Zahnd: Christianity vs. Biblicism

I attended the Water to Wine Gathering at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO a couple weekends ago. WOLC’s pastor Brian Zahnd included in one of his talks some discussion of the dangers of biblicism. I had hoped to summarize that talk in a blog post, but happily Zahnd has published a post of his own doing just that. (It’s actually the preface to an upcoming book, but he shared it on his blog.) I find his thinking very helpful in how we approach and interpret the Bible.

I particularly enjoy his opening metaphor:

As modern Christians we are children of a broken home. Five centuries ago the Western church went through a bitter divorce that divided European Christians and their heirs into estranged Catholic and Protestant families. The reality that the Renaissance church was in desperate need of reformation doesn’t change the fact that along with a reformation there also came an ugly split that divided the church’s children between a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. In the divorce settlement (to push the metaphor a bit further) Catholic Mom got a long history, a rich tradition, and a unified church, but all Protestant Dad got was the Bible. Without history, tradition, or a magisterium, the Bible had to be everything for Protestant Dad — and Protestants have made the most of it.

He goes on to liken the Bible to rich soil out of which grows the tree that is the Christian faith. The Christian faith is rooted in and draws nourishment from the Bible, but Christianity and the Bible are not synonymous. To approach it this way, says Zahnd,

…is both conservative and progressive. Conservative in that it recognizes the inviolability of Scripture. Progressive in that it makes a vital distinction between the living faith and the historic text.

I probably have some readers getting very nervous at this point, but if so I would really recommend reading the whole thing. Zahnd and others like him are pointing the way to embrace Scripture while at the same time moving past reading it in a flat, biblicistic way.

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