I recently had this email:
Biblicism is under attack. Apparently John Goldingay said this:
"The claim that scripture is factually inerrant sets up misleading expectations regarding the precision of narratives and then requires such far-fetched defenses... that it presses people toward rejecting it."
What do you think of that?
And what of this: in an apparent attack of Biblicism, Peter Enns has stated: "We do not honor the Lord nor do we uphold the gospel by playing make-believe."
It seems that Enns was attacking Christians who believe the Genesis creation account.
Okay, I have no precise information on these quotes but - for now - I will assume they are accurate quotes.
What is 'Biblicism'?
So firstly, what is "biblicism"? The term 'Biblicism' is sometimes used against those who interpret the Bible literally or who hold to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). A Biblicist, therefore, would be someone who uses the Bible for his/her authority and source of knowledge, resolutely holding to the Bible to guide him/her through every situation and inform him on every issue. On the other hand, those levelling the charge of 'Biblicism' often deny the doctrines of scriptural inerrancy or inspiration or at least seek to diminish the authority of Scripture. Sometimes they even accuse Biblicists of "Bible worship."
There are many who challenge a strict biblicist approach, most of them (but not all) are theological liberals. However, we should just remember that major 20th century Swiss theologian Karl Barth who did so much to undermine and to push back the prevailing pathetic and insipid liberalism in theology which surrounded him, did also occasionally challenge an almost 'Bible-worship' approach to the inspiration of Scripture; oh, he believed the Bible was inspired but warned against the almost 'word-worship' approach of some fundamentalists, the kind of approach which believes that any deeper Bible study might be a very bad thing and that 'theology' was almost a dirty word! Today this would include the approach that only the KJV is inspired, a claim which cannot be substantiated. For Barth, it is the encounters with God which the Bible records which are valid, genuine and inspired and men did the best they could to record those events in Scripture, yet they were fallible and God allowed them to record those events in a somewhat fallible fashion. So Barth held to a somewhat lower view of the inspiration of Scripture; it is inspired, but not to the degree that we should almost worship the very text and we scream when a new translation might alter a word or a phrase. Barth seemed to have a fair point.
Peter Enns Controversy
Now, to take the quoted writer (Peter Enns), in 2008 theologian Peter Enns was suspended from lecturing at Westminster Theological Seminary after some controversial things entered his writings and lectures (source here: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2008/03/29/the-peter-enns-controversy/).
Westminster Theological Seminary is a Presbyterian and Reformed Christian graduate college which is located in Glenside, Pennsylvania, with a smaller college in England. I understand that it strives to be biblical, although it tends to be strictly reformed/Calvinist, not broadly evangelical.
The source article states this:
Enns has written that the first chapters of Genesis are firmly grounded in ancient myth, which he defines as "an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins in the form of stories."
Critics have been perplexed by Enns' description of the early Genesis stories because his definition of myth seems to leave no room for actual historical accounts.
There were other problems with the theology of Peter Enns too but it is not the purpose of UK Apologetics to judge this man, simply to point out that there has been a perception for the last few years that Enns has departed from sound evangelical orthodoxy, at least in certain areas. That being so, we don't need to swallow everything this man has written, rather, we should be cautious. So upon learning that Enns has written, "we do not honor the Lord nor do we uphold the gospel by playing make-believe." it gives some rightful cause for concern bearing in mind that this man has attacked the usual understanding of the inspiration of Scripture. Now, as we proceed, let us clarify one or two things.
Karl Barth (1886-1968)
The great Swiss theologian was a strong believer who supported the inspiration of Scripture, but he sometimes despaired of the reverence for Scripture on a word-by-word basis which he sometimes found. For Barth, the real encounters with God were what Scripture testified to - this was the important thing. The Spirit inspired the recording of Scripture yet we should understand that God allowed Scripture to remain the work of men. Barth would have reminded us all that the Bible was not written in English or German and no translation is 100% perfect - don't start getting reverential about certain translations!
What is "Myth"?
Unquestionably some evangelicals, though especially fundamentalists, have not always correctly understood the use of the word "myth."
So what is a "myth"?
a. A traditional story or narrative, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and sometimes involving supernatural beings or events. But in this context a "myth" is not necessarily stating that such a story is untrue or fictional, it is just saying that this is the traditional, or widely-held, story or explanation.
b. A widely held, yet false belief or idea.
Obviously it is point two above which would give the more concern if Enns was applying this understanding to the early chapters of Genesis and apparently he was. Interestingly, many of us evangelical Christians would describe the teaching of evolution as a clear myth, qualifying under both points a and b.
Two Final Points:
1. Lack of Belief is Often the Real Problem
Frankly it seems to me that Peter Enns does not accept that the early chapters of Genesis (the creation account) describe actual events in time-history. This, of course, is a very common view among liberals in an almost evolution-worshipping age. I totally disagree; fact is: nothing within modern science has ever demonstrated or ever will be able to demonstrate that God did not create this world in exactly the fashion stated in Genesis. The problem is today we live in a world of such unbelief. Yet nothing has actually changed, nothing has actually been disproven. The problem is lack of belief in a secular God-denying age. It's odd really: people seem to find it quite easy to believe that this world is many millions - or even billions - of years old and that life began by pure chance because of the right cocktail of aminio acids and proteins being in the right place at the right time, this despite the fact that there is abundant evidence that we live in quite a young universe, but this is ignored and rejected because it does not fit in with evolutionary/materialistic philosophy. How odd that is! Mathematically it has already been established that this simply could not have happened, again that is ignored because of not fitting with the current philosophy. See Mathematics: The Evolution Killer
In comparison, the Genesis creation account is really a very simple and believable story, yet people are laughed at for believing it when the most absurd account of creation is the account that evolution presents us with! Yet - if one understands the quote correctly - theologian Peter Enns believes that we are using "make-believe" by holding to Genesis. How odd that is.
2. "Biblicism" Used in a Bad Way
Unfortunately there is also a bad sort of "biblicism," this is specific translation worship; we have all seen enough evidence of this in the behaviour of some of the 'KJV Onlyists' with their willingness to mount quite vicious attacks on those who refuse to join their particular lobby. The fact that much of their anger and rancour is based on complete misinformation does not seem to bother them. I have other articles which go into those errors in detail and will not do so here. Yes, we should accept that Scripture is inspired in it's original languages but not go too far beyond that. For sure, God inspired the recording of Scripture, yet He also allowed it to be the work of men, what John Stott used to call "the double inspiration of Scripture."
Robin A. Brace. November 23rd, 2016.