Biblicism

Sep 05, 2000 |J. Budziszewski

After a five-day forum on the Christian voice in intellectual life, Theophilus critiques biblicists for not taking the Bible seriously enough.

"Hey, Prof. Heard your talk at the student union Thursday. You might have seen my glow-in-the-dark shirt." Don plopped into a chair.

"Was that glare in the fourth row you? I thought it was a bank of lights."

"If it was green, it was me. What did you think of Forum?"

"Enjoyed it. Weren't you on the planning committee?"

"I just came from a meeting."

"Still having meetings? Isn't Forum over?"

"Sure, but we needed to talk over what worked and what didn't."

Forum was a five-day experiment which had just ended. Sponsored by over a dozen campus Christian groups, its purpose had been to call the attention of students and faculty to the Christian voice in the intellectual life. Each speaker had presented a Christian perspective on a topic in his own field. Two were from our faculty, and the other three were nationally-known scholars from other universities.

"I heard that nightly attendance was around five hundred."

"More," he replied. "Friday was nine. That's not even counting the daytime events."

"Then why are you squirming in your chair so much? Has there been bad feedback?"

He hesitated. "Most of it's been good. Response cards said things like 'Made me think' and 'Impressed, not what I expected.' A lot of people checked the 'Please contact me' box — even some of the faculty."

"Then what's the problem?"

He squirmed again. "The sharpest complaints weren't from the audiences — they were from one of the sponsoring organizations. To tell the truth, Professor Theophilus, we don't really know what to think about that."

"What didn't the critics like?"

"The speakers."

"What didn't they like about them?"

"Well — take the Monday night guy, the one who argued that the molecular 'machinery' in the cell is the result of intelligent design. Remember the Q and A period?"

"Yes."

"When that guy called him a 'creationist' and accused him of getting his science from the Bible?"

"Yes."

"Remember how the speaker said he just follows the evidence where it leads?"

"Yes. He said that an advantage of being a Christian scientist is that if the evidence does lead to intelligent design, you don't have to tell yourself 'but of course that can't be true.'"

"That's just what steamed the critics. They wanted him to say 'I do get my science from the Bible.' And d'you remember the life-and-death speaker, the Tuesday night guy?"

"Yes."

"The one who discussed various criteria for judging when death has occurred?"

"Yes. I admired the precision with which he compared the various cardio-respiratory and neurological criteria. He was very clear."

"The critics didn't think it was so admirable. They said that since the Bible doesn't try to spell out when death occurs, he shouldn't have tried to either."

"I see."

"Then there was the Wednesday night guy, the physicist who explained how the universe is 'fine-tuned' to support life. He drove the critics right up the wall."

"Why?"

"Because he'd reasoned from nature instead of the Bible. They said that to prove God from physics makes physics greater than God."

"Oh, my."

Don hesitated. "I guess you remember the Friday night speaker."

"Yes, the psychologist. I hadn't realized that almost all of the leading atheistic intellectuals of the last few centuries had defective relationships with their fathers."

"Remember the last question? From the atheist who said 'You've been describing me'?"

"Sure. He said 'Now I have a son myself. What should I do?'"

"Remember the speaker's answer?"

"He thought for a moment and said 'I think you should try to be the best father that you can.' The atheist said 'Thank you' and the audience went wild."

"The critics went wild too, Prof, but in a different way. They'd wanted him to do something like quote John 3:16 and lead the guy to Jesus on the spot."

"But he couldn't — that wouldn't — he'd taken the only step he could — " I took a deep breath and shut up.

Don looked at me oddly. Thinking I knew why, I grinned.

"I notice that you didn't say anything about the Thursday night speaker."

"I know. You were the one the critics hated most of all."

"Let me see if I can guess why," I said. "When I explained how a Christian reasons, they probably accused me of passing off my own opinions as 'Christian' without citing any passages from the Bible to back them up."

Don was dumbfounded. "How'd you know that?"

"Because a similar 'biblicism' was behind their complaints about all of the speakers."

"Can you guess why I'm here today too?"

"I think so," I said. "There are three pieces of evidence. First, you mentioned that the planning committee didn't quite know what to make of the critics' complaints. Second, you can't sit still today, a sure sign that despite your cheerful manner, something is bothering you. Third, I know how seriously you take the Bible. I deduce, Watson, that you liked my talk when you heard it, but that after hearing the criticisms, you're not quite sure that you should have. So you've decided to sound me out."

A rueful smile confirmed that my deduction was correct. "You put your finger on it, Prof. It's hard to argue with the idea of being biblical."

"I would never speak against being biblical. What I criticized was biblicism."

"What's the difference? Do you mean taking the Bible too seriously?"

"Just the opposite. In my view, biblicists don't take the Bible seriously enough."

"I don't get it."

"Let's go down the list. The critics disparaged both the biologist who spoke about intelligent design and the physicist who spoke about fine-tuning, because both of them reasoned to the Creator from nature instead of from the Bible. But Don, your critics haven't noticed that the Bible itself commends that kind of reasoning."

"Does it?"

"Of course. In Romans 1, Paul says that ever since the creation of the world, God's deity and power have been clearly perceived from the things that have been made. Besides, it's silly to say 'Proving God from physics makes physics greater than God.' If I say "Someone must be the author of this novel,' that doesn't make the novel greater than the author."

"Well, maybe those two speakers were okay. But what about the Tuesday night speaker — and, sorry, but what about you? Your definition of reasoning and his definition of death may have been well-argued, but when the critics said that you didn't get them from the Bible, wasn't that true? And doesn't the Bible warn us somewhere 'not to go beyond what is written'?"

"The Bible does warn against going beyond God's word in the sense of violating his commands or disbelieving His teachings. It doesn't say we can't make cautious use of knowledge from sources other than the Bible itself."

"What's the difference?"

"Don, do you really mean you can't see how committing adultery is different from saying 'Four times five is twenty'? Both are 'beyond' the Scriptures, but in different senses, and the Bible is warning only about 'going beyond' in the former sense. Besides —"

"Yes?"

"If you can't use knowledge from beyond the Bible, then how will you ever learn the language in which your Bible is written?"

"Oh." He paused. "When you put it that way it makes sense. Maybe I agree. But even if you've got those two speakers off the hook, there's one more left."

"The psychologist."

"Right."

"You said the critics wanted him to do something like quote John 3:16 to the questioner and lead him to Jesus on the spot."

"Right."

"I seem to detect two unstated assumptions here about how to bear witness to nonbelievers."

"What are they?"

"That we must always begin with the Scriptures, and that we must always raise the Jesus question right away."

"Ye-es."

"But in the Scriptures themselves, the Apostles don't always raise the Jesus question right away, do they? For example, when Philip spoke to the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading the book of Isaiah, his first words weren't 'Let me tell you about Jesus,' but 'Do you understand what you are reading?'

"But he did go further, didn't he?"

"Only after the eunuch invited him to. No such invitation was expressed by the man who asked the final question Friday night."

"Well, no."

"Nor do the Apostles always begin with the Scriptures. When Paul was speaking to the Athenians, he began with a comment on their altar 'To An Unknown God.' He always began with something that his listeners were open to already. And the man who asked the final question Friday night didn't give any sign that he'd be open to an argument from Scripture."

I tried to read his face.

"Don, I'm not saying that the slap-them-with-Scripture approach could never work. But the fact that it uses the Bible doesn't make it biblical."

"That seems to be right, Professor Theophilus, but I need to think about it."

"Good," I smiled. "You know where to find me."

Copyright 2000 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

Donate

Like what you see?

If you’ve enjoyed this article, will you consider giving a tax-deductible gift to Boundless right now? We’re a donor-funded ministry, and we rely on friends like you to help keep us going! DONATE NOW »

References
  • .

THE BOUNDLESS BUZZ

Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter and see all our latest content every Thursday.