Jesus Is The Point
Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, Chapter 5: The Christocentric Hermeneutical Key
It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit, and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him. (C. S. Lewis)
And, according to Christian Smith, that right there is where biblicists go wrong. Biblicism makes the Bible itself the point, when in fact the point, the focus, the center of the Bible is Jesus. Biblicism settles for the Word written as words on paper. The Bible is always pointing past itself on to the Living Word, Jesus himself, flesh and blood. Biblicism borders on idolatry of the Bible when the real goal of the Bible is to connect us to the real God as revealed through Jesus. And in so doing biblicism is exposed as anything but “evangelical.”
As the name suggests, “evangelicalism” implies being gospel-centered. God’s reconciliation of the world to Himself through Jesus (2 Cor 5:17-19) should be the focus. That means there are passages and ideas within the Bible that are more central or pivotal than others, what some have called a “canon within the canon.” We are to understand everything we read anywhere in the Bible in light of how God has revealed himself in Jesus. Smith calls his readers to adopt true christocentric evangelicalism.
Biblicism, on the other hand, flattens the Bible and makes all passages equal. It seems that the trustworthiness of the Bible as a handbook for life is paramount. Smith wonders if Jesus wouldn’t say to biblicists today what Jesus once said to the Pharisees and teachers of the law: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life, but these are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39).
The value of a Christ-centered approach to interpretation is that it makes quite clear what we are supposed to concentrate on when reading the Bible: that which relates to Jesus. In so doing, we do not go to the Bible making it give “perfect and explicit instructions on every imaginable topic it seems to address” (p. 102-03). Smith argues that “what holds scripture together is not simply accurate information or inerrant propositions about God, life, and the world. What holds it together is the reality of Christ himself, the living, eternal Son through whom God reconciles the world to himself in love” (p.107). This allows one to say, as it seems Smith wants to be able to say, that not all passages are authoritative, universally binding, or even historically and scientifically accurate in a literal sense.
Additionally, Smith believes that in making Jesus the center of our approach for understanding the Bible, we now have a common center and a chance to achieve some level of agreement when discussing the Bible. When there is no center, as in biblicism, all passages are flattened down and made equal, allowing a reader to emphasize whatever he or she wants, thus, making “pervasive interpretive pluralism”– Smith’s main complaint with biblicism — all the more likely. How exactly placing Jesus at the center of interpretation will cause us to agree on topics like the millennium, roles of women, or baptismal methods was simply not clear to me in Smith’s chapter. Maybe that will become clearer in the chapters to come. The vagueness of his proposal would only seem to encourage the opposite.
I really like the idea of making the gospel work of Jesus the center of the Bible. This sounds a lot like Scot McKnight’s proposal to make the Story of redemption the central interpretive key (see this post on McKnight’s book The Blue Parakeet) to biblical interpretation and reading, though I would have to say I think the larger Story of creation–fall–new creation is more inclusive and easier to work with in all parts of the Bible. There are places in Nahum or Numbers, for instance, where I have a hard time seeing how Jesus relates to the passage. Smith might have been clearer and more convincing had he given an example of his approach being used.
I want to like this book because I do see the problem with a hyperliteralism and interpretive legalism, but I am having a hard time getting my mind around exactly how Smith’s proposal is the best way forward.