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. The fundamental problem that undercuts biblicism as a sufficient basis for articulating the Christian faith is interpretive pluralism. That’s the problem.
The solution to the impossibility of coherently sustaining a biblicist approach to the Bible is to learn the read the Bible christo-centrically — that is, letting the Bible lead us to Christ in each and every passage. Those are the big ideas of this fine book. We move today to his last chp where he probes the significance of his ideas for big ideas about the Bible.
How do you see biblicism tied into the “authority” of Scripture? What happens to authority if biblicism is inadequate? How do you square, for instance, with the necessity of belief in the Trinity with it’s explicit absence in the Bible and yet it’s centrality in Christian theology? Can biblicism deal with this? Do you think biblicism is a good way of framing what many people believe about the Bible?
First, Smith is not alone in contending that biblicism is rooted in and a form of modernity. Biblicism often functions as a form of foundationalism: finding indubitable, universal and reliable foundations, once established, that can lead to knowledge and truth. That biblicism is modernity can be seen in how systematic theologies, those by biblicists, begin with Scripture — as prolegomena, as foundation, as beginning point. Once that is established, the rest is to follow. Smith thinks a christocentric reading will have a different approach: that of critical realism. Real world, our ability to probe it, recognition of human fallibility in constructing knowledge, and the necessity of pursuing truth.
Second, he probes the classic distinctions made by JL Austin: locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary word acts. We need to ask not just what do these words appear to say, but what are they designed to accomplish. What are the authors attempting to accomplish with these words.
Example: Genesis 1-2. Is it right (he thinks not) to see this as an author telling us how God made the world, or how long ago it was, or how to teach science? Or, is this about distinguishing Israel’s view of God vs. pagan views of God? Or is this, as Walton has argued, about God telling us that the world is a cosmic temple with humans assigned to govern it for God? If these are the intents, does that not mean we might be wrong in the first set of questions?
Third, what does this mean for authority? Is the Bible’s authority about power over or power to? He suggests the standard idea — God said it, it’s true, do it — approach to authority assumes that the Bible is handbook, but what if it is not? That is, if pervasive pluralism is true, then the Bible is not and that kind of authority is misguided.
Finally, Smith concludes by pushing the button of ongoing clarification and development. Biblicism assumes the Bible is complete as it was; but interpretive history shows that what is in the Bible was unfolded over time and that such developments have become fundamental to Christian theology. Trinity, slavery, etc.. What does this say about biblicism? That is inadequate. It pushes us to think differently about the Bible.
This is a very good book; buy it, read it, and talk about it with all those who care.