpretative lens. Through the use of multiple examples from the early church Dr. Allert challenges evangelical assumptions about the canon, definitions of inspiration, and definitions of scripture. He points out how the early church fathers, who's authority determined the canon on which we rely, often pointed to other writings as scripture or inspired. If we were to take recognition by the early church as our guide to what must be included in the canon, we would have a much larger canon than we now have (Dr. Allert's included with regard to the deuterocanon - see Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger: The Untold Story of the Lost Books of the Protestant Bible for more on that topic).

Dr. Allert does well to challenge these assumptions and making it clear that, in the end, it is not canon or inerrancy that is key to understanding scripture's role as a guide. It is, in the end, interpretation that is key. And interpretation cannot be done in a vacuum (see also, 2 Peter 1:20) but must be done in the context of the church that formed the canon. Dr. Allert avoids the begging question of "what church would that be?" Instead, he ignores that important question and leaves us wondering at his answer. He makes a bold confession denying sola scriptura when he concludes, "For roughly the first four hundred years of its existence, the church had no closed canon, so the *Bible* could not have functioned as the sole criterion." Unfortunately, though he points out the importance of the church in interpreting scripture, he fails to identify how that church can be found in the evangelical paradigm of an invisible church. The same history that gives us the importance of the church also identifies that church but Dr. Allert seems hesitant to share his findings. Perhaps he is not yet ready to face his own assumptions about that question.

Many of us have gone this same road of discovery and we are all on different parts of the road. Dr. Allert is to be commended for his honest and thorough scholarship in challenging his fellow evangelicals to think more deeply on these questions. This is a worthy addition to this refreshing series of works. Dr. Allert has given us a solid historical study with much food for thought while leaving some important questions still open for us to ponder. One of his closing remarks says it all, "[I]f we are to do justice to and cherish God's word to us, we must be aware of the means God used to deliver it to us, and in that, the church has been central. Failure to account for this does not appreciate the importance of the Bible in the life of the church and its members, no matter how high people claim their doctrine of Scripture to be."

The point is very well stated and very highly recommended for deeper consideration. Also a good companion to Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church (Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church's Future) or Tradition, Scripture, and Interpretation: A Sourcebook of the Ancient Church (Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church's Future) in any library.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2008
Most of us evangelicals spend much or all of our lives believing in the Bible and in it's self-authentication or spirit-authentication. We fail to ask ourselves where we got our Bible. This review gives away a lot of the content. But if you want to know ahead of time, keep reading.

Craig Allert began his study of the canon knowing the typical evangelical views of the formation of the canon. To sum up, the canon (it is supposed) formed relatively quickly after death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As each book was written, goes the typical lore, it was included in the already existing open canon until it was felt that no more could be included and it was dutifully closed.

Through his study Allert realized that early church history isn't quite so simple nor were the voices of church fathers so unanimous as to give us anything like a fixed canon until beginning in the fourth century A.D. In fact, he shows that even much later in the eighth and ninth centuries, there was still some ambiguity.

Allert's study shows that inspiration and scripture in the early church were not only applied to what became canonical, but also to texts other than those that made it into the canon. His conclusion is that if the content of the canon wasn't fixed early on, then the Christians must have had a different set of criteria for determining the content of the gospel message than most evangelicals do. They had a message, a rule of faith, which defined the content, meaning, and scope of the gospel and this led to some of the criteria the church used for including or exluding books in the Bible.

Whatever one's initial reaction to the idea that evangelicals are reliant upon tradition, Allert forcefully argues that even in evangelicalism it is impossible to accept the Bible without accepting tradition because the Bible IS a tradition. It is the product of a tradition that formed its idea of the gospel before it had any new testament to refer to.

However, Allert is clear that some of the books were accepted very early on without dispute; for instance: the thirteen letters of Paul, Acts, and the four gospels. Nevertheless, anyone who accepts the rest of the new testament is relying on church unanimity which only fully solidified long after the fourth century A.D. (In fact, even today the Ethiopic church doesn't recognize the same New Testament as the rest of the church.)

Allert does not argue that "inspiration" had nothing to do with it. What he argues instead is that "inspiration" in a subjective sense wasn't a criterion used by the church to recognize these books. Neither was apostolicity (in the sense of the author of a book being by an apostle or one of his direct followers) a clinching criterion. It was only as the church lived its life for many more centuries that the fullness of the NT canon as we have it today solidified into a "canon". The Fathers' were convinced that the Holy Spirit was active in the life of the church and that what was handed down to them was authentic because it was from the church.

The following is a quote that I believe expresses the essence of Allert's Book:

"Before I began my serious study of the formation of the New Testament canon, I subscribed wholeheartedly to the creed(!) "No Creed but the Bible." But I soon came to the realization that the Bible grew in the cradle of the church. The church existed before the Bible . . .

"The appeal to the Bible alone in evangelicalism is the result, in part of a deep-seated suspicion and even rejection of the church . . . as somehow corrupt. In this understanding a restitutionist view of history is at work. Restitutionism "rejects traditional pre-modern history in order to restore 'true history' and locates 'true history not in a tradition or mystery of the church but in a lost yet supposedly recoverable body of 'facts.'" The assumption is that one group or person can be closer to true Christianity solely by studying the New Testament documents. With this assumption the Reformation becomes construed not as a reform of what had come before (Catholicism) but as a retrieval of "true Christianity." In this retrieval a selective choice of events and figures that fit the restorationist agenda are used to bolster their case that true Christianity was maintained in a select few who rejected the corrupt church. A dualism results between institutional church history and that of the "true" believer. The church cannot be trusted, so an independent source comes to be located in the Bible as the sole guide, untouched by the corrupting tradition of the church.

"The formation of the New Testament canon presents a significant problem for this restitutionist understanding of Christian history. The criteria of canonicity show us not only that the Bible grew in the cradle of the church, but also that the leaders of the institutional church had a significant hand in forming our New Testament canon. In other words, the Bible that is set apart as being the only trustworthy guide for the Christian was shaped from within the very church that restitutionists claim was corrupt. This understanding should challenge any call that has at its foundation the rejection of the church for the Bible; it should lead us to reconsider our understanding of the church both theologically and historically . . .

"An example of how this reformist view of history differs from restitutionism . . .

"Christ [is] the pioneer, whom the apostles and the church fathers follow. But the trail is leading backward, and [the Saints] saw [their] task of keeping that path open - to keep Christ's tracks visible. We are not the pioneers; Christ and the fathers have accomplished this, so the trail has already been blazed. It is not through bypassing history that we move forward, because it is history that hands this down to us. The canon hands Jesus down, and the church hands the canon down. Thus, to reject the church means also a rejection of its canon. There is a tacit acceptance of the institution of the historical ecclesiastical community when we accept its canon. This is why I can say that my study of the canon led me to see the indispensability of the church. This realization changes the way one thinks about theology and the Christian tradition."

(pp.76-78)

His conclusion, then, is that if his study of canon is correct, evangelicals must rethink their ecclesiology and give the church's role in the redemptive scheme of God much more thought.

The most puzzling aspect of Allert's book is his insistence that evangelicals rethink their view of tradition, ecclesiology, and scripture while choosing to remain in the evangelical tradition. Perhaps it is not that he is unconvinced that the church has had an important role in the formation of the canon, but has not yet persuaded that the Roman Catholic Church or Orthodox Church provide any more satisfying answers to the inquiry than the Protestant churches have.

For great online primary sources dealing with these issues(including canon lists) see: [...].

Also, for a more accessible, friendly, and humorous approach to the problems of tradition for evangelicals, see By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition. Mark Shea, the author, is truly kind and appreciative of his evangelical heritage, while trying to demonstrate the superiority of Catholic Tradition.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2012
This is a very good and very important discussion about how the Bible was formed. It refutes the evangelical perspective that the canon was instantaneously "inspired" by God from the very beginning and that all the patristic fathers did was recognize that inspiration and pile them between covers. The books that make up the Western and Eastern Orthodox canon required decades of liturgical usage, general evaluation of orthodoxy and communal discussion before acceptance. In fact, some of them, such as the controversial if not notorious Apocalypse of John, were deemed non-canonical by many in the early church (and to this day the Greek Orthodox Church refuses to even discuss it in their liturgy, a wise move that all other churches should emulate.) The author describes himself as an evangelical scholar, but I wonder with how much approbation his little book will receive in the ranks of these infamously narrow-minded so-called "Christians" of the American evangelical movement. In any case, for anyone interested in biblical history, a nice quick read that addresses many of the salient arguments about "inerrancy and infallibility." I would have liked to have seen some discussion of the role the Constaninian revolution had in accelerating the "formal" canonization process (notable that no ecumenical council ever affirmed or denied the modern canon) and the diversity of biblical canons that exist today (notably the Ethiopian and Syrian, which add and omits texts deemed canonical in European based Christianity.) But that would have required a much larger book, and this one is an easy one or two day read.
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on January 1, 2015
The arguments presented, though written from an Evangelical pen, reflects a highly Catholic point of view in the role of Scripture in the life of the Church, and how the Church in turn, was essential in giving Canonocity to the books that make up the Scriptures
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18 of 29 people found the following review helpful
I was very disappointed in Craig Allert's book. It had some important issues that it brought out, but I feel that in spite of his claims to the contrary, he is lessening one's view of Scripture.

Allert is correct that there was not a functioning and established Canon of the New Testament until the fourth century. He is correct also that not all the books in the Canon were universally accepted without serious examination. The question though is how and thus when the Canon closed. Was it the church that closed it in the 4th century? Or was it already closed in God's mind in the 1st century and then the church recognized what God had meant in the Canon.

Another thing Allert is correct about is that we are too ignorant of the church fathers and church history. However, we need to realize that there are changes in the church, just as there are in today's local churches, that may not have been Biblical. Some of the traditions held are not consistent with the Bible (such as the perpetual virginity of Mary or her immaculate conception). One reviewer found it curious that Allert encouraged evangelicals to stay separate from the Catholic church.

I know people who reject Scripture because they believe it is the product of the Catholic Church and not of God. Allert's views gives them fuel for the fire. Additionally, it encourages believers to trust men in authority than to search the Scriptures themselves.

There is a balance. God has given the church as well as Scripture to defend the truth. But the church, being made up of fallible people, are able to drift from the truth, and it is the Bible that needs to get people back to the truth. Allert's book is one that shakes foundations (Psalm 11:3).
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2012
What an insightful work on the origins and formation of Scripture! A very thorough work that dispels many of the modern Protestant views and suppositions. I highly recommend to any "learner" or Theologian.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2014
I am giving the book a lower rating, because (my opinion), it looks like the author's intended audience was not for the general public, but rather for religious academic. This makes it difficult for folks without religion-academic background to comprehend some of the historical and rational put forth.
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