These are the show notes to a Backpack Radio show we did called VIEWS ON BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION. The link is right here
· Summarizing the current debate: That Christians today approach the Bible in ways that are much too rigid and literalist. We claim unity on all the essential doctrines but in fact we have no real agreement on essential doctrines and even what it means for them to be essential. We claim it to be an authority in all areas of life yet we interpret the Bible in ways that are so widely diverse that they can’t hold up to our efforts to claim the Bible as authoritative. Hence the inadequacy of rigid, literalist, and we might add “inerrant” approaches to Scripture. Christian Smith has recently called this “biblicism.”
Here is his own summary of his position:
The case I argue in the first half of my book is simple, consisting of four central claims and a conclusion. First, I claim that biblicism, which I define clearly, is widespread in American Evangelicalism. Biblicism is a particular theory about how the Bible ought to function as an authority in Christian life. Second, I argue, if this biblicist theory is correct, then it should produce (among those who hold it, at least) a largely shared understanding of what scripture teaches, an interpretive convergence, especially on central theological matters. Third, as a matter of empirical fact, biblicism produces nothing of the sort; instead, American Evangelicalism embodies a pervasive interpretive pluralism in biblical interpretation and theology. Fourth, none of the possible biblicist explanations of the fact of this pluralism succeeds in salvaging biblicism—they may work to explain pluralism, but then biblicism itself is undermined because the explanations are incompatible with key biblicist beliefs. Therefore, I conclude, biblicism as a theory is impossible, simply not viable, because the real world of biblical practice contradicts it, reflecting interpretive theological outcomes that should not exist if biblicism were a viable theory.
· Why does this matter? It is a view of the bible that is behind pretty much every “new” take on Christianity out there – e.g. Rob Bell, emergent church, postmodern church
· Defining inerrancy (what it means and doesn’t mean)
· How does inerrancy interact with biblical interpretation? (and why we aren’t strictly speaking ‘literalist’)
· How should we rightly interpret the bible? How do we know what’s authoritative and what’s not authoritative? What are right ways and wrong ways to interpret the Bible?
The trend towards Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy – Christian Smith recently converted to Roman Catholicism from evangelical Protestanism. He still claims to be an evangelical interestingly. How does the desire for a central authority perhaps play into all this? And why this doesn’t really solve the problem.
At the same time, it’s interesting to note how strident people like Christian Smith and others are against those who hold to traditional Christian doctrines, particularly ones that seem problematic for the modern age (e.g. male eldership, hell)
· Why inerrancy matters – how does it play it out in “real life”?
· Why good exegesis matters (perhaps more examples here of right ways and wrongs ways to interpret the Bible)
· Distinguishing between absolutes, convictions, opinions, and questions
· The best thing to do – treat the Bible like Jesus. Here is Kevin DeYoung:
We should be a biblicist in the same way Jesus was. He believed that the entire Old Testament came from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). He believed that for Scripture to say something was the same as God speaking (Matt. 19:4-5). He believed the inspiration of Scripture went down to the individual words (John 10:30). He believed that Scripture cannot fail, cannot be wrong, and by implication cannot ultimately contradict itself (John 10:35). He believed that the apostolic teaching–what is now preserved in the words of the New Testament–would be divinely inspired by the Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-15). He settled disputes on all kinds of matters, from Christological to ethical to political, by appealing to Scripture, often “prooftexting” from a single verse (see Matt. 41-10; 19:1-7; 22:32). He believed there were correct interpretations to Scripture that others should recognize even in the midst of interpretive pluralism (Matt. 5:21-48; 22:29).
PIP can point out problems with some fringe elements of evangelicalism. It can also highlight some more common popular-level mistakes in handling Scripture. But at the heart of an evangelical doctrine of Scripture is the belief that the Bible is all true, that it tells us everything we need to know to be saved and to please God, that it never makes a mistake and never contradicts itself when properly interpreted, that it has principles that speak to all of life, that the most important parts can be clearly understood, and that in all its parts God means to point us to Christ. Whether that is biblicism or not I’m not sure. But it’s the way Jesus approached the Bible, and that’s good enough for me.
(and a response from Christian Smith)