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Aspects of the Christian Canon for the Contemporary Church

“To this day,” writes Bruce Shelley (2008), “we find it almost impossible to

think of the Christian faith without the Bible” (p. 57). Though this statement is true, it

seems every generation of Christians has had difficulty determining the extent of the

Bible’s function within the believing community. The sixteenth century reformers

worked to bring preeminence to the canon as opposed to the appeal to the tradition of

Roman Catholicism but still the reformers did not resolve the function of the Bible

wholly for all times. N.T. Wright (2005) asserts the questions each generation tackles

are unique to it but also depends on the previous for its contributions (pp. 20-21). As a

result, each generation has (hopefully) added to the richness and diversity of the

Church especially in the areas of worship and spiritual formation.

“From the very beginning it [the Bible] has been given a key place in the

church’s worshipping community” (Wright, 2005, p. 5). Wright (2005) defines the

idea of worship in the church as its “thinking” and “praise and prayer” life (p. 5). The

question is then how does the canon inform these two aspects of Christian worship?

Through the pages of the canon the reader is challenged to consider a multitude of

issues. As one reads the scriptures he or she is often challenged to consider the

circumstances faced by the biblical characters. Thinking on the positive or negative

implications of certain passages should motivate the reader to consider their own

reaction to the troubles and blessings brought each day. On the other hand, simply

reasoning through the various applications may omit the possibility for further

personal inspiration.

The canon not only provides fuel to engage our intellect but also reminds us of

our human limitations. Throughout the canon we see examples of those who

recognized their human frailty (e.g. David or Moses). This recognition was often the
impetus for humble prayer(s) or, especially after a supernatural victory or event that

confirmed the characters humanness, a song of praise lifted to Yahweh. Today’s

reader engages the biblical stories and, like the characters, is also reminded of their

human constraint. But this is not cause for despair to the reader but reason for hope.

The scripture provides a glimpse into others frailty and as such reveals our own; but

does not leave us despondent, instead it examples for the reader an expectation of

God’s sovereign action in the affairs of humankind. Therefore, as the reader

participates with the canon by thinking, praying and offering praise for God’s

revealed character he or she finds reason to trust God’s sovereign ability and

acknowledge God in everything (Proverbs 3:6). The process of thinking, prayer and

praise should bring multiple results to the believer that helps to form them spiritually.

The canon did not develop in a vacuum but evolved over several years as

certain writing came to be recognized by the believing community as authoritative.

Similarly, the believer is not formed in a vacuum. Instead the canon pushes the

individual believer toward involvement in a believing community. The community

assists and is assisted in growth by the interaction of its members with each other and

the canon. The canon provides principles that help to guide believer’s interactions

with one another and with those outside the believing community. More importantly,

the believer is not left to his or her own whims or weaknesses when attempting to

interpret the scriptures. Rather, when the individual is challenged by a perceived

“aporia” he or she can bring it to the community where dialogue can possibly lead to

a “conceptual change” for the individual or the larger group (Alexander, 2006). The

community and the Bible, therefore, offer a dual accountability that plays off of each

other to encourage each member to think, pray and praise God.


References

Alexander, L. (2006). God's frozen word: canonicity and the dilemmas of biblical

studies. Expository Times, 117(6), 237-242.

Bruce, S. (2008). Church history in plan language. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Wright, N. (2005). The last word. New York, NY: HarperOne.