Peter Enns tackles this question from an evangelical perspective at his Patheos blog. First, he addresses the claim that “evangelicalism is the best iteration of Christianity because it is most faithful to the Bible and most in line with the history of church:”
—All Christian traditions say that.
–To gain credibility this claim would need to be made with at least Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians in the room.
–This triumphalist claim is consistent with evangelicalism’s polemical roots and history.
–The claim marginalizes, if not ignores, the tremendous theological diversity in historic Christianity as well as in the church today (synchronic and diachronic diversity).
–The claim assumes that this diversity is a problem with God.
–Related to 4 and 5, the claim assumes something of the Bible, namely that it presents one detailed yet coherent spiritual narrative that can be teased out, systematized, and defended.
–Not all evangelicals are comfortable with this rhetoric.
In the rest of the post he offers “a defense of the evangelical narrative.”
Have at it…
The question is one of authority. How does one justify claims of truth? By what authority does anyone claim something is true? Roman Catholics will claim this authority rests ultimately with the Church magisterium (i.e Popes, councils, edicts, etc.). Protestants claim that authority rests within a self-attesting revelation of God confined to the canonical Scriptures. Others will place that authority with human reason or in a post-modern world with whatever floats any particular individual's boat.
Someone might ask on what basis do you accept one of these authorities over another? Good question. One way is to presume that we have the ability to judge claims on our own. In this way, the authority issue ends up resting with human arbiters. Another way is to accept a particular claim on faith. In case of the RCC this still takes us back to placing our faith in human authorities as the judges of what God authorizes. In the case of Protestants it involves faith in the Bible as the authoritative revelation of God – they believe it is fully the word of God and wholly sufficient. Furthermore, they believe – according to Scripture – that the Holy Spirit impresses the authoritative truth upon the minds of Christians and illuminates those minds to understand it.
I take the latter position. I believe the Bible is self-attesting in its authority. IOW, if the Bible is not true, then nothing is true. Without the truth of the Bible we cannot make sense of anything at all. As the Psalmist says, “In your light, we see light” (Psa. 36:9).
Jonathan Rowe says
“In case of the RCC this still takes us back to placing our faith in human authorities as the judges of what God authorizes. In the case of Protestants it involves faith in the Bible as the authoritative revelation of God – they believe it is fully the word of God and wholly sufficient.”
Let me preface this by noting I'm agnostic on the issue; however I don't think this is right.
Accordingly, the “canon” was still selected by human authorities who made up the “early Church.” So Protestants still, just like Roman Catholics, put “faith in human authorities as the judges of what God authorizes.”
Actually there was no authoritative body that decided the canon. The canon slowly developed along lines of broad acceptance apart from any ruling body. Look at Michael Kruger's book, “Canon Revisted.”
Jonathan Rowe says
“The canon slowly developed along lines of broad acceptance apart from any ruling body.”
That seems a pretty amorphous statement.
Before I get to Kruger's book I plan on reading Jaroslav Pelikan's.
I admit, I'm not an expert on the history of the canon, and look forward to learning more. But as far as I know there was no “broad acceptance” on what constitutes the EXACT books of the Protestant Bible. It wasn't settled for Protestants until around the time of the Reformation when the reformers and Rome split on the deuterocanonicals.