The 2nd century Gnostic heretics were very good at constructing airtight, scripture-based arguments for their beliefs. In response to this, church father Ireneaus wrote that the verses in the Bible are like a mosaic of painted tiles that can be arranged in any order. He said that the same set of tiles that ordered correctly create the mosaic of a beautiful lamb had been reordered by the Gnostics to make a fox. This is a very important point about the problem of proof-texting Bible verses out of context and the naivete of assuming that we can or should give perfectly equally weight to each verse. In Christian Smith’s book The Bible Made Impossible, he takes this metaphor a step further. Continue reading
This is a post where I’m raising a question that I flat-out don’t know the answer to. I watched a conversation yesterday between Derek Rishmawy who represents what I call the “Calvinist you can talk to” perspective and Stephanie Drury who is a “post-evangelical feminist.” Derek had written a post about the importance of not dissing King Solomon and the sacredness of scripture just because Mark Driscoll has misused Solomon’s words in Proverbs and the Song of Songs. Stephanie’s response was that for people who have been spiritually abused, some words in the Bible are permanently toxic as a result.
When the Reformation happened in the 1500’s, there were very different assumptions in place about who had the authority to interpret scripture. The Biblical “literalism” that evangelical America takes for granted today was not at all the standard. It’s important for evangelicals to recognize that “literalism” is not a claim about the authority of scripture, but about the authority of the interpreter. It concerns whether I need a priest to interpret the Bible for me (which would be a conservative position) or if I can open the Bible to any given verse and interpret it for myself (which is not a conservative but a populist claim). Both Martin Luther and John Calvin relied heavily in their treatises on the work of 4th century theologian Augustine to make their case for breaking with Roman Catholic tradition. Their argument was conservative (the present church has strayed from an apostolic orthodoxy in the past) rather than populist (screw tradition; I have the authority to read the Bible for myself). One way to describe the crisis of Biblical interpretation today is that the evangelical descendents of the Reformation have betrayed the original Reformers with the populism of Biblical “literalism”; we need to return to the heremeneutical standard of the master-theologian to whom Luther and Calvin tethered their thinking.
There’s been some buzz in the Christian blogosphere recently about the questions raised by Christian Smith’s book The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture. Calvinist super-blogger Kevin DeYoung pounced on Smith in a review. Then popular evangelical moderate Scot McKnight struck back. I got wind of this conversation by way of Carson Clark.
I know these names mean very little to most people who read my blog. What in the world does Biblicism mean and why should you care? Let me try to unpack the debate in non-seminary-nerd language. Continue reading