“I can just pick up my Bible, read it, and know what God has to say to the church.”
“The Bible speaks to all areas of life. If you want relational, financial, sexual, or political guidance, the Bible is the place to go.”
“The Bible is the owner’s manual.”
“The Bible contains the system of doctrine that God’s people should know and believe.”
“No,” says Christian Smith. “And no. And no. And no.”
The subtitle of The Bible Made Impossible is “Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture.” The gospel is the good news, the good news is the word of Jesus Christ. To be an evangelical is to be one who promotes the good news of Jesus Christ.
And, a truly evangelical reading of scripture is one that recognizes that the point of the Bible is the saving word about Jesus Christ.
To read the Bible as an evangelical is not to read it to assemble a whole series of doctrines; it is not to read it as a compendium of life advice. Evangelical reading of the Bible is reading so as to discern in both Testaments the witness to Jesus Christ.
Or, as I put it so often here: we must imitate the NT writers in their employment of a Christological Hermeneutic.
What the Bible is “about” is not everything, it is about God’s salvation of the world through Christ. We should therefore seek this message, and discover the Bible’s unity, around this saving story.
In other words, there is a unity to scripture. But it is not the unity of a wholesale theological system; it is not the unity of agreement on what every passage means; it is not the unity of a transhistorical law which God reveals piecemeal over time.
The unity is what makes us Christians: the common affirmation that this is the story of God’s reconciling the world to Himself in Christ.
This understanding of what a Christian reading of the Bible looks like is not only as ancient as Jesus’ words in Luke 24 or John 5. It is also what we find advocated by John Stott (“Our savior Jesus Christ… is Scripture’s unifying theme,”) and the Dutch Theologian G. C. Berkouwer (“the significance [of scripture] can never be isolated from the redemptive-historical work of Christ”) (p. 103).
One of the crowning moments of the chapter on Christocentrism was an assessment Smith made of a sermon he heard on James. I’ve dabbled in and wondered about how we should be reading and preaching James–a virtually Christ-less book in the NT. My thought? We need to read it with the same strong Christological hermeneutic we are charged to bring to bear on the OT. Smith said essentially the same thing.
So my love fest with The Bible Made Impossible continues. Smith has rightly focused our attention on what the Bible is, and what it is for–and these mean that other ways of thinking about, reading, and applying scripture are shown up as misguided at best.
As an aside, I should say that the Westminster Seminary that died in the early 2000s had previously taught me just this way of thinking about the unity of scripture. It was the story of the work of God to save a people to God through Jesus Christ. The replacement of that Christological commitment with a version of evangelical biblicism is testament to the counter-intuitive nature of Smith’s proposal for many in the evangelical world.
Also, so you know: all is not pure unadulterated love. Smith keeps saying that a Christological reading is according to the rule of faith and Trinitarian, to which I of course say “No and no.” However, the overall import of what he is advancing is so crucial that I overlook this quibble and embrace Smith’s work for the greater good.
Aside 3: this program of Smith’s also finds a strong ally in Karl Barth and resonates strongly with what I’ve been posting in the Barth reading group posts over the past couple of months.