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 contends a simple point in this chp, but it’s one that biblicists are incapable of accepting, unless they are willing to change how they read the Bible. His point: let the Bible be the Bible, and read the Bible for what it is, not for what we’d like it to be. You may want the Bible to be a handbook on dating or economic theory or on modern free enterprise, and if you want it to be, you can find Bible verses to support your view, but just because you find stuff that supports your view doesn’t mean you’ve probed the biblical view. Often, or at least sometimes, you’ve colonized the Bible into your own view. Strong words, but biblicism and the christotelic approach are at odds with one another. We must choose.
Biblicists, Smith argues, want a Bible that God didn’t actually give us. (He quotes Peter Enns and Gordon Fee.) Smith then probes briefly into the doctrine of accommodation, that is, that God accommodated himself to humans. (I wrote about this in these terms: God spoke in Moses’ day in Moses’ way. See The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible.)
Put simply there are ambiguities in the Bible, and pretending there aren’t won’t make them go away. Biblicism believes the Bible is clear on everything, accessible on everything, understandable on everything, coherent on everything, and complete on everything — but it isn’t. The so-called “perspicuity” of the Bible is not about every passage and every line but about the big idea of the Bible, the regula fidei, the story that leads us to Jesus Christ.
So Smith suggests, with Roger Olson, that we have to distinguish between dogma (what is nonnegotiable, important, central, clear, etc) and doctrine (which isn’t as clear but in which there is diversity) and opinion. We have a tendency to equate our opinions with doctrine and then, under pressure, to raise doctrines to dogmas.