The final chapter in Christian Smith's The Bible Made Impossible offers quite a lot to digest, so I plan on discussing it in more than one installment. Titled "Rethinking Human Knowledge, Authority, and Understanding," this chapter provides more suggestions for moving toward a postbiblicist, yet still evangelical, reading of Scripture.
Smith first argues evangelicals must break from modernism's epistemology (how we know what we know). That today's evangelicals equate the most correct reading of Scripture with modernist knowledge is ironic given that evangelicalism grew out of opposition to modernism, especially naturalism, liberalism, and relativism. Evangelicals "have drunk deeply from some of the wells of modernity and the Enlightenment, yet in ways they often seem to fail to notice."
One such "well" is epistemological foundationalism, the belief that rational people can identify a common foundation from which we build a body of reliable knowledge. The foundation on which this knowledge rests must withstand all challenges and be universally accessible to all rational beings, producing reliable knowledge without fail. All those who think rationally, then, can access truth that is certain and universally binding.
This epistemology has collapsed, but evangelicals still hold to it by making the Bible the foundation for certain knowledge. "Without realizing it, evangelicals embraced a view of scripture that was more driven by [...] generally modern preoccupations with epistemic certainty than by scripture itself." So, rather than using the Word to critique modernism, evangelicals fully ingested some aspects of modernist thinking and equated its epistemology with the Word itself.
But Smith points out that, as a corrective, evangelicals shouldn't fully embrace postmodernism. Just because modernism's attempt to frame truth as certain, rational, and completely accesible has failed doesn't automatically mean that all truth claims are simply exercises of power.
Smith claims there are alternatives, and one such alternative is called critical realism. This view abandons foundationalist illusions,
acknowledges the conceptually mediated and fallible nature of all human knowledge, accounts for the influence of historical and cultural context, and [unlike much of biblicism] recognizes the inescapably hermeneutical, cultural-historical, and interpretive character of all knowledge[.]
Smith argues that critical realism "breaks the stalemate and enables both sides [modernists and postmodernists] to move forward," especially because the modernist-postmodernist debate often reinforces the binary between objective-subjective truth.
Smith doesn't actually go into much more detail about critical realism, but conveniently enough, he recommends another of his books as a starting point: What Is a Person? Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up. Although I found the next part of this chapter helpful (a discussion of inspiration, authority, and the dynamic, always-developing nature of the Gospel), I'm sort of disappointed Smith didn't flesh out critical realism a little more. That said, he emphasized earlier that the book's purpose wasn't necessarily to provide a comprehensive solution to biblicism's problems.
Has anyone read up on critical realism or have any other books that would be a good starting point?