Christian Smith's The Bible Made Impossible argues Scripture isn't meant to be a handbook. In fact, in Chapter 5, Smith purports that doing so is not a truly evangelical reading of Scripture. Although biblicism looks like a "high view" of Scripture, it actually ends up demeaning the Bible.
If the gospel--the evangelion--is that God is reconciling the world to himself in Christ, we must go beyond viewing the Bible as a user's manual, even if it's considered divinely-inspired.
So what, then, is a truly evangelical way to read the Bible? It
confronts us with a particular story and message that, if taken seriously, blow the doors off every assumption, outlook, and experience that we have ever had apart from Jesus Christ. The evangelical message of scripture shakes loose from us every misguided and idolatrous preconception about everything, literally everything, that we thought we knew, and then begins to rebuild us in light of the singularly radical fact of who God really is and therefore who we really are in relation to God and what he has done for us. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most important thing we will ever need to hear and know, and it has the power to reframe and transform everything else.
Distilling this idol-crushing collection into a handbook neuters Scripture, turning it into the "security, certainty, and protection that humans naturally want" and a means to "facilitate the kind of secure, stable, and therapeutically satisfying lives we wish to live."
Smith offers an alternative to biblicism: viewing Christ as the purpose of, center, and interpretive key to Scripture. So, "every narrative, every prayer, every proverb, every law, every Epistle" must be read only in light of Christ and of God reconciling the world to himself through Christ.
The Bible is not God's highest self-revelation. Christ is. The Bible is not the end - it's the means to an end in Christ.
Smith quotes several theologians who have discussed this christocentric hermeneutic, but I liked evangelical theologian Donald Bloesch's portrayal:
The object of our faith is not the church or the scriptures, not even our experience of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ himself, but Christ testified to in Scripture and proclaimed in the church. [...] The Bible comes alive when it is read in light of the cross of Christ. [...] [T]he text does not yield its full meaning until we see it in its theological relation to the wider context—the sacred history of the Bible culminating in Jesus Christ. [...] [T]he salvific content of Scripture is God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. What makes Scripture authoritative is that it focuses on Christ, [and] while fully acknowledging both cultural and theological diversity within Scripture, the Reformers held to its overarching unity. One of their key principles was that "the whole of Scripture presents Christ everywhere."
What about issues on which Christians still need guidance, like gender roles and childrearing, or weightier issues like baptism and eschatology? Smith proposes that the local church should work out these issues. Rather than expecting the Bible to literally give us these answers, we are to view particular issues through the christological lens the Bible provides us.
Does this particularist way of working out the details dangerously make the Bible reader the sole arbiter of truth? Asking this question implies biblicists are able to "rise above" making themselves arbiters of biblical truth. Human subjectivity is necessarily involved in biblical interpretation. Moving away from biblicism simply acknowledges this fact and brings it out into the open. How else are we to discern truth without involving our own subjective understandings? To temper this problem, I would add that allowing community (over against individualism) and marginalized voices (women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, the global south) are important.
Smith anticipates a biblicist objection: everything we know about Christ comes from Scripture, so where is the christological hermeneutic's starting point? Smith notes this critique reduces our faith to the Bible's "paper and ink" and is an "overly rationalistic, modern approach." We need to leave room for the Holy Spirit.
At the chapter's closing, Smith encourages evangelicals to reconsider Karl Barth, as he provides a robust christological framework for biblical interpretation, moving us away from bibliolatry. As a result, I've added a Church Dogmatics outline to my wishlist...