The Problem of Biblicism 6

Christian Smith, in his must-read and challenging 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 read this post. The fundamental problem that undercuts biblicism as a sufficient basis for articulating the Christian faith is interpretive pluralism. That’s the problem.

Smith has explained and attempted to demolish biblicism as impossible and as unworthy for evangelicalism. That’s laudable, if in its place Smith has a proposal. Which he does. Today we begin to sketch his proposal — and I can offer no more than a sketch and I urge you to purchase and read this most important of books.

What does his christotelic reading of the Bible mean for you? Liberation or worrisome? Does this approach create another pervasive pluralism or does it reduce pluralism by focusing on the central but unified message, Jesus Christ?

The alternative to biblicism is a Jesus-centered reading of the Bible, a christological or christocentric or christotelic approach. The Bible is about Jesus Christ, and the only way to read the Bible is read it from beginning to end to be about Jesus, and to read each passage as about Jesus Christ and to be unlocked only through the gospel about Jesus Christ. Seems so simple but a christological reading of the Bible is at odds, sometimes fiercely, with biblicism. It is to read the Bible as if the Nicene Creed really is true.

This means reading the Bible with a high christology and with a trinitarian and with a gospel orientation. “… every narrative, every prayer, every proverb, every law, every Epistle needs likewise to be read and understood always and only in light of Jesus Christ and God reconciling the world to himself through him” (99).This means the beginning of theology is Jesus Christ and not Scripture as prolegomena.The internal unity of the Bible is its witness to Jesus Christ.

Big one: this means all topics we want to read must be approached, not by collecting the facts and synthesizing them into a “biblical” view, but by seeing how the gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to that topic. It is to let Jesus Christ spill onto that topic. Smith appeals to evangelicals who have argued Jesus is the center: John Stott, GC Berkouwer, Geoffrey Bromiley, Donald Bloesch, Kevin Vanhoozer and D.H. Williams.

This all means letting the regula fidei have its way with our Bible reading.

Smith’s controversial point here is this one: maybe the diversity of ideas in the Bible on topics, like polity or eschatology or predestination, means God didn’t mean to tell us that, but instead to tell us about Jesus Christ. Maybe God wants us to learn how to think about such things in light of Jesus Christ and not tell us everything on every topic.

Of course, this means the Bible reader has to interpret, but this isn’t subjectivism; it’s the human condition of reading! The canon within the canon is clear and important: Jesus Christ.

Fundamental, also, to Smith is that the Bible is not Jesus Christ. “The Bible points. Jesus Christ is the amazing person to whom the Bible points…. The Bible is passing. Jesus Christ is eternal. The Bible points us to the truth, proclaims God’s truth; Jesus Christ himself is that Truth” (118).

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.

  • DanS

    Is Smith saying conservative interpreters don’t see scripture as Trinitarian and Christological? That they don’t see Christ in the Old Testament both typologically and as part of the grand narrative of salvation that God had in mind from before the foundation of the world? Again, I’m not doubting that there is interpretive pluralism about many topics, but I’m not sure so-called Biblicists wouldn’t agree that the Nicene Creed is true and is a sound summary of the intent of scripture. And I’m not sure how this approach in and of itself is really is a cure for interpretive pluralism. Just questions…

  • Bill

    Another good and challenging post! I hope to get this book soon.

  • Susan N.

    I’ve been following this series, but remaining quiet since I’ve not read the book. My curiosity as to the author’s alternative to biblicism has kept me following the conversation. Jesus Christ as the Word, through whom all scripture is to be interpreted: Of course this would be the answer :-) (I had my moments of skepticism along the way, as to how the author would resolve the conflict of biblicism!) This “christotelic” approach is one that I sense deeply and know rationally is to be trusted. My first exposure to this way of interpreting was Philip Yancey, I think. ‘The Blue Parakeet’ too was highly influential in transforming my view on the words and meaning of scripture. Relating to the post last week on belief-dependent reality, believing (trusting) above all the person of Christ vs. bibliolatry put the words of the book in a new light for me (Ms. recovering fundamentalist here.) The message is even more wonderful from a christotelic perspective. I still wrestle with aspects that are hard for me to understand, but in time, and with persistent study and prayer, answers come. Adding Christian Smith’s book to my reading list. Thanks for bringing it forward for discussion here.

  • scw

    “Fundamental, also, to Smith is that the Bible is not Jesus Christ. ‘The Bible points. Jesus Christ is the amazing person to whom the Bible points…. The Bible is passing. Jesus Christ is eternal. The Bible points us to the truth, proclaims God’s truth; Jesus Christ himself is that Truth’.”

    That is exactly what I’ve been thinking for some time – this statement alone has sold me on the book. Cheers Scot!

  • Joe Canner

    DanS #1: I don’t the Smith (or Scot) is saying that Biblicists aren’t trinitarian or Christo-centric. I think they’re saying that they develop (potentially divisive) side doctrines using Scriptures that are meant to be Christotelic.

    An example that comes to my mind is Ephesian 1:3-5. Verse 3 starts off talking about our spiritual blessings in Christ. This entire section (through the end of the chapter) strikes me as a very emotional, free-flowing exaltation of Jesus, not a doctrinal lecture. Nonetheless, verses 4-5 are used as the cornerstone of the doctrine of predestination.

  • David Himes

    Assuming your summary accurately reflects Smith’s point (which I do not dispute), I agree.

    It is common to confuse the Text with the Knowledge of God. Jesus is the Knowledge of God. And when we translate “logos” as Word — we unintentionally contribute this confusion.

    I agree the Text is intended to [1] tell us the story of Jesus (the gospel), and [2] point us to Jesus.

    I am somewhat skeptical that God intended us to use the Text in the manner which we typically use it.

    The only time Jesus described his own words as “commands” occur in John 13:34 and 15:14 — A new command I give you. Love one another as I have loved you.

    It seems to me everything leads up to this point and everything after it is an attempt to explain this.

    We often teach “the Golden Rule”, but in this passage, Jesus raises the bar. It’s not treat others as you want them to treat you. It’s not love others as you love yourself. It’s love others, the way Jesus loves you … a much high standard.

    All of the epistles attempt to explain what that really means.

    And we need that kind of help to understand it. But rarely does debating esoteric doctrinal issues contribute to our understanding of how to love others the way Jesus loved us.

  • Amos Paul

    I, too, am not seeing too clear of a distinction yet here on what distinguishes this ‘different’ method. I agree with this description in general. But without further detail, this only seems to beg the question.

    For instance, is there a ‘right’ way to see Jesus in Scripture? If there’s more than one way, are there wrong ways? What separates wrong from right?

    Moreover, if the Scriptures are pointing to Jesus (again, I agree here)–does Jesus ever speak on this or that particular issue through His Scriptures? Are there things that we *should* be seeing Him saying in those Scriptures? Are they obvious? What separates correct interpretation of what he does and does not say?

    It seems to me that the underlying Christological view of Scripture (the correct one, IMO) is a belief that someone can operate within while utilizing all kinds of interpretational methodologies. Biblicism appears to be an interpretational methodology. So what’s the interpretational methodology that Smith is suggesting?

  • Holly

    Hmmm. Sounds like the entire point of The Jesus Storybook Bible.

    http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Storybook-Bible-Every-Whispers/dp/0310708257/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1312812781&sr=8-1

    Every story whispers His name.

    I don’t say that to be silly – I say that because sometimes we try to make things very complex, when they can be actually quite simple. I have thought, in the past, that everyone should be required to read this children’s storybook.

  • rjs

    Amos Paul,

    I think you are missing the point, at least as I see it. I think that the point is one of foundation and purpose.

    Our foundation is God alone and the purpose of scripture is to inform our understanding of God and of his work through Jesus Christ – a thoroughly Christocentric and, I think, Trinitarian approach.

    Biblicism does not generally have a non-christocentric or non-trinitarian result, but it views the text of scripture as the foundation on which we stand – the purpose of scripture is to provide our foundation. The ten characteristics in the post Scot links above are developed and taught because they define Scripture as a solid foundation (if these are not true, the foundation will crumble).

    The different interpretational method is one of focus and purpose – and this makes all the difference in the world. At least it has made all the difference in the world for me (and it did so long before Smith’s book was published).

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

    One thing that troubled me in this chapter was Smith’s discussion of adiaphora or “matters of indifference.” I just don’t see how this doesn’t open the door for picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to really take seriously. Smith is clear that his approach still requires us to make “judgments and decisions” (113) about what are and what aren’t matters of indifference. So I don’t see how it solves the problem of pervasive pluralism. What it does is shift the problem from an interpretive one (“what does it mean”?) to an authoritative one (“does it really matter?”).

    Another problem I saw was that his method reminded me a lot of liberal approaches to the Bible: Jesus is the lens that allows us to remove the wheat from the chaff. Well and good. Unless we get Jesus wrong.

    In short, I can see how Christocentricy can be a strong basis for unity. What I don’t see is how it absolves us of the responsibility of coming to conclusions about what the Bible teaches on topics that we all might agree are adiaphora.

    That said, it’s probably worth noting here how frequently Smith hedges his proposal in this part of the book. As one example of many: “To repeat, I do not have a comprehensive program to rehabilitate biblicist evangelical Bible reading” (97).

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

    By the way, I am not accusing Smith of being a liberal in that second paragraph above. But I am wondering out loud how his method is different.

  • Luke Allison

    Dr. McKnight,

    It wasn’t the progressives who taught me to read the Scriptures through a Christocentric lens. It was Charles Spurgeon.

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

    “this means all topics we want to read must be approached, not by collecting the facts and synthesizing them into a “biblical” view, but by seeing how the gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to that topic.”

    It sounds great, but I have a sinking feeling this is going to end badly. I hope this doesn’t turn into a clever method of disguising eisegesis.

  • Brad Blocksom

    On a Christological hermeneutic see also Tremper Longman – Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind

  • Joe Canner

    Luke #12: Spurgeon was indeed Christo-centric, but he was also a dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist who belittled Arminianism, which seems to illustrate the point that Scot is making.

  • http://twocoppercoins.blogspot.com Jake Ulasich

    I am having a little trouble seeing what this looks like in actual application. Theoretically speaking, I think it’s the best perspective I’ve seen yet regarding the foundation for Christian thought, theology, and practice, but it remains confusing to me what we are going to do with scripture. Looking forward to subsequent examples and explanations. For instance, what does that mean about our interpretation/application of passages of scripture. Would we take the book of Titus, disregard it’s instructions on church governance and merely see how it’s pointing to Christ, thereby applying deeper principles, or do we interpret what it says in light of what it says about Jesus? Do we still treat it with any sort of authority for how we live together with Christ? The application of this Christological principle is fuzzy for me.

    The other question I have is whether this solves subjective interpretive pluralism. We still have to take the basic message and apply it to how we live and interact and to what we believe, and we still have to trust someone’s opinion, right? We still have to either accept someone’s authority to properly apply the principle, or we’re left with everyone applying the principle in whatever way they think is best.

    Like I said, I’m looking forward to upcoming examples and and a more in-depth explanation of applying a christological principle.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I think the issue of “how does this help limit pervasive interpretive pluralism” is relevant and I want to share the conclusion I came to. Perhaps this is obvious to all of you, but it took me some thinking to get it down to this. Comments please..

    What this effectively does is take “what’s at stake” to be differences in interpretation, by definition, rather than differences from the word of god. Any difference in interpretation from a Biblicist perspective is a deviation from god. But the Christotelic approach puts those issues into their place, they are no longer essentials simply because it happens to say that in the bible.

    I also like the dynamic that this sets up relating to the focus of bible study. The focus becomes understanding the big picture of Jesus. This is the picture I got when I read Tom Wright and it crystallized, for me, the perspective with which I needed to understand Jesus and the bible.

  • Luke Allison

    “Spurgeon was indeed Christo-centric, but he was also a dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist who belittled Arminianism, which seems to illustrate the point that Scot is making”

    How so? What it illustrates is that “biblicists” of every stripe have been using the method that Smith puts forward as the “true way”.
    Of course, the true way requires a rejection of PIP on issues of Christ’s divinity, atonement, resurrection, etc, right?

    Know of any intelligent believers who don’t acknowledge Christ’s divinity? I do. What to do? Well, I guess we just need to hold up PIP and trust that everything will work itself out. But how can we maintain a “christocentric” reading if we can’t agree on what that “center” is?

    What this feels like, unfortunately, is a bunch of progressive types saying that the true reading of Scripture is their reading of Scripture. How does that solve the issue again?

    This book is frustrating on many levels.

  • Patrick

    Here is the hermeneutic proposed by an incognito theologian. Hard to see much wrong in these mechanics from my perspective:

    1) There is no substitute for close attention to the biblical text.
    2) You should be observing the biblical text in the original languages. If you cannot, never trust one translation in a passage. Use several and then learn skills for understanding why they disagree.
    3) Patterns in the text are more important than word studies.
    The New Testament’s use of the Old Testament is the key to understanding how prophecy works. As Martin Hengel said, “if all you know of the NT is the NT, you do not know the NT”.

    4) The Bible must be interpreted in context, and that context isn’t your own or that of your theological tradition; it is the context that produced it (ancient Near East / Mediterranean).
    Put another way, if you’re letting your theological tradition filter the Bible to you, you aren’t doing Bible study or exegesis.
    5) The Bible is a divine human book; treat it as such.
    Put another way, God chose people to write the biblical text, and people write using grammar, in styles understood by their peers, and with deliberate intent — and so the Bible did not just drop from heaven. Study it as though some person actually wrote it, not like the result of a paranormal event.
    6) If it’s weird, it’s important (i.e., it’s there for a reason; it is not random).
    7) Don’t hire someone to stock the grocery shelves who can’t read the labels. Or: don’t put your meds in the daily pill tray unless you can read the instructions.

    Put another way: Systematic theology isn’t helpful (and can be misleading) if its parts are not derived from exegesis of the original text. Biblical theology is done from the ground up, not the top down (and so, see # 2 in this list).
    8)If, after you’ve done the grunt work of context-driven exegesis, what the biblical text says disturbs you, let it.
    Build a network of exegetical insights you can keep drawing upon; the connections are the result of a supernatural Mind guiding the very human writers. The only way to think that Mind’s thoughts are to find the network, one node at a time.

    —————–
    These skills would be things like learning grammatical terms and concepts, along with translation philosophy and the basics of textual criticism. ↩
    Here’s where Greek and Hebrew matter, but there are tools (like Carson and Beale’s OT in the NT commentary) that help. If you aren’t paying attention to this – and how the NT sees OT prophecy fulfilled in various ways – not just “literally” – you should politely excuse yourself from teaching anything about Bible prophecy and start studying this. ↩

  • John W Frye

    I think that Scot McKnight’s *A Community Called Atonement* displays a Christotelic perspective. The Scriptures offer a series of pictures/metaphors of the atonement and by appreciating them all and holding them all as valuable, we see a richer view of Christ. In my circles, the Biblicists willy-nilly declare one and only one atonement metaphor to reign supreme–penal substitution. Rather than the symphonic metaphors of the Bible, we are told to be monophonic. And this, by the way, is not a secondary issue.

  • Alan K

    My sense from many of the comments here so far and in other reviews I’ve read is that what a Christocentric hermeneutic entails is misunderstood and/or vastly underestimated. Smith is not merely suggesting a different interpretive principle bur rather a massive paradigm shift. It requires nothing less than once again reconsidering fullness of Jesus Christ as the overwhelming dominant reality of faith. Look at our two major creeds, the Nicene and the Apostles’ Creeds. Notice the brevity with which they speak about God compared with the depth of which they speak about Jesus Christ. If we are faithful, we cannot ever even mention the word “God” without immediately thinking “Jesus Christ.” If we are faithful, we cannot ever mention the word “humanity” without immediately thinking “Jesus Christ.”

    My two cents as an evangelical is that our approach to scripture has shrunk this dominant reality. We’ve gone back and forth between upholding the divinity of Jesus Christ (which classic Liberal theology denied) at the cost of reducing the role of Jesus Christ as our High Priest, as prophet, as King, as apostle, as mediator on the one hand; and upholding the humanity of Jesus Christ as our example but then reducing him to nothing more than an ethic on the other. This pendulum swings back and forth as worldviews come and go. But is not Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever?

    This is why Smith’s book is so incredibly important for us evangelicals–it gives Jesus Christ his due as the unavoidable centerpiece of the revelation of God which the Scriptures bear witness to. In short, Smith shows us evangelicals once again how to be evangelical.

  • http://earliestchristianity.wordpress.com/ Tim

    I think what Smith is offering will appeal to a lot of people. For those who expect or insist that Scripture be a systematic, orderly account of all Christian belief and practice, Smith’s alternative will seem either terrifying or nonsensical. And it’s not even “Smith’s” alternative; many others have been saying the same thing for centuries.

    FYI – I’ve just posted the second part of my own review at my blog.

  • Jon G

    Just out of curiousity, how does one reconcile a ‘Christ-centric’ vantage point with passages like Isaiah 63:16 (“For you are our Father…”) or 64:8 (…O LORD, you are our Father.”)?

    If the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27) teaches us that “all the Scriptures” are pointing to Jesus, then how are the hundreds of instances of the Father being referred to in the OT about the Son?

    I agree that this “Christ-centric” approach is superior to ‘Biblicism’, but I would offer a YHWH-centric approach as more accurate.

  • Luke Allison

    My question still stands: How do we deal with “pervasive interpretive pluralism” on issues of Christ’s divinity? It’s not like we all agree on that.

    You have to be a “biblicist” at some point.

  • rjs

    Luke,

    Taking the Bible seriously (and as “authoritative”) does not equate with biblicism. Read the post listing the criteria that Scot links in the post above.

    Biblicism is a specific way of taking the Bible seriously as authoritative.

  • Terry

    DRT @ 17, you’re onto what I’ve been thinking related to how this helps limit pervasive interpretive pluralism… I’ve read Smith’s excellent book, and my sense is not that he’s looking specifically to fix the interpretive pluralism issue, as much as indicate that biblicism is impossible as an interpretive program. Pervasive interpretive pluralism is a prime indicator of that impossibility. The problem is biblicism, not interpretive pluralism. Conflating the two amounts to a red herring.

    Having made his case, Smith presents what is possible, and both a Biblical and evangelical way forward, a Christocentric hermeneutic. Interpretive pluralism was not the problem, nor the problem that Smith was specifically setting out to solve, biblicism as a belief and interpretive program was. A Christocentric hermeneutic will go a long way towards solving the problem biblicism makes of the Scriptures that we have.

  • Luke Allison

    RJS,

    Smith says that “biblicism” is the result of ten different assumptions, namely:
    1. The words of the Bible are identical with God’s words written inerrantly in human language.
    2. The Bible represents the totality of God’s will for humanity.
    3. The divine will for all issues relevant to Christian life are contained in the Bible.
    4. Any reasonable person can correctly understand the plain meaning of the text.
    5. The way to understand the Bible is to look at the obvious, literal sense.
    6. The Bible can be understood without reliance on creeds, confessions, or historic church traditions.
    7. The Bible possesses internal harmony and consistency.
    8. The Bible is universally applicable for all Christians.
    9. All matters of Christian belief and practice can be learned through inductive Bible study.
    10. The Bible is a kind of handbook or textbook for Christian faith and practice.

    I believe these are largely caricatures. Certainly we need more teaching and training on how to read the Bible. But I don’t think this represents anybody I know. It certainly doesn’t represent anybody I read.

    Here are my questions:
    1. How does the idea that the Bible is clearer on matters of the Gospel and Jesus differ from the ages-old idea of “perspicuity” in the Scriptures? Some things are clearly clearer (he he) than others.
    2. Does the Bible have something to say about dating? Being a father? Running a business? Planning for life? Media intake? Etc….Certainly these are not the main point, but the main point (Jesus) completely revamps our worldviews, hence changing our outlook on all those subjects. I don’t think we should use such divisive language (“biblicists are like THIS! Not THAT!”) if we’re truly seeking a spirit of unity. Which every person on this site claims to hold up as their primary concern.
    3. (a statement, not a question) I believe Smith comes to the conclusion that the Scriptures need to have some kind of internal consistency if we’re to make any sense of them (Page 102). He then copies my Bible professor exactly by introducing the categories of “dogma, doctrine, and opinion” to help sort through the different ways of understanding what the Bible says. Also, he copied pretty much every Seminary Bible professor in the world.
    4. If the Bible is not a “how-to manual”, and I agree with the basic premise that it is not, how can we say with any conviction that Jesus’ commands in the Sermon on the Mount should be carried out? Isn’t that giving instructions that the Bible is simply not meant to give?
    5. Since there is no unity in the Body on Christ’s divinity, the content of the Gospel, the nature of the Trinity, and even the resurrection itself, how can we say that these are “central” teachings of Scripture? Doesn’t “pervasive interpretive pluralism” apply here as well? Don’t tell me the reason I’m questioning him is because I don’t understand what he’s saying. That’s smug.

  • rjs

    Luke,
    This list is representing less of evangelicalism – but Smith’s list is most definitely not a caricature. These points represent many, many people I have known and read through out the years. His list represents the part of evangelicalism that caused me the most personal dissonance.

    As soon as you dismiss this as caricature you misunderstand what he is saying and the context from which he says it.

    If you demand perfect human unity on anything you will not get it. Not in the church – not anywhere. As Terry says though – the problem is not pervasive interpretive pluralism. A Christocentric reading of scripture, a reading of scripture that views it as a reliable light illuminating the work of God in the world, doesn’t eliminate the empirical fact that humans will interpret and misinterpret. There will be disagreement.

    What it does – and this is my position, perhaps not exactly Smith’s point – is remove scripture from the foundational role that it was never meant to play, does not play and, in fact, cannot play. Our foundation is God alone, Christ alone. Scripture illuminates God, father, son, and Holy Spirit; it replaces none of the above.

  • bill crawford

    RJS (#28),

    Do you see less in evangelicalism now because the list has been modified or given greater nuance? Or do you see a new approach (more like Prof Smith’s) becoming more widespread?

    I tend to agree with Luke that the list is, if not a caricature, at least not nearly qualified enough as each would be by responsbile, serious evangelicals. I especially do not see it accurately reflecting the reading I’ve done in Reformed studies the last 40 years.

  • Luke Allison

    “This list is representing less of evangelicalism – but Smith’s list is most definitely not a caricature. These points represent many, many people I have known and read through out the years. His list represents the part of evangelicalism that caused me the most personal dissonance”

    I agree that people exist who believe something like this, but Smith asserts that if you hold to ANY of these assumptions, you’re a “Biblicist”. He even calls out Carson, Wells, Packer, Beale, etc. as having “biblicist” readings of Scripture. So who doesn’t? Basically we have to read Peter Enns?
    Smith seems to believe that basically every mainstream evangelical scholar, preacher, or pastor is caught in the destructive shackles of biblicism.

    “As soon as you dismiss this as caricature you misunderstand what he is saying and the context from which he says it”

    I haven’t dismissed it necessarily, but I still believe the way he handles this list is graceless. Is this really the way progressive thought works? What’s progressive about saying “These people are all wrong, and our way is right”? Isn’t that regressive?

    “What it does – and this is my position, perhaps not exactly Smith’s point – is remove scripture from the foundational role that it was never meant to play, does not play and, in fact, cannot play. Our foundation is God alone, Christ alone. Scripture illuminates God, father, son, and Holy Spirit; it replaces none of the above”

    I believe Smith addresses the problem of foundationalism in the book. But I feel like this is a bit of a straw-man too. Very few “biblicist” evangelical scholars defend foundationalism in its full-on incarnation.

    Many books have been written about this, and I don’t think we can say that evangelicals have a unified front on the matter. But Smith seems to genuinely believe that “biblicist” (I’m persisting with the scare quotes) interpreters haven’t given serious consideration to such basic hermeneutical conundrums as context, culture, genre, and harmonization. Like, does he really believe that DA Carson doesn’t understand that “words have a semantic range”, or that certain passages have layered meanings?

    I think he’s gotten past his pay grade on this one, unfortunately. His work on young adults and youth has been incredibly helpful. I’m not feeling this.

  • rjs

    Bill,

    I think that many have given greater nuance to the elements of this list, and many are also taking a new approach that modifies the list.

    On the other hand, when someone equates belief in the miracles of Jesus and, most importantly the resurrection of Jesus, with a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11, I see the head of Biblicism raised. And this happens often in my conversations on this blog and elsewhere.

    The suggestion that Genesis might be something other than a literal historical report should not undermine the reliability of the Gospels. But for many it does – because the foundation of the faith is based on the idea that (1) the words of the Bible are identical with God’s words written inerrantly in human language and God cannot lie. Thus an “error” in one place undermines all. (4) Any reasonable person can correctly understand the plain meaning of the text – and this means (5) the way to understand the Bible is to look at the obvious, literal sense. Where I’ve taken only three of Smith’s points (others also apply to this example).

  • rjs

    Luke,

    No – you don’t have to agree with Pete Enns and his interpretation to escape from Biblicism. Pete may be wrong … at least sometimes.

    So the example in my previous comment – one can come to a literal interpretation of some (or all) aspects of Genesis 1-11 without being a Biblicist. I am willing to discuss the pros and cons of all of the passages and interpretations. One falls into Biblicism, in my opinion, when the argument starts and ends (almost any argument) the Bible says … therefore …

  • http://earliestchristianity.wordpress.com/ Tim

    The list is by no means a caricature. I know pastors in at least four different denominations whose views of Scripture would align very closely to that list. Look, for instance, at the EFCA’s statement of faith: “We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.”

    I also know many biblical scholars teaching at colleges and seminaries who would be categorized as biblicists.

  • Luke Allison

    RJS – “So the example in my previous comment – one can come to a literal interpretation of some (or all) aspects of Genesis 1-11 without being a Biblicist. I am willing to discuss the pros and cons of all of the passages and interpretations. One falls into Biblicism, in my opinion, when the argument starts and ends (almost any argument) the Bible says … therefore …”

    I completely agree. But I don’t think Smith has been as gracious as you.

    Here’s a good question: Smith seems very sure that Genesis 1-2 was written to counter rival pagan accounts of creation (page 161). PIP exists for Genesis 1-2, right? Or how about Isn’t stating that there is “clear biblical teaching” about a subject sort of being a biblicist?
    It begins to feel like the Bible is only clear on those points that Christian Smith deems important.

    So is PIP all that “pervasive” in his mind? Or does he only use it when it benefits him?

    There is pervasive interpretive pluralism on matters of “central importance” in the Bible. How do we ever make the statement: “The Bible is clear about this”, when PIP exists for literally everything we could make that statement about?

    Clearly, a “canon within a canon” approach is necessary. But who’s to agree on what comprises that canon?

    Are there right interpretations of Scripture that every Christian SHOULD recognize, whether they do or not?

    The fact of the matter is, we don’t agree on what the essentials are. So how can we agree that the Bible is “clear about the essentials”?

    Every third person on this blog will disagree about what “The basic Gospel” is. It winds up becoming less than basic over time. So how can we read Scripture through the lens of the Gospel? Is that through the lens of the Kingdom? Through the lens of the Cross? Through the lens of the Resurrection? Through the lens of Jesus’ life, teaching, and power ministry?

    I’m not asking these questions to be difficult. But there’s been an awful lot of high-fiving about this book, and I’m not sure it’s worth it all.

  • Luke Allison

    Tim #33: “Look, for instance, at the EFCA’s statement of faith: “We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.”

    Tim…how would you alter that statement? What would you change? Do you NOT believe that the Bible is the complete revelation of God’s will for salvation? How do you ever submit to Jesus as His disciple if you don’t believe His words?
    What’s the solution?

  • Susan N.

    rjs (#31) – “Thus an “error” in one place undermines all.”

    Personally, the issue that created the most dissonance isn’t strictly a literal, plain meaning interpretation of the Bible. Rather, the breakdown occurred when these parts are systematized to support a particular view of theology. Then, if one point of doctrine is questioned or rejected, the whole system collapses like a house of cards. And this is why, I think, people will fight so forcefully to defend the components of their larger beliefs. Fear that one pull on a snag of yarn will unravel the entire sweater… That is why faith in and worship of Jesus Christ, the person, is wiser, truer than trust in or outright idolatry of the Bible (words, knowledge, doctrine). And yet, ideas that have been ingrained in the brain over years’ time take a while to change.

  • joe s

    Which Jesus?

    A previous post points out that Smith suggests biblicists are biblicists because of a desire to “to create order out of chaos and to land in certainty; biblicism permits order and certainty.”

    Didn’t we fall into Biblicism in the first place so we wouldn’t compromise are understanding of Christ and how to follow him in this world?

    Seems to me that many would end up reading Scripture the same way.

    - a former biblicist

  • joe s

    *scratch that – a recovering biblicist

  • Terry

    Luke @30, your writing indicates that you’ve read Smith’s book, “I agree that people exist who believe something like this, but Smith asserts that if you hold to ANY of these assumptions, you’re a “Biblicist”.” I have also read the book but I didn’t come away with this at all. Did I miss it? Any one of the 10 and you’re a biblicist? I took away that these were the general descriptions and parameters of what he’s calling biblicism, and that this generally described position has within it’s practitioners plenty of variety, nuance and kinds of expression.

    Tim @33 also speaks for me, this is by no means a caricature. This absolutely describes my US denomination as a whole, with several hundreds of churches. I’d certainly agree that we’d want to dance on every one of the ten statements. We’d haggle, we’d nuance, we’d defend, we’d posture, and we’d declare slippery slopes and fears for lost-certainty of the Gospel, but it is us nonetheless.

  • Luke Allison

    Terry #37: “Luke @30, your writing indicates that you’ve read Smith’s book, “I agree that people exist who believe something like this, but Smith asserts that if you hold to ANY of these assumptions, you’re a “Biblicist”.”

    Here’s his exact words:”Biblicism is not a comprehensively formalized position always explicated in exactly these ten points and subscribed to identically by all adherents…The point is not that biblicism is a unified doctrine that all of its adherents overtly and uniformly profess. The point, rather, is that this constellation of interrelated assumptions and beliefs informs and animates the outlooks and practices of major sectors of…popular conservative American Protestantism, especially evangelicalism.”

    So at the very least, he’s implying that you don’t have to hold to all of them in order to be a biblicist. You’re correct, however. I probably overreached when I said that believing any of them makes you a biblicist. (Can we just assume I’m laughing sinisterly while twirling my moustachios every time I say that word?)

  • http://earliestchristianity.wordpress.com/ Tim

    Luke #35 – You asked 5 questions. I have time to answer one. What would I change in the EFCA’s statement? A lot. But I’ll focus on the last part:

    “the Bible is … the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.”

    I don’t think the Bible is the ultimate authority by which science, cooking, jogging, geography, knitting, or guitar playing (among other things) should be judged. As for the last sentence of the statement, biblicists can’t agree on exactly which parts of the Bible are to be “obeyed” by Christians today. Do we greet one another with a holy kiss, as the NT commands 5 times? Do we lie? Do we ask women to cover their heads? Do we turn the other cheek if someone strikes us? And so forth… So I’m not even sure how biblicists are to “obey” the Bible when they can’t agree on which parts are required, which are optional, and which are to be ignored. What are the criteria for making that determination?

  • Luke Allison

    Tim – But doesn’t it inform your normal everyday life (vocation, calling, family, relationships, etc) on some level?

  • rjs

    Luke,

    That misses the point and the distinction. I have Smith’s book, but have not yet found time to read it. So what I say is not directed particularly at his book, but at this entire question and discussion.

    We can take the Bible and our faith seriously and allow all aspects of life to be informed by our faith, enlightened by the constant reading and interaction with scripture – and not fall into the problems of what Smith calls Biblicism.

    The EFCA statement of faith illustrates both some of the problems with Biblicism and the way evangelicalism is changing and adapting to a realization of these problems.

    From 1950 until 2008 the statement of faith started:

    1. We believe the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, to be the inspired Word of God, without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men, and the Divine and final authority for all Christian faith and life.

    2. We believe in one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect and eternally existing in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

    Now the statement of faith adopted in 2008 begins:

    1. We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Having limitless knowledge and sovereign power, God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.

    2. We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.

    There are still issues and nuances needed in the statement about the Bible – I agree with Tim here. But at least now the statement has God first. Such changes are happening in much of evangelicalism, and this is why I started my comment #28 with the admission that things are changing.

    I don’t actually think we will have it right, though, until our statements have God, Jesus, Holy Spirit first and only then Scripture. Our statements of faith should begin with the essence of the early creeds, the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicean creed and the creedal statements in the early church fathers and the NT from which they derive. Then the statements of faith can (and perhaps should) extend out to other issues and aspects of the faith.

  • Luke Allison

    RJS: “I don’t actually think we will have it right, though, until our statements have God, Jesus, Holy Spirit and then Scripture. Our statements of faith should begin with the essence of the early creeds, the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicean creed and the creedal statements in the early church fathers and the NT from which they derive.Then the statements of faith can (and perhaps should) extend out to other issues and aspects of the faith”

    On that I completely agree with you.

    I think my main point is this: The core “main things” DO affect the way we view EVERYthing about life. I’ve come across some evangelicals who adopt the “life manual” approach to Scripture, but I’ve also come across a ton of people who are attempting to see the world (and life practice) through the lens of the good news of Jesus (assuming that they understand what that is in the first place).
    I don’t know if inventing a term and applying it to some extremely nuanced issues is the way forward. That’s all I’m saying.

  • Terry

    RJS @ 43, I really appreciated your last paragraph… we rewrote our statement of belief, or creed I guess, a couple of years back. In three very short sections we present what we believe as a congregation beginning with the Father, then the Son, followed by a third section on the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures are the very last portion under the Holy Spirit. This took much time but I remain thankful for what I perceive is movement forward.

  • Adam

    @ Luke #44 and #30

    You are making the argument that this person called a “biblicist” doesn’t exist because you yourself have not experienced them or experienced them in the same way that Christian Smith is describing them.

    But where do your arguments allow for the evidence of others?

    My family is deeply rooted in the Southern Baptist Convention. There is a belief in that tradition that says the Bible IS Jesus. I have had a discussion about this very thing and it’s not a whimsical statement. They use passages from all over the New Testament to prove that the Bible and Jesus are both Scripture. This is Biblicism.

    Another example. Dr. Russell Moore who is Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has a sermon and a paper out that explicitly state that a person CAN NOT be saved unless they have a bible. This is biblicism.

    Yes, all these people will agree, if asked, that their faith is Jesus centered. Obviously! They believe that the bible is Jesus and center their faith on the Bible, ergo, they’re correct, right? But is that what they’re living out?

    So how about these questions to get to the issue:

    1) Is Jesus a real person, alive today, and capable of acting in the world independent of the bible? (this is trickier than people often imagine)

    2) Can a person believe in Jesus (and be saved) without a bible?

    3) Are there other works of literature that are not included in the bible that are just as informative and helpful for the development of christians as the bible is? (for example: Apostle’s Creed)

    4) Did God really stop communicating with humanity after the bible was compiled? If not, why is that extra communication not passed along?

    All of this to say, biblicism is not extremely nuanced nor limited to crazy individuals.

  • DanS

    It occurs to me that in order to read the Bible from a Christological viewpoint, we first have to have a Christology – we must know something about Christ. Where does this knowledge come from?

    So to read scripture Christologically, one must first develop a Christology from scripture. One must exercise a degree of Biblicism to propose an alternative to Biblicism.

    Is not the Nicene Creed also a summary of the teaching of Scripture regarding God the Father, Son and Spirit? Cyril wrote: “For the articles of the Creed were not put together by human choice; the most important doctrines were collected from the whole of Scripture to make a single exposition of the faith.” It doesn’t work, in my mind, to speak of Christ as some mystical, subjective spiritual guide to reading scripture, as if language and content had nothing to do with our knowledge of him. The Creed is not a guide to mystically connecting with Jesus in some subjective experiential sense – it is a very careful statement about who Christ is in relation to the Trinity. It is full of content and precise language because the Fathers felt the language of the written scriptures mattered.

    Again, there are abuses, but I don’t think there can be orthodoxy or unity apart from a belief that scripture communicates truthful content that can be studied and understood to a substantial, but imperfect, degree.

  • Adam

    DanS

    The first official list of Scriptures was done in 393 at the Council of Hippo, then again in Carthage in 397 and 419. The Church did not infallibly define these books until the Council of Trent, when it was called into question by the Reformers, in 1556.

    from http://www.aboutcatholics.com/faith_beliefs/how_bible_written_created/

  • http://earliestchristianity.wordpress.com/ Tim

    Luke (#42) – Yes, Scripture definitely “informs” my life at some level, and Smith claims the same for himself. The issue, though, is in what manner it does so.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I wish I had time to contribute more today, but, alas, I have made a bed that is called hard work now…..

    However, it seems that we need another analogy to back up the claims that Smith is making. Something that would be in tune or relevant to the former/recovering/current/questioning biblicist.

    All I can offer is this, it is like believing that the sun and planets go around the earth as the basic biblicist creed, but when we get to reality we have to have epicycles and other such rationalizations that start to call into question the framework with which we understand and sort the biblical account.

    That’s probably not a good framework considering this crowd, but we do need one that communicates the idea better, no offense to Christian Smith, whom I believe has written an excellent, and enjoyable, book.

  • DanS

    Adam. 48. I’m well aware of when the Canon was ratified. The quote from Cyril is dated from that period and he is the one who stated the Creed is a summation of scriptural truth. The New Testament writings did not become inspired in the 4th century – if they are inspired, they are inspired and authoritative from the time of their writing, evidenced by their use in Christian worship from the beginning – else Cyril’s comment would make no sense at all. Scripture was written between 50 and 90 AD. The creed, according to Cyril, was written in the 4th century as a summation of essential apostolic teaching – scriptural truth. Yes, the Canon was officially recognized at that time, but by no means were the New Testament writings less authoritative prior to the 4th century.

  • Scot McKnight

    Luke, we are in Australia and it’s not possible to be awake when these posts hit the light of day … but…

    On Spurgeon. I’d agree that he had a christotelic approach, and he was not a biblicist, but his approach is more properly a Reformed Baptist approach and that was his “regula fidei.” Which means, christotelic plus a Reformed soteriology that shaped everything he saw. But I’d stand with Spurgeon in a minute, brother, before I’d stand with many biblicists today. More than this I cannot say now …from here… with the time I’ve got.

  • SkipR

    #47 DanS has zeroed in on the crux of the problem for me. This is an epistemological problem. I’m all for making Jesus the “lens,” the “foundation,” the “center.” But – how do we know Jesus? Seems to me that we are driven back to the Scripture, and to propositions about Jesus that have been derived from Scripture! While I believe that “knowing” Jesus is more that “knowing about” Jesus, I still can’t imagine a knowledge of Jesus that isn’t anchored in the Scripture. What would be the source of such knowledge? Personal revelation? A particular oral or written tradition not embodied in Scripture? What about other traditions? I look forward to reading Smith’s book. I believe I will agree with many of his criticisms. I just don’t see any way out of the basic problem: how do I know Jesus if not primarily through Scripture?

  • Paul W

    The term “biblicist” seems to have rattled the cages of some throughout the posts on this book review. It is, however, being used in the book and in these reviews as a stipulated term. I for one don’t quite get the energy. If the shoe doesn’t fit then don’t wear it.

    It hardly seems fair to characterize a christotelic interpretive approach as a new or novel approach. Hasn’t something like it been arguably at work in various forms within the community of from apostolic times. In particular, I tend to think of modern versions of this as looming large in Reformed circles especially those who for whom Geerhardus Vos has been influential.

  • Paul W

    oops. . . “within the community of faith”

  • Taylor

    Paul,

    I think the reason would be that Smith seems to think the shoe fits quite a diverse group of people. The hyper-literalist and D.A. Carson are two very different people. In fact, Carson seems to be a biblicist who uses a Christoletic interpretive approach.

    Smith’s biblicist conjures up images of the Bible Baptist Church that preaches blackness as the mark of Cain, and then puts them in a lineup with Carson, Packer, and several other men who do not deserve the association. Some of us it seems are a little uncomfortable with that as well.

  • rjs

    Taylor,

    Your comment highlights Paul’s point.You want to define the term as “that which is repulsive” and then remove it from those who don’t fit your mold.

    But biblicism as Smith uses it isn’t limited to your interpretation of the term. If you want to interact with his ideas, you need to understand his definition and consider where it fits or doesn’t fit.

    I know many fine, upstanding, devout Christians (including family members) for whom it fits quite well. I have also read many smart Christians whose work is permeated by the “biblicist” approach. But I also think the approach fails miserably and leads to irreconcilable contradictions – even when worked out by smart Christians.

    It is possible move away from the biblicist approach to knowledge while remaining a faithful Christian (and a Protestant Christian), and I think that it is necessary.

  • Taylor

    RJS,

    … but impossible to hold to the correct elements of it?

    I’m actually not doing anything beyond what Smith does. For example, he argues that the what Christians should do about hunger is clear and biblical (32). He seems to think that the Bible does speak clearly on certain issues. Likewise the majority of orthodox Christianity would similarly define “that which is repulsive.”

    I fail to see how including those groups does anything but weaken his argument. Leave them out, and he might have a solid case, include them, and now you have a large chunk of his argument made based on a group of people that is overwhelmingly understood to be not actually reading the Bible in a biblicist fashion, but taking the methodology of biblicism and bending it to acheive their goals.

    As a side note, I noticed you pointedly used the term ‘smart’ Christians when referring to biblicists rather than ‘intellectual,’ a term you overwhelmingly use in your posts and your comments. It suggests a bias that while smart, someone who holds to a biblicist perspective cannot be truly intellectual. I’m probably just reading into your language because I try to be picky with mine, but I did think that was interesting.

    I’d recommend the same thing I do to everyone when they have a good book they intend to read. When you have the time to read it, try reading it against your natural inclinations. If you would normally agree with the author, try to read critically, if you would normally criticize the author, try to read sympathetically. I’m doing the same.

  • rjs

    Taylor,

    Don’t read into my use of smart vs intellectual, nothing was meant by it. I made and intended no distinction. I only intended to make contrast between these people and the “on the street” view that the distinction is between smart and stupid or ignorant. As in … We are smart – they are stupid (or worse deceitful). Many of the people I disagree with are both smart and sincere. I just think their argument and/or approach is wrong.

    And of course one must read and interact extensively with different views. This is why I have read and interacted with everything from Dawkins to Haight to Jack Collins to Enns to Stephen Meyer to Mohler and others on the science and faith questions.

    The same process will continue – and in fact it impacts everything I do as a scholar and as a Christian. Read with a view to understand what the author is trying to communicate, read critically thinking about the insights and flaws, and interact with what is actually said and the force of the arguments.

  • rjs

    Taylor,

    You misunderstand what I meant in part of my comment I think. You have taken the term biblicism, constrained the definition to example of “that which is repulsive” – and most of us would agree that these positions are repulsive. And have then declared that others are by definition not biblicists.

    This distorts Smith’s point. Very good, devout, smart, (even intellectual) people are biblicists, because biblicism is defined by an approach to the bible and to knowledge. It is not defined by a specific set of interpretations. I don’t think the biblicist foundation – Bible first then everything else – is an appropriate approach to our faith or to knowledge.

  • Luke Allison

    RJS #60: “I don’t think the biblicist foundation – Bible first then everything else – is an appropriate approach to our faith or to knowledge”

    I do feel like this becomes a bit of an Ouroboros argument over time.
    Those Smith would label biblicists (again, the term represents a ridiculous amount of nuance…not backing down on that point) are uncomfortable elevating normal, everyday words to the same level as the unique “God-expired” words that the various authors of the Scriptures have written. Biblicism is perhaps a misguided (wrong) way of trying to cope with the obvious (although not necessary) fallibilty of human authority.

    I’m all for a Christocentric hermeneutic! I just went to a summer camp where 500 students heard a teacher tell them to slay the giant of pornography like David slew Goliath. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrghhhhhhhh! My head almost popped like a boil. What can a student do with that besides labor under the law, basically climbing up on the cross next to Jesus and attempting to help Him complete His work? The Old Testament (historical patterns, types, prophecies, forms, shadows, even Wisdom) has to point to Christ, has to reveal his person, has to show us His glorious face, or it merely piles burdens on our backs that we cannot carry ourselves.

    From what I can tell, if we start with the assumption that the words of Jesus in the Gospels carry authoritative weight (would any of us deny this?), at some point we have to deal with the way He perceived Scripture. Then we have to deal with how many times He quotes the Psalmist in an authoritative fashion. Then we have to see how the Psalmist referred to God’s law (Psalm 119, many others). I don’t see how we can get away from at least admiring and revering the Scriptures on some level.
    Obviously our hearts belong to the God of the Word (maybe not obviously?), but without some devotion to the Word of God, how do we know anything about God?

    I deal with students constantly who have gotten very excited by the gifts of the Spirit, but are completely bored by the Bible. Only through a Christocentric understanding will it become more than a guidebook.

    So I agree with you on so many levels…again, I’m just not sure that this is a gracious attempt by Smith (is Catholicism really the answer? Silly.) to discuss this problem. He obviously has a knack for naming things though. First MPD, now biblicism and PIP.

  • Paul Johnston

    Luke, why wouldn’t Catholicism be the answer? Or at the very least,why would the affirmation of Catholicism be considered lacking graciousness?

  • rjs

    Paul,

    I don’t think that Catholicism is the answer to the issues raised by Biblicism because it just moves the authority problem elsewhere, leaving a different, but equally troublesome situation. Transferring authority to the church doesn’t work.

    I don’t know if this is why Smith joined the Catholic church, and it is not my goal to convince anyone to leave the Catholic church.

  • Luke Allison

    “I don’t know if this is why Smith joined the Catholic church, and it is not my goal to convince anyone to leave the Catholic church”

    Nor is it mine.

    But if you’re going to write a book on what’s wrong with evangelicals, and you’re writing as a Catholic (who wrote a book recently about that very subject, too!), aren’t you implicitly suggesting that Catholicism has gotten something right in that regard?

    I would actually be willing to bet that the average Catholic is as biblicism-prone as any evangelical.

    I appreciate Catholicism on many levels, but I also appreciate evangelicalism.

    I also appreciate D.A. Carson, which may be the very personal reason why Smith’s book sticks in my craw. Selfish, I know.

  • Taylor

    rjs,

    Thanks for clarifying. As I am reading Smith, much of what he says resonates with me. Two of his hypothetical arguments for diversity among biblicists are almost exactly the direction my thoughts have taken when trying to hash out my own biblicism and the wealth of disagreement in the church that still persists.

    For that reason, I’d like to propose an alternative theory that retains a form of biblicism, recognizes some flaws in what it has become, and proposes a way forward.

    So, here goes(this is a rehash of a discussion I am already having):

    Let me start by saying that I’m very impressed with this book so far. I think it has some excellent critiques to offer, and makes some points that are, as Smith establishes, also considerations that concern many biblicists. If these issues cannot be dealt with, biblicism is indeed indefensible going forward.

    However, I think he fails in two areas. First, Smith lumps together different difficulties with biblicism under the same umbrella. The obviously repulsive with the sincere, if you will. This leads to what I perceive to be his second failure. In lumping different concerns under one overarching critique, Smith assumes that each of the solutions to the problem(s) must be self sufficient.

    I think many of the issues with biblicism could be addressed if we recognized that PIP is most often a direct result of any one of three of these proposals. These three responses are the ‘blame-the-deficient-readers,’ ‘inclusive-higher-synthesis,’ and ‘purposefully-ambiguous-revelation’ theories.

    At a surface level, ‘b-t-d-r’ deals with many problems. It is an acknowledged fault of Christianity in general that readers bring their own biases to the table when interpreting. We can throw out a majority of Smiths most extreme, ‘repulsive’ examples using this method, as he recognizes himself.

    At a more intricate level, especially when it comes to fiercely defended doctrines such as Calvinism and Arminianism, I believe either ‘i-h-s,’ or ‘p-a-r’ come into play. Smith addresses an important fact that is often overlooked, or deemphasized for the sake of argument. Arminius had a collection of convincing passages that not only seem to illustrate his position, but force Calvinists to deal with them different than the ‘simple, obvious’ approach they take to passages which emphasize the doctrines of grace. And vice versa. Smith uses that to claim the dysfunctionality of biblicism.

    I would argue that one of two other things is happening. Either both parties are recognizing seemingly conflicting aspects of a truth that is beyond our understanding, or (and this is where I would rephrase his definition for ‘p-a-r’) God intended certain deep doctrines, which are non-essential to Christian living (look at Whitefield and Wesley if you disagree) to remain ambiguous.

    Smith ultimately sees ambiguity as God intentionally causing disunity, therfore dismisses it as a reasonable option for the biblicist. I see it as a gracious means of keeping us from arrogance, an opportunity to truly practice unity, and a safeguard against a catholic church, lower case c, taking on a devastating form of authority by claiming to have the final word on all things Bible.

    While I agree with a Christ-centric approach to Scripture. I believe that if the church united in her desire for unity, and actually worked through these three responses appropriately, rather than simply using them to justify disunity, we could begin to approach unity without a need for uniformity.

    Essentially, biblicism breeds extrabiblicism. When we recognize that, we can combat one without losing the other.

  • Paul Johnston

    Thanks for the responses, Luke and RJS.

    Luke, if biblicalism spawns interprative pluralism and interprative pluralism leads to ongoing dissention, disagreemant and debate among the faithful as to what the “Word” even means, surely the process stands thoroughly discredited and should be discarded.

    Thank you for not suggesting I abandon my Catholic faith but I suggest to you that IF EVANGELICALISM facilitates the creation and tolerance of pluralistic, conflicting interpretations of the Word, I do not hear it as the voice of truth, the voice of the Holy Spirit. To say less would be to shirk my responsibility to you as a brother in Christ.

    I cannot in good conscience, insist you become Catholic or Orthodox. I will say that communities of mostly consistent, coherent traditions since the time of Christ reflect what I hear the Gospels pointing toward. Not a series of seemingly never ending exegetical battles based on arguementation and human interpretation.

    My sense of this debate is that many people within Evangelical communities, struggle with the same conflict and hope for some expression of creedal unanimity and tradition.

    Until then the ecclessial communties of Protestantism will remain outside the doors of both the Orthodox and Catholic churches. I will never see this as anything less than a tragedy. I will never see this as the “Word” and work of God, through the Holy Spirit.

    Either the Churches of tradition were Apostate or they weren’t. And if they aren’t, sinful though they were and are, reformation could only have been intended from within. Never from without. How can any Christian in good conscience, inspired by the love of Christ and the truth of the Holy Spirit, perpetuate and defend a “House divided”.

    In closing, Luke let me say that I respect and appreciate any Christian voice that addresses the sins of the Church, the sins of the faithful, the sins of mine. Only someone who loved God’s church and His people would so endevour.

    Only a brother who loved me would hope to save me from my sin.

    The fraternity of Christ is invoilable, it is eternal. One Father, one Son, one Holy Spirit; one God. One God, one People, one Church. This IS God’s will for His children on earth.

    Let us always work together to make it so.

  • http://www.everygoodpath.net Mark

    Enjoying the comments here. I also reviewed the book and found many of the same issues Taylor and others have listed. The main problem is Smith’s ‘biblicism’ is a caricature so in finding it lacking he hasn’t proven much. His insights are good but unfortunately he trashes the scripture substantially in several places.

    My extensive review: http://www.everygoodpath.net/Bible-Made-Impossible-Christian-Smith-Review

  • Jeff Martin

    Dr. Mcknight,

    In reference to this overall discussion about how CHristians view the Bible you wrote an article for catalyst resources that I read, and I liked, but I thought instead of using the idea of what is “true” it makes more sense to me to view the BIble as what is “trustworthy”, which is also a second definition of “infallible” – that is, “not failing”. In fact I believe Psalms 119 says more about “trustworthiness” than “truth”.

    Psalms 119:41 May your unfailing love come to me, LORD,
    your salvation, according to your promise;
    42 then I can answer anyone who taunts me,
    for I trust in your word.
    43 Never take your word of truth from my mouth,
    49 Remember your word to your servant,
    for you have given me hope.
    50 My comfort in my suffering is this:
    Your promise preserves my life.
    65 Do good to your servant
    according to your word, LORD.
    66 Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
    for I trust your commands
    for I have put my hope in your laws.
    75 I know, LORD, that your laws are righteous,
    and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
    86 All your commands are trustworthy;
    help me, for I am being persecuted without cause.
    87 They almost wiped me from the earth,
    but I have not forsaken your precepts.
    88 In your unfailing love preserve my life,
    that I may obey the statutes of your mouth.
    90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
    you established the earth, and it endures.
    137 You are righteous, LORD,
    and your laws are right.
    138 The statutes you have laid down are righteous;
    they are fully trustworthy.
    139 My zeal wears me out,
    for my enemies ignore your words.
    140 Your promises have been thoroughly tested,
    and your servant loves them

    Also I thought describing the Bible as “true” is not helpful, because in that article you yourself realize that many people have a different definition of what that means, and it goes back to the discussion on inerrancy again, which as you agree is not helpful.

    This folwwing verse should be how we speak about Scripture –

    Psalms 119:41 May your unfailing love come to me, LORD,
    your salvation, according to your promise;
    42 then I can answer anyone who taunts me,
    for I trust in your word.


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