Ever wonder what biblicism run amok looks like? For a great example, consider this quote from R. Albert Mohler in his essay in the book Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (hat tip to my student Rodney for the reference):
“I do not allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and claims.”
First, let’s be clear that when Mohler refers to “the truthfulness of any text” what he really means is “my interpretation of the text.”
In other words, Mohler insists that he will not allow any bit of evidence from science to challenge his reading of a biblical text that addresses the age of the earth or the origin of species. He will not allow any bit of experience with powerful women preachers to challenge his complementarian reading of Paul. He will not allow his encounter with monogamous gay couples who appear to have happy, stable relationships to challenge his view of homosexuality. He will not allow moral intuitions to affect how he interprets the moral status of the Canaanite genocide or the draconian punishments (e.g. hand amputation; death by stoning) to be found in the Torah. He will not allow some extra-biblical tradition about sprinkling babies to get him to reconsider his views on believer’s baptism. And on it goes.
The first problem is that Mohler comes to the text as we all do, with a reading tradition that is distinguished by the fact that it rejects what others have claimed to be the truthfulness of the text. Mohler, for example, rejects the notion that biology or geology might affect our understanding of the origin of species or the age of the earth. But he is fine with the fact that science long ago completely led Christians to revise their interpretation of biblical descriptions of the sun moving across the sky and the earth being fixed on its foundations.
Mohler may have no time for women preachers, but he is happy that they have the vote and can own property even though for Christians of an earlier time, the same rationales that restricted women from the pulpit also restricted them from the vote and property ownership (e.g. emotional instability; aptness to be deceived). Mohler hasn’t budged on homosexuality although I’m betting he doesn’t agree with the biblical view of earlier Christians that they should be stoned (admittedly, I could be wrong: I haven’t researched Mohler’s views).
Mohler may be fine with the Canaanite genocide, but I’m guessing that he finds slavery, ethnic cleansing, and genocide in the world today to be morally abhorrent evils to combat. And while he would laud the moral beauty of the Torah, I’m guessing that he would be horrified and morally indignant to read in the newspaper that the Taliban had stoned a recalcitrant youth in rural Afghanistan.
My point is not that Christians should think any particular way about any of these issues. My point, simply, is that nobody does what Mohler claims. For all of us, our reading and application of the words of Scripture are shaped by all sorts of extra-biblical sources: science, experience, moral intuitions, tradition, reason, and so on.
The person who claims that such extra-biblical sources do not affect their reading of the Bible is either fibbing or self-deluded. They are merely posturing to a pious fundamentalist doctrinal confession that they do not, and indeed could not, consistently follow.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is biblicism run amok.