A while back a friend asked me my definition of “biblicism.” It gave me cause to think things over afresh about Scripture, hermeneutics, sources for theology, and authority.
I’d define biblicism like this:
Biblicism is an approach that regards the Bible as the exclusive source for formulating Christian belief and practice with explicit rejection of the need for historical background, garnering wisdom from wider tradition, recognizing the influence of one’s cultural location, and attaining insights from out-group perspectives even as it unconsciously replaces historical background with revered historical figures, rehearses its own tradition, reifies certain cultural values, and reinforces in-group boundaries.
Biblicism is a type of approach that says that all I need is my KJV/ESV/NASB and me, there are no factors outside the Bible that should effect biblical interpretation and definitely don’t shape my interpretation of the Bible.
The irony is that the biblicist embodies the very things that he or she denies: an influence outside the Bible for how to understand the Bible.
You see this when:
People deny the need for historical background in understanding the Bible, like ANE literature or second temple Jewish writings, and yet they accent the importance of learning from figures like John Owen or Charles Spurgeon.
People propose the alleged corruption of Anglican, Orthodox, and Catholic traditions, even as they appeal to a consensus within their own church/circle about how the Bible should be interpreted and utilized.
People advocate things in the name of Scripture that takes side within local political debates and yet these affirmations or denials have no agreement with global Christian perspectives, like the right to have automatic weapons and even supporting sex-selective abortions.
People say that you can learn nothing from outside their own circle, tribe, or church. Don’t read N.T. Wright or Karl Barth!
Let me say that biblicism is definitely not the Protestant view!
When the Reformers and their progeny articulated Sola Scripture, it did not mean the naked Scripture, mere Scripture, but more like the primacy of Scripture alongside tradition, experience, and nature, etc.
When Protestants articulated the clarity of Scripture, they did not mean all of Scripture was equally clear, but that Scripture was clear when it came to the gospel and salvation, beyond that, one might need a Philip to run beside one’s chariot and to help you explain this or that in your Bible.
When Protestants articulated the sufficiency of Scripture, it was not sufficient to deal with things beyond the Bible’s own subject of discourse, like open-heart surgery, treating bipolar disorder, or macro-economics. The Bible might have values, principles, and affirmations that contribute to these things, but they are not sufficient to deal with them in their entirety.
When Protestants spoke of the authority of Scripture, they meant the authority of the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture, the same Spirit who was part of the triune economy, who illuminates believers into the truth, who raises up pastors and teachers for the church, and who animates its creedal and liturgical heritage.
If you like this post, you will probably also like the second edition of Evangelical Theology and my forthcoming book 7 Things About the Bible I Wish All Christians Knew.