Friday, October 8, 2010

Biblicism, a Reprise

In the last post, I discussed the fact that biblicism--the claim that the Bible is the only reliable source of knowledge--is unbiblical, naive, and self-refuting (and thus illogical). And yet, the church in our day is filled with pastors and teachers who espouse this bizarre idea. Why?

Not all that long ago (say, 150 years), the pastor of the local church was often the best- and most widely-educated individual in the community. By this I mean not just the most knowledgeable about Scripture but also about history, great literature, philosophy, and the latest advances in science. Since that time, there has been an explosion of knowledge (especially in the sciences), and staying on the cutting edge in any discipline requires specializing. No modern pastor can be expected to be so versatile.

And yet, pastors are still looked up to by entire congregations as spiritual leaders and keepers of truth. In such a fix, the wise and humble servant of God would surround himself with committed Christian historians, philosophers, and scientists, counselors who could help him be "all things to all people." But how much easier it is to promote biblicism, to claim that one's own Bible knowledge trumps all these other sources of knowledge, that these others are, in fact, illegitimate ways to discover truth.

Now, I hope that sounds a bit silly to you, but that's what's been going on within many churches for the past 60 years or so. And I'm not saying that pastors are all self-important men giddy on the high esteem accorded them by their congregations and determined at all costs to keep that regard. Rather, in most cases they are simply a product of systems that we* have helped to create. We select our pastors from Bible schools and seminaries at some of which there is no learning offered apart from Bible, interpretation, and preaching methodology. Indeed, it is the church that has created such institutions, so fearful have we become of 'secular' knowledge or so unwilling to do the hard study necessary for responding to the challenges raised by secularists or by scientific materialists.

(Relevant to this discussion is the following fact... When Ronald Reagan was elected President, he asked advisers and Christian leaders for the names of Evangelical men and women who were top thinkers in the various fields of human endeavor, Christians that he could appoint to his cabinet. Only one man was deemed to fit that description, C. Everett Coop, who became Surgeon General.)

I'm not saying that Christian colleges are bad, but I will always strongly favor their offering a more well-rounded education than many do today. And I don't have a practical solution to the problem of biblicism among pastors and in the church. But I do know that biblicism does not serve the church well or further the Kingdom of God.

The Christian message, the biblical message, is one of hope for all people that applies to the real world in which we live. There is no knowledge--from science, history, philosophy, or any other discipline--that threatens the truth of Christianity. But attempting to insulate certain interpretations of Scripture by rejecting other valid sources of knowledge serves only to portray the gospel message as outdated and irrelevant.

*I'm using 'we' here simply as a way of identifying myself with the reader for empathy's sake. In actual fact, my own senior pastor is a throwback in this regard, having acquired a graduate degree in philosophy before his graduate degree in theology. He's as well-read as anyone I know, and an ardent student of history. Moreover, in areas in which he might feel a bit weak or unprepared, he is willing to seek wise counsel from individuals more knowledgeable than himself. I don't know how to ensure that church leadership is like this, but I'm sure that the solution includes not settling for biblicists who lack the humility and wisdom to surround themselves with competent, committed Christians who can provide the knowledge sets they themselves lack.

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