Damage Control Made Impossible: Craig Blomberg Reviews Christian Smith (Guest Post)

Carlos Bovell is our guest blogger today, and has written numerous posts for us over the past few months on the topic of evangelicals and the Bible. His most recent book is Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear.

Here he interacts with Craig Blomberg’s recent review of Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture. Blomberg is distinguished professor of new Testament at Denver Seminary, and Smith, a former evangelical, is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology at University of Notre Dame.

Craig Blomberg recently reviewed The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith. To summarize, Smith argues that evangelical “biblicism” crumbles under its own weight, but continues to survive because of its historical role in establishing evangelicalism’s sociological boundary markers, which explains evangelicalism’s well-documented history of protecting their doctrine of Scripture against perceived attacks.

Smith defines Biblicism as “a particular theory about and style of using the Bible that

Christian Smith

is defined by a constellation of related assumptions and beliefs about the Bible’s nature, purpose, and function” (p. 4). Smith lists ten assumptions or beliefs about the Bible that will be familiar to evangelicals, and include: inerrancy, clarity (perspicuity), “commonsense” hermeneutics, internal harmony, and treating the Bible as a sort of handbook for Christian living.

Smith’s central contention is that “pervasive interpretive pluralism” renders moot evangelical presumptions of the nature and authority of Scripture. Smith means that since the Bible clearly “teaches very different things about the most significant subjects,” and since highly competent biblical interpreters come to very different conclusions about the same texts, evangelical assertions about the Bible’s inerrant authority ring hollow (pp. x-xi).

One of Smith’s most important claims, as I read it, is that in much the same way that biblicism was at the heart of the fundamentalist approach to faith, it has also come to define contemporary evangelicalism. If fundamentalism failed in large measure because biblicism became the main theme of their obscurantist, fundamentalist self-understanding of Christianity, evangelicalism has also condemned itself to failure because it too constructs its identity around more or less the same forms of biblicism, which, in Smith’s analysis, makes the Bible “impossible.”

Craig Blomberg

Blomberg is among a number of evangelical scholars who have recently taken up the cause of giving a fresh defense of the evangelical doctrine of inerrancy (see Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture), and so one would certainly expect Blomberg to take issue with Smith’s thesis.

Blomberg contends that Smith has created a straw man. Biblicism only describes the approach of “grass-roots pure fundamentalists.” It does not describe the fully up-to-date hermeneutical teachings of the best evangelical colleges and seminaries (the appearance of doctrinal commitments to an inerrant Bible in the majority of colleges’ and seminaries’ statements of faith, notwithstanding).

Blomberg’s response to Smith echoes his recent review of my latest book, Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear. Blomberg addresses my concerns regarding the damage inerrancy has done to evangelical culture by observing that “a disproportionate amount of the witch-hunting that [Bovell] and I alike rue has come either in truly fundamentalist circles, especially in the South, or in thoroughly Reformed circles.” He goes on to carve out a geographical niche where his vision of a healthy, sophisticated evangelicalism is flourishing, a niche that is “North or West of the Mason-Dixon line or in less reformed circles.”

Blomberg approvingly mentions schools such as Gordon-Conwell, Dallas, Bethel, Talbot/Biola, Wheaton and his own Denver Seminary, while chiding Westminster Seminary and Southern Baptist schools for being too rigid in their thinking. Related to this is an observation Blomberg makes in his review of my first bookInerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals: “For a variety of reasons, systematic theologians and philosophers tend to get more ‘bent out of shape’ on such issues than scholars who specialize in the original historical contexts of the different books of Scripture.” He also points to the Evangelical Theological Society and the Evangelical Philosophical Society as prime examples of non-biblicism in the evangelical mainstream.

I appreciate some of Blomberg’s points, such as the existence of some latitude in some evangelical institutions. I also agree that the theological agendas of certain Reformed and Southern Baptists elements are a problem. Nevertheless, Blomberg’s assessment of true evangelicalism being more sophisticated is more damage control than a fair assessment of the evangelical landscape.

For one thing, one wonders who is left once these less-than-true-evangelical systematic theologians and philosophers are taken out of the picture and biblical scholars south of the Mason-Dixon Line or Reformed are also removed. Blomberg’s answer seems to be that there is a remnant of biblical scholars out there who have not been unduly influenced by systematic theology or philosophy and who happen to teach in the Northeast or out West.

But does not Blomberg’s rejoinder rest on as selective a population as he accuses Smith of doing? Is this not a straw man of another sort?

Is Smith’s attempt to provide empirical evidence for his claim that evangelicals on the whole are good, old-fashioned biblicists a straw man as Blomberg claims, or is the straw man rather in Blomberg’s appeal to a diaspora of biblical scholars scattered throughout the northeastern and western United States who truly get it? Who really represents a minority view? Smith’s biblicists or Blomberg’s biblical scholars? Readers will have to decide for themselves, but as for me, Smith’s analysis is far more sober than Blomberg’s.

Readers might also take note of one element of Blomberg’s argument that I found to be quite curious and somewhat self-defeating. He lists a number of evangelical scholars who are doing non-biblicist work (“P. Enns, K. Sparks, C. Bovell, C. Allert, and N. T. Wright, to name just the most prominent.”). His point is that, if Smith were more familiar with the evangelical landscape, he would not give such a reductionistic analysis. Blomberg is forgetting, however, that Smith, although now Roman Catholic, is hardly an outsider to evangelicalism, having spent most of his life in such an environment. And the scholars Blomberg lists Smith not only cites but actively incorporates into his book. This indeed indicates that one side is not seeing what the other side claims to see.

More importantly, though, Blomberg is clearly bothered by the type of non-biblicism offered by Sparks and others. He may cite them as examples within evangelicalism when writing against Smith, but Blomberg is part of a larger movement to show that Sparks and others have wandered off the reservation (again, see Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?). Blomberg can’t have it both ways. He can’t use Sparks, etc., against Smith as examples of the breadth of intellectual evangelicalism and then take part in a volume seeking to defend evangelicalism from the likes of Sparks, et. al.

I urge Blomberg and other evangelical leaders to recognize that the damage caused by biblicism is not confined to the back waters of evangelicalism. It has seeped into its very drinking water with some even mistaking it for the living waters of life.


  • http://the3150.wordpress.com Dan

    Even if there are parts of Evangelicalism that are more sophisticated in their thought than others, they are still a part of the constellation of assumptions of biblicism (not all biblicism is exactly alike). More importantly, even more sophisticated Evangelicalism does not escape the problem of Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism (PEP).
    I would go a step further and say that Sola Scriptura (and its corrolary the principle of private interpretation) inevitably leads to PEP, and makes any sort of visible Church unity impossible (as the history of Protestantism bears out). In the end, if I am free to interpret Scripture as I wish (with no extra-scriptural authority to guide that interpretation) then there will be nearly as many versions of Christianity as there are Christians.

  • Don Johnson

    Here is how I see it.

    Everyone sits somewhere in their understanding, for simplicity, assume it can be mapped linearly, as a first pass and I will speak in the first person for simplicity. So there are those who are to the “right” of me and might be called more conservative than me on something and there are those who are to the “left” of me might might be called more liberal that me on something. Now I realize that I am not the only one trying to be a faithful believer, so I will allow a zone to the right and left of me that is acceptable, but if it gets too far away, I am uncomfortable with that kind of thinking. (A concrete example is Dr. Mohler who is a YEC, thinks that OEC people are wrong but accepts them as believers but thinks EC people are off the reservation. Or again, a strict inerrantist thinks that everything the Bible speaks about must be true, he might allow some small debate, but when a big book defends the resurrection of Jesus as historical but thinks that perhaps the mention in a gospel of others being resurrected might not be historical, the author is declared off the reservation.)

    My take is that at SOME point you question the validity of someone else declaring someone “off the reservation”. Why cannot it simply be that people disagree? Why does it need to be cast as a case of an in group and an out group? We all see thru a glass darkly at the moment. I know that not having sharp lines of who is in and who is out may be scary, but I think this is the reality and trying to deny it does not help.

  • Stephen

    I’ll rehash a comment I’ve made in various other places about people who criticize Smith’s work along the lines of Blomberg’s criticism (i.e., Smith didn’t focus on the best and the brightest of evangelicals)…and it’s similar to points Bovell makes here.

    When I read Smith’s book I was intrigued by the route he took in discussing evangelical models for the Bible (i.e., “Biblicism”): it results in mutually-exclusive interpretive pluralism. One cannot say that evangelicals really agree on the centrals because, as one can empirically demonstrate, that just isn’t true. The model doesn’t work for evangelicalism as a whole.

    One of the reasons Smith adopts this route for criticizing Biblicism is also why many of his evangelical critics, such as Blomberg, misunderstand him. Smith is a sociologist, not a theologian. Therefore it matters little to him, when assessing evangelicalism as a whole, whether a relatively small number of evangelical theologians and biblical scholars articulate more nuanced models. If it is the case that 95% or more of evangelicals are not, in fact, able to put Biblicism into practice, then it is empirically a failure.

    Criticisms of Smith that defend Biblicism (or whatever they instead want to term their evangelical models of the Bible) through recourse to the more nuances articulations of some evangelical scholars furthermore betray a theologically problematic (IMO) idea of what true and faithful Christianity “is.” Folks like Blomberg implicitly hold that in order to be a true, faithful, and effective Christian reader of the Bible, one has to be among the minority of evangelicals who have 2-4 year seminary educations and (likely) an additional 3-6 (or more) years of specialized theological and/or academic biblical training. Do we really want to say that in order to be a faithful reader of the Bible one has to grasp the ins and outs of theological, hermeneutical, and historical positions that require specialization in and intellectualization of the gospel that are practically unavailable to the vast majority of Christians?

  • Christian Smith

    Thanks Carlos. I simply cannot comprehend the dismissal of my book using the “straw man” argument. In it, I provide numerous pages of all kinds of empirical evidence of biblicism’s broad presence and influence in evangelicalism (not merely fundamentalism), representing all regions of the country and traditions. It never ceases to amaze me how selectively people can read a book when they do not want to confront the force of its argument. As to my familiarity with American evangelicalism, besides living in it for almost half a century, I have studied it as a sociologist and published two well-received sociology books about it (American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving (Chicago, 1998; Christian America?: What Evangelicals Really Want (California 2000)). I think I know what I’m talking about. With every lame review of my book that uses arguments that make no sense, hold no water, I am forced increasingly to accept that so many even “respectable” and “sophisticated” evangelicals are less interested in knowing the truth than in protecting a familiar way of life. Truly very sad. Anyway, Brazos has just come out with a paperback version of my book, with a new Afterword responding to many of my critics.

    • Stephen

      Professor Smith,

      I simply cannot comprehend the dismissal of my book using the ‘straw man’ argument. In it, I provide numerous pages of all kinds of empirical evidence of biblicism’s broad presence and influence in evangelicalism (not merely fundamentalism), representing all regions of the country and traditions. It never ceases to amaze me how selectively people can read a book when they do not want to confront the force of its argument.”

      Welcome to various evangelical and inerrantist iterations of the Confirmation Bias. Especially since most of their discourse gets produced in settings lacking any potential serious criticism (i.e., one has to agree with their basics in order even to sit at the table), the relevant social, institutional, and publishing settings are hardly conducive of the ways that thinking and grappling with issues in a group can sometimes counteract the confirmation bias. Far from that, most of the evangelical-inerrantist settings in question are text book examples of settings where, far from expecting group interaction to militate against the confirmation bias, it flourishes and tends to grow stronger.

      I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Just thought I would point this out.

    • Bev Mitchell

      Dr. Smith,

      Thanks for responding to this article. It’s so helpful to readers to have authors interact with reviews. It would also be very interesting to have a sociologist’s view of how ideas like those of Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion) help in explaining the amazement you express in saying, “It never ceases to amaze me how selectively people can read a book when they do not want to confront the force of its argument.” In Haidt-speak, one might say that it would be reasonable to expect human psychology to play a significant role in theological thinking. “He who has an ear” also has an elephant.

      • Stephen

        Bev Mitchell,

        I certainly cannot speak for Professor Smith, but work by evolutionary psychologists such as Jonathan Haidt (the book of his you mentioned is excellent) is very relevant here — especially his combination of (A) research about how people are wired (not the best word choice on my part) to moralize in certain ways with (B) our group-identifying/favoring psychological dispositions. This helps explain the intensification of unwillingness or “inability” we often observe among people who identify with X group to interact accurately, sympathetically, and so on with people who in their minds are part of the opposing Y group; and vice versa.

        I would also add the related research of cognitive-science oriented researchers such as Robert Kurzban (see his more popular level book, Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind; along with numerous of his more technical articles and essays), Hugo Mercier, Dan Sperber, and others…who argue that our “reasoning” didn’t evolve to help us individually reach truth so much as persuade and manipulate others to help us successfully navigate our social environments — and, related, that the parts of our cognition we often label as the “self” or conscious reasoning center is more properly compared to a press secretary who labors to persuade others and project/protect good reputation (such as the appearance of being right and opponents being wrong) than a president who controls everything in line with truth.

        Point is, I like your suggestion here — even with potential shortcomings of Haidt’s work in view. IMO, this research should combine with sociological work in description, analysis, and explanation of human behaviors.

    • http://the3150.wordpress.com Dan

      Professor Smith,
      First of all, I would like to thank you, because your books have been profoundly influential in my own life and faith journey.
      Second, it can hardly be a surprise that so many Evangelicals react so strongly to your book. Questioning biblicism questions Evangelicalism itself, because biblicism is at the heart of the Evangelical movement (unless one redefines the term by stretching it to include more progressive, “learned” forms of Evangelicalism, or “post-Evangelicalism”). I would also see the issue that you raise about pervasive interpretive pluralism as bringing into question not just biblicism, but the principle of Sola Scriptura and private interpretation itself, which is at the heart of Protestantism. In my view, to follow the evidence of the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism can only either lead one to theological liberalism that accepts this pluralism, or outside of Protestantism; for many these options are just off the table, thus there must be something wrong with your argument, in their view.

  • http://www.natejohnsongallery.com Nate Johnson

    I’ve always been a bit miffed by some Barthians who claim Scripture must contain error because it’s human, and some inerrantists who claim deductively that since God cannot lie he has to give us a document free from ‘all error’. Both are formally valid, yet both also suffer from the fallacy of complexity. Why does something human ‘have to’ contain error? Christ was fully human and without error (Barth’s fallen human nature aside, but even here it did not have to be fallen because it was human, but only to feel our infirmities). Likewise, if God can confound the wise in their own wisdom through the foolishness of the message preached, then why can’t he give us a historical document that makes it ‘appear foolish’, yet is fully inspired like no other, i.e., not written with some rationalistic conception of error? Oh the going will be rougher and the borders murkier, but it fits well with the apparent foolishness and weakness of our King’s initial arrival and further expansion of the kingdom.

  • Joel Batts

    All the debate aside, is there anywhere that Sparks, Smith, Enns, et al give the downstream benefit of abandoning innerancy? Do we get less “interpretive pluralism” or are we simply able to live with that pluralism more comfortably? If we simply get more comfortable with pluralism, then how should a pastor respond to someone who asks “what then shall I do to be saved”?

    Apologies for the bombardment of questions….just trying to figure out how we get to a foundation that can reliably address the existential questions the gospel message presupposes it can address.

    • Bryan

      Modernity has collapsed, therefore, an appeal to some sort of Cartesian “foundation” is akin to the enlightenment project. In answer to your question, I think that the benefit is producing a kinder church body that comes in contact with those individuals who still maintain faith in God while at the same time not capitulating to an inerrancy doctrine on matters of good integrity, namely, not continuing to purport “the lie” for future generations. I think it is most important to recognize that inerrancy piggybacks on the canon from the modern period driven to establish a trustworthy foundation.

      • Joel Batts

        Bryan…but is it actually a return to modernity to seek to find a sure word from God? After all, modernity tried to find a sure word from man, so perhaps it’s the locus of that sure word that makes the difference.

        If the benefit of abandoning innerancy is a kinder church for those who still maintain belief in God then I think all you have is some sort of pantheism or deism to offer, rather than a risen Christ who can actually rescue me. Or maybe I’m swinging the pendulum too far and we can actually know Christ because there is a sure word from God about Christ somewhere to be found in an errant Bible. The last sentence is not in jest – I’m still trying to figure out where all of this debate leaves us in responding to a gospel that presupposes a need that it can truly satisfy.

    • http://dancingpastthedark.com Nan Bush

      This is not a flippant question: In response to “What can I do to be saved?” why is it not sufficient to point to the Great Commandment? Isn’t that both the heart and the bottom line? We’re not talking about a recipe: that becomes the legalism of the Pharisees. The Great Commandment points in the direction Jesus was trying to get people to live. And reading the Bible through the lens of the Great Commandment is also revealing and freeing from dogmatics. Sorry if this seems simplistic; I keep trying to understand why what Jesus said is not enough.

    • http://the3150.wordpress.com Dan

      Joel Batts,
      There are a number of different answers one can get to that question (what must I do to be saved?), all from Scripture (i.e. love, faith, belief, baptism, confession of faith, repentance, etc.) This question is just one of many questions central to the Christian faith that can have a diversity of answers, all seeming to come from the Bible. In my experience (and theological exploration), I have found that one must either embrace the diversity and hold all of ones beliefs highly tentatively, or one must find some sort of legitimate ecclesial authority that claims to be guided by God in interpreting Scripture and teaching the truth (John 16:13). The Catholic church obviously fits the bill as claiming to be guided by God in its teaching, and has made this claim throughout its entire history. When I first began to explore Catholicism, I found this claim preposterous and ridiculous; today I am in full communion with the Catholic church.
      I realize this probably isn’t very helpful for anyone who wants to remain in Evangelicalism or Protestantism, but I have been completely unable to find any sort of workable, believable “foundation” for Christian belief and practice when operating with the Sola Scriptura principle.

  • James

    “Smith argues that evangelical “biblicism” crumbles under its own weight, but continues to survive because of its historical role in establishing evangelicalism’s sociological boundary markers…” So, I always ask, what is the solution? Can evangelicalism actually be saved by sociological self reflection? Are there any Protestant churches (lets say) above or below the Mason-Dixon line that are thinking right? Maybe we have some examples up here in Canada. Must evangelicalism self-destruct before a biblically true church can be born? Shall we all defect to the Catholics or Orthodox and make them more evangelical? I ask this seriously because the impression I get from Smith’s book (and I agree with a lot of it) is that evangelicalism cannot survive without perpetuating biblicism.

    • http://the3150.wordpress.com Dan

      Smith’s book “How To Go From Being a Good Evangelical To A Committed Catholic In Ninety-Five Difficult Steps” is well worth the read and worth giving real consideration to the points, he raises, even if you don’t come to the same conclusions as him. That being said, the book is not a work of Catholic apologetics, it will not be persuasive unless one already feels serious tension with the Evangelical tradition and is raising serious questions and not finding good answers.

  • Matt Colflesh

    Love is sensitivity to another’s plausibility structure – be considerate of the receptor’s range of tolerance and hopefully we can get somewhere. Unless you think they’re wrong and mean about it.

  • Bryan

    It seems odd that Blomberg cites as middle-of-the-road schools such as DTS or Talbot. To me, these schools seem to be on the far right. As for Wheaton, I am aware of their request for a strong statement and signature on the subject of inerrancy (hardly a good example). Why not cite Fuller? I agree with Smith, Blomberg just doesn’t want to face the landslide of truth. The fact of the matter is that it is far more difficult to find institutions within evangelicalism where ALL of the faculty are on the same page. Where I do agree with Blomberg is that the majority of issues seems to be on the side of systematic theologians and philosophers who are not examining various texts in their original language with a thick apparatus to boot.

    • peteenns

      I agree that the schools Blomberg cites don’t represent what he thinks they do.

  • Ron Schooler

    If giving up inerrancy means giving up everything (which seems to me to be the core issue), then it will not be given up, but rather enhanced. The testimonies of those of us who had to give it up for the reasons stated may have the greatest weight. You cannot argue that I did not have an experience that made a difference. You may not like it, but your cannot prove I did not have an important turning point in my life that, in fact, did not take God’s love from me.

    • Christian Smith

      Just to be clear, my book is NOT about inerrancy. I explicitly say that I have no wish to engage that debate because it is fruitless. The target in that debate always moves whenever you get close. Instead, my book is about pervasive interpretive pluralism, which is the real problem, however people think about inerrancy.

      • Christian Smith

        In fact, to turn this debate into one about inerrancy is a strategy biblicists take to distract from the main point. Since they cannot realistically deny the real problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism, they have to re-focus the argument to be on grounds they can win, inerrancy. It is a form of distraction, even deception, rhetorically speaking. I say: believe whatever you wish about inerrancy; now let’s talk about the problem of interpretive pluralism and face up to what that means.

  • Dopderbeck

    Sigh. I think Chris Smith is partly right about this in part representing defense of a way of life rather than honestly looking at the evidence. I also think its about the term “Evangelical,” which seems to be vacuous at this point. There never really was a “big tent” Evangelicalism, and there certainly isn’t now. We’re held together by a common “contemporary” worship style and a lingering fear of outsiders, it seems to me, and little else.

    What if the term was changed for “evangelical”‘to “non-denominational,” or “Baptist,” or “Presbyterian” or “Anglican” etc.? Then you might get a sense of the “conservatives” and “progressives” along with a wide variety of cross-currents on Biblical hermeneutics.

  • Dopderbeck

    On the other side, I find it tiresome when people talk about “giving up” inerrancy. After reading Pete and Kent and Chris’ books, I haven’t “given up” inerrancy. I’ve matured (I think) in my understanding of what OT means for scripture to be a human book that is uniquely th Church’s book. I’ll still use the word “inerrant” or “unerring’, but first with a long conversation about text, Spirit, and Church – just like the Fathers!, and just like Catholic theology today. I’d rather say I’m learning to “recover” the Tradition with respect to the theological interpretation of scripture and extend that tradition for today – a tradition lost starting around the 14th century or so and buried by the Enlightenment. And the “best” theologians today who identify as “evangelical” in some way – Richard Hays, NT Wright, Kevin Van Hoozer, etc. – have made the same move ( all influenced to some degree of course by Barth.)

    • http://the3150.wordpress.com Dan

      Surely holding to inerrancy and to the positions of the authors you mentioned is a bit of a stretch of the term. You can still hold on to inerrancy if you want, but you have to re-define what it means.

  • Bev Mitchell

    In discussions like this that great theologian Lewis Carroll can offer some small guidance and much needed levity.

    Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
    The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to
    Alice: I don’t much care where.
    The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
    Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.
    The Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

    The Caterpillar: What size do you want to be?
    Alice: Oh, I’m not particular as to size, only one doesn’t like changing so often, you know.

    Alice: What a funny watch! It tells the day of the month, and it doesn’t tell what o’clock it is!
    The Hatter: Why should it? Does your watch tell you what year it is?
    Alice: Of course not, but that’s because it stays the same year for such a long time together.
    The Hatter: …which is just the case with mine.

    From About.com quotes

  • Craig Blomberg

    It’s too bad my review was characterized as putting forth a straw-man argument, because that’s not what I did. I encourage interested readers to read for myself. In fact, I acknowledged that there are plenty of biblicists, especially in the South and in the thoroughly Reformed camp nationwide. What my review actually did was to say that Smith simply did not adequately acknowledge another large swath of evangelicals who are not biblicists. Lee McDonald, president of the Institute of Biblical Research, an organization of hundreds of largely American Old and New Testament scholars, most of whom hold teaching posts in American colleges, universities and seminaries, thanked me for my review and reminded me of how few of the evangelicals in that organization (many of whom are very uncomfortable with standard formulations of inerrancy) would come anywhere close to being biblicists. There are three main groups in American evangelicalism today–the biblicists, as Smith defines them (and please read all ten points of Smith’s definition, several of which Bovell has not mentioned, making them sound more mainstream than they are), the non-inerrantist evangelicals, and those of us who still believe in inerrancy, properly nuanced, but who are not biblicists. Short of a scientific poll, we can argue until the cows come home how many are in each group, but all three are sizable. So it is entirely appropriate for me to remind the biblicists of the numbers in BOTH of the other camps and to remind the Kenton Sparks and their ilk of the other two groups that THEY don’t belong to, to argue that neither group predominantly represents evangelicalism. If Smith or Bovell wants a long list of respected scholars in the too-often excluded middle, I can easily provide it by going through the membership lists of ETS and IBR and listing literally hundreds of my friends and acquaintances, but that would be too long for this blog. You can dismiss my argument by calling it damage control, but that would simply be a false description of it. I see no damage I want to control, merely argumentation that commits the fallacy of the excluded middle time and time again. The comment threads, with some exceptions, seem even less informed, more ad hominem, and more based on an individual’s truncated experience of the entire movement that still claims the name evangelical. You all can do better than this!

    • Stephen

      Professor Blomberg,

      Not sure if I’m among the commenters you class as “less informed” and engaged “more [in] ad hominem” and the like. Apologies if my comments came across that way; was not my intention.

      If I may stick with a point I made above, your review and comment still misses a key issue. Even if you can come up with hundreds of “nuanced” inerrantists (I know Professor Smith doesn’t want to make that the issue), they hail from the ranks of seminary students, members in professional evangelical intellectual societies, and professors who likely obtained further graduate training beyond seminary. In short, you’re still talking about a TINY minority of the landscape of evangelicalism (however you want to define that) since you’re talking only about a percentage of the evangelicals who have the requisite social, economic, family, geographic, and so on situations (not to mention personal interest) to get 2-4 year seminary degrees plus (usually) another 3-6+ years of graduate training in biblical studies and/or theology. By definition you’re talking about a small part of the evangelical landscape (people with such training); and by your own reckoning you’re only adducing a minority percentage of that small part as support for your claim about a “large swatch of evangelicals who are not biblicists.”

      This even comes out quite clearly in your review. You position your nuanced evangelicals against “popular” (you use the word 3 times, by my count) level and oriented books and, furthermore, indicate that you’re concerned with “the wide swatch of more scholarly evangelicalism” (emphasis mine).

      With respect, again, I think you’ve missed the point of Smith’s approach and the concerns of some others who find his work helpful: he’s approaching this initially as a sociologist, not a theologian. It doesn’t matter if you can adduce a percentage of that tiny minority of the evangelical world who constitute your “scholarly evangelicalism” if it’s still the case that 95% (or more, or less) still operate with a model of the Bible that just doesn’t work; where the claims associated with that model in no way match the reality of the Bible’s use among the vast majority of evangelicals. As I clarify in my comment, it’s even more disconcerting if this doesn’t matter to you because you (tacitly?) hold that in order to be a true, faithful, and effective Christian reader of the Bible, one has to be among the minority of evangelicals who have 2-4 year seminary educations and an additional 3-6 (or more) years of specialized theological and/or academic biblical training.

      Is that your position? Are you and your colleagues the only ones who can really be readers of the Bible? I ask this somewhat rhetorically (and apologies for that) because I assume you do not (mean to) advocate such a view. I understand the struggle not to operate this way. As a fellow academic I’m all too familiar with our tendency to naturalize our own practices.

      One more matter: having attended ETS several times and being a researcher of evangelical/inerrantist biblical scholarship, it’s unclear to me that there’s some massive number of “nuanced” inerrantists in the evangelical world. Sure, some (maybe even many) inerrantists who adopt the more “nuanced” positions (i.e., something like “genre inerrancy”) operate with it consistently in their approaches to all parts of the Bible. But in my experience that remains a short list of inerrantists. Most of the inerrantists who even invoke the “nuanced” models do so in polemical inerrancy-defending situations and then, with inerrancy having been symbolically defended, go right back to what you would call more fundamentalist or less-nuanced ways of engaging the Bible. This is obviously a much larger issue. My point for now is that I don’t think there’s some “large swath” among the “scholarly” evangelicals who operate with an uber nuanced view of inerrancy. Most still use inerrancy as a polemical interpretive constraint to pummel interpretations of and approaches to the Bible that would conflict with their theology and doctrines of Scripture.

    • http://the3150.wordpress.com Dan

      Professor Blomberg,
      Even if there are large amounts of non-inerrantist Evangelicals (which seems like a stretch of the term Evangelical to me) and nuanced-inerrantist, non-biblicist Evangelicals in addition to the many innerantist, biblicist Evangelicals, the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism still remains. All three approaches still result in pervasive interpretive pluralism. All three still result in a variety of interpretive options, and fails to achieve a consensus on many important issues. One still can take his/her pick of a variety of possible interpretations, even when using advanced, nuanced interpretive techniques. And as Professor Smith argues in his book, when we are free to choose our own interpretation, the Bible ceases to functionally be the authority, and we each become our own authority.
      All that being said, how do you deal with the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism and the question of authority?

  • Craig Blomberg

    Sorry, that should have been “readers should read for themselves.” Somebody should be able to have a field day with that potential Freudian slip! :) But then, since I really do believe what I have written, I do hope that readers who study the matter more carefully and decide for themselves will come down closer to where I am!

  • Carlos Bovell

    There is a 1991 Anvil article where R. T. France complains that James Barr’s critique of fundamentalism had defined scholars like R. T. France right out of existence. In France’s view, Barr might have distinguished more carefully between the Churchman crowd and the Anvil crowd, for example. France explained that evangelicals themselves were coming to realize “that what were conventionally thought to be ‘liberal’ critical positions were in fact held and defended by convinced evangelicals.” France’s point in this section of the article–and I think it’s an important one–is that few readers, evangelicals included, realized how much Barr was “firing at a moving target.”

    Writing some twenty years later, Christian Smith enters the discussion, fully aware that evangelicalism is a moving target, lists 10 aspects that tend to be associated with biblicism and then observes, “Different people and groups emphasize and express a variety of these points somewhat differently. Some may even downplay or deny particular points here and there.” In other words, in addition to there being diversity within evangelicalism there are variants to biblicism too. I don’t know if this variation in expression of biblicistic approaches to scripture makes you feel like it defines you out of existence, Craig, but it seems to me to depict accurately not only the mindsets of most ETS/EPS scholars but also and more importantly the coalitions of pastors and laypersons that look to them for instruction.

  • James

    Smith’s intent is to address interpretive pluralism and desires that evangelicals become more ‘evangelical’ in their approach to the Bible and thus “find themselves living in a postbiblicist, Christ-centered, theologically orthodox world.” For that, they would wield “a stronger hermeneutical lens and ecclesial teaching office…” I ask again: What would a stronger ecclesial teaching office look like (and who might initiate it) in a world where sola scriptura reigns supreme?

  • http://craigvick.wordpress.com Craig Vick

    I’m not sure I follow your argument. Can’t we have a nuanced view that, because of its level of abstraction, is primarily accessible to seminarians etc… and purports to explain what most Evangelical readers are in fact doing when they read the Bible? To take an example from another field, most people, especially those that haven’t studied philosophy, are naive realists. If we argue for a more nuanced epistemology it doesn’t follow that we’re arguing that most people have no knowledge. What would follow is that most people don’t describe their knowledge very well.

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