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Book Review: Canonical Theology: The Biblical Canon, Sola Scriptura, and Theological Method


Canonical Theology: The Biblical Canon, Sola Scriptura, and Theological Method, published by Eerdmans in late 2016, was written by John C. Peckham, an Associate Professor of Theology and Christian Philosophy at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He has his doctorate and masters from Andrews University, and his undergraduate degree from Atlantic Union College in Lancaster, Massachusetts.

In the forward to Peckham’s book, Craig G. Bartholomew, the H. Evan Runner Professor of Philosophy at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, writes:

The issues involved in the canon debate are complex and multiple. At their heart, however as John shows in this book, they come down to where we locate final authority, whether in Scripture or some version of ‘the community.’”

The complex subject of what constitutes the Canon has been debated since the early centuries of the Christian era. Today, the debate takes on a scope unparalleled in Christian history, especially between the two prominent views of community versus intrinsic canon models.

In my opinion, the debate should have been settled with Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria in the Third Century when he defined the 27 Books (Writings) of the New Testament. In his Easter Letter of 367 he categorically wrote:

In these [27 writings] alone the teaching of godliness is proclaimed. No one may add to them, and nothing may be taken away from them."

These writings were recognized by the early church fathers as the Canon in addition to the 39 books of the Old Testament. Their acceptance was based on the concept that the Holy Spirit had established the canon of these 66 Books, and there could be no addition to the Canon since Jesus Christ was the final revelation of God to His people, and thereby the Canon was closed.

On page 19 of Canonical Theology, Peckham writes, “I define the intrinsic canon as the corpus of writings commissioned by God to be the ‘rule’ or ‘standard’ of Christian faith and practice. Thus, the intrinsic canon refers to those writings that are intrinsically canonical by virtue of what the canon is as the result of divine action.”

In the book, he proceeds to defend his position and to contrast the intrinsic model against the communitarian model, which is where the community defines the canon and its applicability based on time and circumstance. For him, as it was with Athanasius, the canon is closed with the 66 Books as found in the Protestant Bible.

The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have both included additional Apocrypha-Deuterocanonical writings in their Bibles. These books, like First and Second Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, etc., are not viewed as intrinsically canonical in nature by most evangelical scholars.

This raises some serious questions for an individual who is seeking the true path of knowledge. How is a person to know what to do when so many voices are clamoring for his/her attention?

Peckham states:

. . . the canonical approach faces no difficulties in relation to the question regarding which community or tradition is adequate because the canonical approach denies that any community, tradition, or creed should operate as hermeneutically authoritative rule in biblical or theological interpretation. Moreover, the canonical approach maintains that each individual has a right to religious freedom and a duty to engage and interpret Scripture and theology in accordance with the individual’s own conscience. The question regarding which community of faith one should be a part of, then, is left to each individual’s decision. Everyone must ultimately choose which religious beliefs to accept (if any) and which community most closely allies with those beliefs. With a canonical approach, the question becomes which community of faith possesses a system that appears to best correspond to the canon, with internal consistency” (190).

Peckham addresses the Trinity Doctrine, which has stirred controversy in many circles. What is the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and can a definite answer be found in Scripture for this doctrine? It is a complex subject, which he examines based on the intrinsic model. 

In addition, in the last chapter he examines the nature of divine love toward humans. He discusses five aspects of divine love: “the volitional, evaluative, emotional, foreconditional, and ideally reciprocal” (253).

Canonical Theology concludes with the following statement:

One of my goals in this work has been to lay out a plausible and workable canonical approach to systematic theology, which can be practiced by others across the vast range of Christian communities who recognize the common canonical core and might engender dialogue via a common starting point and preliminary approach. Thus, while I do not expect this canonical theological method to be endorsed by all readers, I do hope that this treatment might stimulate thought and advance the conversation regarding the role of canon and community in theological method. In this regard, I hope this work illuminates some avenues toward continual retrieval and implementation of the guiding canonical principles, ‘To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn’ (Isa 8:20), and ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness’ (2 Tim 3:16). As such, we might together proclaim along with the psalmist: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Ps. 119:105)” (259).

The brevity of this review does not render justice to this fine book. It would be a welcome addition to the collection of any serious student of theology.


G.D. Williams is recently retired after working in Adventist higher education for 30+ years. His pursuits include photography, genealogy, collecting antique books, and working on his old farmhouse.

Image Credit: Eerdmans Publishing


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