Defending Biblicism

Posted: September 1, 2011 in bible, books, controversy, evangelicalism, theology

Robert Gundry has posted a helpful critique of Christian Smith’s recent book, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture.  Smith, who once was a Protestant but now a confessing Roman Catholic, argues that the evangelical affirmation that the Bible is exclusively authoritative, infallible, inerrant, consistent, and applicable is, in fact, an invalid position to hold, due mainly to the “pervasive interpretive pluralism” that plagues the evangelical church.

Smith’s alternative (as summarized by Gundry):

His main answers: (1) by accepting the presence in the Bible of ambiguity, complexity, errors, contradictions, and thus the legitimacy of at least some different and even opposing interpretations of Scripture; (2) by importing extrabiblical theological concepts, such as that of the Trinity with its ontological categories of person and nature; (3) by submitting to “a stronger … ecclesial teaching office than biblicism has ever provided” (which answer, along with his book How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic …, calls in question Smith’s aforementioned claim that his conversion to Roman Catholicism had little to do with his rejection of biblicism); and, most important, (4) by reading Scripture christologically, à la Barth, so that its problematic passages and the different interpretations thereof recede in importance before the main message of salvation in Christ, the incarnate second person of the Trinity.

Gundry’s conclusion:

Though Smith has justifiably brought to the fore a problem in pervasive interpretive pluralism, then, this problem plagues all literature, not just the Bible as perceived by biblicists. In regard to the latter, I find his arguments incoherent and his solutions inadequate. He cites Don Carson to the effect that solving the problem requires “better scriptural exegesis.” Indeed. So maybe someone should write a book arguing that pervasive pluralism in biblical interpretation is due to the lingering deleterious effects, even on biblicists, of nonbiblicism in the past. But what do I know? I’m neither a sociologist nor a theologian. Just a biblicist.

It’s an interesting and important review of an interesting and important book.  For another take on The Bible Made Impossible, see Scot McKnight’s recent series of posts.

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Comments
  1. Christian Smith says:

    Not so fast. Make sure to read my reply to Gundry in the next print issue.

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