Sunday 11 March 2012

Demon out - demon in

A few days back I made some positive preliminary comments about Christian Smith's book The Bible Made Impossible, and his first section, debunking biblicism, is without doubt a case powerfully put.

But Smith must erect a new superstructure in its place, and here the disappointment bites bitterly.  He hauls out the tired old supercessionist drivel that - literally - wants to read the Bible backward in the name of 'Christocentrism.'

Worse, Smith trots out theology's equivalent of the Addams Family in support: Goldingay, Stott, Packer, Vanhoozer, Bloesch, Berkouwer and, finally and inevitably, Karl Barth.  In fact he devotes a whole section to singing Barth's praises.

Unless, Smith warns, "we are anticanonical hermeneutical nihilists, we must believe in some kind of internal biblical coherence or unity - despite the Bible having been written by many different authors who lived in highly divergent historical and cultural circumstances."

Yeah, right.  And that coherence factor would be?

"If believers today want to rightly understand scripture, every narrative, every prayer, every proverb, every law, every Epistle needs likewise to be read and understood always and only in light of Jesus Christ and God reconciling the world to himself through him."

Every, every, every, every, every...  Oh really?

And moreover: "we always read the Bible as committed trinitarians."

"From the Bible's account of the creation of the world in Genesis to its final consummation in Revelation, it is all and only about the work of God in time and space in the person of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world."

"All and only"?  Talk about a sweeping hermeneutic!

Having swept the hovel clean of the demon Biblicism, Smith wants to recruit some nice new ones to help pay the rent.

More on this next time.


  1. I have been very interested in reading this book, thanks for the interesting commentaries. Trying to get my mind around this issue. The conservative evangelical church I was part of in the past held to both the inerrantist/fundamentalist view, and the backwards "christocentric" reading of the OT, both very tightly. It is interesting to see that Smith throws out one without the other, or as you said, he recruits a new one.

    Both views seem to hold an "authority of scripture" view over people's heads. Evangelicals giving up literalism seem very loath to depart from orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is the nub of the matter that communicates to other evangelicals if you are still in the tribe r not. Is it that reluctance to give up orthodoxy, or a fear of slipping into the abyss of incoherence that is at the root of the hermaneutic I wonder.

  2. I've read 4-5 books written by evangelicals recently, all of them wanting to break out of the inerrancy strait-jacket. This is a positive development. Their scholars know that that position cannot be maintained.

    They seem to know they're treading on thin ice with their constituency, however, and that sometimes drives them to extremes in other directions in order to compensate for their apostasy on inerrancy.

  3. I havent read this book, but you've summarized the essence of my struggle with narrative theology and the incarnational model...and why books like these that seek to dismantle inerrancy only serve to steer me further and further towards agnosticism (but I wish I could be less crtical!).

  4. Yes, believers have quite a problem. It is very easy to show the Bible is not inerrant. If the believers claim inerrancy, they can be made to look very foolish.

    Yet ... if they admit some parts of the Bible are not literally true, but are symbolic or meant only to teach a lesson or to make a point ... then they have a bigger problem. Then the problem is: where do you "draw the line"?

    Yes, most reasonable people can agree that Lot's wife did not turn into a pillar of salt, Goliath was not 18 feet tall and Jesus did not cast a bunch of demons out of people and into pigs. Those are the easy ones. But ... did Moses really lead 2 million people out of Egypt? Archaelogists will tell you with 100% certainty, "no way did 2 million people spend 40 years in the Sinai desert". So ... how much is true and how much is not? Was it 1 million people? 10,000? 200? Nobody at all and Moses never existed and it's all made up? Who's to say?

    Yes, it's a "slippery slope". Once some parts are not true, who's to say which parts?

    Consider this: perhaps the bible is like modern day movies and TV shows, which are fiction but include much that is true. They are set in real places like New York or London, they ride real cars and talk about real countries, real wars, real leaders, etc. Yes, they contain a lot of truth. But of course we know they're fiction.