Scot McKnight blogs about Christian Smith’s new book, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture. 

Smith lists ten characteristics of biblicism. This, he argues, is the way that many, if not most, ordinary evangelical Christians read and understand the Bible.  As a layman, I found his synthesis of biblicism to be very helpful.

1. Divine Writing: the Bible is identical to God’s own words.

2. Total representation: it is what God wants us to know, all God wants us to know (he quotes JI Packer here) in communicating the divine will to us.

3. Complete coverage: everything relevant to the Christian life is in the Bible.

4. Democratic perspicuity: reasonable humans can read the Bible in his or her language and correctly understand the plain meaning of the text.

5. Commonsense hermeneutic: again, plain meaning; just read it.

6. Solo [not sola] Scripture: we can read the Bible without the aid of creeds or confessions or historical church traditions.

7. Internal harmony: all passages on a given theme mesh together.

8. Universal applicability: the Bible is universally valid for all Christians, wherever and whenever.

9. Inductive method: sit down, read it, and put it together.

10. Handbook model: the Bible is handbook or textbook for the Christian life.

McKnight comments:

You might be saying, “This is silly.” Well, no, it’s not. It’s a straight arrow description of what many evangelicals really do believe, and I would point straight at someone like Wayne Grudem as a very good example of this kind of biblicism. He gives pages of examples, stuff like how the Bible teaches about health or money or womanhood or how to be a good dad and on and on enough to make me choke. (Sorry for that edginess.)

So, what’s the problem with bliblicism? Interpretive pluralism. Biblicists believe the Bible is clear and readable and understandable but their diversity disproves what they believe and demolishes the biblicist approach. He quotes some well-known evangelicals who have pointed to the same problem: Robert K. Johnston, Mark Noll, Tom Wright, Kevin Vanhoozer, D.A. Carson, Geoffrey Bromiley, John Nevin … and back to the later Luther and even to Tertullian. The Bible alone will not yield either eccesial or theological unity. No matter what we say about it, our interpretive history disproves it.

It’s time for all of you Bible scholars and theologians to chime in.

2 thoughts on “Biblicism

  1. Smith's list is straight forward, but those who believe in biblicism (such as me) have a much more nuanced understanding that he implies. It is not a matter of finding one to one verse to life correspondence. Also, McKnight statement that interpretative pluralism disproves biblicism falls short. No one claims that biblicism will lead to unanimous agreement. Everyone's interpretation is affected by their reason and often by their sin or pride. Biblicist, including Grudem, understand this. Are to we expect that reason will lead to unity? What if my reason leads to a different understanding of God than the one held by Smith of McKight? The claim that reason will lead us to understand God fails on the same grounds. In the end, it seems reasonable to believe that revelation should guide our understanding and combine that with humility to understand that some may interpret that revelation differently, but to continue to seek to find a correct understanding. This is one reason that we say that the church should be always reforming.


  2. Sounds like an accurate characterization of run of the mill bible-believin' evangelicalism to me, and he's right to call out Grudem, but the purveyors of this poison pablum are legion.


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