Final Review of R. Jenson’s CANON AND CREED

A few months ago I began a review of R.W. Jenson’s Canon and Creed (WJK, 2010) in the Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church series. I have now had a chance to finish the book so I will give some general comments about the whole book as well as some specific comments about the latter chapters.

Overall, Jenson’s big point is that too many Christians think they only need Scripture and that “creed” is for theologians. However, creed and canon complement one another. The creeds give testimony to the centralizing aspects of the canon. The canon takes the short ideas of the creed and fleshes them out in detail. “Looked at from this angle, the new canon and the rule of faith match like conversely notched puzzle pieces. Each advances what the other holds back.  Canon and creed fitted together, and only canon and creed fitted together, could make and can now make one whole and integral guardian of the church’s temporal self-identity” (p. 41).

In terms of canon development and finalization, Jenson points to the concern over Gnosticism as well as the question of Marcion’s perspective. However, Jenson also hints at the point that perhaps it would have been time anyway for the Church to have some stability with regard to its sacred Scriptures (see 40).

In chapter 5 Jenson looks at the Apostle’s Creed. Not much of interest here, as his comments seem rather random. I was intrigued by his comment that the “communion of saints” focuses on fellowship with departed saint – I never took it that way.

Chapter 6 deals with “The Canonical Text” and engages in two questions: (1) Should Christians go beneath the canonical text in search for meaning in the reprintinated “original text” of a redacted book, like John? and (2) Should we consider the Hebrew or Greek version of the OT Scripture?

As for the first, Jenson moves away from focusing on earlier forms of a text and focuses on the canonical form. There seems to be a view that the canonical form is a corrupted form. But Jenson makes the same point that Childs does: “It is only because the church maintains the collection of the these documents with the texts they presented, as the book she needs, that we are concerned for their interpretation” (p. 55). His answer, ultimately, is pneumato-centric. Fair enough, but it is not fully satisfying to me. On the issue of the Gospels and the historical Jesus, here is what he writes:

we can receive the fourfold Gospels as a single gift of the Spirit and therefore trust that the witness that the Spirit-led church from time to time draws from the Gospels is reliable knowledge of the historical Jesus, even while some of us keep trying to resolve such questions as the day of the crucifixion [and which Gospel presentation is most true to what really happened]. (p. 58-9)

On the second question (LXX versus MT), Jenson raises an important matter, but, again, does not offer a cogent solution. I do like his expression that “the fixity characteristic of Scripture is not dependent on fixity of language” (62). This is where I get lost: “the canonical text of the OT is neither the Hebrew nor the Greek by itself, but both texts together and either text if need be.” (62). Again, “We must trust the purposes of the Spirit both in the history that leads to the dual text, and in the problem with which he thus leave us” (62). Hmmmm.

In Chapter 7 he treats “Dogma,” arguing that theological “hard thinking” is what the church does and what it repeatedly and perpetually needs to do. Fair enough.

In Chap 8, Jenson urges the Church to renew an appreciation for the “Episcopacy” – not a holy magisterium that pulls the strings behind the scenes, but a trust in those leaders gifted by the Spirit, discerned by the body, and in accordance with Scriptural holiness and probity.

Finally, in the last few chapters, Jenson makes his own case for a theological interpretation of Scripture, where he, then, interprets a number of texts. Personally, as  a Biblical researcher, I could not make heads or tails of Jenson’s exegetical acrobatics, finding Jesus in all sorts of places. This reminds me, while much healing has gone on to bridge the gulf between “theologians” and “Biblical scholars,” we still need some work especially in the area of presuppositions, terminology, and simplicity (on both sides I am sure!).

Overall, this book was more interesting for the questions it asked than for the answers it provided. I liked Miller’s volume on the Decalogue in this series more as a tool for the Church. Jenson’s book is more for seminary students and scholars who want to think about the relationship between canon and creed.



2 thoughts on “Final Review of R. Jenson’s CANON AND CREED

  1. Gupta,

    You sounded somewhat critical of TIS. But this may have resulted from a misunderstanding of TIS. TIS is by nature an attempt to break out of methodological straight-jackets. It tries not to be a slave of any particular method but is employed through various methods, with an emphasis on what the Church has affirmed doctrinally throughout her history — particularly the early Creeds, since these unite the Church wholly, and its a purpose of TIS to be ecumenical. But, neither is TIS a slave of particular theological systems.

    Its telos is Christ, its success is demonstrated with Christian virtues in the transformation of character, and in the health of the Church at large. Given its Christological inclinations, it can and does find Christ in all sorts of places. And while TIS is not tantamount to precritical exegesis, it does share the spirit of the fathers.

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