Written by Dr. David Dunbar
Wednesday, 14 March 2012 00:00
I’m still working on Christian Smith’s challenging book The Bible Made Impossible (Brazos, 2011). Smith charges Evangelicalism with propounding an unworkable theory about the nature and function of the Bible which he calls “Biblicism.” One need not embrace all aspects of his critique (I don’t) to appreciate that some of his observations are spot on.
The particular issue I will address is what Smith calls the “Handbook Model.” Here is how he explains the position that he adamantly disagrees with: “The Bible teaches doctrine and morals with every affirmation that it makes, so that together those affirmations comprise something like a handbook or textbook for Christian belief and living, a compendium of divine and therefore inerrant teachings on a full array of subjects—including science, economics, health, politics, and romance” (p. 5).
As evidence that this is a real problem, Smith provides a substantial list of book titles and web-sites from the Evangelical world. Some of my favorites: The World according to God: A Biblical View of Culture, Work, Science, Sex, and Everything Else; Gardening with Biblical Plants; and Queen Esther’s Secrets of Womanhood: A Biblical Rite of Passage for Your Daughter [!]
While there is an amusing side to this that we might just dismiss as the lunatic fringe in the Evangelical family, I don’t think we should. The reality is that there is a large group of people in our churches that embraces this general approach to Scripture, and too frequently they are encouraged in this direction by leaders who employ the Bible in just this way.
The mistake is easily made in a culture where technology rules us and where handbooks tell us how to use and maintain the technology. If God wants to speak with us, doesn’t it make sense that he would give us a handbook? Give us clear instructions to repair the human machine and we can fix it!
But of course, he didn’t. He gave us a story . . . about Israel, and Jesus, and the disciples of Jesus. Not all the Bible is a story, but even the non-story parts fit in and around the story. And the problem with a story is that it is not a handbook and cannot be interpreted like a repair manual without violating the nature of the story. The simple fact is that Queen Esther’s story was not intended to yield a manual on the secrets of how to be a woman in the modern world. The story of Esther is important and needs to be taught, but its significance must be understood in a whole different way. That however is a discussion for another time!
Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary. He has been married to Sharon for 42 years. They have four grown children and six grand children.