In Christian Smith's The Bible Made Impossible, Chapter 6 encourages us to accept complexity and ambiguity. I have a slight issue with some points, but overall, Smith's critique of biblicism moves us away from marginalizing the other.
Smith wants us to "accept the real scriptures that God has provided us as they are," suspending preconceived notions as much as possible. This is troubling because no one approaches the text in an unmediated way. I do appreciate Smith's reminder to read the Bible with humility and to acknowledge its humanness, rather than as an error-free instruction manual.
But, even accepting ambiguity, the text is still shaped by the reader's gender, socioeconomic class, and race/ethnicity. And even while acknowledging these factors, no one can completely shed preconceived notions. I wish Smith would have been more careful in this regard, but he later articulates a helpful approach that de-centers those who traditionally control theological discourse.
Also, as I continued reading, Smith notes we can't force out the unambiguous parts of the Bible, quoting Gordon Fee:
God did not choose to give us a series of timeless, non-culture-bound theological propositions to be believed and imperatives to be obeyed. Rather, he chose to speak his eternal word this way, in historically particular circumstances and in every kind of literary genre. By the very way God gave us this Word, he locked in the ambiguity. One should not fight God and insist that he give us his Word in another way or, as we are more apt to do, rework his Word along theological or cultural prejudgments that turn it into a minefield of principles, propositions or imperatives but denude it of its ad hoc character as truly human.
Despite the impossibility of eliminating "theological or cultural prejudgments," Fee's point is the heart of Chapter 6, and Smith comes close to acknowledging what I quibbled with:
All of scripture is not clear, nor does it need to be. But the real matter of scripture is clear, “the deepest secret of all,” that God in Christ has come to earth, lived, taught, healed, died, and risen to new life, so that we too can rise to life in him. On that, the Bible is clear. But to try to claim a plenary clarity, consistency, and completeness of information for all passages of all of scripture is futile. There are parts of scripture that we do not understand and probably never will understand. We might as well admit that fact.
Greater humility would help recognize ambiguity. Many evangelicals elevate the importance of their group's doctrines into dogma. And many elevate their opinions to doctrine level. I find that lack of humility (and naivete about eliminating all preconceived notions) can be addressed more fruitfully when we de-colonize our theology and build a bonfire of that table where only certain North American and European men can sit. Smith's sociology background becomes helpful here:
[P]eople predictably tend to inflate the goodness, importance, and credibility of anything associated with the social groups to which they belong (their “in-groups”) beyond what is objectively real and justified; and they predictably tend to depreciate the goodness, importance, and credibility of anything associated with groups that are socially different and to which they do not belong (“out-groups”). It is all unfortunately part of “normal” social-psychological personal and group identity construction and maintenance. But that does not make it right, good, or helpful when it comes to Christian theology and church unity.
Smith unequivocally states that Christians must "stop excluding, dismissing, discounting, and ignoring other Christians who do not deserve that kind of treatment." To which I say, "Hurrah!"
Smith doesn't explicitly mention post-colonial theory or race and gender, but points out that biblicism's logic sets up the reader as truth-arbiter - "absolutely definite, divinely authorized, universally valid, indubitable truth," which I think results in marginalization of the other. It's difficult to believe a "biblical" truth tentatively, to recognize one's interpretation might be incorrect, or to concede the plausibility of other interpretations.
I would add that many biblicists are European/North American and have exported this logic, either through missions or by simply controlling the discourse within the West for so long. Biblicists are traditionally those with the most power and money. So, what's actually imposed is what European/North American biblicists deem biblical truth. When many think they are exporting solid biblical truths, in reality, they're exporting (or imposing on minorities within U.S./Europe) a particular interpretation of Scripture that conveniently shuts out dissenters, even when the dissenter truly wants to follow Jesus.
Biblicism becomes colonialism in disguise. It doesn't matter whether the colonized have an alternative perspective, because truth is truth and the inerrant, universal Bible said so. Thus, I appreciate Smith's suggestions that de-construct harmful ideas about biblical interpretation.