Rachel Held Evans on Her Issues With The Word “Biblical”

Today I wish to direct your attention to an article by Rachel Held Evans in which she comments on the misuse of the word “biblical” that is rife in evangelicalism.

Her comments are part of a larger piece in which she reviews Christian Smith’s book “The Bible Made Impossible”.  Smith takes aim at “biblicism”, an approach to reading and understanding the Bible that he defines as “a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.”

The key problem with biblicism is “the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism”.  In other words, there are many places in the Bible where there is more than one way to interpret what the text says.  It is beside the point to say that a particular text is solely authoritative or inerrant when that same text gives rise to a divergent array of interpretations.  In light of this, it is just not possible to reduce the Bible to a manual of principles for living, starting from the standpoint of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

Now Evans lays into the way many evangelicals use the word “biblical”, which is one of her big pet peeves.  And one of mine as well.

My issues with the word “biblical” go way back.

When I attended apologetics camp as a teenager,  I was told that those who hold a “biblical view of economics” support unregulated free market capitalism. (Even then, it occurred to me that such an economic system didn’t even exist in the ancient near Eastern culture in which the Bible was written.) I was also told that God wanted me to forgo traditional dating in favor of “biblical courtship.” (Again, no one mentioned the fact that, in the Bible, young women could be sold into marriage by their fathers to pay off debt, that marriages were typically arranged without the bride meeting the groom until their wedding day, and that women were considered the property of their fathers and husbands.)

…You can find all sorts of books proclaiming to put for the “biblical” view of something-or-another. Some of my favorites include:
-100 Biblical Tips To Help You Live A More Peaceful and Prosperous Life
-Crime and Community in Biblical Perspective
-God’s Creatures: A Biblical View of Animals 
-Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics-Biblical Psychology  
-Biblical Strategies for Financial Freedom
-Biblical Economics: A  Commonsense Guide to Our Daily Bread
-Biblical Principles of Sex
-The Big M – A Biblical view of masturbation
-The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image 
-The Complete Husband: A Practical Guide to Biblical Husbanding 
-Holding Hands, Holding Hearts: Recovering a Biblical View of Christian Dating
– Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

In Evolving in Monkey Town, I write about how, when we talk about “biblical economics,” “biblical politics,” and “biblical womanhood,” we’re essentially “using the Bible as a weapon disguised as an adjective.”

It seems to me that the ease and carelessness with which many Christians employ the word “biblical” is one of the biggest barriers in the way of learning to love the Bible for what is, not what we want it to be. At the heart of a prescriptive use of the word “biblical” is a desire to simplify—to reduce the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone, to turn a complicated and at times troubling holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto.