The Problem with Biblicism 2

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.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Jack+

    Amen! I couldn’t agree more. I’m in a conversation with an individual who is exactly this way. In one of his posts, he stated that the Bible was not hard to figure out. All anyone had to do was ask God for wisdom and they could easily read and understand the text. Which, since I know the person, understood him to mean, anyone would understand it the way he does. While I agree with the premise (we should be asking God for wisdom when reading the Bible), there’s more to it than that.

    My response was exactly on these same lines. Thanks so much for this. I’ll be getting this book.

  • Randy Boswell

    I attribute this issue and the ten factors as being undergirded by an even deeper problem: epistemological naive realism. With this epistemology in hand many biblicists remain tied to modernity and the idea that there is in fact a true intepretation that we as finite humans can parse out. (I believe there is Truth out there but that we as humans cannot perfectly grasp it; in other words I’m a critical realist) You’ve pointed up the major issue with this above as these readers of Scripture posit that there is one correct, easily ascertained intepretation via their presuppositions and yet this isn’t functionally the case as your examples prove.

  • Robert

    There are plenty of people out there who honestly believe that they believe and follow those ten principles or something like them, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who did.

    Firstly, they’re extremely selective. There’s no lack of people, for instance, who believe in a literal six 24-hour days of creation, but not many who believe in a geocentric universe or literal waters up there somewhere above the sky.

    Then they will always insist on a reading which fits their particular version of church tradition. Someone from a Calvinist tadition will find a Calvinist reading, someone from an Arminian tradition and Arminian one, and so on.

    Then preachers have varying degrees of license to ‘discover’ new stuff, providing they have a snippet of the Bible to hang it on (and you can ‘prove’ anything that way!), and it more or less jibes with what the congregation wants to hear. So they can find material for endless sermons on the family – based on how their congregation envisages a traditional family – but they never notice polygamy in the Bible. If the congregation wants to hear about the ‘end times’, they let their imaginations rip, and you get a Howard Camping. And so on. It’s a mess, and it’s the reason why I’m not an evangelical.

  • Jason Lee

    I’ve not read the book, but I think the “100 million” number Smith refers to is just in the US. About 1/4 to 1/3 of Americans usually claim to be biblical literalists on national surveys. If we went abroad, I’d guess we’d get a much bigger number.

  • Rick

    Touching on a bit of what Robert #3 said, many people may claim some (or all) of these, but they don’t really mean it in the strictest sense.

    They still use commentaries (even if just the notes at the bottom of the page), and still read Scripture in the light of creeds and confessions (or some kind of tradition).

  • Brianmpei

    I became a follower of Jesus and went off to Bible College 3 months later. I was taught 1-10 without a doubt. “Where the Bible speaks, we speak. Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” Was one of our many mottos. The Bible was many times called, “The Original Makers Maintenance Manual”. Ug.

    We were taught this simple idea – the path to unity is to get back to the Bible alone. And the reasons everyone didn’t see the Bible the way we saw it: ignorance (wilful or otherwise) or sin. We just had to get people to come around to the “right” view of the scripture and help all you pious, unimmersed to see the light.

    Once I graduated and study no longer meant memorizing the answers I was supposed to give, everything started to change for me. But 25 years later I’m still engaged in the process of unlearning.

    Hopefully this book is available for Kindle!

  • John W Brandkamp

    I agree with the Amen! This sounds quite a bit like a number of books from Baker Academic which have helped me tremendously, including: A High View of Scripture? by Craig Allert, Evangelicals and Tradition by DH Williams, and Tradition, Scripture and Interpretation, also by Williams, and my favorite, Inspiration and Incarnation by Pete Enns. These are all written from evangelical perspectives, and yet acknowledge the serious problems within modern evangelicalism. I guess I’m going to have to add one more the list it seems! I had heard Chris Smith crossed the Tiber recently, and this may well have been a part of that reason. Though I’m not inclined that way myself (just too Protestant!), I can fully understand the rationale in light of this issue.

  • JJ

    Thank you for this article. I have read several articles on this site now deconstructing biblicism. I have not yet come across an article promoting other possible approaches. Might you point me in the right direction? Or even possibly consider a side-by-side presentation of the 10 points above, and a more reasonable alternative approach?

  • Rob

    I doubt most “biblicists” really hold to all 10 of these the same way they are defined above. But interesting argument. More interesting is WHY they hold them. Like, I hold to the perspecuity of the Scriptures, because of my theology of God (why he would allow us simple people to understand him through his word.)

  • Joe Canner

    There’s a famous author and radio/TV preacher whose website motto is “Unleashing God’s truth one verse at a time”. This suggests some additions to the above list:

    11. The Bible is a an attack dog that needs to be “unleashed” on the unbelievers or the wishy-washy believers.
    12. The Bible is so powerful that even single verses (regardless of context) can be used as weapons.

  • JohnM

    What Smith describes as biblicism is partly a result of overindulgence in good things and partly an allergic reaction to bad things.

  • JohnM

    Or put another way, the 10 factors are partly a result of radical reaction against their radical opposite.

  • Charlie O

    Received my copy yesterday – now on chapter three. This is going to mess with me in a big way (Smith mentions my seminary by name – Asbury: ouch)… BUT it is also very helpful in giving substance to the growing uneasiness I feel about the lack of actual authority within Protestantism. We all tend to say that it’s the Bible, yet that claim is dramatically undermined by the vast discrepancies between resulting doctrines about crucial tenets of faith.

  • scotmcknight

    Charlie O, bingo!

  • Charlie O

    Smith would be quick to point out that he holds a very high and authoritative view of scripture (we’ll see how well he backs this up later in the book), it’s just that biblicism ultimately betrays its own noble intent.

  • Jeff Doles

    Joe #10, I think the additional points you wish to add, #11 and #12, lapse into caricature and come just shy of name-calling. I do not think it will produce anything positive in the discussion.

  • Jeff Doles


    Biblical literalism (also called Biblicism or Biblical fundamentalism) is the interpretation or translation of the explicit and primary sense of words in the Bible.[1][2] A literal, Biblical interpretation is associated with the fundamentalist and evangelical hermeneutical approach to Scripture, and is used almost exclusively by conservative Christians.[3] The essence of this approach focuses upon the author’s intent as the primary meaning of the text.[4]

    Literal interpretation does place emphasis upon the referential aspect of the words or terms in the text. It does not, however, mean a complete denial of literary aspects, genre, or figures of speech within the text (e.g., parable, allegory, simile, or metaphor).[5] Also literalism does not necessarily lead to total and complete agreement upon one single interpretation for any given passage.

    There are two kinds of literal interpretation, letterism and the more common historical-grammatical method. Letterism attempts to uncover the meaning of the text through a strict emphasis upon a mechanical, wooden literalism of words. This approach often obscures the literary aspects and consequently the primary meaning of the text.[6] The historical grammatical method is a hermeneutic technique that strives to uncover the meaning of the text by taking into account not just the grammatical words, but also the syntactical aspects, the cultural and historical background, and the literary genre.

  • J.L. Schafer

    I see the problems with biblicism and welcome any discussions that can help scholars, teachers and pastors develop a thoughtful and mature understanding of how to approach Scripture. At the same time, I cannot deny that the Spirit of God sometimes speaks through Scripture, often very powerfully, to individuals and groups who want to “keep it simple” and “just do what the Bible says.” Sometimes that does approach does work well enough, but it won’t work consistently or indefinitely. Childlike trust in God and his word is a virtue. Childish understanding of Scripture (except in a child) is not.

  • Joe Canner

    Jeff #15: Yes, they were a bit over the top, but how else would you interpret that motto? I stand by the sentiment expressed in my post, namely that there are those who wield the Bible as a weapon and take verses out of context to make their points. This, to me, is just as much biblicism as the original 10 points listed. If you disagree, tell us why.

    P.S. I intentionally did not name names so as not to be accused of name-calling.

  • DanS

    I’m about as conservative as they come. I understand the problem being addressed and share the concern, even to the point of temporarily leaving the Bible church fold a few years back. But I would not say that the 10 factors are quite right, a bit of a caricature – a little like the questions pollsters ask that give you two choices but don’t allow you any room for clarification.

    “…is what God wants us to know, all God wants us to know”, yeah but only about what “pertains to salvation”. No conservative claims Algebra is in the Bible.

    “…everything relevant to the Christian life is in the Bible”, yeah but nobody thinks application of biblical truth is simple – a cookie cutter approach.

    “Perspicuity”…gets muddied by our fallenness. “Solo Scriptura”… I see the point, but again, don’t conservatives have statements of faith (Trinitarian and in basic agreement with Nicea) to aid in interpretation? “Universal applicability”…Umm, yeah. Adultery is always wrong, but what conservative doesn’t draw a distinction between the Old and New Covenant?

    I spent a few years chewing on this issue really hard. So much so that I started reading Catholic and Orthodox stuff, church fathers, etc. (I was raised Catholic). I reviewed statements of faith from multiple denominations and looked at dozens of contemporary movements outside of Evangelicalism. In the end I came back to an Evangelical commitment, because I saw even more pluralism and confusion in other places, and doctrines taught dogmatically that seemed to have been pulled out of thin air, as well as some really far-out wacky stuff. Nobody had a better answer than having Scripture as “Canon”.

    Yes, Evangelicalism is fragmented, and “SOLO Scriptura” is PART of the problem, but what is the solution? Is there sanity in the mainline? In Catholicism, I was once taught raw JEDP and Documentary Hypothesis as an impressionable college freshman in a Catholic college, and knew a priest who smoked pot in the dorms to relate to his charges. Shall I embrace the Emergent Post-Modernism that leaves us with certain leading figures endorsing radical changes in sexual morality and proclaiming there is no such thing as orthodoxy? Does “embracing mystery” lead to firm footing?

    No. I still believe scripture is the foundation, the ultimate and final authority. I still believe there is enough clarity in scripture to guide us on what really matters. The issue is not scripture or sola scriptura, which many church fathers seemed to hold in some form. Yes, there are interpretive difficulties that come from changes in language and culture since Abraham and since the first century. But what causes division is our fallen nature, our moral rebellion and our intellectual rebellion. We all see what we want to see in some areas, get ourselves off on tangents.

    Which is why I like DH Williams and Tom Oden. They point us to “consensus” as a way of correcting our individualism and pointing us to the essentials and away from the side issues. I’ll be interested to see what the author suggests as an answer.

  • scotmcknight

    DanS, I don’t agree Smith is caricaturing stuff at all, but I am in complete agreement that both Williams and Oden are wonderful models of a more conciliar approach to biblical interpretation. I appreciate that you’ve studied this, and so have I, so I ask you what I often ask myself: Is a conciliar approach, or one that embraces the great tradition as the substance of how to read the Bible, still evangelicalism? If Smith is right in saying it is rooted in biblicism, that conciliar approach undercuts so much of how things operate.

    Example: a few years back I heard Al Mohler say on TV that Mormons aren’t Christians because they don’t embrace Nicea. I was floored because of the argument he used, not by the truth of what he was stating. I don’t think appeal to Nicea is comfortable with biblicistic evangelicalism.

  • ChrisB

    4, 5, & 6 are really different versions of the same complaint. Obviously the authors wants to throw them out. What about the rest? Even if I agree to stop believing 456, does that require I give up on #2?

    It seems that our choices on this are:
    1) The Bible is God’s word, and we can understand it.
    2) The Bible is God’s word, but we can’t really understand it.
    3) The Bible is God’s word, and we just have to accept what some authority says it means. (Which authority? We know his candidate is RC tradition, but why?)

    Or we get: The Bible is not God’s word. In which case we’re completely on our own trying to figure this thing out.

  • Jeff Doles

    John MacArthur’s motto “Unleashing God’s truth one verse at a time” says nothing about attack dogs. That is an invention of your which you decided, for whatever reason, to impose upon it. It is not only over the top, it is unfounded. Nor does his motto say anything about using verses as weapons or disregarding the context. MacArthur’s ministry is mostly about expository preaching through books of the Bible, going verse by verse in sequence, with exposition building on the context. So your “over the top” remarks grossly misrepresent MacArthur. It is not quite name-calling, but it is the next worse thing. And when you misrepresent someone, whether an individual or a group, you are not telling the truth about them. I’m no fan at all of MacArthur, but I do not think it is right to abuse or misrepresent him.

  • Charlie O

    Dan (20) “DH Williams and Tom Oden. They point us to “consensus” as a way of correcting our individualism and pointing us to the essentials and away from the side issues”

    I respect them also. The thing is, they point to something that isn’t there. There is no consensus, only thousands of micro-consensuses. Consider the trajectory of denominationalism since the Reformation.

  • Jeff Doles

    Charlio O #23,I think the early creeds — e.g., Apostles’ and Nicene, indicate an important consensus in the Church. RCC and EO agree with them, and the majority of groups that are called Protestant.

  • Adam

    I actually agree with #4 and #5 in the list, in that the bible is simpler to read and understand than people allow. But my reason for that flies in the face of #1.

    I believe #4 and #5 because I believe the bible is written by real people who are trying to communicate what they know of God to other people. The bible is not a book on calculus that needs special training to just grasp the concept. The intended audiences for these letters and histories weren’t scholars, they were everyday members of communities.

    I think the hyper-educated approach to the bible is part of the cause of all the fractures in the church. Over-analysis might be blinding us to what the writers might be trying to say.

  • Joe Canner

    Jeff #22: My post was not meant to be solely about MacArthur (although I am still curious as to what you think “unleashing” really means), but to show an example of those who use the Bible as a weapon and/or who take verses out of context. Perhaps MacArthur is not guilty of this, but I contend that that there are plenty who do. If you disagree that such people exist or that this does not constitute biblicism, fine, just say so and we can move on.

  • Jim Byrne

    Wayne Grudem is a *clear* example of a tendentious approach in reading texts; not a *good* example!

  • ChrisB

    Scot re: #26,

    We may believe in sola scriptura, but Nicea is still a useful summary of what is essential to Christianity. If you deny that, you can revere Jesus and even worship him, but you’re not a Christian.

    Nicea can be true even though it is not the ultimate authority.

  • Jeff Doles

    It seems the main issue converges on perspicuity. If, as I believe, God has communicated His will and His ways to His people through His Word, then I believe that it can be understood by His people. That does not mean that it is all equally perspicuous or that all His people will find it perspicuous to the same degree. But there is an understanding and meaning of it that matches with what God intended by it. I also believe it represents, at least in broad fashion, what He wants His people to know.

    I believe that is all relevant, to vary degrees, directly or indirectly, to the life of faith for God’s people.

    I believe that there are some basic commonsense hermeneutics which apply — such as reading in context, noting who is speaking and to whom, reading according to genre. And there are also other, more specialized hermeneutics which pertain to the various literary genres represented, and historical and cultural elements.

    If all the Word is from God, I expect that there will be an inner harmony to it. I do not expect God to contradict Himself.

    I do not believe we are able to understand the Word sufficiently apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Or apart from the community of faith, past and present, because we are His people collectively as well as individually. Nor can we understand it sufficiently apart from worship, because it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us to confess that Jesus is Lord.

  • Amos Paul

    Indeed, I agree with several of the above posters that this list is in fact a caricature of the facts. While I might actually agree with many of this author’s criticisms, his blazing infidelity in carefully presenting the truth about his target audience (presuming this was actually writtiing FOR Evangelicals) certainly makes it seem as though he is not honestly trying to tell the truth, but push an agenda.

    Most (all?) of these problems seem generally recognized by serious evangelicals already anyway. But, out of curiosity —

    [@ Charlie O]

    If the author calls out Asbury by name, do you find his criticims of that institution accurate? Are these points applicable in a large way towards the faculty and teaching that goes on there?

    I have researched Asbury for myself in the past… didn’t particularly notice any glaring Fundie characteristics.

  • Brianmpei

    #25 Adam. I appreciate that you agree but the history of the Church would indicate that they are not true. We have multiple denominations, multiple interpretations, multiple understanding and applications of the very same texts. Simple is what it cannot be called.

    When I was at Bible College we were doing “Missions Month” and we had three chapel speakers over 1 a one week period (Tues, Thurs, Tues) preach on Matthew 28:18-20. The first one told us the key word for understanding this text was the “therefore”, the next speaker told us it was “Go” or “as you are going” and the third told us the key was “making disciples”. Each one was adamant, without knowing what we’d just been told one service before them, that their take was “the” take. Was one of them right? Probably. Was it simple? Clearly not.

  • Jeff Martin

    It really shouild only be six points

    1. Inerrancy
    2. God’s whole will for us is in the Bible and we need nothing else
    3. Anyone can understand the plain meaning
    4. All passages on a particular theme mesh together
    5. Universal validity
    6. Inductive Method

    Everything else is repetitive. The inductive method is okay, except that many of the original words have multiple meanings. One of my biggest pet peeves is when a professor or pastor says, “when you see the word ‘therefore’ find out what it is there for.” Huh? They obviously are unaware that the word translated “therefore” could easily be translated as “now” or “then” or “however” or “by all means” or “what!”

  • Alan K

    Chris B #21,

    I suggest you read the book as Smith gives an alternative approach to Scripture that he would say is truly more evangelical than biblicism.

    Dan S #20,

    You say that “scripture is the foundation, the ultimate and final authority.” Then what are we to make of Jesus’ words when he says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”?

  • Jeff Doles

    Joe #27, I do not disagree that there are some people who are indeed like that. But I do not think they are the majority or that they constitute biblicism. If we are to judge a movement by the abuses of its extreme adherents, then every movement is wrong. My point, as I noted originally, is that you have caricatured, and thus misrepresented by exaggeration a movement which encompasses a great many brothers and sisters. It does not work toward producing unity or understanding.

  • Brianmpei

    @ Everyone who is convinced this is list is a caricature. If you were in my office I’d give you a copy of my hermeneutics syllabus from my Bible College days – which states these points nearly verbatim. There may be varying degrees of acceptance or adherence but I assure you this is very representative of a good sized chunk of the independent, evangelical church in North Am.

  • Christian Smith

    From the Author: An interesting discussion. Thanks.
    But please do not let this discussion substitute for actually reading and responding to the argument of the book itself. A lot of what is being argued here is directly addressed in the book. The problems of biblicism are more profound than what some posts in this blog suggest or admit. Also, I would hope that descriptions such as “blazing infidelity” (31) might only be made after the book is actually read and digested, not based on hearsay. Many thanks.

  • Adam

    @Brianmpei #32

    Let’s assume for a moment that these comments we are writing are like the letters Paul was writing. So, your sentence “When I was at Bible College, we were doing “Missions Month”. Is the key word here ‘When’? Or maybe Bible? Or doing?

    I think the key to understand what you’re trying to say is ‘doing’, so if I’m DOING a “Missions Month”….etc

    That kind of analysis of language is destructive to the original message. You obviously did not intend for me to break your whole thought into it’s constituent parts and analyze each for the best meaning.

    Or maybe I should go find a post you wrote on a different blog, and use that post to interpret what you are saying here.

    What I’m trying to say is that we need to treat the original writers as humans. Humans who use turns of phrase, and inflection, and slang, and colloquialisms. The reason why your 3 speakers came up with 3 different meanings is that they hyper-analyzed the text. Would 3 different readers come to 3 different conclusions from your post? I don’t think so. And I don’t think Matthew had any intention of being vague.

    The only difficulty we have today with reading the bible is that it was written in a language that is now dead. But anyone who has had any serious cross-cultural experience can understand that even though language barriers are hard to cross they aren’t impossible and anyone can do it with time and patience.

  • Jeff Doles

    Scot #26,

    Though I went to a fundamentalist Bible college, I have been evangelical ever since I left. It never occurred to me that evangelicals should ignore the creeds. Over the years, I have often heard evangelicals refer to them and the Church Fathers, not in derogatory ways, but as illuminating the Christian faith. So it comes as no surprise to me that an evangelical such as Al Mohler would refer to the Nicene creed approvingly. Or maybe I’ve just been hanging out with the wrong bunch of evangelicals.

  • Scot McKnight

    Jeff, the group Chris Smith is writing about here is the anti-creedal kind of evangelical. Their numbers are indeed high.

  • Scot McKnight

    So, let me say this one more time: this is not a caricature, so no more comments that it is. It does not characterize all of evangelicals, and Smith is very clear on that, but it characterizes — accurately — millions, and that’s who he is writing about.

  • Jeff Doles

    Brianmpei #32,

    That’s the example you are going with? How one preacher emphasizes “Therefore” in Matthew 28:18-20, another emphasizes “Go” (or “as you are going”) and a third emphasizes “making disciples”? I find no contradiction there. The text is large enough to admit all of that — and more. I can think of a number of other points in that text that can be legitimately made without distorting the text. The doctrine of perspicuity does not mean that Christians will always agree on every point of interpretation or emphasis.

  • Brianmpei

    #37 Adam. As soon as you make these exceptions you’ve changed the point of the list. And Hebrew and Greek aren’t technically dead languages. Further, most people have not had any serious cross-cultural experience and therefore, again, you’re creating a stipulation that proves the list rather than disproves it.

    What I was taught, without qualification, was that I or anyone could understand the “author’s intended meaning” from the english text and it was the AIM and ONLY the AIM that mattered or was “inspired”.

  • Jeff Doles

    Scot #39, not all biblicists are anti-creedal. I’ve seen that very many are not. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think Al Mohler is a biblicist and he is obviously not anti-creedal, as you have seen.

    So if there are many biblicists who are not anti-creedal, then it seems to me that Smith would be doing biblicism a great disservice in treating it on the whole as anti-creedal. It would be what we call a caricature.

  • Brianmpei

    @ Jeff, #41 – My point was not about contradiction but how simple it is to understand the text in a translated language.

    If we were going to get on to your point I would use the various texts on the role of women in the Church. Or I would talk about our view of baptism – by immersion only, the point at which you become a Christian and receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Why have the gift of “Teacher” if all we needed was a text? Just give us “Writers” and then get out of the way!

  • Amos Paul

    @ 36 Brianmpei,

    I would caution you, as Jeff already stated, not to judge a philosophy by its abusers. The main problem with ‘Biblicalism’ is that its ‘adherents’ believe such widely varying things about the principle to begin with. It’s not strictly and easily defined. I don’t even know one ostensibly Evangelical denomination or organization that actually professes half of this list as stated–though I’m certain they are out there. Are they really predominant? Is this really what mainstream, respectable Evangelicalism looks like?

  • Scot McKnight

    Jeff, by definition, brother, the biblicists are anti-creedalists. That’s what a biblicist is.

  • Brianmpei

    @Jeff #43. Another motto of our movement and my Bible College, “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no law but love, no name but the divine.” This is who the list pertains to and we are many.

  • Scot McKnight

    Amos, you need to read Smith’s book.

  • Jeff Doles

    Brianmpei #44, read my post at #30, where I welcome the role of the Holy Spirit and the community of faith and worship in coming to understand the Scriptures. So I welcome the spiritual gift of teacher in the Church. I do not say that all we need is the text. And I’m fairly certain nobody will dispute that I am a biblicist. The idea that biblicism teaches that solo Scriptura, that all we need is the text, is a … um, well since Scot tires of the word “caricature,” I’ll use a good old Huck Finn kind of word .. it is a stretch.

  • Jeff Doles

    Scot #46, that has not been my experience as an evangelical or as a biblicist. Apparently that has not been the experience of Al Mohler either. I’ve seen too many biblicists who respect the creeds to accept that biblicism is by definition anti-creedal. So, to present biblicism as anti-creedal, when I know full well that it ain’t necessarily so, seems to me to be a stretch.

  • Joe Canner

    Just like one can be a five-point Calvinist or a four-point Calvinist (etc.), perhaps one can be a ten-point Biblicist or an x-point Biblicist (x<10).

  • Adam

    @Brianmpei #42

    I don’t think I get what you’re trying to say.

    4. Democratic perspicuity: reasonable humans can read the Bible in his or her language and correctly understand the plain meaning of the text.

    I actually do think this is the case and we don’t need a PhD in theology to understand the plain meaning of the text.

    I also, agree with this statement for different reasons than a biblicist. I think humans can understand the plain meaning of the bible because humans wrote it. I do not believe the bible is Divine Writing.

    Subsequently, I think MORE Common Sense should be applied to how we read the bible. But common sense isn’t always common.

  • Scot McKnight

    Jeff, one more time: the biblicism Smith is describing is anti-creedal. Please drop this discussion…

  • T

    First: I’ve been taught all 10 of those my whole life, and still believe some of them to some extent.

    The charge, which I think can accurately be laid upon the influence of scientific modernism on Protestants, is that many of us evangelicals have trumped up our faith in what the Bible is and can do. Guilty as charged. In my view, doing so was a reaction to fight the modernist battles that the enlightenment made almost inevitable, and, relatedly, to make up for the increasing lack within Protestantism of any kind of functioning ecclessiology or pneumatology. What can we lean on if we so distrust the People of God and the Spirit of God, or choose to believe that the best/only thing they ever did together was assemble a book? So, yes, I’m all for Protestants acknowledging and seeking more Spirit in the Church, both in tradition and in current work and expericence.

    That said, I disagree with those who would say (apparently the author may be one of them) that the best alternative to biblicism is joining the RCC. Please understand, I have shared and continue to share wonderful brotherly unity with several Catholics and Protestants alike. I’ve also seen “members” of both camps that could hardly be Christians in any meaningful sense. I don’t see any more error or hypocrisy in Catholicism than in Protestantism, but neither do I see more unity. That may sound odd, but I’ve known enough Catholics personally and in my family to know that the ‘unity’ within Catholicism is no kingdom come. Further, tradition can be as blinding as it can be illuminating, IMO (and again, I don’t mean only RCC tradition on that score).

    The only unity that I’ve seen that’s worth a darn is the one that Bonhoeffer described so well. Both the pull to biblicism and the need for the RCC definition of ‘unity’ seems driven by this desire for “something more” that Bonhoeffer warns against:

    “One is brother to another person only through Jesus Christ. I am a brother to another person through what Jesus Christ did for me and to me; the other person has become a brother to me through what Jesus Christ did for him. This fact that we are brethren only through Jesus Christ is of immeasurable significance. Not only the other person who is earnest and devout, who comes to me seeking brotherhood, must I deal in fellowship. My brother is rather that other person who has been redeemed by Christ, delivered from his sin, and called to faith and eternal life. Not what a man is in himself as a Christian, his spirituality and piety, constitutes the basis of our community. What determines our brotherhood is what that man is by reason of Christ. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us … That dismisses once and for all every clamorous desire for something more. One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood … In Christian brotherhood everything depends upon its being clear right from the beginning, first, that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality.Second, that Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a psychic reality.” I would also add it is not a doctrinal reality (low-church version of unity), nor an institutional reality (high church version of unity).

  • Rick

    How are the “biblicists” that different than post-moderns? One claims the individual can interpret the text, the other their specific community. There is the difference on “certainty”, but both think they can grasp it well enough.

  • Terry

    I’m in agreement with Brianmpei’s take @36, this list is a basic picture of my denomination. Of course there are different interpretations and nuances of the list… that’s the irony!

  • Taylor

    On some level, he’s absolutely right. Faith in Christ is, at face value, impossible to maintain with intellectual integrity. As long as I’m going to believe in Jesus that no matter how many great minds disprove Him, I may as well be willing to believe the rest of it against all reason and cultural sensibilities.

  • paul

    on the topic of this biblicism being “anti-creedal”. This type of biblicism is definitely present. our Christian School is trying to adopt the Nicene Creed as part of it’s faith statement and many are already preparing for the needed teaching as to why the creed is good, not only for the RCC, true, etc.

    it’s interesting how many evangelicals have no real knowledge of the creeds, but plenty of misinformation. i think the connection to biblicism is helpful

  • Jeff Doles

    Scot #54, I can accept that, if you agree that there is also a biblicism that is not anti-creedal. My concern is that a view that I, and many others I know and know of, hold no be misrepresented.

  • Brianmpei

    @ Adam #53. Here’s the thing, as soon as you translate into English you have already engaged interpretation in certain passages. For instance, at my BC we would decry the use of the word “baptism” which is not a translation at all and we would say that it confounds the reader from reaching the correct understanding of the text that immersion and ONLY and EVER immersion was the proper ‘mode’ of baptism.

    I’m dropping out of this discussion now because it seems the expression “biblicist” clearly, despite the above definitions given, means different things to do different people – an interesting coincidence given the discussion. I think we’re talking about a label some clearly embrace and a way of thinking and living that I’m recovering from that made the Bible into something it is not and was never meant to be.

  • Adam

    @ Rick # 56

    I am supposedly a part of a “post-modern” church so I’ll try to show where differences lie.

    1. Divine Writing: Post-moderns don’t believe this. The bible is ‘inspired’ and ‘useful for teaching’ but is not the literal Word of God. 1st chapter of John says that Jesus is the Word of God.
    2. Total representation: Absolutely not. Christian Mysticism as an example.
    3. Complete coverage: Absolutely not.
    4. Democratic perspicuity: Your argument is totally true.
    5. Commonsense hermeneutic: this seems redundant.
    6. Solo [not sola] Scripture: No. Creeds and especially the teachings of the Desert Abbas and Ammas is very important (maybe overly so)
    7. Internal harmony: This is part of innerancy which post-moderns don’t believe in.
    8. Universal applicability: Probably not, but the wording of this is a bit vague
    9. Inductive method: Most would say they don’t believe this but I personally think post-moderns are more modern than they think the are.
    10. Handbook model: Absolutely not.

  • EricW

    @37. Christian Smith:

    From the Author: An interesting discussion. Thanks.
    But please do not let this discussion substitute for actually reading and responding to the argument of the book itself. A lot of what is being argued here is directly addressed in the book. The problems of biblicism are more profound than what some posts in this blog suggest or admit. Also, I would hope that descriptions such as “blazing infidelity” (31) might only be made after the book is actually read and digested, not based on hearsay. Many thanks.

    Comment by Christian Smith — July 22, 2011 @ 9:38 am

    I think you just sold me on buying and reading the book. :)

    To Kindle, or not to Kindle? That is the question.

    Per the preview pages at, the list of 10 in Scot’s post is somewhat of an abridgement and rewording of what you actually write in your book:



    I think people here who don’t have the book should read your 10 points exactly as you word them. (Unfortunately, the preview doesn’t include the superscripted endnotes 2-6 that some of the points have.)

  • EricW

    And here’s a working link for the second page of the 10 points in the Christian Book preview:

  • DRT

    I ordered the book. What I hope to learn from it is how I can relate to the folks who are biblicists because my only approach to them right now is to try and steer clear.

  • Christian Smith

    Thanks. Scot’s summary above is extremely good. But a summary is not an argument, of course. I’m grateful he is drawing attention to the book, and happy to see the resulting discussions. But I hope the full argument gets a serious consideration.

    On confessions, Scot is right that the logic of biblicism ought to deny the validity of creeds and confessions, and most biblicists do in practice, although there are a few pockets here and there of those who do not (like Westminster Seminary tyes).

  • Charlie O

    Amos (31) – Unless I am misreading the author, he was not criticizing Asbury (or Gordon Conwell, or Wheaton, or DTS – see TBMI page 13)so much as pointing out the pervasive paradigm of biblicism (as defined) among very good institutions – so perhaps my “ouch” should have been an “aha!”

    Christian Smith (37) – three chapters in and I agree. Even Scot’s great synopsis for purposes of this discussion cannot touch the full-orbed presentation you are making in TBMI. I cannot over express how many lightbulbs are going on (or how dangerous this whole topic is for concurring evangelical pastors who’d like to keep their jobs).

  • Jeff Doles

    Christian Smith #66, I expect the reason the practice of many biblicists does not match up with what you perceive to be the logic of biblicism is because they do not hold all the points in an absolute way but qualify them. So, it should not be surprising to hear, for example, Al Mohler speak approvingly of the Nicene Creed, or hear other evangelical biblicists cite the Church Fathers in an approving way.

  • Christian Smith

    Jeff: You are right, I think. In the book I say the 10 points are an “ideal type” and different evangelicals (and others) hold more or less to most of them in their particular situations. Yet there is still a powerful convergence out there–somewhat promoted not by seminaries and pastors but by evangelical publishing responding to market demands that are not great–around the 10 points I have highlighted. Even if one is a 7.35% biblicist, that is still biblicism. And part of the power of biblicism, even among those not ideologically committed to it, is the lack of an alternative visions (other than theological liberalism, which none of us want) to it. Like a politician who nobody ever runs against, despite the fact that they’re not very good in office.

    If Al Mohler is promoting the Nicene Creed, that is great. Though doing so is not exacly consistent with the logic of Baptist (anti-tradition) “tradition.”

  • DanS

    Scot #26. I’m well aware of the “no creed by Christ, no Book but the Bible” type of Protestantism. I guess even though I have run in some pretty conservative circles, I haven’t seen things that cut and dried in the way “biblicism” seems to be defined. Every denomination and movement I’ve been associated with has a Statement of Faith that mirrors the Nicene Creed, even if they don’t recite the Creed on Sunday. I think that is the “consensus” Oden refers to.

    I guess I’m not sure where you or the author, Christian Smith, are drawing a line between “biblicism” and “evangelicalism”, so perhaps I am a little sensitive there, but I’m not discounting the issue the Smith seems to wish to address, I just think the way the 10 points are phrased doesn’t leave much room for how folks actually practice Sola Scriptura.

    Charlie O #23. Thousands of Micro-Consensuses? Do not virtually all Protestant denominations accept the Trinity? Do almost all not accept the divinity and humanity of Christ? Is that not the definition of consensus? Not unanimity, but long, repeated examples of the vast majority affirming central truths.

    And as for micro-consensus, it was not the Biblicists who abandoned belief in the virgin birth and the resurrection in past generations. It is not the biblicists who are questioning the historicity of Adam and the fall, redefining atonement, testing the waters of universalism, pushing the boundaries on sexual ethics, etc. My point there was that for all it’s faults, Sola Scriptura has, in my experience provided for a lot of stability on the core issues, even if there is a lot of wrangling around the edges.

    I see scripture alone as “canon”, measuring rod. I see tradition, both the larger historic tradition and the more segmented denominational distinctions as “derivative” authority – derived from scripture and under it. The traditions have authority as grids to aid in interpretation – to mitigate some of the individualism and segmentation, but that authority comes from many minds wrestling with the text, not from speculation beyond the text. That, I think, is what “Sola Scriptura” was supposed to mean, and I agree many in the Evangelical camp have drifted in ways that undercut unity.

    My point was not to disagree with the author that there is a problem with “solo scriptura”, cutting ourselves off from Church history, I think that is a valid point. It is just that in my experience being in a movement that asserts the objective text of scripture as above human traditions is a far more stable place to be than in movements that place too much stock in the extra-biblical authority of tradition or philosophical speculation or cast the text in the light of being so culturally conditioned that it loses almost all authority or relevance. I agree there are problems in Evangelicalism – I just think the problems in the mainline and in progressive circles are often worse – the fragmentation is exponentially worse because there is even less of a standard to appeal to.

  • EricW

    @70. DanS:

    I guess I’m not sure where you or the author, Christian Smith, are drawing a line between “biblicism” and “evangelicalism”, so perhaps I am a little sensitive there, but I’m not discounting the issue the Smith seems to wish to address, I just think the way the 10 points are phrased doesn’t leave much room for how folks actually practice Sola Scriptura.

    Click on the links in my posts #63. and #64. to read how Christian Smith actually words the 10 points in his book. Smith’s wording seems to be much more “fundamentalist/inerrantist” than Scot’s rewording of them in this post.

  • Adam

    @DanS #70

    You wrote, “Sola Scriptura has, in my experience provided for a lot of stability on the core issues,”

    Part of the discussion, or ‘pushing the boundaries’ as you put it, is actually to say that the issues that you mentioned are not necessarily the “core issues” or even the “complete issues”. What you call “the edges” are core issues for other people.

    For many, global war is a much bigger issue than sexuality. The stance of many conservative evangelicals is that war can be just and they use Sola Scriptura to support that, but there are also many progressives who use the teachings in the gospels to support pacifism.

    So, you have seen stability on the issues that you prefer but those are not universal issues and it would appear that you are dismissing “core issues” for other people as “the fringe”.

  • Charlie O

    regarding factor #4: “Democratic perspicuity: reasonable humans can read the Bible in his or her language and correctly understand the plain meaning of the text.”

    While this is broadly affirmed, is anyone aware of instances where a literate person picked up a Bible and without any guidance, other than the text, moved into a saving relationship with Christ? Or is the theoretical possibility what is important here, not the reality?

    Also –

    DanS (70) – You seem to express a sweeping vision of ecumenical unity within the body of Christ via the historic creeds – or at least an adequate unity. I honestly wish it were so, but in a pragmatic sense -that actually advances the kingdom of God- I do not see such unity. (I may be warped though, because in my neck of the woods, you will often not get three sentences into a casual conversation about faith before you are asked, “So what version of the Bible does your church teach?”)

    It is true that evangelicals (most of whom ascribe to biblicism in theory) have courageously kept their finger in the dam on some important issues (in the Protestant wing of the West), but the overall lack of effective unity is part of why the dam may break anyway. Then what? I think Smith is saying that it will serve evangelicals well (we can become more effective for God’s purposes) to find a more coherent take on biblical authority than biblicism. And time may be of essence.

  • Amos Paul

    Christian Smith,

    Since you seem to be posting here and somewhat modifying the picture drawn in the blog post by saying that this might be a minority view, I will outline why I felt that the information presented above appeared unfaithful to the truth.

    As DanS succinctly stated above, the blog post seems to indicate that this type (I emphasize type) of Biblicalism is indicative of Evangelicals in general. Thus, there doesn’t seem to be a very fine line drawn between this portrayal of Biblicalism and Evangelicalism (itself a vague title). This is a bold claim as I take ‘Evangelical’ to generally mean, ‘high regard’ for Biblical authority or primacy–but not necessarily fundamental literalism, a much more specific subset of Evangelicalism.

    However, my comments on the list (responding specifically now to the linked list of your points rather than abbreviated one):

    1. Divine Writing: As Jeff quoted in the Wiki article above on Biblical Literalists, most of even the most fundamentalist camp accept that the Bible as “God’s Words” must be understood in the context of whatever that type of literary genre is, how the authors themselves tended to communicate, etc. I have rarely met anyone who claimed that that every book in the Bible clearly and distinctly illustrates God’s character exactly as it is withuout some understanding modified by the literary aspects of the text and personhood of the author.

    2. Total representation: I imagine that you’d agree that there are Pentecostal and Charismatic Biblicalists, yes? Even without them, it’s the rare Christian I’ve heard of claiming that God does not communicate AT ALL except via the Bible. The typical Biblical Literalist might simply say that God *primarily* communicates through the Bible so that other communication merely ‘re-enforces’ that message or is specific to whom it was communicated to. (Ex: I feel that God is leading me to do X in my life — certainly not an impression literally IN the text of the Bible!)

    3. Complete coverage: See my above comment, but also the statement I’ve heard from *most* ‘Biblicalist’ camps is that the Bible contains “All things necessary for salvation.” While salvation tends to be VERY important to these groups, that is quite different than all and every last issue that might concern the Christian life.

    4. Democratic perspicuity: Aren’t most Biblicalists ardent about their preferred translation(s)? Heck, the Baptists just publically denounced the updated NIV. It’s always been my experience that everyone cares about good translation and accurate understanding across language barriers.

    If what you meant by this was, assuming a good translation that the Biblicalist agrees with, then I might grant that they would believe that there’s plain meaning in the text that everyone should arrive at if they undertook an honest and straightforward study of the Scriptures.

    5. Commonsense hermeneutic: Same critique as 4, but I think if you accept that there is a careful attitude towards understanding the words through the literary genre, personality of the author, and verity of the translation–then you deny points 1, 4, & 5 as they were stated since the Biblicalist necessarily accepts other factors as pertinent to understanding the text and God’s character.

    6. Solo [not sola] Scripture: While I agree that Biblicalists think their theology can be built up from the Bible alone without appeal to tradition or creeds (whether or not they think any of the Creeds are correct or helpful notwithstanding)–I disagree that they think there are not other factors to consider when people read the text or that people should not rely on the teaching of others who have already spent much time and effort in analyzing the literature types in the Bible, language translation, etc.

    7. Internal harmony: Fairly accurate, but again I would claim that a typical Biblicalist would still agree with there being some rational and extra-Biblical work one might have to do in understanding the things in the Bible to properly ‘figure out’ the internal harmony on this or that issue. This might be, for them, due to the occasional muddiness of literary type, language barriers, or whatever.

    8. Universal applicability: This one is tenuous. I know of SOME folks that think all commands and teachings are applicable as stated unless they are explicitly modified elsewhere–but I know FAR more that believe in some sort covenantal theology or what have you that modifies things in the Old Testament by the New even if the New doesn’t explicitly call out that particular teaching or commandment.

    Yes, this is theological interpretation and seems to fly in the face of the Biblicalist principle of plain meaning in the text–but it’s something I’ve know almost all to believe actually *is* the plain meaning of the NT.

    9. Inductive method: Fair enough.

    10. Handbook model: Fair enough.

    Therefore, you can see that I found the claims made in many of those statement to be worded just so strongly that I can’t even think of any typical Biblical Literalists that would agree with them.

    Moreover, when that description seems to claim typifying most all Evangelicals in general, the dis-ingenuous impression I receieved specifcally concerning what literalists then appeared generalized to an extreme.

    While you most likely still find your description of Biblicalism perfectly appropriate, there lies my disagreement and why the list/description appeared to me to be pushing an agenda rather than dissecting what I believe your typical Biblicalist might actually say.

  • Charlie O

    @ Amos Paul (74) Even granting your customized/caveat-filled version of the 10 factors of biblicism, would you say that this view of scriptural authority has moved its adherents (across several hundred years) toward a more unified and kingdom-fruitful body of Christ?

    The author’s contention (exact definition of biblicism notwithstanding) is that it is yielding an ever more fractious, diffusing and ineffective witness via pervasive interpretive pluralism. And it appears that it is precisely because he is theologically conservative and evangelical (in the best sense) that he cares about this.

  • Jeff Doles

    Christian Smith #69,

    You mentioned 7.35%. I know you threw it out as an example, and it is clear that even that low percentage is too high for you. But what does such a percentage even mean in a discussion like this? How do you quantify biblicism?

    For example, I believe that the Bible is the Word of God? Is that biblicist? What percentage? 100%? 10%? Somewhere in between. And what would it take to be 0% biblicist? Would I have to believe that none of the Bible is the Word of God?

    Or take perspicuity. I believe that God intended for the Word to be understood by the people of God. Biblicist? How much? 100%? 50%? If I wanted to be 0% biblicist, does that mean I would have to believe that none of the Word was meant to be understood by any of the people of God?

    Or how about inductive Bible study? I believe that it can be a very helpful approach to considering the meaning of a text. Is that biblicist? What percentage? 100%? 50%? If I wanted to be 0% biblicist, does that mean I should have to ban inductive Bible study methods?

  • Alan K

    Jeff #76,

    The Bible as the capital “W” Word of God–is that biblicist? Could be. Is not Jesus Christ the capital “W”?

  • Jeff Doles

    Alan K, take it as uppercase or lowercase. It makes no difference to me. Jesus is the eternal Son of God and that distinguishes Him from the Scriptures.

  • Alan K

    Jeff #78,

    Does not the distinguishing of Jesus Christ from the Scriptures have huge implications for the locus of authority to the extent that we cannot consider any part of Scripture apart from the authority of Jesus Christ? Is the authority the Bible or Jesus Christ?

  • Jeff Doles

    The Scriptures speak of Christ. I don’t think there is any competition going on between God and His word. God is our authority, so when He speaks, His word is authoritative. It would be incoherent to speak of God as our authority and then suppose that what He says is not authoritative. God has exalted both His word and His name.

  • Patrick


    Maybe Paul meant he was animated by Christ only, but then ,why the Epistles? What use is it for me to try and understand them?

    Where does the Bible fit in the good Christian life? Dust collector or arbitor of the faith? If someone says X and the Bible indicates Y, does X carry the day?

    I honestly get more confused everytime this discussion returns.

    Of course Christ is not the Bible, but, isn’t the Bible our connection with His views?

    I’m interested in many opinions here.

    here is mine:

    God animated each author. He did not give them secular educations, no science, no auto mechanics, just spiritual intent is involved.

    Human input is involved which = errors(educational levels are not changed,i.e. the sun moves), it does not interfere with the spiritual info, we must learn the ancient Jewish culture and follow it to learn properly,we must interpret based on the context(religiously) and genre.

    Scribal errors exist, they may be eliminated by textual comparisons using reason in most cases and no doctrine I am aware of is harmed by any.

    Anyone see it roughly like me?

  • Aaron Brooks

    So what approach do you recommend? What approach is not self-defeating based on church history and church fragmentation? How can any approach to scripture or Christianity avoid these same accusations? If you’re going to deconstruct biblicism, you need to forward an approach that cannot be deconstructed in the same exact way.

  • Matt Edwards


    I appreciate the way you raise questions like this without having an axe to grind.

    Yes, I see these 10 characteristics in evangelicalism. I don’t know if it is integral to our identity, but it is certainly widespread. Maybe it’s like Americans and driving on the right side of the road. Driving on the right doesn’t get to the core of who we are, but we all do it and it would be pretty hard to change.

    I do think that plurality of interpretation defeats biblicism, but that doesn’t mean it will go away. Another thing that you didn’t mention is the propensity to attribute ulterior motives to those who disagree with us. It’s not that we have equal interpretations of the Bible, WE have the right interpretation while THEY read the Bible the way they do because they’re sinful or stupid.

  • Scott

    Good article, but I think there are more basic issues need to be addressed.

    The first “problem” is the stark difference between what a front-line pulpit minister often claims about the bible in his hand and what the translators and publisher claims about the same book. Those are often very different points of view.

    Second is the differences between translations on Big Letter Issues. Just one example is that many translations do not use the word Hell, but churches shy away from these translations preferring fire-and-brimstone variety bibles which use the word hell. Even translations which use the word hell, do not use it consistently.

    Third, is to recognize the false-claims of fundamentalists. Contrary to popular myth, fundamentalists do not believe in the Bible. Fundamentalists believe the bible must be translated and interpreted to according to their pre-assumed fundamentals…hence the name. Once they find a version of the bible they like, then fundamentalists lie their butts off claiming the bible has always supported their interpretation when all they are doing is using a bible that was tailored and tweaked to fit their dogmas.

  • Amos Paul

    Charlie O,

    I’m not a biblicist, if that answers your question as far as my belief in the value of holding to it.

    I hold neither to sola scriptura nor holy tradition which I see as altogether too se

  • EricW

    Biblicist Evangelicalism vs. Catholic/Orthodox Church Traditionalism and Authority.

    Frying pan vs. Fire.

    Been there, done both.

    As Anne Graham Lotz says: “Just give me Jesus!”

  • Amos Paul

    Charlie O,

    I’m not a biblicist, if that answers your question as far as my belief in the value of holding to it.

    I hold neither to sola scriptura nor holy tradition which I see as altogether too distinct from scripture.

  • Scot McKnight

    Sorry folks, but Kris and I were at the Cubs game today and I opted out until now…

    DanS, yes, I agree. What I have observed is that evangelicals who are more or less biblicist (1) believe in the creeds at some level and always affirm Trinity etc but (2) they have no ecclesiology or mechanism that allows them to use the creeds as somehow authoritative. There are some sorts, and Chris appeals to Westminster (but it often does not want to be classed as evangelical, and Michael Horton is a great example of how this is articulated well). In other words, more or less the biblicist appeals to the creeds because they think that is what the Bible, when read properly, teaches and not because that is how the Church has read the Bible. (This is the big difference, as I see it, between biblicists and people who are confessional or creedal.)

    Aaron, stick with this series on Smith’s book.

  • DanS

    My point was not to dispute that “solo scriptura” can lead to fragmentation. I agree with the author on that point, just to a much lesser degree. Let me take another pass at this.

    I’ve experienced division in Bible churches many times. The issues were often trivial. Personality conflicts, different views of authority, eschatology, abusive revivalism. Yes, “solo scriptura” with a dose of human sin can lead to fragmentation, but in most cases it wasn’t scripture per se that was at issue. But I have never experienced “Bible-church” division over abandoning the Trinity, abandoning the deity or humanity of Christ, abandoning salvation by grace through faith, etc.

    On the other hand, those who would often decry “biblicism” (not Christian Smith, but many revisionists, emergents and progressives) cause fragmentation over core issues. The so-called “biblicist” movements don’t usually produce someone like a John Shelby Spong, have not traditionally moved the standards on sexual ethics, have not taught what I was taught at a Catholic college that Jesus never claimed to be God or that such words were put on his lips by second century disciples or that Moses believed in many gods.

    I am not saying all is well in the conservative evangelical camp. I am simply saying I have found no place that does any better and most, in my view, fare far worse. I associate with “biblicists” because I trust them more to remain true to orthodoxy and the gospel than I trust other movements.

  • scotmcknight

    DanS, is there a way within evangelicalism to find a happy center of affirming the significance of the universal, historic church and its great tradition in such a way that our reading of the Bible is governed by that great tradition, and rabbit trails away from it seen as non-essential? I think there is. It will take a revival of ecclesiology within evangelicalism. I don’t believe, and I’m with you on this, that the RCC or EO fare better and neither is finally attractive (as a whole) to me.

  • Jeff Doles

    Scot #88,

    Inasmuch as biblicists agree with the early Christian creeds because they believe they teach what the Bible teaches, it seems to me that they are participating in the sensus fidelium (the “sense of the faithful” — doctrinal truth recognized by the whole body of the Church). Indeed, these biblicists are not external to the Church but are part of it. So, they are reading and understanding the Scriptures along with the Church in regard to the Trinity, the divinity of Christ and other matters addressed in the early creeds. I think that is pretty marvelous.

    Does that happen by accident? I don’t think so. Rather, I think there is something inherent in the Word of God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who indwells every believer and guides us into truth, that leads to this sort of agreement about those creeds.

    Inasmuch as they say the same things those creeds say, they actually “confess” them, though they arrive at it by the ministry of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit instead of by magisterium.

  • scotmcknight

    Jeff, I wouldn’t call those people “biblicists.” We’re back to the same problem; you want to see some biblicists who are really creedalists and I don’t.

  • Scott

    Jeff #91

    Thanks for your comments but I disagree with your theory of sensus fidelium. I’ve looked at numerous surveys on numerous issues and I’m doubtful that there ever was a doctrinal truth that was recognized by the whole body of the church.

    I guess I’m a bit more cynical based on personal experience. In my experience what really happens within churches is a few very noisy people (rightly or wrongly) make their stand on a doctrinal issue. Everyone else either doesn’t care enough to go against the dogma club or in the event that anyone does challenge the issue, the dogma clique discredits them or runs them out of the church.

    All it takes is for a few well placed church members and willing ministry leaders to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, insist they are right, and publicly pat each other on the back for being ‘right’. This kind of dynamic is how the Jehovah’s Witnesses have absolutely sold their members on a special version of the bible that any other group would throw in the trash.

    I’d like to believe there is a great silent unity, but experience has taught me that most people just don’t want to fight the crowd … so they end up going along to get along, and to the casual observer that appears to be a lot like unity.

  • Jeff Doles

    Scot, I’m talking about all those biblicists who believe in the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus and other things confessed in those early creeds. They did not arrive at it by magisterium or creed but by the Word and the Spirit. The problem here is that you have a definition of “biblicist” that insists they must be anti-creedal. This is why it came such a surprise to you that Al Mohler appealed to the Nicene Creed — your definition is too small to match up to that reality.

  • scotmcknight

    Jeff, good point because it leads to clarity for me on what you are saying. Yes, I have a narrow view of biblicists; Chris Smith sees exceptions to the general rule; I see those exceptions too, but they often cut against the biblicistic orientation. If you think biblicists can sit with their Bibles and come to the Chalcedonian Definition then … well, they can’t and don’t. They arrive at those terms because those terms are the way the church has thought of the Trinity (person, hypostasis, nature, interpenetrating without dissolution, etc). That’s precisely the point. Many biblicists, in fact most, are orthodox but don’t have the ecclesiology that justifies some of what they think the Bible actually teaches. The Chalcedonian Definition is the orthodox way of saying things that are glimpsed in the Bible, but reading the Bible alone and all by myself will not get me to those terms (especially today).

    Many of us were surprised by Mohler’s comment; not because he believes Nicea but because he justified his view that way. That was an appeal to church, not Bible. Mohler is a great example of a biblicist kind of scholar whose faith is thoroughly orthodox and who is seeking to make a more robust ecclesiology, but as you see in other comments, some would say — I agree with them — he is pushing back against his anti-creedal Baptist roots.

  • Jeff Doles

    Scot #93, I think perhaps your cynicism and the bitterness of personal experience is not serving you very well. There is a core of common faith that exists in the various branches of the Church and unites them that is greater than the doctrinal issues that divide.

  • Charlie O

    Amos Paul (87)- No, I really was just asking about the historical trajectory/impact of bibilicism – in order to press the author’s point regarding pervasive interpretive pluralism (as I’m understanding it from reading the book). But I appreciate the candor!

  • Amos Paul


    I liked your allusion to Sensus Fidelium as what church beyond the magisterium come to proper creed through. I’ve often had the same discussion with others in different words. Some people want to define ‘orthodoxy’ as tied to the authority of a specific historical story or institution so that you can trace an exact set of beliefs or line of people throughout history.

    I disagree and cite ‘orthodox’ as more of a loose pipeline of boundary in Christian belief that can be traced in general throughout the history of Christianity and is not kept in order specifically by human effort but by our cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Granted, our beliefs are never perfect–and I’m entirely uncertain that they can be!

    In fact, I’ve come to *love* denominations in the sense that I honestly think there’s many valid ways to approach Jesus–who is our center. We must simply be careful to understand one another’s perspectives and figure out whether or not we’re actually looking at the same thing when ecumenically discussing belief systems.

    *And on the note of churches tending to strong arm a particular community’s belief system–I agree that’s simply the sad state of affairs in human organizations. But that’s also why I personally believe that churches are far better off within some kind of denomination or national/international organization so that leaders and whole communities can have a ‘cloud of witnesses’/set of peers that they are held accountable to. The same can be said about there being multiple denominations and belief systems, I think!

  • Jeff Doles

    But of course I do not suggest that biblicists sit with their Bibles and reinvent the the Chalcedonian definitions. And Baptists and other biblicists do believe in the role of spiritually gifted teachers. And they do study church history and the Fathers and even the creeds — not because they are against them — and then, like Beraeans, study the Scriptures to see whether those things be so.

    They are not all like the flattened out definition of biblicism that heads this thread, the “ideal” biblicism Christian Smith describes, which turns out be a stereotype and lacks the qualifying factors that even others here recognize exist in many biblicists. I went to a biblicist Bible college and studied at a biblicist seminary. I have journeyed with biblicists long enough to see both the downside and the upside, and I see that they are not all the same — they do not all match up to the narrow definition on offer here.

    I’ll leave it at that.

    Peace be with you.

  • Patrick

    If a creed and the Scriptures disagreed, is it a Biblicist to say you defer to the Bible’s view?

    I am in accord with the Nicean Creed and Chalcedon council’s conclusions, but, if either disagreed with Scripture, I wouldn’t be. I think they successfully crushed heretical views myself.

    I agree with those 2 councils because they agree with the Orthodox Scriptural views, IMO. As Jeff says.

    I never met a believer yet who does disagree with that and I was raised SBC and am 56.

  • Dale Fincher

    Scot, thanks for sharing this so clearly (I like Christian Smith but was unaware of this new book of his!). I agree about Grudem. I found myself in seminary wincing at him often and wondering if anyone else was so bothered. Since I’ve been in the gender-issues, I see it even more clearly.

    The next question now is what kind of psychology is behind biblicism? Because I feel that we need to get at the root of helping biblicists “care”…? It’s one thing to describe it and another to address it? Will Smith address it later int eh book? And is there a backdoor approach to helping biblicists see their own blindspots (just as I did once upon a time) and enter into the more honest (and fruitful) and truthful conversation?

    Or are we all postmoderns and have our own narrative that we cannot escape? (tongue in cheek).

  • John

    I would suggest that the fact that are now well over 30,000 different Christian denominations, sects and sub-sects is ample testimony as to the (30,000) differing institutional interpretations and uses of the Bible. And quite possibly countless millions of differing personal interpretations and uses too.

  • BrentH

    Mennonites are biblicist and have confessions. This is not seen as a contradiction as it correlates with a community hermeneutic. It is a tension that is managed.

  • Jeff Doles

    Dale, I wonder if you realize how that sounds. Do you really think that biblicists have been dishonest and untruthful in the conversation? That you somehow need to sneak up on them instead of dealing directly with them? That they are psychologically blinded and need your “help”? Is it really more than just honest disagreement? That’s how you’re coming across. Sounds very condescending.

  • Charlie O

    So… naysayers here are saying that:
    -interpretive pluralism is not really pervasive?
    -or not fueling an increasingly problematic evangelical pluralism?
    -or is the best the body of Christ can manage to do?
    -in any case it is not biblicism’s fault?
    -because biblicism as defined is inaccurate?
    -or that an ethereal Sensus Fidelium is somehow the ipso facto authority to which the church at large can appeal for the “plain meaning” of biblical texts?

    okay, I’m moving on to chapter four of TBMI

  • Jeff Doles

    Charlie O,

    There is interpretive pluralism, but there is also a core of faith that is held in common across branches of Christianity, even including biblicists. Biblicists certainly shame some of the blame for interpretive pluralism and even division in the Church. But there are many variations in biblicism, so that there are many who do not fit the “ideal” biblicism Christian Smith attempts to describe. For many, that description would be a caricature.

  • DanS

    Charlie. 105. No. We’re saying “Interpretive pluralism” within conservative camps does NOT mean pluralism about the Trinity, the incarnation, the virgin birth, the finished work of the cross, etc. Biblicism does not lead to denial of creedal essentials. And most protestants are united on basic soteriology, Christ alone, Grace alone, Faith alone.

    The objections here are not a denial of fragmentation, but a corrective that Biblicism does not lead to complete chaos because most of us “biblicists” agree on a great deal and agree with the church of history on a great deal. As Jeff Doles has suggested, that is not an accident. Though there is not unanimity, and a range of views on some issues, certain things are sufficiently clear in scripture to lead to a workable consensus on major themes. I repeat, it has generally not been the Biblicists who have abandoned the Creedal truths of Trinity, incarnation, creation, etc. even if some groups are skeptical of creeds. Whatever fragmentation occurs in conservative camps and as ugly as it can be, it can be more disorienting in movements which place a different weight on the authority of scripture and the sufficiency of language.

  • Charlie O

    Jeff & Dan (106 & 107) – thank you for the distillation of your thoughts; it was helpful! If you were to read Christian Smith’s book, I would be curious to know if you think he has created an interpretive pluralism “bogeyman.” Or, in order for biblicist-leaning folks to “hear” him, if you felt he should equally call out liberalism (which I think he does in the book, but more as an aside since the book is addressed toward evangelicals – among whom he counts himself).

  • Jeff Doles

    Charlie O.,

    Smith apparently locates the problem, of evangelicalism at least, with biblicism. Then he caricatures biblicism in such a way that misrepresents many biblicists. How can that not, then, exaggerate and distort the problem.

    In his comment to me at #69 he indicates that even one who is 7.35% biblicist is still a biblicist, with the implication being that it is still a problem. I’m not sure what he even means by putting percentages to it like that; I asked him about that in #76, but I guess he has not been back. If anyone else has an answer, I’d like to hear it.

    In caricaturing biblicism and misrepresenting many biblicists, I think he has imagined a Frankenstein. Frankenstein, in you remember in the story, was made up of many real human parts, gathered from here and there, then cobbled together into a monster, a parody or caricature of humanity. Having imagined Frankenstein, then, apparently the only good Frankenstein is one that does not exist, not even 7.35%.

  • Charlie O

    Jeff, I don’t think Smith’s individual tenets of biblicism are far off the mark (though you have clearly begged to differ). However I do think that when you put all 10 together, you get someone that would make Bob Jones look like Bishop Spong in contrast. I also think your brand, an intensely thoughtful brand, of biblicism is not typical of the everyday folk with “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” on their bumper stickers.

  • Alan K

    Jeff #109,

    The 7.35% biblicist is still reading and utilizing the scripture in a manner that is inconsistent with the reality of what the Bible is. I think Smith is fair with his 10 points and any perusing of the Christian Book Distributor catalog vindicates what he is saying (or, according to a few of the comments above, taking a Wayne Grudem class or reading Grudem’s theology).

    But to get stuck on this point will prevent the discussion from going where Smith takes it in the book: what exactly is the Bible and how should it be read. What does the Bible become in light of a healthy doctrine of God and a healthy doctrine of the Word?

    Smith’s comments above in #37 are apropos–the charge of “Frankenstein” maybe unfair if the book has not been read.

  • Peter G.

    Good discussion here. I’m just finishing Smith’s second chapter and I would say I felt a bit like Jeff Doles–that I was hearing the worst of Biblicism presented. With Jeff I felt like Smith is brushing aside the significant theological agreement found among Biblicists on issues like Christology and Trinity as if these agreements simply happen by chance and have nothing to do with a strong commitment to the Bible’s authority.

    And like Jeff, I kept wondering how the ten assumptions or beliefs can be defining and yet don’t need to all be present in order to constitute biblicism. Well how many? Which ones are really definitive then?

    I’m hanging on though and hoping it gets better or at least clearer.

  • Patrick

    My experience tells me the fundy may be approached with thoughtfulness, shown some evidences of the genre thing, the metaphor things, the contextual things, the ancient Jewish cultural milleu thing and be converted.

    I was, by this method. I have achieved success more than failures in my own small social circle just being thoughtful and approaching fellow Baptists mainly.

    The approach must be thoughtful. Some of the mentality exhibited here is as “fundy” in approach as any fundy I ever met.

    I was hardcore fundy until 3 years back. I was converted easily. I have seen it happen since then.

    Baptists appear to me generally anxious to get further into God on the whole. I get some rigidity, not as much as one would assume reading this blog.

  • Jeff Doles

    Alan K #111,

    What I mean is, how does assign a percentage to or quantify biblicism. There seems to me to be a few problems about that. See my post at #76 to see what I mean.

  • chaplain mike

    Scot mentioned but did not elaborate on one of the more powerful examples of the variety of interpretations that biblicism produces. Smith’s list of “Four Views on…” books is quite impressive to me in showing that differences among biblicists are not simply about peripheral matters. When a list of books produced by evangelical publishers includes titles like: Perspectives on the Doctrine of God (Four Views), The Nature of the Atonement (Four Views), Four Views on Hell, and Four Views of Salvation in a Pluralistic World, it is clear that “evangelicalism” is a community with a lot of diversity about its most basic theological beliefs.

  • Jeff Doles

    There certainly are a lot of 4-view books. And all of these views are biblicist? Four biblicist perspectives on the doctrine of God? Four biblicist views on the nature of the atonement? Four biblicist views on hell? Four biblicist views on salvation in a pluralistic world? And plenty more 4-view books besides? Are all those views biblicists? And are non-biblicists really all in agreement on every doctrine?

  • chaplain mike

    Jeff (#116) I’m trying hard to see what you are defending here. Have you read Smith’s book? Your answer to my comment at #115 misses the point I think. Smith uses his list of “4 Views” books as one example that (1) there is vast diversity of theological opinions within the evangelical spectrum, (2) that the diversity reflects differences not only with regard to “non-essentials” but also on central doctrines, and that (3) this takes place despite the fact that those within this spectrum all claim, in one way or another, that we have a Bible that is clear and authoritative on matters of faith and practice.

    Call it “biblicist” or not, this is a major problem for the evangelical Protestant enterprise.

  • Terry

    Jeff, methinks thou dost protest too much.

    I know it’s misquoted, and that it’s taken out of context, but with this particular topic that makes all the more sense.

  • Patrick

    Chaplain Mike,

    Why would disagreement about interpretation say anything about the validity or accuracy of the Scriptures?

    We disagree about Shakespeare, right? Do we all interpet our own constitution the same way?

    I have an atheist friend who keeps telling me if God was in anything, we’d all know it. I keep telling him God isn’t into robots, rather free volition humans who all come from different backgrounds.

    I fail to see where that reflects poorly on the validity of the Bible or the Biblicist view.

    BTW, I disagree with lots of the Biblicist views, agree with some.

  • Jeff Doles

    chaplain mike,

    Smith seems to locate the problem for evangelical interpretive diversity as biblicism, if the title he chose for his book is to have any meaning: “The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture.” In my post to you, I was questioning whether biblicism is really responsible for all that diversity within evangelicism. There seem to be many non-biblicists who have diverse interpretation, not only within but even outside of evangelicalism.

    Terry says I “protest too much,” which I take to mean — since he admits he pulls that quote from context — that he wishes I would shut up about it all. But I am a biblicists, I have many biblicist friends and I know of many other biblicists who have been unfairly represented by the description offered up at the top of this thread. I don’t like to see them caricatured and abused, so I have lifted my voice in protest, and I have taken time to explain why and answer questions that were put to me.

    Others here also see that the description is a caricature. Charlie O #110, for example, sees that if anybody completely fit that description, they would make Bob Jones look like John Shelby Spong. I call it an imagined Frankenstein because, though all the individual parts may be real — a hand from here, a leg from over there, someone’s kidney, someone else’s spleen, etc. — they have been assembled into a monster, a distortion of biblicism and a great many biblicists. So I have protested that.

  • Jeff Doles

    chaplain mike,

    Though there may be many 4-view books, and other diverse opinions among evangelicals (biblicist or non-biblicist), I think there are very few that contradict the basic creeds of the Church (e.g., Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed). The creeds were not intended to give us exhaustive explanations about God or the Trinity or the Christian faith. Rather, they give us a framework within which we may safely talk about these things and keep in line with the apostolic teaching. They do not explain the mystery of God and Trinity, they preserve it. So, within the early creeds, there is plenty of room to explore the mystery, and even do disagree over many things. Indeed, we find that the Church Fathers themselves had a number of disagreements.

    So take, for example, Perspectives on the Doctrine of God, or The Nature of the Atonement (4 views), or Four Views on Hell — what in those disagrees with or contradicts the Apostles’ or Nicene creeds? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

    The RCC has its teaching Magisterium, which, thought it is quite extensive is still not exhaustive. It still leaves plenty of room for exploring catholic Christian theology and there is a lot of interpretive diversity within the Catholic Church.

  • chaplain mike


    1. “There seem to be many non-biblicists who have diverse interpretation, not only within but even outside of evangelicalism.” Yes, but they do not make the “biblicist” claim of having a clear and authoritative Bible that is completely sufficient for all matters of faith and practice. Non-biblicists EXPECT diversity of interpretation because they don’t understand the Bible to be a comprehensive “handbook” of belief and instruction that has complete inner consistency.

    2. “…I think there are very few that contradict the basic creeds of the Church.” Yes, but you are conceding something when you make that statement. For you are recognizing an interpretive authority outside the Bible. “Biblicists” as defined by Smith see no need of creeds, for they have an all-sufficient Scripture. They function by the rule, “Solo Scriptura,” believing that the Bible alone is all we need.

  • chaplain mike

    Patrick (#119), of course readers are fallible and we come at all texts from different perspectives. But the biblicist claim is that the Bible is a different kind of text than Shakespeare. The Bible is God’s revelation: divine, inerrant, internally harmonious, clearly understood (perspicuous), and designed so that all human beings might hear and follow God’s will and ways. As Smith says, “If the truth of the Bible is really sufficiently understandable to the ordinary reader, then why do so many of them—and countless biblically and theologically trained scholars besides—find it impossible to agree on what that truth is?”

  • Jeff Doles

    chaplain mike #122

    1. “Non-biblicists expect a diversity of interpretations.” If biblicists have a diversity of interpretations and non-biblicists also have a diversity of interpretations, why is that biblicism and biblicists treated as if they are the problem? None of the biblicists I’ve ever known or known of — beginning as far back as the early ’70s, when I went to fundamental, biblicist Bible college, and later when I studied with biblicists seminary — have said that there will not be diversity of interpretations on some things. The biblicist principle was never offered as a guarantee that everyone would come to the interpretation. Indeed, there was recognition that there would be differences over some issues. It was at fundamental biblicist Bible college that my professor said that if two people agree 100% about eveything, one of them is not thinking. And we were taught the old chestnut, “In major things, unity; in minor things, liberty; in all things, charity.” So, indeed there was the recognition that there would be some divergences and variations. Whoever told you that biblicism was a guarantee of 100% interpretive agreement sold you a bill of goods.

    2. Indeed, biblicists as Smith defines them see no need of creeds. But in the real world that I have experienced for the last 40 years or so, biblicists do find the creeds, the Church fathers and Church history to be useful. The creeds are not taken as infallible, and biblicists try to be like the Bereans and search the Scriptures “to see whether these things are so” (Acts 17:11). We were not taught to ignore the creeds, the Fathers or the interpretive tradition but to respect them. Smith’s “ideal” biblicists function by “Solo” Scriptura. But that is not true of most of the biblicists I have ever known or seen.

    We were also taught — and this was at anti-Charismatic Bible college, mind you — that the Holy Spirit plays an important part in our understanding of Scripture: He illuminates it so we may understand it. So it comes as no surprise to me that the Church, even the biblicists, would share the basic understanding of the Christian faith as expressed in the early creeds — because we all have the same Holy Spirit. That is what I was referring to earlier about sensus fidelium. OTOH, there are those in the Church who seem to have departed from a number of important elements of the faith affirmed in the creeds. John Shelby Spong, for instance — would you say he is a biblicist? I’m guessing he is not. But I don’t think you will find nearly as many biblicists who reject the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus or His bodily resurrection as you will non-biblicists.

  • chaplain mike

    Jeff, I’m sorry, but you are missing the point of the book. I’d encourage you to read it. Thanks for the discussion.

  • Questioning Student

    If the principle of democratic perspicuity does not hold true and I do not possess a PhD in theology and I do not trust a a formal institution of priests, how should I read my bible tonight? Is it merely my duty to work through the muddled sea of hermeneutics based on some sort of prayerful guidance by the Holy Spirit, aided by my trust in some sensitive biblical scholar, and always keen to remove my cultural lenses?

  • scotmcknight

    Questioning Student, I can’t quite tell from your letter if you are being sarcastic or genuine in your question. If you are serious, hang on for a bit until we get to that chp, or read the book yourself — it’s very much worth your while.

  • Questioning Student

    scotmcknight #27, My question is genuine. I will admit that my tongue was in my cheek in my second question–but that was only to express the difficulty of interpretation in the only answer I see. Thanks for the reply! I may just have to get my hands on this book…

  • Charlie O

    Jeff (120) – a small potatoes clarification: that I did not say that the 10 identifying elements of biblicism collectively were a caricature, just that the idea of someone embodying all of them fully would be a caricature, and is not likely.

  • Charlie O

    Questioning Student (126) – just your knowledge of theological vocabulary indicates that you would already bring a certain interpretive slant to reading scripture. I think democratic perspicuity is important only in theory to the biblicist. It has very little basis in reality. Who has ever read the Bible in a “vacuum?”

  • Alastair

    I love this post!

  • dopderbeck

    Scot — great summary in #96. Earlier on (I lost track of post #), you said: “Is a conciliar approach, or one that embraces the great tradition as the substance of how to read the Bible, still evangelicalism?”

    To that I would say: I would want to view “evangelicalism” as a “tradition” in the MacIntyreian sense. The current movement in “theological interpretation” among many evangelicals seems to me a valid extension of the “evangelical tradition,” because it also connects to other distinctives such as conversionism and activism. It certainly isn’t what B.B. Warfield envisioned or even what Carl Henry or J.I. Packer thought — but I wouldn’t define the “evangelical tradition” so narrowly. And there has at least since the 1950’s always been a Barthian stream of “evangelicalism,” which meshes pretty well with theological interpretation.

  • dopderbeck

    Much is made of the plurality of views that results from Biblicism as a proof that Biblicism — or really that sola scriptura — is inadequate. But didn’t Luther and Calvin and others before them make precisely the same point about the Conciliar and Papal traditions? If the Conciliar tradition and the Magesterium were so consistent, why would Catholics need something like Newman’s Essay on the Development of Doctrine? When I read Newman, I see the same rationalizing defenses of Papal infallibility that I see when Protestant fundamentalists try to defend “literal” Biblical inerrancy.

    To Chris Smith and others — I’m not bashing Catholics here — but I’m honestly wondering why I should trade one set of rationalizations for another?

    Someone might weight in that Eastern Orthodoxy provides a weighty Tradition without Papal infallibility. Yes. But yet the Great Schism of 1054 and the issue of the Bishop of Rome’s authority is Exhibit A in the brief against the consistency of tradition, isn’t it?

  • Jeff Doles

    The development of Christian doctrine, even in the early centuries, was a messy bit of history. Not a very pretty sight, a bit like sausage-making. That is no reason to reject it all, and certainly no reason to embrace it all uncritically. Good biblicists, of which I have seen many, do neither.

    For about a year or so back in the mid-90s, I considered “coming home” to the Catholic church and I thought quite a lot about just these sorts of issues. Ultimately, of course, I was unconvinced. I soon found myself heading into a much more Charismatic direction (not that the Catholic church does not have a wonderful Charismatic tradition going on in it), and I have never looked back since.

  • DRT

    Christian Smith, my copy showed up today, had a hard time putting it down.

    My only objection so far is that the radical biblicists may refuse to read it due to the direct argument you make. I welcome the opportunity to buy more copies for acquaintances.

  • Christian Smith

    I’ve been away from this conversation for some days, overseas. Interesting stuff. But my response to much of it is again that people need to actually read the book, think it out carefully, and respond to the actual argument. Some issues raised above (e.g., the psychology behind biblicism) are explicitly addressed in the book. Some suggestions made above (e.g., that my account of biblicism is a charicature) I simply think cannot be sustained in face of the empirical evidence presented in the book. A fair bit of the discussion above would be cleared up if people first read the book, thought it through, then contributed their ideas. I particularly think that Jeff Doles needs to read the book with an open mind, if I may be so bold.

  • russ rentler, md

    Just got your book the other day. Finished reading chapter one and almost done with 2. I wish I had read something like this years ago when I was in college, may have saved me a few years wandering. Thanks for the great work. Will post a review on my blog when I get finished. The book series you pointed out was so right on. Very hard to argue with actual evidence of rampant biblicism out there. God bless!

  • Steve

    Who presents a healthy alternative?

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    scotmcknight #s 26-96:
    Perhaps it would be better to speak of the Biblicist “tradition” as being non-creedal rather than anti-creedal. My impression is that hard core biblicists don’t reject the classic creeds or their content, but are perhaps just uncomfortable with the terminology used in the creedal tradition. I have characterized myself as being a biblicist and am often viewed by other defacto biblicists as as being anti-trinitarian. I prefer to refer to myself as non-creedal, but now, after engaging this discussion, I’m going to have to re-think calling myself a biblicist!!

  • Ann

    As a Biblicist, I read carefully, every comment, revisit again, ponder long… nod and I lay my head down on my desk and echo the Questioning Student {#126}. Where are the answers and He is the Word and where is one to turn?

  • Howard Snyder

    Sounds like my old friend Chris saw an advanced copy of my book, “Salvation Means Creation Healed.” But I think not.

  • Dr. James Willingham

    The intellectual depths of Scripture defy human imagination and perception. The ideas are foolishness to us without some signal indication from on high as to what they mean and how they apply. A friend thought a mountain stream was only 2-3 feet deept as he would see the grains of sand rolling along the bottom. He nearly drowned,w hen he found that it was 18-20 feet deep. Likewise, biblical wisdom is over our heads as to depth and profundity.

  • Jeff Martin

    Overall a great book on why fundamentalists do not carry out their logic to its conclusion – if so there would be a lot more women with head coverings and washing of feet going on. This should be read in concert with Engaging Scripture by Stephen Fowl (see my review of that book).

    One thing I was a little concerned about was that I do not know that Smith proved that Christ should be what Scripture points to. Yes, Christ is the ultimate revelation of God, but does Ecclesiastes and much of Proverbs and Song of Songs point to Christ? If Song of Songs is about sex and marriage how could Jesus relate?

    Also Smith said he once heard a sermon that was a proper exposition from the letter of James, but it was something that could have been preached by a Mormon or Unitarian. That leads to a question – if it was a proper exposition then did James know how to sermonize Christocentrically? Should we then put James on a lesser pedestal then Paul when it comes to preaching? Maybe Smith would agree but its not clear. If James does not know how to do it then what hope do we have?

    I am not convinced by the Christocentric answer. I have heard the CHristotelic version form my former professor Dr. Enns whom SMith quotes quite often. I am uncomfortable with it because of Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Song of Songs mostly, but also for reasons I am still hashing out in my brain – things like where Scripture is written so that we will not do what the Israelites did. That is not so much Christotelic as it is a Fatherly warning of what could happen if one goes a certain way.

    But if you do not read this book you are really missing out. Very convincing about pervasive pluralism