Tag Archives: christian smith

How I View Christ & the Scriptures

I’ve recently been in conversations over many different theological and interpretive issues pertaining to the Bible. In discussing my interpretations with family, friends, students, and readers of my blog, the nature and authority of the Scriptures are always brought up.

While I’ve actually been asked several times, “Do you believe that the Bible is God’s Word?”, it’s usually just insinuated in their response to being challenged on the way they’ve always read or been taught the Scriptures.

I think this happens for one or more reasons: (1) the Scriptures are rightfully regarded as authoritative among Christians; (2) I’m challenging their interpretation which they mistake for disbelief in the Bible; (3) they simply do not understand my position; (4) they are entirely closed off to learning and they prefer to shut the conversation down by underhandedly claiming I don’t believe the Bible. This is also done by claiming the Holy Spirit guided their interpretation. So, of course they must be correct, making me wrong.

Therefore, in light of these recent conversations, and because it’s long overdue, I will briefly lay out my view of Christ and the Scriptures.

Biblical Inspiration

The Bible (Old & New Testaments) is the inspired, infallible word of God (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). I believe that the Scriptures are trustworthy in conveying God’s progressive revelation through the history of Israel, culminating in the life of Jesus of Nazareth—who is the exact representation of God in the fullness of divine, incarnational revelation (Matt 16:16, 21:33-40; Jn 1:1-14, 5:39, 8:58, 10:33, 14:9; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:3).

Inspiration testifies to the Spirit’s activity in the lives of the prophets and apostles who penned what in time became celebrated as sacred Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21). The testimony handed down to us in the text is reliable in its transmission, and it is trustworthy in what it intends to communicate to the ancient and modern reader about God in Christ.

I believe that saying the Bible is “inspired” (God-breathed) refers to the Spirit-revealed truth in the original, ancient context and literary genres.

It does not mean that all of the Bible should be read literally, or that your or my own interpretation is the one that’s inspired.

Therefore, interpretation requires a responsible handling of the biblical text, “rightly dividing” it in Christian community. This should be done in a spirit of grace and humility. As the church, we must recognize the difference between the inspired Scriptures and our interpretations.

Christocentric Hermeneutic

I believe Scripture should be read using a Christocentric hermeneutic (interpretation). This means that Christ is not only the center of the salvific story told in the Scriptures, but that all Hebrew perceptions of God in the OT should be understood in light of Christ, the final self-revelation of God.

To affirm that the OT is inspired isn’t to say that the Hebrews saw God in his fullness, or that all portions of Scripture are equally authoritative (e.g. Canaanite genocide, imprecatory psalms, nationalism, levitical laws, etc.).

All Scripture is subordinate to Christ. He is the reality of the OT shadows (Col 2:17). Jesus sorts out all misconceptions of God in the OT.

As Greg Boyd stated in my 3-part interview with him last year…

“The cross reveals what God is truly like and thus what God has always been like.” 

Wherever OT portraits of Yahweh do not look like Christ, I see God making significant concessions, taking the sins of Israel upon himself, and accommodating himself to their limited vision and partial revelation.

I think this fresh understanding of inspiration is found in a true Christocentric or “cruciformed” interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.

And I think this should be embraced by all Christians who affirm that Jesus is the full and final revelation of God. But instead there seems to be a bewildering confusion on this that actually makes what I’ve stated above sound dangerous, even heretical to some folks.

“Reading Scripture through a christological and theographical lens is more radical a move than we might think at first blush. In our observation, it’s rarely practiced today—even among those who claim to uphold the centrality of Christ. It’s one thing to profess to read the Scripture christologically or to agree with in principle. But it’s quite another to actually practice it.”  Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola, Jesus: A Theography, pg. xviii

How does it happen that so many in the church have failed to accept Jesus as central and supreme over the OT portraits of God?

I’m convinced that it has a great deal to do with how many Christians have learned to compartmentalize the life and teachings of Jesus, and reduced the Gospel to a “sinners prayer” salvation.

For some people, Jesus mostly said what he did for the next life, and lived the way he did to get crucified for our sins. Therefore, the incarnation as a way of setting the record straight about what God is like is lost in the midst of proof-texts and meshing the Old and New Testaments together.

It seems to have begun around the 4th century when Constantine merged the church and state. Christians began picking up the sword and justifying it in the name of the OT. Slowly but surely the church learned to ignore the negative contrast of God in the OT seen through the lens of Christ.

When this happens Jesus can be used as the cheerleader for the “Christian” state, and any other agenda that needs “biblical” justification. This method of using the OT to support anti-Christ agendas is still practiced today.

So, not only does this ignore the conflict, but in disregarding that Christ stands above the OT portraits of God, a person is short-changing, even diminishing, the cosmic importance of the incarnation.

That’s no small matter.

In other words, this implies that there is something about God that Christ doesn’t reveal to us. This seems to me to be the real threat to the inspiration of progressive revelation summed up in Christ, God in the flesh.

You may remember that Marcion (c.85-c.160AD) was excommunicated as a heretic because the way in which he dealt with the OT. Marcion went so far to say that the god of the OT was not the Father of Jesus, but a lesser deity.

While I grant that Marcion was a gnostic heretic, and wrong for the way he handled the Scriptures, he was right to acknowledge the conflicting portraits of God in the OT with Christ in the Gospels.

Therefore, I’m convinced that the Old and New Testaments cannot be fully reconciled without using a radical Christocentric hermeneutic.

The Word Made Flesh

The highest view of the Scriptures is not the one that seeks to make an idol of the Bible (biblicism), but the one that allows the biblical text to exalt Christ as the living Word over all creation. The Word became flesh, not ink.

“God’s truest, highest, most important, most authoritative, and most compelling self-revelation is the God/Man Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ—and not the Bible—who is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). It was in Jesus Christ that “God was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell” (Col. 1:19).” Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, pg. 117.

I believe it’s important to let the Scripture be Scripture, and let Christ be Christ. That is to say that we should view the Scripture as a sign-post and a pointer to the eternal Word of God, Messiah Jesus (John 5:39). He is the true Word of God, living and active (John 1:1-14; Heb 4:12). He is not bound by the written text or dependent upon any view of inspiration.

It is because Christ is revealed in the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation that I believe in the inspiration of the Bible. And this reminds me, and I hope you as well, that our confession and obedience to Jesus as the Word is the true arbiter of faithfulness. There is nothing else.

As the apostle Paul has written, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil 3:8).

May we be found in Christ and get all of our life from him, not from our differences of opinion on theology, our varying interpretations, or our nuanced views of biblical inspiration.  

For it is Christ above all things, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2-3).

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Suggested Reading:


Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book Five

Christian Smith (PhD, Harvard University) is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. He is the award-winning author or coauthor of numerous books, including What is a Person? Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good From the Person Up and Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.

While Smith is no biblical scholar or theologian, he is a gifted writer whose insights into the church are helping to reveal one of the greatest challenges facing 21st century evangelicalism.

That’s why I believe there is no better book to recommend as we complete this series of five books than Smith’s most recent work, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (2011).

Smith believes that American evangelicals are suffering from what he calls “biblicism.” This commitment to biblicism has led to what he calls, “pervasive interpretive pluralism.” Evangelicals are often guilty of misusing the Bible, even idolizing the Bible and their interpretations, and judging other Christians against their “plain” and “self-evident” readings of an ancient text. Therefore, leaving little to no room for unity among the Body of Christ.

By “biblicism” I mean a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal application. Different communities within American evangelicalism emphasize various combinations of these points differently. But all together they form a constellation of assumptions and beliefs that define a particular theory and practice (p.4).

Smith doesn’t question the inspiration of Scripture, though he does call for a redefining and understanding of what “God-breathed” really means. Instead, Smith claims that the current theory and practice of biblicism is “misguided and impossible” to maintain. Smith says, “It does not and cannot live up to its own claims.”

Smith believes evangelicals have made all sorts of dangerous assumptions about the Bible’s nature, purpose, and function. He unpacks these assumptions and gives ample evidence of how evangelicals prove, by their endless divisions and factions, there is no consensus on what the Bible teaches about many issues.

Regardless of the actual Bible that God has given his church, Biblicists want a Bible that is different. They want a Bible that answers all their questions, that tells them how to have marital intimacy, that gives principles for economics and medicine and science and cooking—and does so inerrantly. They essentially demand—in God’s name, yet actually based on a faulty modern philosophy of language and knowledge—a sacred text that will make them certain and secure, even though that is not actually the kind of text that God gave (p.128).

He says, “Christians remain deeply divided on most issues, often with intense fervor and sometimes hostility toward one another.” If biblicists were correct in their assumptions about the Bible, then there ought to be a solid consensus on what it teaches, especially on the most important matters. But there isn’t, and there never will be.

What then is a truly evangelical reading of Scripture?

It means living with Scriptural ambiguities. It means dropping the compulsion to harmonize everything. It means being able to distinguish the difference between dogma, doctrine, and opinion. It means extending the right hand of fellowship toward all believers. It looks like a more inclusive study of Christian traditions and historical interpretations.

And it means moving beyond the biblical text onto Christ himself—the Word made flesh.

Smith says this would help to create an atmosphere where Christians could address disagreements in love and grace, “perhaps toward overcoming pervasive interpretive pluralism.”

If the early church lived without “the Bible” for nearly four hundred years, surely 21st century evangelicals can stop to consider “the role of the church, the Holy Spirit, and the “rule of faith” in the function of scriptural authority for Christians.”

Finally, Smith calls for a “Christocentric” hermeneutic. There is no way to hold to biblicism when the function of Scripture is soley to exalt the living Christ who can be known in the church today.

Perhaps, if and once people have really grasped the good news of Jesus Christ—what really matters, in light of which anything else must make sense—God is happy to let his people work their lives out in different forms of church government and using different modes of baptism, for example. Perhaps some diversity in such matters is okay. And perhaps God has not interest in providing to us all of the specific information people so often desire about the “end times,” divine foreknowledge, and the destiny of the unevangelized. Further, perhaps God wants us to figure out how Christians should think well about things like war, wealth, and sanctification, by thinking christologically about them, more than by simply piecing together this and that verse of scripture into an allegedly coherent puzzle picture (p.112).

The Bible Made Impossible will challenge you on many levels. I encourage you to consider what Smith has written about the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism and the biblicists abuse and misuse of Scripture. And hear his evangelical alternative to a biblicist reading of the Bible.

If evangelicalism is going to take a step closer to the heart of God in Christ, we must deal with the division over the Bible that is ripping the church apart, and confusing a lost world. There is a better way.

Thanks for reading!

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Attention: If you have followed this series, please remember to leave a comment letting me know that you have shared each post via social networking or your blog over this past summer. I will enter your name in a drawing for one of the five books, and I will announce the winner on Monday in the comment section below. Thanks!

Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Intro

In every generation there are books whose author seeks to give correctives to popular thinking, and offer up a new vision for the future of the church. In order to do this successfully, I believe that authors must “return to the roots” of Christian faith and practice—helping his audience to see the wisdom of the past in context, in order to discover hope for the future.

Contextualizing the New Testament—making it applicable to our own day by first understanding it in the biblical context—is absolutely essential in every season and situation of the church. As Bob Dylan has sung, “the times they are a-changing.” And we must learn to read the Scriptures afresh if we want to discern together what it means to be Christ in community.

In my experience, American evangelicals are largely unable to contextualize, unaware of Christian history, and ignorant of the broad spectrum of theology that has been appreciated by the church down through the years. There are many reasons for this, which I will not go into in this series of posts. But I think it is necessary to ask that you agree with me that this is indeed the case before you can fully benefit from reading this series.

If you agree, or you are just curious, please keep reading.

In this series of posts, I would like to share five books with you that I believe are timely to American evangelicalism. The authors of these books come from a variety of backgrounds within evangelicalism. In case you have been disconnected, or just haven’t heard, I want to bring these books to your attention and try to convince you to read them (or buy the audio book and listen) at your convenience.

Look, I know that you are busy. I also know that reading may not be your thing. If that is the case, then I recommend reading with a partner or a small group. Set a goal and be intentional about it. Whatever it takes to digest the messages in these books. It will be well worth your time.

You might be passionately wrapped up in a specific issue right now (e.g. social justice, parenting, church planting, evangelism, etc.). I humbly suggest that you can still follow your passions and make room for these books.

If you are apart of an evangelical church, the messages set forth by these authors are critical for our time. I believe they will all in some way contribute to your spiritual journey, helping to fine-tune your own calling.

All of the books that I will share with you are very readable. Each book less than 200 pages! They are all written wonderfully well at the popular level. Some of the authors are biblical scholars, pastors, itinerant speakers, and one is a church planter and personal friend.

The books will address issues pertaining to: (1) Theology; (2) the Gospel; (3) the Bible; (4) Christology; and (5) Faith and Politics.

There are many provocative authors and books that touch on other important issues that will not be included in the list of forthcoming books. Nevertheless, I do believe that the books I have selected will go to the heart of our present situation, and the implications of those messages will spill over into everything else.

Finally, there will be a drawing for a book giveaway (one of the five books of your choice) for the person who follows the entire series and shares each post on facebook or twitter. Make sure we are friends on those networks.

Let me know that you have posted each link and that you want to be entered into the drawing for a free book! You can do this by giving me a link and a personal note in the comment section at the end of this series.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Read the next post: Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book One

An Interview with Christian Smith on “The Bible Made Impossible”

For those of you who have been faithful followers of my blog, I wanted to let you know that I’m finishing up a grad degree this coming May. Most of my more recent posts have been longer additions in the form of academic papers. You can find them by clicking on the “Essays” tab. (I still have a couple more papers coming!) In the future, I’ll be archiving other posts.

Beginning this summer I plan on writing shorter blog posts a few times a month. I’m a busy guy, as I’m sure you can relate. I don’t want to be pumping out stuff daily or even weekly if I don’t feel like I have something to share that is worth my time and yours. I’m not doing this for blog ratings. I could be acting on the “strategery” (to borrow a term from George W. Bush) of the big time bloggers, but I don’t want to overwhelm you or myself. So, for now, if you’re looking for a few good posts a month, please consider subscribing to the blog by e-mail.

I like to reserve my blog for meaty stuff and edifying discussion. I like to use Facebook for everything else. So, I’ll begin posting more regularly in the coming weeks. I would like to begin sharing more frequently on issues that are especially timely and relevant to both the academy and the church. Have you read about the purpose of my blog? I will continue posting book reviews, sharing about my personal journey, and stirring up some good conversation as we all stumble forward in Christ together.

In the meantime, my good friend Frank Viola recently did an interview with Christian Smith, author of “The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture.” The title of Smith’s book is provocative enough! I own the book, and will be reading it soon. I may even review it here on the blog. I encourage you to check out the interview at Frank’s blog, “Beyond Evangelical.” And tell him I said “Hellooooo!” He likes that.

Read the complete interview with Christian Smith on “The Bible Made Impossible.”

%d bloggers like this: