In The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture Christian Smith defines biblicism as the following ten things (Chapter One: The Impossibility of Biblicism, Kindle Edition):
(1) Divine writing: Each word of Scripture is God’s word “written inerrantly in human language”.
(2) Total representation: The Bible represents the totality of God’s communication to humans. It says all God needs to say to us.
(3) Complete coverage: God’s will about everything pertaining to Christian doctrine and living is contained in Scripture.
(4) Democratic perspicuity: Any “reasonable person” can read Scripture translated into their language and understand it.
(5) Commonsense hermeneutics: If one reads Scripture in its historical-grammatical context paying attention to the most obvious meaning a correct interpretation will emerge.
(6) Sola Scriptura: We don’t need creeds, confessions, and traditions to inform right doctrine. All we need is Scripture.
(7) Internal harmony: Scripture is like a big puzzle and all the pieces fit together if one reads Scripture correctly.
(8) Universal applicability: Everything written in Scripture has some modern application for people in all ages.
(9) Inductive method: All the pieces of the puzzle can be put together by sitting down with Scripture and working through it to find the clear ‘biblical’ teaching.
(10) Handbook model: The Bible functions as a guide book for everything we need: finances, health, marriage, politics, etc.
As I read through this list I realized that while I may not arrive wherever it is that Smith seeks to take the reader, there is no doubt in my mind that this list of symptoms describes correctly an epidemic I’ve seen over the years.
I will leave the inerrancy piece alone since I’ve explained elsewhere that I am sympathetic to this view (because I know many great Christians who affirm it and I see that it does bring a positive approach to Scripture in some instances) but decided that the word demands more than I am willing to affim.
As someone who was raised Pentecostal/Charismatic I was a bit surprised to be introduced to (2) as I entered evangelicalism. It seemed odd to me that Scripture depicts God as speaking to people outside Scripture but then some readers of Scripture act as if the Spirit cannot speak any other way.
I found (3) troublesome since I don’t think the Bible has advice for many of the issues we face today. If so, why give the church the Spirit and why can’t we agree on what the Bible says about so many things?
As one who does my best to make the Bible approachable for everyone it is simply reality that the Bible is not simple and easy to understand. I’ve been studying it for years and many things confuse me. So (4) seems accurate to me. I think the same basic insight applies to (5).
If Sola Scriptura is true then I think we must prepare to abandon some important doctrines, including the Trinity. In fact, we may want to abandon the canon itself since it is not found in Scripture. So I see the point of (6).
As regards (7) I think Smith is right and wrong. Some big picture aspects flow throughout Scripture, but as someone who is currently working on the Synoptic Problem I agree that sometimes the puzzle doesn’t always fit together.
I was raised around Christians who use Deuteronomy 22.5 to tell women they shouldn’t wear pants. I think this is simply absurd, especially since Deuteronomy 22 is filled with many things no one obeys. And I don’t think there is any reason to try to find some “principle” for what it means for Christians today (one could dig deep to talk about gender distinction, I guess) so (8) makes sense.
I agree with (9) since again, I’ve studied Scripture for years and the more I study the easier its been to realize that someday I will die being ignorant of many, many things regarding Scripture.
Finally, to (10) I say “amen and amen”. When I see books on “biblical manhood and womanhood” I shake my head, especially since I know where that leads. When Wayne Grudem wrote a book on politics according to the Bible I felt the same. Likewise, I am troubled by Bible diet books, Bible dating guides, Bible finance books, and the like. I am not denying that the Bible addresses these things, but not quite the way authors of these books make it out to address them.
Again, I am quite sure I will disagree with Smith on a variety of issues, but his critique is one we should hear…even if it does result in many Christian authors and publishers losing money!
It is an interesting read. It can be a bit yawnsome at times since, at least for me, he was preaching to the choir. I will be curious to hear your take on his suggestion that we read the OT Christologically. I know what he means, but I am not sure everyone will understand him.
I come from a Charismatic (though not really Pentecostal) background as well. I want to buy this book and hand it out to all of my friends.
I have been very slowly reading this with some friends. I am still in chapter 7. I am not thrilled with his language, but I think he is basically right in describing the problem. Now to figure out if I agree with his solution.
@John: I am a more recent addition to the choir and sometimes feel the pressure from outside, so I think it carries a little more energy for me. I have heard he moves toward a Christocentric reading, but I’ll have to see what he means by this.
@Refe: Do you feel like it will be helpful for people who hold firmly to the ideas Smith criticizes? I worry a bit that the type of fundamentalism he attacks is often found in people with “weak faith” whose view of the Bible is the foundation of their faith.
@Adam: His language does seem elevated at times. I take it with a grain of salt. He admits he is a sociologist writing out of his field. I think he has been making straightforward observations spiced with his motivation to correct a view of Scripture he finds dangerous. The second half of that sentence may be from where that rise in language comes.
One of the guys I am reading this with really has been working through a small crisis of faith. We have read NT Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God, Walton’s Lost World of Genesis One and this and he agrees that some of his views of scripture are now gone but he is not completely comfortable with where his views of scripture are going. Especially, because he is still in a church community that mostly espouses what he now moving away from. I think that it is a good example of why reading in community is helpful.
My issues with the language is not the sociological issues (that is my background), but the fact that he seems more antagonistic than he needs to be. Either he is preaching to the choir (and the book doesn’t really need to be written) or he needs to moderate the language. I think that is my main problem with Enn’s book too. I agree with much of what he says, but the way he says it I think will alienate those that most need to hear it.
I have been reading and blogging through Smith’s book for the last several weeks. I found his description of biblicism a little too polarizing, but in general I agree with his assessment. It’s been my experience that this is the view held by most regular (not academic) evangelicals and I agree that it is a big problem.
If you haven’t gotten there yet, the second half of the book is less confrontational than the first and the chapter “A Christocentric Hermeneutic” is wonderful. What Smith does not do is offer any specifics as to how one actually implements this hermeneutic.
On a side note, it has become my personal crusade to get the Bible is a “manual” or “handbook” metaphors banned from use.
@Adam: Those are solid reading selections. I pray that he emerges from his crisis with a more secure faith in Christ. At the end of the day, Scripture should point us to Christ (the word to the Word). I worry that some of our bibliology–both conservative and liberal–sometimes does the opposite. I will make sure to pay attention to Smith’s rhetoric with a critical eye.
@LCK: I should read through your posts to compare notes. I am excited about examining the Christocentric hermeneutic, but a bit disappointed that it sounds like he doesn’t give adequate attention to fleshing this out. Maybe that is the job of us bloggers?!
Funny you should say that because THAT is exactly the project that I’ve started. I haven’t gotten very far and it’s taking longer than I expected, but I’m hoping to develop some concrete ideas as to how a christocentric hermeneutic works in practice. I’ve worked through VanHoozer, Christopher Wright (my favorite), N.T. Wright and (eventually) Barth, but it’s hard to translate their theories into process. The challenging thing about a christocentric hermeneutic is that it’s about a radical reorientation of one’s worldview rather than concrete steps….but that’s not going to stop me from trying.
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