The Problem of Biblicism 7

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.

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  • rjs

    For all the other strengths or weakness of the book – here we have what I think is the most important point. If we truly take the Bible seriously and as authoritative we have to let the Bible be the Bible and read and study the book we have in the form we have it.

    The desire to shape the Bible into the book we think it should be rather than to be shaped by the book we have is the hallmark of the major error of 20th century evangelicalism.

  • DanS

    I still think he is describing the right symptoms, but the wrong cause. Legalism, dogmatism, individualism, sectarianism, all are real problems – but it is not necessarily a more conservative view of scripture that is the cause.

    “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.” I just don’t think this is a fair characterization of most conservative evangelicals. I know of no one who believes scripture is equally clear on everything.

    “…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.” Of course. This is not a new idea, and it’s one I’ve heard over and over again in very conservative denominations (CMA, EFCA) for decades.

    “We have a tendency to equate our opinions with doctrine and then, under pressure, to raise doctrines to dogmas.” True enough – but the cause of that is pride, not necessarily a particular view of scripture.

    And I think other modern interpretive frameworks are far more guilty of reading the Bible as they want it to be rather than what it is, of forcing a foreign paradigm (postmodern deconstruction, scientific naturalism, etc.) onto the text. to an extent where the text cannot speak for itself.

  • I think DanS has a point. At a popular level, I’m sure some of those stereotypes (equally clear on everything etc) exist – but then at a popular level, there are all sorts of muddles no matter which school of thought you come from. But when articulated seriously, including by many of the people whom Christian implicitly or explicitly criticises, I don’t think this cartoon version, of a Bible that is “about” parenting or dating in the same way that it is “about” Jesus, is very accurate. Who is arguing for that? (Scot, by the way, this isn’t a dig at you – I think you’ve represented Christian very clearly – but a reflection on what looks like an underlying premise of his book.) Very thought-provoking as ever, though!

  • Richard

    @ 2 and 3

    We had a great example of Wayne Grudem (not exactly a popular level, uninformed guy) doing exactly the sorts of things that Christian Smith is pushing back on.

    My local TEA Party is bringing in a Bible teacher to present on the USA in Biblical Prophecy and why we need to support Israel without question.


    I do agree that people of any stripe are capable of committing this fallacy, I think that’s why Smith, at least as far as I’ve seen Scot represent him is using the term “biblicism” and not “conservative”

  • “The desire to shape the Bible into the book we think it should be rather than to be shaped by the book we have is the hallmark of the major error of 20th century evangelicalism.” (from #1).

    This thought strikes me as an excellent summary of the argument Smith is making. My only nuance would be that this isn’t something now in the past (eg, 20th Century), this has been a 2000 year infection and continues through the 21st Century and beyond. Is this not part of the human condition – to seek mastery over whatever may be in front of us. Maybe just maybe there is something to this idea of the Spirit (luke 12:12).


  • DRT

    DanS, Perhaps I am wrong, but I don’t think your criticism hits the mark that Smith is going for. Though I do think, at some level, biblicism does cause fracturing, I think the bigger issue is that biblicism as he has defined it does not make sense as a way to view the bible.

    By saying that it does not make sense to define the bible the way the biblicist does produces an action to take away definitions that are biblicist. It does not produce the action to condem conservatives or any particular person.

    I can’t understand what you are saying. Are you saying that it is valid to have biblicist ways because you feel it does not cause the things you mention? If that is what you are saying then you are missing the point. Biblicism is invalid because of the existance of the misinterpretations and stetchings of the bible that exist in the face of biblicism.

    In short, if you are not arguing to keep biblicism then why are you writing?

  • DRT

    DanS, I think Smith is just arguing that biblicism is not valid if there is pervasive interpretive pluralism where it is in effect. He does not have to prove biblicism causes the pluralism, he just has to observe that it exists in the face of biblicism therefore biblicism is not realistic.

    Its like me declaring that I deserve a high paying job but when I go to find employment, no one will give me a high paying job. My desire for a high paying job does not cause me to not get a job, but the not getting a job indicates my basic premise is probably wrong.

  • T

    The quote about biblicism expecting the bible to be clear on “everything” goes too far, obviously. BUT, we do see (or at least I do), with regularity, statements from within evangelicalism that give this or that view as “the Biblical teaching on _____________.” Far, far too often, such teaching is a person’s teaching on that subject, that has cited various passages or themes in the Bible for support. It is, at best, “a” biblical viewpoint. I have no problem with a person or group giving their teaching on parenting or even democracy (!), and showing how the scriptures have shaped their view. But the habit of calling this or that view “the” biblical view has got to stop, unless we’re talking about things like the resurrection of Christ or that Jesus is Lord & Messiah or similar things. The further we move from such things, the more we should call these views what they are: ours, with an attempt to let the scriptural revelation of God shape them.

  • Rob

    @ 2

    I agree that other groups impose “foreign paradigms” on Scripture, but does that necessarily negate the argument Smith is making about biblicism (full disclosure: I haven’t read the book, only followed the discussion here)? If sounds to me like he is arguing that biblicism is one of those foreign paradigms.

    @ 3

    As one with ties to a Christian tradition with strong biblicist tendancies, Smith’s evaluation rings true. When asked the theoretical question “Does the Bible have all the anwsers for all of life’s situations?” some using the interpretive framework smith defines as ‘biblicism’ would say “no” (however in my experience some would say “yes”)but in ‘real world’ situations their behavior suggests otherwise (i.e. having book,chapter, verse for every situation and a high level of certainty that their interpretation/application of these texts is THE right one).

  • Tim

    This is the single best point of the Smith’s book. There is no doubt the Bible is shaped to fit preconceptions, agendas, etc. I do believe we can apply biblical principles to life situations. I don’t believe it works the other way around.

  • Fish

    Just this morning an article popped up on my facebook about the biblical process for “training” your children. The first step was to focus on obedience as foundational.

    I know parents who would be flabbergasted if I told them that the Bible is not a manual for raising children or having a better marriage. I really could not even say it to them because it would cause an argument.

    It is interesting as I think about it, because they send their children to a school that promises a “Bible-centric education.” Not a Jesus-centric education or a God-centric education, or even an education-centric education.

  • Fred

    The Bible does have all the answers for, say, human relationships. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    From that point on, it gets messy. One fellow said to me once “Doing Bible is relatively easy. What makes it difficult is life.”

    I haven’t read the book, though I aim to. What I want to know is how Smith would tell me how to understand something like “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” (Proverbs 31:6,7)

  • Susan N.

    Fred (#12) – “Doing Bible is relatively easy. What makes it difficult is life.” — Exactly!! 🙂

  • Patrick

    Being a former Biblicist, I think lots of the points in this series are valid. Maybe some of them are not 100% bullseyes.

    Definitely the idea of using a crass literalism and projecting our paradigm on the Bible is an egregious error and we should pray this dies out and improves.

    While the Biblicist hermeneutic is weak, even more nuanced hermeneutic types may refuse to accept truth due to pre conceived notions or projection. That is not limited to Biblicist fundies at all.

    Where the tea party believers above want to hear a Hal Lindsay, it seems logical lots of the leftward believers prefer hearing a Michael Moore and it is likely neither is an accurate teacher of The Lord’s.

    The accuracy is inside the goalposts, IMO.

  • 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 is there pervasive interpretive agreement about who Jesus Christ is or the big idea of the Bible among Christians?

  • PaulE

    I’m having trouble understanding this debate. People keep saying that Smith’s definition of biblicism is a caricature. Others keep insisting that it is not.

    On the one hand, I am told the biblicists subscribe to some Bible-as-a-handbook-for-dating theory where the Bible is clear and complete on the matter. The handbook theory doesn’t even pass the smell test. For example, as far as I am aware, the Bible doesn’t say anything about how much time to wait before you call a girl after the first date – or anyway it’s not quite clear from 1 Corinthians 7 whether it’s two days or three. If biblicists believe the Bible is clear on that matter, I’m not a biblicist. But then I can’t imagine anyone else is either.

    In fact you can come up with examples so absurd that I’m convinced I cannot be rightly understanding Smith. For example, does he think there are people out there – perhaps Wayne Grudem – who believe that the Bible has clear and complete answers for how to engineer a lunar landing in order to retrieve moon rocks? This seems so absurd that I begin to feel I am not understanding his criticism right.

    So then I begin to temper it: perhaps what he is really arguing against is that the Bible has some clear things to say about dating. But this quickly seems equally absurd. If my buddy asks whether God says anything in the Bible about dating your father’s wife, I’m probably not going to tell him, “Well, there’s this one thing in 1 Corinthians 5, but really it’s just pointing to Christ, so don’t worry about it.” But again – I can’t imagine Christian Smith saying that either. So what am I missing?

  • Patrick


    Maybe add in to the equation, “it is also about re-presenting Christ’s virtues” and then the idea of avoiding the Corinthians paradigm fits in.

    To be blunt, as I said, I was a Biblicist and some of these points are not totally accurate bullseyes and neither are some of the past comments.

    Some of the comments are outrageous from a poster or 2(in the entire discussion, not necessarily this post).

    The main point here is the Biblicist’s hermeneutic is crass literalism and as such, misses what God wants us to hear in some cases. I vouch for that charge. True. It needs serious reformation from God, that part of the Church universal.

    You want an example of the problem?

    In John 1:50-51( I think) Jesus explains to Nathanael he will see “angels ascending and descending on The Son of Man”. I interpret that as an allusion to the Jacob’s ladder periocope. Apocalyptic genre, common among the Jewish prophets.

    Biblicists see that as literal. I have had friends get upset at me for suggesting the Jacob’s ladder view.

  • John W Frye

    I think an analogy I heard might help. For the biblicists the Bible is a map, a clear, detailed way to live life with God and others (how to date, how to be a husband, a wife, a parent, how to make and spend money, who to vote for, what economic system is godly, how (and sometimes ‘when’) to expect Jesus to return, etc.) Just follow *it*–the Bible, the map. OTOH, the non-biblicists see the Bible as a compass. It points us to True North = Jesus Christ. It does not give us a clearly marked road map, it points to *the Way* and sometimes we have to blaze new trails through the wilderness. We follow Jesus (a Person not a book) by the help of the Spirit to the glory of the Father.

  • megan


    A lot of biblicist types would say that a man is not to call a woman after a date at all, but is instead to call her father. Or perhaps he is even not to date her, at least in the sense you seem to be assuming, but to spend time with her and her family as a whole…depending on just how dogmatic we are going to be about this.

    Since pretty much all the romantic relationships we read of in the Bible are of this giving-her-hand-in-marriage type, and since (as the biblicist assumes) the Bible is handbook for all of life, what is left to conclude but that God intends everyone to forsake dating for “courtship”?

    I could be wrong as I haven’t read the book, but it seems to me that this is the type of reading Smith is taking aim at, not some imagined group of people who assume that, read in the proper light, the Bible says, “Thou shalt wait no fewer than 24 but no more than 48 before calling after the first date.”

  • DRT

    Brian McLaren would say the biblicists use the bible as a constitution.

  • DRT

    megan#19, My favorite quote from the book is the “take the hot women” order….deut 21:10 and on…

    When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife.

  • John W Frye

    For example, I, along with a 1000 other pastors, once heard a biblicist present “God’s Design for a Worship Service”, hear me, *God’s design*; it was based on 1 Corinthians 14. To do a worship service *any other way* was to forsake the ‘will of God.’

  • DRT

    I have been struggling with a Christotelic explanation for the reading of Deut 21…

  • Fred

    Years ago I attended a church that decided they could no longer play guitars in a service since the word “guitar” is not mentioned anywhere in the text. I don’t recall ever seeing the word “organ” but they had one of those. Go figure.

  • Fish

    Would we say that avoiding sex before marriage is also biblicism?

  • “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.”

    This is impossible. I understand the point, that we should not make the Bible into something that it is not. But this thinking assumes that the Bible as a whole IS something, and that we can clearly know what that is, and thereby can avoid making it something else. I think the premise that the Bible, specifically the OT, is a roadmap to Jesus is just as flawed as any of the biblicist premises stated. Reading the Bible through a christotelic lens is no better than any other lens, in the sense that it is still a lens. It is still a case of making the Bible into something and then being left to argue about the legitimacy of that something we have made it. This is inescapable.

    Everyone makes the Bible what they want it to be. It is a long and laborious process of reading and study, where we listen to the thoughts of others, weigh what we decide is the good and bad, draw our own conclusions, act upon those conclusions and measure the results, compare our conclusions and results to those that others have drawn and seen, reread and restudy some more, change and grow and mature, continue to apply what we have learned, listen and read, study and compare… but in the end the decision is ours, and we choose what we want to believe and what we don’t.

    And then some of us get cocky about our choices and write books and blogs about why what we have chosen to believe is better than what some others have chosen. I include myself in this group and concede that this comment is evidence of said inclusion! Again, this is inescapable.

    I think it is fine to argue against the biblicist view. There is much that I see wrong with it. But please don’t do it from an “I don’t taint the Bible with my own opinion like they do” perspective.

  • Paul W

    I’ve been around a lot of self-identified Evangelicals, have read their books, gone to their churches etc. but admit to not understanding the pathos that drives the movement very well. And while I don’t think I understand what drives Evangelicalism any better it does seem to me that this issue touches on a nerve.

    Could it be, that for some, the complaints about nuance are out there because the critique hits a little too close for comfort? [Real question. . . no offense intended]

    One of the interesting things to see throughout this series is the mixed response to Smith’s use of the term “biblicist” and then defining it in a way that practically no Evangelical authority on hermeneutics would endorse. I’m assuming that this has rattled some cages because it comes across as 1.) an [unfair] critique of Evangelicalism as a whole or 2.) that there is some type of desire to protect the term “biblicism” from its negative use in the book.

    As to the book itself, it seemed to me to succeed in showing that an incompatabity exists between “interpretive pluralism” and “biblicism.” However, at two points touched upon in the reviews, it seems to have fallen short. First, I never really felt the pinch that “interpretive pluralism” is an inherent problem in general. Perhaps it is but it isn’t obvious to me. Second, while a christotelic approach may be a much better way than biblicism it hardly suffices as an answer if the problem is interpretive pluralism. Does anyone really think we would not be able to have just as many 3-4-5 view books on topics all written solely by contributors from a christotelic orientation?

  • Susan N.

    DRT (#21 and #23) — You crack me up! I could be wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time), but it seems to me that the passage you highlighted from Deuteronomy illustrates perfectly why we cannot zone in too closely on random verses (or chapters, books, sections of the Bible) without keeping the big meaning (the Good News of Jesus Christ) in sight. I know that you “get” this, right? 😉

    Read any and all details leading up to Jesus with the end/goal in mind. Biblicists seem to take all the detailed parts as stand-alone commands, instructions.

    The Greek root “telic” means tending toward a goal; expressing purpose –> Jesus Christ. I wonder if in narrowing the scope to this or that portion of text, as suits a particular reader’s desired perspective, the hope of being distracted from the big meaning (love God AND love people — even enemies) is at least partly a motivation? Looking for loopholes…like the lawyer in the Good Samaritan story?

    My favorite “biblical command” on dating and marriage that I’ve heard is on how the young man will hear (perceive?) God instructing him on whom he should ask for her hand in marriage. I’m thinking when I heard this, “What? Did the young lady get a word from God and then have anything to say in the matter?!” Oh brother…

  • Amos Paul

    Paul W,

    In response to your two points about the response to defining Biblicism, I would say that I’ve made reactionary posts to the definition *not* because I’m a Biblicist that must protect my term. Indeed, I’ve rarely ever even heard anyone *use* the specific adjective ‘Biblicist’ before (usually the more cheesy — I’m a Bible Christian! 😉 ).

    But I’ve reacted negatively to the definitions as stated because I *know* people who espouse what I would label Biblicist, and if this book is actually intended *for them* to read then it needs to more fairly and accurately describe their view to engage with them. I react the same way when I have Christian brothers and sisters discussing politics or something and say “Islamists all want X” or whatever. Call it intellectual empathy or an academic drive, but I honestly think that taking views seriously, even if we disagree with them, is much more honestly helpful.


    I’m confused about what you were saying about a young man feeling led to marry a woman. Were you saying that some have called that a ‘Biblical command’ becuase of the cultural precedents in Genesis?

    I’ve personally experienced this situation first hand… except every time it’s been the young woman expressing having perceived direction from God. I’m curious as to what you find repugnant about this situation? The other person, in my experience, still has every opportunity to disagree…

  • Susan N.

    Amos, those who espouse the view that men are the spiritual leaders, even in choosing their “help-meet” receive the word directly from God, and then relay that message to the woman, who presumably is to submit to what God has spoken for her life (through her future husband). Whether it is that simple in real life, or whether the man has to woo his prospective bride to convince her to say yes, I don’t know. It goes beyond the command straight from Genesis, though. I know that several NT passages on women being submissive to men are taken together (systematized) to support this view. In the example I cited, however, I feel that this view has been taken to a radical extreme.

    And, as to how much latitude the other person has to disagree and refuse, in the midst of that type of culture, if a pastor, elder, father, future husband says it is from God, many women and girls would not feel free to say no. Without the implication of disobedience to God and spiritual authorities. Insidious, isn’t it?

  • PaulE

    John W Frye – I understand where you’re coming from with the worship service comment. It is a sadly common mistake to take patterns from narrative and make them normative. “We never read about the NT church using instruments, so neither should we.” But I don’t think you can read 1st Corinthians 14 and not come away with the idea that God has some sort of design for worship services – e.g. that they should be orderly. Is it being biblicist to say that?

  • Paul Johnston

    Clearly Smith is setting the groundwork for conversion.

    Biblicalism as I understand it from 7 posts, points to a lower form of relationship. A lesser relationship, in turn, fosters misunderstanding and confusion. A wholly biblical relationship is to only know about Jesus. To only know about someone apart from the relational, knowing someone, is to invite conjecture, opinion, disagreement.

    A Catholic sacramental relationship, is to be with Jesus. If one surrenders to it’s experiences one does more than simply learn about Jesus, one experiences Him.

    Once one experiences love through relationship, intellectual understandings or suppositions almost seem trivial. One only seeks the presence of one’s lover.

    I can only speak for myself not for Mr. Smith, not for any other Catholic but if I had to choose, I choose the Holy Eucharist over Scripture.

    Scripture was the box it came in, the Holy Eucharist was the gift inside.

  • Amos Paul


    I think the my problem with your example is that it assumes that there is no discernment process on the part of the leadership to try their hardest to counsel what really is and isn’t from God. I’ve also not ever heard of any modern groups that literally force women to marry, though I won’t discount that possibility.

    I do know many people in my own church’s leadership that come from families that participated in denominations that ‘guided’ the marriage decisions of young men and women. But their traditions operated much more like the more the old and traditional practices of arranged marriages (families getting to know each other, praying for discernment, men and women approaching fathers before each other for permission in courtship, etc.).

    While I’m not saying I agree with these practices as a participant, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that they are necessarily arbitrary for those involved and that the children aren’t involved with their will at all. You know they say that the divorce rater for traditional, arranged marriages is significantly lower than that of marriages chosen purely by single men and women… generally, studies say, because the parents often try to actually match up their children with whom they really think is best. And parents usually know their children better than they think.

    It is what it is.

    *And no, I don’t agree with many of the pure ‘submissiveness’ interpretations out there that seem to ignore Scripture that blatantly contradicts that view. But I think it’s still unfair to assume that those who *do* utilize those interpretations do so un-lovingly and un-caringly for the women and each other.

  • Robert

    The more I think about the distinction between doctrine and dogma, the more doubtful I become. Isn’t a dogma merely a doctrine that nobody dares to ask questions about? Maybe those are precisely the ones we need to question most.

    Twenty-five years ago, we were struggling to respond to the riots, and to racism, and so many people I spoke to were completely unwilling to see it as any more than individual sin and individual cases. Here we are trying to respond to another round of rioting, with the same problems as before, and the same mistakes being made by the police. It’s not individual, its systemic, as I said the last time. I don’t know whether the doctrine of sin would come on your list of dogmas, but we need to take a serious look at it!

  • Fish

    A lady who worked for me once up a time was in a marriage totally arranged by the parents. She seemed very happy and spoke in favor of the concept. She was a devout Jainist and really had issues with what she saw as the subordination of women in Christianity.

  • Susan N.

    Fish (#35) – I’m not familiar with Jainist marriage practices, but I am fairly “in-the-know” about Hindu arranged marriage. It is still practiced today, though some of our younger nieces and nephews are beginning to go their own way in deciding for themselves whom to marry. My husband and all of his siblings were arranged in marriage. Part of it is to maintain caste purity, and another big part of it is practical — transacting business in that families who are similarly prosperous merge their wealth.

    My husband’s first (arranged) marriage failed. Though he was involved in meeting the prospective bride and in deciding for or against the arrangement, most of the process was handled by his parents. The other siblings’ marriages have stuck, though a few have had some issues. Divorce is up until recently fairly taboo in India, even progressive Kerala state.

    Marriageable daughters come with a dowry (financial incentive). Sons divide the father’s inheritance.

    Amos (#33) – I think there is as much potential for harm as good in such practices. The Bible is interpreted a certain way, spiritual leaders “discern” for those under their headship what is true, and I fail to see the freedom in that (especially for the women). If God said it (through the authorities), wouldn’t disagreeing or refusing be interpreted as disobedience or sin?

  • DRT

    I have a new favorite quote page 142 bottom

    “What is actually amazing in all of this is how wrapped up believers can become in what is incomplete and uncertain, while they nearly completely ignore the most obvious truths and commands that stare them in the face.”


  • Amos Paul


    You’re asking me to make what we both agree is a false conclusion from the perspective of someone neither of us actually agree with–that is, someone who trusts authorities over them absolutely in even the most personal matters. I honestly think you’re assuming the worst about abstract groups we don’t even know anything about. The Catholics and Orthodox ask their congregants to submit to their interpretatiosn all the time to be Catholic or Orthodox, yet they still came religious freedom of the individual as a fundamental human right.

    There may be people out there setting up a false spiritual stage for themselves to force people into this or that out of fear–but that’s an assumption to think that traditions which value obedience to proper authorities actually have this problem intrinsic to their practices.

    There is certainly something to be said for the spiritual discipline of submitting in obedience to something you don’t fully understand. That’s what we have to do as children all the time. That’s what the story of Adam & Eve shows us. It’s a true principle–but one everyone has the responsibility of employing critically and reasonably. If I had a troubling issue in my life, I probably *would* like the counsel of pastors or Christian friends praying and attempting to discern things over my situation for me

    I realize that you’re all for individual independence, but remember that over-individuation is as unhealthy and unhelpful as over-submission.

  • Susan N.

    Amos, the examples I have cited are not abstract groups. I personally know real people involved in groups that operate that way. What I have shared of my own experiences is also real. It seems to me that in vigorously defending an authoritarian system, you are illustrating the point of this series of posts. You took up this argument, I presume, because it is a belief that you deeply hold as true and essential to your faith, and possibly because it is a practice that you have lived by. I think there are some real problems and pitfalls with this system. Seeking and listening to wise counsel before making a major life decision is very sensible. Not over-individuation, but a healthy interdependence and mutual respect in relationships.