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).