The Trouble with "Scholarship"

Rachel Held Evans reviews “The Bible Made Impossible”, what appears to be a fairly liberal book (stay-tuned for the stunning—if honest—goal of the author).

You’ll frequently discover so-called scholars and experts use intelligently sounding words and phrases, but when considering them you find they say nothing (or as we’ll see, end up in a no-mans land of logical inconsistency). In Physics we called that “hand-waving”, or an attempt to hide you have no idea what you’re talking about by many words and equations.

Of course, those attempts never fooled the professor, because anyone examining the hand-waving in any depth immediately notices it.

Today’s scholarly hand-waving — denying the traditional, orthodox, idea the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. That’s just not popular with the trendy denial-of-absolute post-modern philosophy, so it’s got to go.

What I say here is simply that the Biblicism that in much of American evangelicalism is presupposed to be the cornerstone to Christian truth and faithfulness is misguided and impossible. It does not and cannot live up to its own claims. [emphasis added]

So what is this misguided and impossible biblicism?

“By bibliclism,” writes Smith, “I mean a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.

Sounds scholarly, does it not (where’s my smoking jacket again, you know, the one with the elbow patches)? Let’s look at each claim labeled “misguided and impossible”.

Exclusive Authority

Authority is (by definition) exclusive. If you agree with someone, you admit they have authority, and if not, some method must be used to determine what authority will be adhered to. Either way, authority must be exclusive. If you have authority, others don’t.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16). If it’s given by by the designer and creator, it’s authoritative.

Infallibility

He’s surely not saying God makes mistakes, and to believe otherwise is misguided and impossible? Not so fast, my friend — the only way to prove or know God makes mistakes is if you knew more than God. A certain angel tried to place himself on the same level as God and got into quite a bit of trouble, if we recall.

We’ll not touch that with a 10-foot pole.

Perspicuity

I had to look up that word, because I’m a simple guy (not like “scholars”).

Perspicuity means clarity, plainness or the quality of being perspicuous (perhaps this was the author’s idea of funny wordplay, because by using a word not commonly known, he’s not being perspicuous. Sigh).

The New Testament was written in common Greek, by non-scholarly, common men. It would be hard for them not to be clear and understandable by regular people. That doesn’t mean the ideas are simple, but their communication is.

the Bible, after their very best efforts to understand it, says and teaches very different things about most significant topics…It becomes beside the point to assert a text to be solely authoritative or inerrant, for instance, when, lo and behold, it gives rise to a host of many divergent teachings on important matters.

Notice the argument shifting. Because someone doesn’t believe it says what it says means it doesn’t really say what it says? What is the most important matter in the Bible? The Gospel. Some liberals like to play games with definitions — specifically with what the gospel is. Strange, since Paul exactly defines the Gospel:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you … Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15)

When someone re-defines the clear and obvious definition of the gospel, does that mean the Bible isn’t clear? Of course not. It means either someone hasn’t read what Paul told the Corinthians (in which case education is the answer), or they do know what it means, and either reject it, or want to twist it to their preconceived political/theological/social ideas (in which case they’re trying to deceive you).

Either way, the Gospel—as defined by Paul—remains clear, no matter what people think or claim (oops, let’s be scholarly, Paul was perspicuous). Yes, it’s possible many confused ideas could develop from a clear text.

However, it’s wrong to claim those divergent philosophies imply the Bible isn’t clear on the Gospel. We challenge anyone to honestly say 1 Corinthians 15 isn’t clear (oops, “perspicuous” darn, I keep forgetting to sound scholarly). If someone doesn’t believe the world is round, would you say pictures of the round earth can give rise to a host of divergent teachings?

Of course not, you’d say the person doesn’t accept obvious facts.

The same with the Bible. If someone doesn’t like to accept the truth of the Gospel (substituting social justice as the heart of the Gospel instead of Christ), that doesn’t make truth untruth.

See The Tactics of Rebellion — it’s not the Bible isn’t clear, it’s the problem of post-modern philosophy infecting the church.

Are there things hard to understand? You bet. Are there things we don’t understand? Of course. That doesn’t mean they’re not clear (oops, “perspicuous”, I did it again). We also may not have all the pieces yet. Certainly in Daniel’s time they didn’t understand all what was revealed to him, but as time moves forward, our understanding of what’s clearly written improves.

The book of Revelation isn’t hard because it’s not clear, but because it is; people don’t like what it says so they try and squirm out of it.

Self-sufficiency

Is anything else needed besides Jesus? If not, it’s self-sufficient. Is the author actually implying the sufficiency of Christ is misguided and impossible? I hope not.

That doesn’t mean it’s all you want, but it’s all you need.

Internal Consistency

If it’s infallible (inerrant, or no mistakes), it must be — by definition — consistent.

Self-evident Meaning

If the Bible says one-third of the grass burned up, or 70 weeks are determined for the people, that’s what it means. Sure, the Bible does use word-play in some areas, the problem arises when “scholars” take obvious meanings and change them into bizarre thoughts demonstrating they fail to read the text they’re a so-called “expert” on.

Universal Applicability

An infallible, self-sufficient, consistent message from the creator of the cosmos would have universal applicability, would it not?

What is the Bible Then?

If he’s right, the Bible is:

  1. Not authoritative.
  2. Error-prone and inconsistent.
  3. Unclear.
  4. Insufficient.
  5. Not applicable.

Then what’s the good of it? Toss it on the scrap heap. You can’t have it both ways — if the Bible is the inerrant Word of God it must be understood to be the final authority, while if he’s right no reason exists to read the Bible; it’s error-prone and not applicable, so why bother?

Don’t be Deceived

Don’t be ripped off by impressive sounding “scholarship”. What’s the end-goal of these “scholars”? At least they’re up-front about it:

The ‘biblicism’ that pervades much of American evangelicalism is untenable and needs to be abandoned in favor of a better approach to Christian truth and authority… [emphasis added]

At least they’re honest — they want you to abandon the solid rock of the Word for the shifting sands of value relativism, giving up perspicuity (admit it, you didn’t think I could work that in again, did you?) in the process.

Don’t fall for it. Don’t be conned by hand-waving or those living in The Matrix of deception. Stay anchored to the absolute reference of the Word of God.

A division is coming — those that accept the Bible as the inerrant Word of God (thus we should live and follow that absolute truth), and those following post-modern philosophy denying some or all of God’s Word.

Which group do you choose?

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