(Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics) Don Collett–Overcoming Historicism’s Dividing Wall of Hostility: The Theological Interpretation of Scripture

Christian Smith notes the influence of bad philosophies of language and science upon biblicists, the latter of which are typically imbibed without much, if any, critical reflection. Paradigm-protecting approaches to organizing the diversity of Scripture also generate canons within the canon, while the influence of modernism’s mathematical and scientific rationalism upon biblicists leads them to effectively regard the Bible as a set of algebraic equations, thereby confusing mathematical and scientific ideas of precision with accuracy and truth. Sophisticated views of the philosophy of language and science are either unknown in popular forms of biblicism, or if known, exploited for purely negative and apologetic purposes, thereby precluding their constructive appropriation on any level.

Among the more interesting answers that Smith gives to this question are found in his third chapter, which is largely rooted in sociological observations. As it turns out, biblicists don’t get out much. They talk among themselves within socially and ecclesially constructed rooms of their own making and vintage, never bothering to open up windows to let in fresh air from the outside. When one adds to this the sociological observation that the need to reinforce one’s own identity is often tied to the need to differentiate oneself from others, this isolation is compounded even further (62-63). In short, because difference is essential to identity, biblicists may be subconsciously resisting “the idea of the biblical differences among them actually being settled” (63). Smith’s discussion of “homophily”, which he defines as natural attraction to those who think in the same terms we do, also helps to explain, at least in part, why biblicism is so resistant to change. Evangelical biblicists regularly underestimate the influence of social networks and social location upon how people process Scripture (64-65; 195-196). Because of this, they fall into the trap of believing that if they can just get people all believing the right things, everything else would take care of itself. While one can go too far with this and foster a sort of social determinism that ignores the Bible’s ability, through the Spirit, to overturn and counter the influence of what Smith (following Peter Berger) calls ‘plausibility structures’, in this reviewer’s opinion, Smith is right to point out that most biblicists regularly underestimate the impact their social context and location has upon how they hear Scripture. Many biblicists are Cartesians who view people as disembodied selves, or if you prefer, ideas with feet.

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Posted in Books, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology, Theology: Scripture