Warning! NERD ALERT! The following series of posts are going to put the cookies a bit higher on the shelf. If you are not into that, or if that is more confusing than helpful for where you are right now, then skip these posts. I do think what I am going to address is important, but there are other ways of getting at it, which I try and weave throughout my teaching and preaching. Here is a test. If the following words excite you, then continue reading: epistemology, speech-act theory, semiotics, multivalence, abstraction ladder, postmodernism, revelatory trajectory, authorially intended meaning, and such.
OK, for those of you left, here we go. I started reading Christian Smith’s recent book, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture. I am not done yet, so this is just an initial post getting the gears going. And, I am also aware that my first interaction with this book has been a critical review written by a friend, so I am trying to be as objective as possible as I read it. I also know that Dr. Smith is a personal friend of folk in the Bible church, so I am going to interact with him a bit and also the themes brought up by him in such a way that if/when I do meet him, I can look him in the eye with sincere respect and love.
What is Smith’s basic argument? There exist people, whom he calls Biblicists, who have an overly simplistic understanding of the truth and authority of the Bible such that too much confidence is put in its clarity and thus one’s interpretations. Most evangelicals with a igh view of Scripture would be more or less a Biblicist. I would probably be deemed one by Smith. These Biblicists do not account for the problem that pervasive interpretive pluralism (PIP) represents. PIP is the fact that on most points of Biblical interpretation there are a myriad of views represented, some subtle in difference but some quite different, even contradictory. So, how is it that we can say the Bible is authoritative, clear, and a helpful basis of truth if PIP is a pretty clear fact? Smith raises a good point. We are going to have to respond.
One important fact. Smith has recently converted from Protestantism to Catholicism. This book is very much the working out of a thoughtful man’s journey from Protestantism, and its view of authority and truth, toward Catholicism, and its view of authority, truth, and how grace is mediated. So far, I have found this book to include the epistemological and hermeneutical wrestlings I have found in the several people, even friends, I have encountered who have found integrity and a home in the Roman Catholic tradition. I respect many of the questions and dilemmas this small community of highly gifted and thoughtful people bring to the fore. Thus far I have not been compelled that the tradition that best represents how God reveals himself to be the Catholic tradition.
OK, so here are some questions one should ask along the way of discipleship that this book, more or less, raises:
1. Does the interpretive variations among Christianity compromise the affirmation that the Bible is perspicuous?
2. Is the issue of PIP something unique to the Bible? If not, what hope of truth and conviction is there if radical postmodernism, and its view of radical perpectivalism, is true?
3. Is text-confidence a hollow hope? Are texts independent of meaning? Is this very sentence arbitrary in its symbolic conveyance?
4. What role does the Spirit play in textual revelation and how does that create stability for a text, its meaning, the authors reception, regardless of the fact that various authors may have different senses or affectations with regard to that text?
5. If there is no hope for a typical evangelical understanding of text stability, then how do we define orthodoxy? Catholicism? Well, what if PIP exists in Catholicism? Or Eastern Orthodoxy? Where is there solid ground, anywhere?
We’ll start there.