Christian Smith, in his new book, Bible Made Impossible, The: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, contends that what many of us (evangelicals) affirm is impossible to hold with intellectual integrity. Buy this book, read it slowly and carefully, and ponder it … because this book is a very serious call for us to develop a more robust approach to the Bible.
So, what do you think? Is biblicism characteristic of evangelicalism? Are these ten features what you see? What about interpretive pluralism: Do you think it denies biblicism?
What he says we believe is called biblicism. What is biblicism? It is a belief that finds expression in this set of ten factors, some holding each factor while others hold most of them. It is characteristic — listen to this — he says of perhaps 100 million Christians! Here are the ten factors of biblicism:
1. Divine Writing: the Bible is identical to God’s own words.
2. Total representation: it is what God wants us to know, all God wants us to know (he quotes JI Packer here) in communicating the divine will to us.
3. Complete coverage: everything relevant to the Christian life is in the Bible.
4. Democratic perspicuity: reasonable humans can read the Bible in his or her language and correctly understand the plain meaning of the text.
5. Commonsense hermeneutic: again, plain meaning; just read it.
6. Solo [not sola] Scripture: we can read the Bible without the aid of creeds or confessions or historical church traditions.
7. Internal harmony: all passages on a given theme mesh together.
8. Universal applicability: the Bible is universally valid for all Christians, wherever and whenever.
9. Inductive method: sit down, read it, and put it together.
10. Handbook model: the Bible is handbook or textbook for the Christian life.
You might be saying, “This is silly.” Well, no, it’s not. It’s a straight arrow description of what many evangelicals really do believe, and I would point straight at someone like Wayne Grudem as a very good example of this kind of biblicism. He gives pages of examples, stuff like how the Bible teaches about health or money or womanhood or how to be a good dad and on and on enough to make me choke. (Sorry for that edginess.)
So, what’s the problem with bliblicism? Interpretive pluralism. Biblicists believe the Bible is clear and readable and understandable but their diversity disproves what they believe and demolishes the biblicist approach. He quotes some well-known evangelicals who have pointed to the same problem: Robert K. Johnston, Mark Noll, Tom Wright, Kevin Vanhoozer, D.A. Carson, Geoffrey Bromiley, John Nevin … and back to the later Luther and even to Tertullian. The Bible alone will not yield either eccesial or theological unity. No matter what we say about it, our interpretive history disproves it.
And here’s the problem: biblicists don’t seem to care and go along their merry way pluralizing interpretation, and biblicists have turned this into a virtue: witness the three, four and five view books. And these books aren’t on quibbles but on significant issues, like salvation and justification and church and salvation and atonement. I give an example: Reformed theologians believe the essence of the gospel is double imputation, or the admission on our part of the need of Christ’s righteousness (imputing his to us, and our sins to him), but theologians admit there’s no unambiguous text on this in the whole Bible. And a Reformed theologian told me recently he’s not sure the NT even teaches double imputation. What is clear to one group, in fact not only clear but central, is not even taught to another — within the same camp. And we can pick on everyone about everything; interpretive pluralism is the name of the Bible interpreter’s game.
The fragmentation of the church denies the biblicist approach.