The Problem with Biblicism 3

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. He calls this belief “biblicism,” and if you want to read what it is see our last post. The fundamental problem that undercuts biblicism as a sufficient basis for articulating the Christian faith is interpretive pluralism. Smith sketched that problem in the first chp but he zeroes in on it in this chp and by the time the chp is over you may well be gasping for breath, or something that will resolve the problem with a different solution.

So, what do you think? Do you think interpretive pluralism undermines biblicism? What do you think is the “solution” to this pluralism?

Biblicism, he argues, is undermined by interpretive pluralism. He gives the following examples to open the chp and I’d urge you to consider each one, but more importantly consider each one in the context of accumulating problems for biblicism. In other words, ask yourself, How do we respond to this diversity and plurality of interpretation? Maybe you can ask Should we have this diversity of interpretation? Here are his examples:

Church polity (free church, presbyterian, etc), free will and predestination, Sabbath (permanent? 5pm-5pm, Saturday, Sunday? what to do on Sabbath/Sunday?), slavery (hideous history but full of plurality), gender difference and equality, wealth/prosperity/poverty/blessing, war and peace and nonviolence, charismatic gifts, atonement and justification (theories, one? central one? many? new perspective? old perspective?), God-honoring worship (regulative, normative, informed principles?), and relation to culture (Niebuhr’s options).

Maybe these don’t bother you because you grew up with them, but they should haunt the biblicist. Noll says belief in the Bible and salvation is all that holds evangelicalism together; Hatch says there is no such thing as evangelicalism.

Smith also sketches six possible answers:

First, blame the deficient readers: the reason we don’t agree is that some are flat out wrong.
Second, he concocts one that isn’t held by anyone: blame the lost original autographs explanation. Yes, inerrancy often appeals to the original mss which we don’t have, but I’m not sure anyone says this about interpretation.
Third, the noetically damaged reader, and I think there’s something serious here but not for all that many folks. Humans are corrupted in the mind and so because of the Fall we have plurality. But this leads to another view, and the next three are more speculative (admits Smith).
Fourth, some, and he pushes against those who believe in double predestination and against some Pentecostals, God or Satan has confused the minds of some and only some perceive the truth. In other words, either God only wants some to know the fullness (and listen in on theology and at times this actually is said, even if indirectly, but often in this way: Very few are willing to embrace the fullness of the gospel, etc.) or Satan has blinded humans from seeing the truth.
Fifth, the inclusive higher synthesis theory: that is, the plurality reflects the truth and the truth is much fuller and higher than humans comprehend.
Sixth, the purposefully ambiguous revelation: God made Scripture ambiguous for a higher purpose.

Fine, you may say, but the problem here is that biblicism has to find an explanation of plurality. I think the first and the fourth, call them the deficiency and elective/supernatural theories, are most often appealed to. The basic stance is that if we worked harder we’d all agree; or if we prayed harder, we’d agree; or if we were more trusting of God, we’d all agree.

I’m running out of space. Smith appeals to three terms to understand how the Bible reading actually works. Reality shows that the Bible has multivocality: it speaks to different readers in different ways at different times. And there is polysemy: that is, the words themselves are patent of different meanings and the words are “underdetermined.” That is, the words in the text are not capable of rendering a certain meaning at times.

That is, even if we are at our best, the words do give rise to more than one plausible, reasonable interpretation. This isn’t what biblicism believes.  Scriptural multivocality undermines biblicism. Is multivocality the reality or not?

About Scot McKnight

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

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Scot,

    You wrote, “The fragmentation of the church denies the biblicist approach.” However, this same form of argumentation is used to deny the existence of moral absolutes or even that Christ died for our sins. After all, there are a multiplicity of views on these subjects.

    On the basis of what do you call yourself an “evangelical?”

  • Andrew tash

    A couple of quick questions (although the second prob won’t have a quick answer). 1. Who are Noll and Hatch?
    2. How does “underdetermined” differ from Foucault’s concept of “undecideability”?

  • http://manlytheology.com Jason Barr

    I do in fact believe that multivocality exists and that it is actually unavoidable. I tend to take a “Pentecostal” approach to hermeneutics, by which I don’t mean anything having to do with Pentecostal churches, but that the Spirit holds together divergent interpretational “languages” as part of the One Body of Christ. The truth is too large and complex to be encapsulated by any one interpretation.

    I’m not sure most of the evangelicals I know who are hermeneutically sophisticated would disagree with that, though. I don’t quite buy into Smith’s definition of “biblicism,” though part of the problem with his task is that the concepts he’s working with are fairly amorphous by their nature.

  • Scot McKnight

    Andrew, Noll and Hatch are two of the major scholars on American evangelicalism.

    I don’t know Foucault’s concept of undecideability, so I can’t speak to that. What Smith means is that the evidence is simply not clear enough or there’s not enough of it.

  • DanS

    If Biblicism is bad because of interpretive pluralism, then are other traditions which have a greater degree of pluralism worse? Is the cause of the pluralism scripture itself? For example, is the reason Harold Camping was spectacularly wrong because scripture is ambiguous or because Camping is a flawed human being who saw what he wanted to see? Did the liberals from the early part of the 20th century reject the resurrection and the deity of Christ because the text was unclear?

    I’m not sure I know anyone who is “Biblicist” to the Nth degree – most pastors I have known are a bit more nuanced even though they have been pretty conservative. But I still tend to think the issue with pluralism in interpretation has more to do with our finite and fallen minds than it has to do with a commitment to inerrancy. Admittedly, some things in scripture are ambiguous. But even when things are crystal clear to an honest reader, there will still be dishonest readers who will find an alternative view attractive for less than noble reasons. So I accept pluralism as a symptom, I don’t see Biblicism as the primary cause.

  • Jason Lee

    I do think that intellectually, interpretive pluralism undermines biblicism. But in practice, biblicism will remain alive and well. This is, for example, because people are loyal to the charasmatic teachers in their interpretive communities and so they trust that their group is right about the Bible and other groups are wrong. The average person is more social than strictly rational in their approach to the Bible.

  • scotmcknight

    Jason, I agree with you. Pluralism challenges only those who want to think about such things; the average Christian believes her or his pastor and may well think other folks are wrong. Argument from authority is the mode of existence. But biblicism ought to challenge those who are most educated who are at the same time reading the Bible biblicistically.

  • Jason Lee

    But few are that educated… especially in literary matters … even fewer when it comes to biblical interpretation. It’s pretty hard to get past the social forces of textual reading.

  • Andrew Wilson

    Scot, how would you understand the “clarity of Scripture” in the light of this discussion? I assume you would affirm it, but you might see it differently than how I have often heard it articulated.

  • T

    Okay, I know we have defined “Biblicism” narrowly to mean acknowledging the Scriptures alone as one’s authority so that one’s ‘tradition’ isn’t even seen as separate from the Bible, with little to no acknowledgment of the creeds or other ‘traditions’ as valuable. We had quite the conversaton that we’re not arguing against Prima Scriptura when we argue against Biblicism. BUT, many of these arguments today apply equally well to Prima Scriptura approaches, do they not? This is what I was thinking early on when these arguments were raised. It’s not like Prima Scriptura will get rid of interpative pluralism, so why is Prima any better according to the author’s arguments?

    That leads me to a few thoughts I keep having in this series, especially now that the central arguments of the book are equally damning, if at all, to prima scriptura approaches: First, what are the alternatives? The author’s subsequent move to the RCC looms large in this discussion for me, and invitations to ignore it are futile and unjustified. Moving tradition or long-standing hierachy into the place of the Bible doesn’t do much for me, mainly because of the errors that approach has produced and for the pluralism of belief that remains, even if underground.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    This is the central issue in Smith’s book. He tries to focus on this and not on “criticism” issues that relate to some doctrines of inerrancy (though he in effect comes back to inerrancy again and again even though he says that’s not his intent….).

    I don’t see interpretive diversity as a central problem. Or at least, to the extent it’s a problem for Biblicism, it’s also a problem for any other source of theological authority, including tradition. Anyone who thinks there is significantly less theological / doctrinal diversity in churches that prioritize tradition as an authoritative interpretive grid — Catholicism, Orthodoxy, maybe high Anglicanism — hasn’t dug deeply into the history and current debates within those various traditions and sub-traditions.

    Or maybe what I want to suggest is that the working definition of “Biblicism” in Smith’s book seems to prove too much. I agree with Smith that the “Biblicism” he describes is rampant at the popular level and even among many professional evangelical leaders. But I’d submit that very, very few evangelical scholars — the folks that write commentaries and so on — are Biblicists in this strong sense. And the wild diversity of views among these scholars reflects not Biblicism, but the generally wild diversity among various forms of Christianity almost from the Apostolic age on.

    It seems to me there are two possibilities: God intends and allows for significant doctrinal diversity in His Church; or, there is one correct sub-tradition in one correct Church and we all need to find it.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Andrew (#9) — on the perpiscuity of scripture — this is a place where I personally felt that Smith set up a bit of a straw man. The proper understanding of the Reformation-era notion of perpiscuity is that scripture is plain with respect to the basics of salvation. In other words, an ordinary person can read scripture and know that he / she is a sinner in need of God’s grace and that such grace is offered in Christ. Since these are basic things that just about every Christian tradition already agrees upon, it seems to me that perpiscuity, properly understood, is not really the issue it’s made out to be.

    E.g., Westminster Confession 1.7:

    All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all (2 Pet. 3:16); yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (Ps. 119:105, 130).

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Scot,

    You wrote, “Argument from authority is the mode of existence. But biblicism ought to challenge those who are most educated who are at the same time reading the Bible biblicistically.”

    While you disparage arguments “from authority,” it would seem that the NT writers also made such arguments from OT authority. Do you see any problem there for your position?

    You didn’t answer my question – on the basis of what do you consider yourself an “evangelical?” Should we then conclude that you don’t consider yourself an “evangelical?”

  • Scot McKnight

    Andrew, the so-called perspicuity of Scripture (or perspicacity), which I think is what you mean also when you say “clarity” is a belief-item that does little good other than assure us. That’s harsh, so let me explain.

    The belief is that the average person can read the Bible and get the message. It is not that everyone can read the Bible and understand everything that it says. Even Peter says he struggled with Paul.

    So, if we want to stick with big message — it points to Christ, etc — then I’m fine.

    But that’s not really the problem. The belief has expanded too much to thinkeveryone can read any passage and determine what the Bible says about each and every topic. That’s biblicism.

    Hope that helps.

    Dopderbeck, Smith makes some interesting moves in this book, and not the least (as we will see) he finds a general christotelic hermeneutic and leaves many issues as “underdetermined” and unclear and therefore he puts discernment back in the hands of the church.

  • Scot McKnight

    Daniel, your question has nothing to do with this post.

  • JST

    Christ did not write a book, he set up a church.

    We can argue about what that church has done, but to me interpretive pluralism is perhaps the strongest argument for swimming the Tiber.

  • http://www.godsabsolutelove.com Patricia Zell

    Honestly, all the “-isms” and “-ics” have nothing to do with the life that Christ came to bring us. Reality is what it is–the Bible was written by a multitude of writers who were sharing out of their experiences with God and those writers could only share what they understood. If nothing else, the Bible shows the growth of the understanding of God that transpired through the years its writers lived.

    Within the pages of the Bible is all the information we need to become and take our places as sons of God and to overcome and defeat the kingdom of evil. We might want to leave behind the thought of the Bible giving us the way to heaven when we die. Rather, we might want to focus on pressing into the life that is more abundant than the loss, death, and destruction that kingdom of evil has enslaved our world with. We might want to encourage everyone we can to seek God with everything they have and to cleave to Him for He is their life. The whole thrust of the gospel is life, not death–the Bible has what we need to know in order to bridge the chasm from where we are to where God is. His calling is for us to abide in the secret place of the most High and the Holy Spirit will use what is written in the Bible to get us there.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    If “biblicism” is true everyone will understand exactly what the original author (or at least God) meant in every passage of the Bible? I don’t think anyone’s ever claimed that.

    Note that all the issues he lists are secondary issues (how to run a church, how salvation works (in the fine details), how to run worship) or questions of how to do what we all know we’re supposed to do (helping poor, evangelism). Maybe these things aren’t clearer because God really don’t care how we do it.

  • Christian Smith

    Some posts here seem to be missing the point. Of course there is interpretive diversity in other Christian traditions. But that diversity is comprehensible in terms of the traditions themselves; and those traditions have internally coherent ways to address the pluralism with integrity. If biblicism is correct, then there simply should not be the pervasive interpretive pluralism that there is. So, it’s an internal contradiction of this particular theory of the Bible that shows it to be impossible.

    One kind of response seems to be that the best evangelcial Bible readers are not real biblicists, that they are more sophisticated than that. (That I recognize in the book.) HOWEVER, then the burden shifts to those people to explain exactly the terms of their more sophisticated theory of the Bible that is not expressed in biblicist terms. What exactly about biblicism do they reject? What positive alternative is proposed? Is it coherent? And how does it explain and resolve the problem of rampant interpretive pluralism? Simply to say, in effect, that “biblicism is a problem but most of us good people out here are not biblicists” and leave it at that is not enough. Borders on evasive. The core problem remains.

    BTW, I know the world of Westminster-Confession folk as well as anyone, and the fact is, as that is worked out in the U.S., thatworld is as thoroughly biblicist as they come. Maybe not so much in formal theory, but in practice that world is fantastically biblicist. My book is trying to get people to honestly compare their actual practices to their theories. The typical, if uncomfortable answer to pervasive interpretive pluralism by most Westerrminster-Confession types is the “we are right, they are unfortunately wrong” answer. At least they have the nerve to say so.

    T, your post suggests that you think that you do not operate in faith based on some tradition or other. Don’t fool yourself.

  • Christian Smith

    ChrisB, read the book. The “secondary issues” arguement does not work. I address it head-on. Neither does the claim that nobody thinks ordinary people can’t understand what passages of the Bible say. Again, Scot is providing very good summary starters, but there is no substitute if you care about these things for reading the full argument and responding to its actual argument.

  • John W Frye

    As I see it the biblicists declare “The Bible alone is our authority.” But then the Arminian biblicist proposes a crucial role for “free will” in salvation and the Calvinistic biblicist speaks of TULIP. For both, the Bible is their authority. I opine that biblicists tend to systematic theology and thus, without a lot of fuss over genre and context, create “teachings” that they can tout as “based on the Bible.” Biblical theologians and narrative theologians enter the multivalent world of the biblical texts and allow pluralism to thrive. Pluralism is a trait of the Bible. Bottom line, the issue is not which interpretation does my community hold, but how do we discern living the message/text in mission to the world? Authority shifts from a Book or an interpretive view to the present, active Spirit working through the sacred text in our particular context.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Scot (#14) — yes, I know. I like and endorse that Christotelic hermeneutic. But, I don’t think it will “solve” the problem of interpretive pluralism. The fact is that a Christotelic hermeneutic won’t allow “the Church” to decide, say as just one random example, between Calvinist and Arminian approaches to election and free will. In fact, it won’t allow anyone to determine what “the Church,” in fact, is, and therefore into whose hands the discernment falls. As another example, take a key issue in ecclesiology: is “the Church” built on the “rock” of Peter’s office or Peter’s confession of faith? Either possibility could be equally “Christotelic.”

    The really key move that Smith makes is a move away from prioritizing just about any systematic doctrinal claims. Something like the Calvinist-Arminian split or the issue of Petrine primacy can then just be allowed to remain unresolved because it isn’t fundamentally important. But this is in itself a systematic doctrinal claim about what is and isn’t important, so it’s internally inconsistent (it’s also clearly inconsistent with Smith’s move to the RCC….).

    Don’t get me wrong — this is a very valuable book, its observations are trenchant, and its hermeneutic is generally wise. But IMHO it focuses on the wrong set of problems and offers a solution that just begs the questions it asks about intrepretive pluralism.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    C. Smith (#19) — you said: But that diversity is comprehensible in terms of the traditions themselves; and those traditions have internally coherent ways to address the pluralism with integrity.

    I respond: First, Chris, as you know I love this book and admire your work. I’m pushing back hard because I’m thinking hard about this myself, not just to preserve what I’m comfortable with.

    So — I would push back against the breadth of this statement. Let’s take the vast difference in perspectives between Commonweal and First Things or America magazines as an example. How is it that American Catholics are acting with so much greater integrity than American evangelicals with respect to such differences? Anyone who knows me knows I’m not at all bashing Catholics here. But living with one foot in the Catholic academic world, I see lots and lots of interpretive pluralism that is festering unresolved.

  • Rick

    JST #16-

    “Christ did not write a book, he set up a church”

    Yes, but the Holy Spirit inspired a book.

  • Christian Smith

    I very much hesitate to go here because I do not want to derail the present discussion into one about eccelsiology. But the short answer is that, contrary to most Protestants’ beliefs about Catholicism, there is a vast, mostly-legitimate diversity within Catholicism. Having an authoritative ecclesial teaching office drawing clear boundaries on the outside and the mystery of the Eucharist at the center allows that kind of diversity. It is legitimate. It is part of how the Church sorts out its issues and thinks out how to move forward. But the diversity is not unlimited. And there are ecclesial means to address when it goes out of bounds. This provides for a more open, dynamic process of working out the faith. Having said this, however, despite the differences between, say FT and Commonweal, both share a common larger framework of the Church over which to disagree. And I do not see anyting similar among U.S. evangelicalism.

    But I hit the Submit button with a big wince, and invite Scot to tell us to stop discussing these issues and to stay focused on his initially posed questions.

  • Scot McKnight

    Christian, one can’t control discussions like this … but I would like to return to the original questions, but I think your points do touch substantively on the topic for today.

    Again, thanks for speaking up here … great book for all of us to read.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Chris (#25) — ok, but I think this is all precisely to the point of the questions Scot asks. In short: yes, interpretive pluralism undermines Biblicism; and the “solution” inevitably is ecclesiological. The Biblical text has life within the historical and present life of the Church, not as words on a page — I think we very much agree here. But this is all about ecclesiology; it’s not really about hermeneutics per se, or rather hermeneutics must follow after ecclesiology, if scripture really is the Church’s book.

    But “solution” is too strong a word, IMHO. I agree to a significant extent with John Franke (“Manifold Witness”) here: some degree of doctrinal diversity seems to be part of God’s design for the Church. I don’t agree with Franke that “Truth” is fundamentally “plural” in essence, but I think there are mysteries and aporias that simply are not susceptible to the categories of analytic philosophy / scholastic theology.

  • Christian Smith

    I believe that these issues raise crucial questions about ecclesiology, eventually. However, the main thrust of the book is simply about first recognizing a big problem that exists. Until lots of people feel the weight of the problem, they will not be motivated to think about satisfactory responses. So I want to push hard on the problems before too easily coming up with solutions. (I actually suggest in the book that it might take a few decades to sort out common solutions, and patience will be necessary.) The second half of the book does suggest in good faith a number of proposals, offered on strictly Protestant grounds, for moving beyond biblicism. Whether they are sufficient or not to address the bankruptcy of biblicism and move to a genuinely solid ground where scripture’s divine authority functions with power w/out the kind of intellectual dishonesties involved in biblicism, I cannot say. Most basically, in any case, I think there must be a serious, widespread reckoning with the problems and impossibilities before the rush to solutions and potential possibilities is launched.

  • scotmcknight

    Christian, and I confess… I was aching for some ecclesiology in that book…. which means you’ve got to write a second edition!

  • Christian Smith

    Sorry. I did just publish another book that directly addresses ecclesiology, for those who are interested and open. But I didn’t and don’t want to muddle the biblicism issue with a bigger debate about whether the Reformation is or should be over.

  • scotmcknight

    Christian, your 95 theses book?

  • Christian Smith

    Yup. 95 Difficult Steps, to be precise. But (truth in advertising), that is not written to persuade people who don’t want to go someplace that they should. It’s for people who are already thinking they might want to go there.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Yes, inerrancy often appeals to the original mss which we don’t have, but I’m not sure anyone says this about interpretation.

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who read that point in the book with a puzzled look.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t see how Christian’s take on polysemy and multi-vocality doesn’t lead to worse interpretive pluralism than that he is decrying. It seems like Biblicism could assimilate these two points from Smith without too much adjustment and end up with more interpretive pluralism only now it would have a rational justification for it.

    Christian, could you comment on this? It puzzled me when I read the book and I never saw it addressed. I’ll go back and re-read this section in case I’m missing something here. I guess my question would be: does polysemy and multi-vocality really challenge Biblicism? If so, where? At what point(s)? It seems to me like it reinforces it.

  • http://whatyouthinkmatters.org Andrew Wilson

    Scot, Dopderbeck and Christian, thank you all for your clarifying comments – this discussion is the one I’ve most enjoyed reading on this blog, and I appreciate you engaging it like this!

  • T

    Christian,

    I don’t mean to imply at all that I stand outside of one or even several traditions that substantially inform my faith and practice. Quite the contrary, which leads me to think I’ve not communicated well at all. I wholeheartedly embrace a prima scriptura approach to theology and practice, and I am such a mutt regarding different traditions that have influenced me, it’s harldy worth naming them all. Though we can get into that if needed.

    Your comment in #19 makes it clear that you see interpretive pluralism as a problem, a charge even, that not only biblicists, but all evangelicals are compelled to answer. You see the burden as being on non-bliblicist evangelicals (such as prima scriptura folks) to address the questions you pose in that comment, chiefly to explain how or why such interpretive pluralism exists if we are to give the scriptures even primary authority in forming our theology and practice. Am I reading you right here?

    I guess I have a hard time seeing how we bear such a burden. I can see how biblicists, who profess in a classicly modern way, that the bible can (and should) bring us all to unity of faith all by itself, would bear the burden for explaining the disunity of the church. But I fail to see how someone who doesn’t make or hold such a claim bears any such burden, especially one who holds a fair amount of epistemological humility, regardless of who or what authorities or sources we trust for our information about God.

  • T

    I guess I want to ask, do you see the authority given to scripture in various prima scriptura camps as logically incoherent? What claims do you see such camps making for scripture or otherwise that are refuted by the existence of interpretive pluralism or on some other grounds?

  • Christian Smith

    Biblicism is a particular theory about the Bible and a resulting practice of using it. Polysemy and multi-vocality are what I take to be descriptive facts about the biblical texts. They help explain why we have the pervasive interpretive pluralism we do.

    I am not “advocating” them as means to solve anything–they are not in my mind positions to advocate but facts to recognize. So I am simply recognizing them as facts which help show why biblicism does not work (yet which most biblicists deny or ignore).

    The facts of polysemy and multi-vocality stand in real tension with the assumptions behind Democratic Perspicuity, Commonsense Hermeneutics, and Internal Harmony; they also create real problems for Complete Coverage and Inductive Method, in practice.

    My observation is simply that biblicism expects the Bible alone read in a populist way to be able to provide a clear, authoritative, divine set of teachings and answers to all the questions that matter. Polysemy and multi-vocality throw huge monkey-wrenches into that in practice.

    While I’m at it, I might also observe about a few comments above (to the effect that well-educated evangelical biblical scholars do not fall into biblicist traps) the thought that putting hope in this recognition is already to take a step away from biblicism and toward “hierarchy” (!!), by identifying particular kinds of people positioned to be authorized to rightly and reliably interpret scripture. Only these are not bishops of dioceses, but rather professors at seminaries, etc. Sociologically, however, the dynamic moves in the same direction. (And that does not even address the fact that some non-trivial % of such professors know that they cannot come out and honestly say what they really believe about the Bible, however reasonable, or else they might lose their jobs, given the biblicism embedded in the powers that control such insitutions.)

  • Adam

    Back in comment 10 T made this statement

    “Okay, I know we have defined “Biblicism” narrowly to mean acknowledging the Scriptures alone as one’s authority so that one’s ‘tradition’ isn’t even seen as separate from the Bible…”

    This statement wraps up everything that I understand Biblicism to mean. And something to point out is that what someone CLAIMS to believe and what they live out are two very different things. I don’t think very many people CLAIM that they are biblicists as Smith describes it, but I think Smith is pointing out that A LOT of people live like biblicists as he describes it.

    And I come to this from my own observation of people. There is MUCH in conservative evangelicalism that is solely TRADITION but as T put it, those people do not separate their tradition from biblical authority. In fact, nearly every one I meet claims that whatever tradition they have is a direct command from the bible.

    Why is this kind of Biblicism bad? Because it fractures the church. The insistence on rightness (because their belief is based on “biblical authority”) is creating an us/them mentality.

    I have been told that because I didn’t agree with someone’s interpretation that I wasn’t reading my bible enough.

    Multivocality is reality but most people I have interacted with, try to shut it down and say that only their way is the right way.

  • Christian Smith

    My apologies (T) for not IDing which previous posts I am addressing. Hope that’s not confusing.

    (Re: #35-36) Prima Scriptura makes a lot of sense. I think that is one necessary step forward. (One can even read Catholic teachings as a version of that.) Whatever Sola-Scriptura people *say,* they actually operate as Prima Scriptura in fact. So a better position to hold.

    You are right that there is quite a different burden there. My statement was a bit strong (writing off the top of one’s head has its own challenges). But do you think Prima Scriptura as a theory about the Bible means that pervasive interpretive pluralism is not longer a problem? Can the former be copacetic with the latter? If so, then there is no burden at all. But if pluralism remains a problem, as I think it should, then the burden to account for it w/in the parameters of Prima Scriptura remains, even if not as weightily as for real biblicists.

    To say more than that I’d have to hear the details of what Prima Scriptura means for you.

  • T

    Also, for clarity, dopderbeck is hitting on what I’m thinking as well. Yes, the RCC (or EO) has some degree of acknowledged and welcomed pluralism. It sets boundaries for what’s debatable and what’s not. Every group, large and small, does this in one way or another. Further, for too many of us, the RCC draws those lines in such a way that puts on the “out of bounds” list things that we believe or at least want to openly consider. (And I’m with David that I’m not catholic bashing here–too many welcome friends, brothers and allies.) I just don’t see those approaches to faith and practice “solving” the pluralism problem, nor do I, relatedly, see them getting all their interpretations right.

    We can say that interpretive pluralism is a problem with the Bible-as-sole-or-primary-authority paradigm. But, as Kuhn observed, it takes a (better) paradigm to kill a paradigm. Punching holes in the existing one is important, but not sufficient. Until a superior paradigm comes along, no one will move from the one they hold, no matter its shortcomings.

  • Larry Lucas

    Sounds rather like the implications of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewußtsein, doesn’t it?

  • Christian Smith

    Re #40: I do not hope to persuade y’all here into become Catholic, just to be clear.

    Still, I do believe there are real differences in different traditions–despites some superficial sociological similarities–in how cogent and honest they are in their accounts of internal differences. The question is not only “do they do X?,” but also “do they have a coherent/honest rationale for the fact that X happens?”

    Furthermore, there are real differences between groups and traditions in degrees of internal diversity. Many denominations in the U.S. are very, very, very internally homogenous (PCA, OPC, etc.). And others that are not tend strongly toward endemic fighting and fracturing (PCUSA)–just to use a few Presbyterian examples.

    I could not agree more about paradigms. My job in the book under discussion is to put a huge (I think fatal) anomaly for biblicism on the table and, hopefully with the help of others, not let it easily be removed. Any big Kuhnian paradigm shift is probably some ways off. But it will never come as long as so many people are comfy simply ignoring the anomalies.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    Christian said: “My observation is simply that biblicism expects the Bible alone read in a populist way to be able to provide a clear, authoritative, divine set of teachings and answers to all the questions that matter.”

    Yep. And all the things I’ve seen you list where we all disagree are questions that don’t matter, thus the Bible doesn’t say much about them.

    An unrelated question: Now that you’re firmly in the RC camp, how would you have changed this book?

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Christian (#37) said: already to take a step away from biblicism and toward “hierarchy” (!!), by identifying particular kinds of people positioned to be authorized to rightly and reliably interpret scripture.

    I respond: Maybe, but as we know the Magesterial Reformers never suggested that the average person in the pew was as competent an interpreter as an informed scholar. Calvin and Luther wrote volumes of commentaries and so on because they knew good interpretation had to be informed by scholarship (as they understood “scholarship” in their own times). Their beef was with the notion that any human interpreter, no matter how well informed, could serve as a final interpretive authority.

    I agree that modern popular evangelicalism, maybe through the lenses of revivalism and American individualism and common sense realism and the fundamentalist reaction to Biblical criticism and so on, often takes the Reformers’ “freedom of conscience” principle to an untenable extreme, which we are calling Biblicism. I also very much agree with the sociological observation that Biblicism still functions as a control within many evangelical institutions.

    But it seems to me there’s a vast excluded middle in this conversation. Sooner or later (hopefully sooner!), responsible, Spirit-filled leaders realize that if they want to teach in the Church they need some kind of education in Bible, theology and history. This sort of education, if done well, is a humbling and broadening process. And such folks also realize that they have to do this in community — no individual is an authority alone. Isn’t there another sociological shift in play here — many younger evangelicals are by and large much better educated than previous recent generations and this is slowly filtering into the fissures and weakening the bonds of fundamentalism’s rejection of culture.

  • Christian Smith

    Re #43: ChrisB, if you say that having read the book, then I am not sure what you think does matter. But whatever it is, you are nearly alone in that view. But if you say that having not read the book, then you just need to read the it before saying much more. Blog discussions cannot substitute for engaging the subject of the blog. Biblicists, I show in black and white, disagree on doctrines concerning nearly everything theologically conceivable, other than general theism, the divinity of Christ, and a few other items. (And much of what they do agree on depends historically upon authoritative church councils and synods, like Nicaea, Chalcedon, etc. to have been defined as authoritative truth, despite the fact that heretics like Arius had lots of scriptural warrant for their sides too.)

    For the purposes for which I wrote it, I would not have changed anything.

  • T

    Christian,

    Thank you. Writing off the cuff does have its challenges. (It’s why I admire British pols more than ours–they have to do some of this public-give-and-take verbally! Quite the challenge to do without hanging one’s self.)

    I certainly agree that even biblicists are prima-scriptura, whether they acknowledge it or not. I don’t think I have the ability to fit my own version of prima scriptura in a comment here. FWIW, Scot let me do a series on the Quadrilateral here at jesus creed, which might give more info on that point. But I’m sure I do have some internal inconsistencies in that area of my thinking, just as with the rest. I do believe that the “unity” that God desires for us in this life is less about uniformity of doctrine or practice than brotherly love and missional cooperation, and even the latter isn’t always gonna happen. Paul disagreed with Barnabas, and Paul was wrong, it seems. Was their “solution” to split up in their work, with Paul taking Silas and Barnabas taking Mark “wrong”? Even apostles can disagree, it seems, about how to interpret and apply the teachings of Christ, and it can lead to a parting of ways in mission. And it seems they were far less ambitious in all that had to be nailed down doctrinally than we are. In the end, I don’t think that any combo of scripture, tradition, reason or experience is going to eliminate interpretive pluralism. I find any suggestion to the contrary to be naive at best, hubris at worst. Thankfully the unity that I thing God desires goes deeper, is more fundamental, than this.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Having said what I have, let me throw a personal curveball into the mix: part of the heart of the problem, IMHO, is the Zwinglian metaphysic of the Eucharist and the devaluation of Baptism within evangelicalism. Whatever I might otherwise think about ecclesiology and Papal primacy and solo (or “prima”) scriptura and so-on, I’m convinced that the “reality” of the Eucharist and of Baptism are essential to overcoming Biblicism. We evangelicals by and large have lost the enchanted sacredness of creation and of these basic sacraments, and have tried to replace them with the words of the Bible construed in rationalist, dis-enchanted terms. If the Bible is going to truly live in the life of the Church as scripture, then IMHO the Church has to live and breathe the life of the sacraments again.

  • Christian Smith

    #44: Confessional Protestantism that takes very seriously historical tradition has a huge leg up on vanilla evangelicalism on these issues. That I think is a much better starting place than a lot of other alteratives. But American evangelicalism seriously getting on board confessional Protestantism would require dumping a lot of accumulated baggage.

    Even so, the problem is not averted. The very best, well-educated, well-meaning biblical scholars in the confessional Protestant traditions, including Luther, ended up from the first generation onward disagreeing about what scripture taught on key issues, starting for Luther and his Protestant rivals with the Lord’s Supper. That’s a fact. Hence the irreducible Lutheran and Reformed traditions. And it has only fragmented from there, such than we now have some tens of thousands of Protestant denominations around the world, all claiming to find their beliefs in the same Bible.

    In short, fine, set aside the “average person.” Give us the best interpreters from the best traditions. They still end up disagreeing. In which case, in what sense is it meaningful to claim that the Bible is the sole, final, definitive authority for Christian faith and life?

  • T

    Ugh! and I’m not calling you naive or cocky! I just mean that any “solution” is going to be flawed in one way or another. But I agree it is progress to admit one’s authorities rather than call them all “scripture.” No one lets scripture alone be authoritative for doctrine.

  • Christian Smith

    #46: The absolutely best Protestant account of Christian unity I have ever read is an out-of-print gem by G.W. Bromiley, 1958, The Unity and Disunity of the Church, Eerdmans. Nails it. I asked the editors at Eerdmans to reprint it, but to no avail. Real unity flows from a Christorealist ontology, having only secondarily to do with inter-personal behavior or even doctrine. I recommend it.

    #49: Understood. As an epistemic fallibalist, I surely agree. I would only add that some flaws are (much) worse than others.

  • Christian Smith

    Scot, this is rather interesting. How do you ever get any “real” work done running this auspicious blog?

  • T

    Christian,

    I secretly think that Scot McKnight is 3 or 4 people.

  • Christian Smith

    Ah, a corporate enterprise perhaps. Like the (spoiler alert) twins in The Prestige.

  • R Hampton

    If we assume that Biblicism is really a problem of the lay community and not of scholars/theologians, then one way to understand it is to examine the root cause(s) of Biblicism.

    Some mentioned that congregations will naturally follow the teachings of their leaders with an implicit trust. While that may be true, I think their is a core contingent for whom Biblicism is inevitable. They are bounded by their somewhat limited cognitive ability that shapes all understanding, including the Bible, into literal, uncomplicated models of absolute truth.

    Initially described by Jean Piaget (theory of cognitive development), it has since grown into seveal theories that include multiple levels of different cognitive ability within the same mind. None the less, an important lesson is that, for some, nuances like multivocality are beyond comprehension.

    Now imagine yourself to be such a person. You try your best to understand these arguments about doctrinal issues, but all you see is a simple, clear answer. To you, it’s as if you stare at a simple equation like 2 + x = 4 and you wonder why everyone is can’t see that x must be 2. When told that the problem is better defined with advanced calculus (which you don’t understand), you feel threatened, confused, and a bit despondent: if they are correct, then you will never know the answer because you can’t even read the problem. All the while, the obviousness of the simple equation stares out at you, begging to be to recognized.

    So, how likely are you to reject the simple truth you clearly see for a complicated truth to which you are blind? How likely are you accept that you must rely on others to navigate even the simplest of challenges? Given that you’ve been able to get around well enough on your own, I suspect that you would be very unlikely to conclude that your vision is the problem.

  • Christian Smith

    #54: First, to say that many scholars are not simple-minded biblicists is not to say that none are biblicists. Biblicism comes in degrees. Some scholars are not. Some are. Some evangelical institutions have scholars who are not, but their constituencies (funders, alumni, administrative people, etc.) largely are, and some of their students are. So is not either/or. And, beyond the laity and scholars are other important positions and institutions: popular book authors, the publishing industry, pastors, other church leaders, para-church ministries, etc. etc. So we should not assume it is primarily a laity problem.

    Second, I agree, it is true that rightly interpreting scripture in its fullness is a task beyond some (maybe many) ordinary people, for reasons of cognitive limitations (which we all have in various ways). The question then is, what kind of culture forms those people’s (and everyone else’s) expectations about how they should go about understanding the Bible? Different cultures will direct people in different ways. Some will point to confessions as guiding lights. Others will point believers to authorized church teachers. Biblicism, by contrast, reinforces the democratic, populist, individual-authority expectation. And that is a big problem.

    But in the end I do not believe biblicism is driven by the cognitive limitations of some. It was developed and promoted–more or less intentionally–by some very capable scholars over the centuries, as the book shows. And it has been embedded in powerful institutions for a long time.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Thanks, Christian (#37), that helps clarify a little. But I still fail to see how polysemy and multi-vocality don’t strengthen Biblicism rather than hinder it. That is to say, if the Bible contains multiple voices and multiple meanings, and if the Bible is clearly understood by those who read it, then we should expect there to be a multiplicity of views on what the Bible teaches. It seems to me that pervasive interpretive pluralism coupled with polysemy and multi-vocality shows not why Biblicism doesn’t work but shows quite the opposite: it’s working just fine.

    Now I can understand your critique if you think that polysemy and multi-vocality are necessarily at odds with Biblicism. But then I don’t see why they need to be. I would think democratic perspecuity could live quite happily alongside a robust recognition of polysemy and multi-vocality. Just because there are multiple voices speaking doesn’t mean those voices are suddenly hard to understand.

    I guess the only real tenet of Biblicism I see threatened by this is perhaps Internal Harmony. But is that a sine qua non of Biblicism?

  • Christian Smith

    (#56) I must not be being clear enough. Polysemy and multi-vocatity strengthen interpretivive pluralism, not biblicism. And interpretive pluralism undermines the legitimacy of bibiblicism, my book argues. If biblicism was working just fine, given its assumptions, there would be little pluralism of interpretation of what the Bible teaches. But since there is lots of pluralism, driven in part by polysemy and multi-vocality, then biblicist theory is shown to fail.

    If that does not clarify, anyone else?

  • T

    Christian,

    FWIW, part of my goal in discussing the Quadrilateral here several months ago, was to discuss the now common understanding of “sola scriptura” which tends to say that “we get our doctrine from scripture alone.” That is impossible, yet it is a common refrain that I still hear in church. This results in folks not being able to tell where scripture ends and tradition, reason, or experience begins, which helps no one. It seems your book has a similar aim, and I applaud it. At a minimum, it would be nice to have more accuracy about what the Bible says and what we or our traditions have inferred from it.

  • Christian Smith

    #58: Thanks. Well, “Sola Scriptura” was the “formal principle” (along with the “material principle” of sola Fide) driving the Reformation. So to break from it is a very big step for any Protestant.

    Being an ex-Anglican, the Quadrilateral makes sense, is more honest than SS, I think. But adherents also have to acknowledge that the four elements are apples and oranges (and bananas and peaches). Scripture has an authority that is different from experience, for example. But my guess is that your discussion on that had that all covered. Thanks.

  • T

    Christian, you’re right about the very different nature and impact of the Quads.

    It’s interesting that you’re a former Anglican, now Catholic. I’m on the other end of the spectrum in many ways. I grew up in a mix of SBC churches and non-denom protestant schools, with a splash of Lutheran gradeschool. :D College and law school (it’s own religious experience?) was with a great Vineyard church. Now I’m part of a non-denom church plant in the inner city of West Palm Beach, but it leans strongly Vineyard. As dopderbeck and others have said, so much of your thrust points us toward ecclesiology for answers, and our respective ecclesial experiences will shape our responses profoundly. I can’t imagine how different our respective experiences may be!

    I think pneumatology is also a place we need to dig more deeply in response to your concerns, but these two represent some of the weakest areas for evangelicals in my experience. We’re comfortable with the Spirit writing a (completed) book, and leading people to convert, but not much else. But ultimately I see both biblical and ecclesial authority as subsets of pneumatology. That’s ultimately where my hope lies. Ecclesiology alone doesn’t go deep enough, just as biblicism does not. We need a more robust theology of the Spirit.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Christian (57), I understand what you’re trying to argue. I just find that pervasive interpretive pluralism is only a problem for the most extreme (read simplistic) versions of Biblicism.

    I can see the problem in my comment above (56). What I should have said was not that polysemy and multi-vocality strengthen Biblicism (as a theory) but rather that they seem to strengthen the pluriform theologies that Biblicists actually arrive at. If the Bible is polysemous and multi-vocalic then why isn’t pervasive interpretive pluralism a laudible situation (even when arrived at hypocritically). In short, I was confused when reading the book if you were criticizing the pluriformity that Biblicists produce or if you were simply criticizing the inconsistency of those who produce it. Do you have a problem with the ends or simply with the means of Biblicists?

  • Patrick

    The fact that the Church debates various doctrines is not evidence the Bible may not be relied on and as such, the author’s premise is severely flawed.

    That ignores 2 over riding issues.

    1) All of us are raised in X paradigm and almost all humanity struggles to judge information outside that prism, to expect Christians to do so thus avoiding different interpretations is ludicrous and to judge the efficacy of the Bible negatively because believers generally are normal humans is weird, IMO.

    2) God did not make His Plan one unconcerned , non humble or thoughtless believers may gain insight into.

    “I will reveal My secrets to the humble”.

    3) All humans have flaws and limited capacity to grow spiritually. How many of us are going to die at Peter or Paul’s spiritual status?

    Taken together, this makes it 100% certain we will have different interpretations on some issues, agreement on others. If the Bible is flawed , it isn’t because we disagree on interpretations. WE’RE the flawed ones, the author missed that.

  • Patrick

    The fact that the Church debates various doctrines is not evidence the Bible may not be relied on and as such, the author’s premise is severely flawed.

    That ignores 2 over riding issues.

    1) All of us are raised in X paradigm and almost all humanity struggles to judge information outside that prism, to expect Christians to do so thus avoiding different interpretations is ludicrous and to judge the efficacy of the Bible negatively because believers generally are normal humans is weird, IMO.

    2) God did not make His Plan one unconcerned , non humble or thoughtless believers may gain insight into.

    “I will reveal My secrets to the humble”.

    3) All humans have flaws and limited capacity to grow spiritually. How many of us are going to die at Peter or Paul’s spiritual status?

    Taken together, this makes it 100% certain we will have different interpretations on some issues, agreement on others. If the Bible is spiritually flawed , it isn’t because we disagree on interpretations. WE’RE the flawed ones.

  • Christian Smith

    Patrick, Patrick, Patrick, you’re not getting it. So then, tell me, if I am faced with 3-5 different views on nearly everything the Bible teaches, according to its best interpreters, what does it mean that it “may be relied on?”

    My argument never said the Bible cannot be relied on. If you read the book you see the opposite. My argument is about a particular THEORY OF the Bible that simply does not work. Your explaining that humans have different views does nothing to speak to that argument or establish that mine are “severly flawed.”

  • Christian Smith

    #23: An obvious but important point worth perhaps making explicit: Commonweal, America, and First Things are not publications of the Catholic Church. They are publications of some people in the Catholic Church (and otherwise). Their diversity does not represent the official views of the Church but rather of some Catholics. A crucial thing to keep in mind in sorting out diversity and unity issues.

  • Jeff L

    dopderbeck #47: “We evangelicals by and large have lost the enchanted sacredness of creation and of these basic sacraments, and have tried to replace them with the words of the Bible construed in rationalist, dis-enchanted terms. If the Bible is going to truly live in the life of the Church as scripture, then IMHO the Church has to live and breathe the life of the sacraments again.”

    This is a fascinating insight. Would love to see dopderbeck or Scot or someone do a Jesus Creed series on this topic sometime.

  • http://soapbox.clanotto.com keo

    “Do you think interpretive pluralism undermines biblicism?” Yes, completely. And that was the problem I had in our discussion of Wesley’s quadrilateral: “Scripture” really means our arguments about interpretation of Scripture. Thus, saying Scripture is “primary,” or “superior to experience” is not saying anywhere near as much as if there was an obvious and clear meaning to Scripture.

    “What do you think is the ‘solution’ to this pluralism?” Humility, to live with it. As much debate as we can stomach without losing sight of the command to love one another. And perhaps a willingness to consider Christian Universalism as the system in which our pluralistic disagreement has the least cost. If being wrong about Scripture matters, then we have to explain why God has left us with so much ambiguity. And that applies to both the Bible and ecclesiology.

  • Patrick

    Christian,

    Even assuming you&I generally accept a valid view of understanding scriptual intent, we would still disagree at times. I just don’t think disagreement levels are the proper logic to attack “Biblicism”.

    The most awesome theologians, Aquinas and such disagreed. I’ve seen fantastic folks disagree , men like NT Wright, John Walton, etc. Ben F Meyer didn’t agree with everything Bernard Lonergan wrote.

    I was a fundy, raised that way and have just exited fundyism in the last few years. The logic to attack that flawed understanding is to show them why they need to re-consider and I don’t think disagreement will impress many.

    I went through an intellectual conversion away from literalism/Biblicism.

    The conversion happened when I was shown patiently that Jesus did use metaphor, was predicted to be one who used metaphor, Matthew stated He almost never spoke w/o a metaphor and John shows us how the disciples freaked out when He stopped speaking in metaphors at passover eve.

    That opened my eyes. It works. IMO, that is the proper strategic attack angle.

  • angusj

    Jason Barr (#3) said:
    I do in fact believe that multivocality exists and that it is actually unavoidable. I tend to take a “Pentecostal” approach to hermeneutics, by which I … mean … that the Spirit holds together divergent interpretational “languages” as part of the One Body of Christ.

    dopderbeck (#11) said:
    It seems to me there are two possibilities: God intends and allows for significant doctrinal diversity in His Church; or, there is one correct sub-tradition in one correct Church and we all need to find it.

    Jason and dopderbeck nicely encapsulate my thoughts on biblical interpretation. ISTM that sound doctrine and good works (the outworking of the Spirit) go hand in hand. Hence, the doctrine of those branches of the church that continue to ‘bear good fruit’ deserves close attention.

  • http://yliapu.typepad.com/spiritualregurgitations/ robin dugall

    I was going to post some thoughts about Christian’s book…I just finished it over the weekend…I found it intellectually stimulating, honest, written with fortitude and courage and very well researched. I agree with most of Dr. Smith’s analysis…can’t wait to read it again to absorb more. The phrase, “interpretive pluralism” is as brilliant as Christian’s take on adolescents in church (moralistic therapeutic deism). I am going to be sharing this book with all of my friends…it, as you said initially Scot, is an important book!

  • http://yliapu.typepad.com/spiritualregurgitations/ robin dugall

    Oh, I forgot to say (interrupted) that I have to read all these comments…I was going to post some of my thoughts but got caught up reading all the other posts…they are more interesting than anything that I would have to say!

  • R Hampton

    “It was developed and promoted–more or less intentionally–by some very capable scholars over the centuries, as the book shows.”

    I haven’t read the book, so forgive me if I say something out of turn. But I should think that among the motivations of those who developed Biblicism was to address the needs of those who could only respond to a simple and clear, literal Biblical model.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    This weekend I spent some time and a wedding anniversary with Ellen F. Davis’ wonderful commentary on Ruth: “Who Are You My Daughter.”

    Davis’ commentary is beautiful in several ways, but perhaps the most intriuging is that at several points where translation issues are uncertain, she presents several options and lets the reader ponder each option and its ramifications. That is, she invites the readers to read with active imaginations.

    Peace,
    Randy Gabrielse

  • scotmcknight

    Patrick on metaphor,

    Thanks for a personal story. It is similar to many but really does have nothing to do with Smith’s points about biblicism. Yours is about a form of literalism; his is about a larger approach to Bible reading and hermeneutics.

  • John W Frye

    As I read through the comments I’m find myself believing that diversity in interpretations is, if I may be so bold, God’s will for the one holy, apostolic, catholic church. I don’t care if it does undermine the biblicist view. The Bible as a (God-given) object accessible to all is there. It reads as it reads. Theology-making from the sacred text is a thoroughly human enterprise to be deeply respected and humbly pursued. We need not be fearful of divergent views because friendly and sometimes fierce interactions within the church lead to new insights and expressions of truth. The biblicists’ error, especially to those adamant about inerrancy, is to apply inerrancy to their particular view(s) and to label everyone who disagrees with them ‘unbiblical’ to one degree or another. Dialoguing the divergency of views is one way God matures the church. What a very boring, boring theological world it would be if we all believed the exact same thing about every verse and paragraph in the Bible!

  • Christian Smith

    #75: Sounds nice. So on what basis should any one believer decide what the Bible teaches? Whatever tradition they were raised in? Whatever “feels right” to them? It is one thing to say that theological diversity is somehow God’s will. It is another to figure out what that means for how to live as believers and churches. What then prevents this from turning into “anything (arguable) goes?”

  • dopderbeck

    Christian (#59) said: But adherents also have to acknowledge that the four elements are apples and oranges (and bananas and peaches). Scripture has an authority that is different from experience, for example.

    I respond: Christian, I think you’re setting up a straw man in the way you are opposing the Quadrilateral and “sola scriptura.” Sola scriptura never was supposed to mean “solo” scriptura — period. The fact that it did come to be used that way for many in the Reformed traditions is a different question. Yes, it became Biblicism in many circles, not the least in some confessionally Reformed circles. But scripture, reason, tradition and experience never were meant to be “apples and oranges,” certainly not by someone like Calvin, and not even for a modernist like Warfield — more like a deliciously layered cake.

    Maybe the cake turns out to be a mushy pudding, but let’s be clear that “sola scripture” is not necessarily equivalent to Biblicism.

  • John W Frye

    Christian @ 76,
    Don’t you think there is a ‘catholic’ unity expressed in the creeds (Apostles’, Nicene) that serves as the steel center of the church through history? Whether or not diverse Christian streams admit to/confess the creeds, the core affirmations of the creeds run as a common, deep unifying energy amidst the cacophonic diversity. I know that this raises the ecclesiological questions, which I am eager to pursue in this topic.

  • dopderbeck

    Christian (#65) said: Commonweal, America, and First Things are not publications of the Catholic Church…. Their diversity does not represent the official views of the Church but rather of some Catholics. A crucial thing to keep in mind in sorting out diversity and unity issues.

    I respond: well, yes, of course. Why can’t the same be said for, say, Moody Monthly, Christianity Today, Sojourners, and Books & Culture? Christian readers of these publications also confess the same Christ and eat the same Lord’s Supper.

    Perhaps you recall the exchange several years ago between Pitstick and Oakes in First Things over the orthodoxy of Balthasar’s view of Holy Saturday, in which Oakes suggested Pitstick was “defaming” Balthasar. This little episode demonstrates that, if Biblicism is no shield against interpretive pluralism, neither is recourse to Tradition. The Tradition can be as multivocal and as much contested as the scriptures.

  • Paul W

    When “biblicism” was defined in an earlier post I thought to myself that it surely wasn’t something I’d want to embrace. And if memory served me right there were not to many comments that wanted to endorse such a view either.

    So when reading this post informing us that “interpretive pluralism” mitigates against “Biblicism” my thought was, ‘so what?’ Who would want to be a “biblicist” as it has been so defined anyway?

    As the conversation has progressed there seems to also be an assumption that “interpretive pluralism” is some how a bad thing and that there should be a basis upon which a ‘believer’ should decide what the bible teaches. To me this presupposition is where the really interesting conversation might be.

    Is “interpretive pluralism” really a problem? Is there a theoretical basis upon which all should be able to determine what the bible teaches? Should that even be a goal or not?

    Such questions seem to underlie some of this discussion. And I suspect that if one were able to step back and definitively answer them then a lot of the other questions would answer themselves.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X