I want to mention one more problem that arises from biblicism, or biblical literalism: It fosters conflict.
It fosters really nasty conflict — the kind that starts with the belief that The Other Side must be evil and then goes downhill from there with little hope of resolution.
Biblicism invites this kind of conflict because it creates a framework in which bad intent becomes the only possible explanation for differences of opinion. This isn’t a failure of charity or generosity on the part of those involved in such conflicts, it’s structural — the default presumption for any dispute among biblicists over the meaning of the text.
Look at the way such disputes are framed. The Bible is first held up as the sole and final arbiter is all disputes. Right away we’re in a tough spot because disputes about the Bible cannot be resolved by appeals to the Bible. Because every other means of resolving disputes has been minimized or delegitimized, disputes among biblicists over the meaning of the text are seemingly irresolvable.
That is a consequence of what Christian Smith described as biblicism’s emphasis on the Bible’s “exclusive authority.” But as Smith also notes, biblicism also emphasizes the Bible’s “perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning and universal applicability.” It teaches, in other words, that the meaning of the Bible is plain and clear to any reader of good intent.
And that’s what makes disputes over the meaning of the Bible among biblicists so nasty and personal. If you’re reading the Bible with what you know to be good intent and some other person reading the same Bible arrives at a different conclusion as to what it means, what is the most obvious, and the only permissible, explanation?
And that leaves only the conclusion that the person disagreeing with you must not be an honest reader with good intent.
That may not be a conclusion you’re eager to embrace, but the logic pointing toward it seems airtight. If you have a good heart, then you cannot be wrong. That means that they must be wrong and, therefore, that they must have a bad heart.
Those constrained by the framework of biblicism are thus conditioned to presume that anyone who disagrees with their interpretation of the Bible has a bad heart. And, further inflaming the dispute, they are likely to perceive any disagreement with their interpretation of the Bible as an insult — as an accusation that they have a bad heart themselves.
This does not set the stage for an open-minded, dispassionate discussion attempting to resolve any given difference in interpretation.
What it sets the stage for, rather, is endless irresolvable conflict and a long history of schisms and factionalism. Not surprisingly, that’s just the sort of history one finds among biblicist Protestants.