This is a story of two quotes and the way they intertwine.
“This brings us to something Smith mentions only briefly but that, to me, is the most important reason we have to get beyond evangelical biblicism: it is pastorally disastrous.
Students who believe in this kind of Bible but then leave the world that makes it plausible by going to, say, a public university or a differently oriented seminary or, worst of all a PhD program and there encounter the real Bible for the first time–well, they lose their faith. Or, they have to go through so much intellectual reconfiguring of their faith that its persistence stands in question.”
I’ve seen this as well, in others and in myself. When the Bible I was presented – Bible as handbook to life, theological encyclopedia, instruction manual, etc. – turned out to look quite unlike the Bible we actually have, it took years to make peace with my newly reordered faith.
In some ways, I’m still working through the after effects of that shift. And while it has ended up strengthening and maturing my faith, for many it does the opposite.
Case in point, this study.
“New research by the Barna Group finds they view churches as judgmental, overprotective, exclusive and unfriendly towards doubters. They also consider congregations antagonistic to science and say their Christian experience has been shallow…
…Researchers found that almost three out of five young Christians (59 percent) leave church life either permanently or for an extended period of time after age 15.”
I wonder how many of the teens and 20-somethings walking out the doors of the church are doing so, at least in part, because of the results of biblicism.
Then they go into the world and see the intellectual sacrifices they are being asked to make, and walk away from the whole thing, all while we blame secularism instead of our our failure to properly teach and equip them in light of the Bible we actually have instead of the Bible we’ve imagined for ourselves.
Not that this is the only reason, but it’s a big one, because especially for evangelicals what we imagine the Bible to be will inevitably shape the way we understand church, mission, and piety.
So if the Bible is a handbook to life, we hold mens Bible studies and act like reading the right passage together will magically fix our marriages, and if we think the Bible is a theological encyclopedia we spend our time digging for “exegetical gems” amid the dross of the text. And then when attending the men’s group doesn’t fix our marriage, and the ‘exegetical gems” become harder and harder to fit together, we think the Bible has failed us.
But perhaps if we had an honest conversation about the sort of Bible we have, we could start to engage it in a way that brings hope, and passion, and curiosity, and life, instead of confusion and false promises.
Because the way we are doing it right now is, as Daniel said, pastorally disastrous.