Why I Am Not A Biblicist

In the words of Dr. James Renihan:

What is Biblicism?

D.B. Riker provides a helpful definition: “biblicism is the rejection of everything not explicitly stated in the Bible, and the concomitant dismissal of all non-biblical witnesses (Fathers, Creeds, Medieval Doctors, Councils, etc.)”

What are the results? Effectively, they are idiosyncratic interpretations of Scripture. The strange reality of all of these attempts to interact with the pure Word of God is that when the results are compared and contrasted, you almost never get the same conclusions. There is an unending stream of doctrines promoted under this rubric: the Jehovah’s Witnesses use it to deny the deity of Christ (following the same method as Arius long ago), the Campellites use it to teach their form of baptismal regeneration. Heretics have always employed this message. More sober men likewise use it, and produce strange results. Someone, somewhere studies Scripture, draws out a system of doctrine, and teaches it to others. A new movement begins. But sadly, personal interpretation almost always ends in conclusions different from everyone else. Yet, the product is claimed as the teaching of the Word of God. And in reality, though it may be startling to say so, these are basically new revelations. Since the claim is made that the doctrines taught are those of Scripture, they must be equated with Scripture. It is impossible to separate one from the other.

…But here is the problem: This whole method is based upon a form of personal independence, or even self-confidence. Doesn’t it ever cross anyone’s mind that they aren’t necessarily the wisest theologian, the best exegete and most insightful commentator? Don’t they stop to think about God and His purposes? Has the Lord chosen me to know truth that has been hidden from others? Such self-confidence is really arrogance-unbridled and oftentimes evil. It misleads self and others. Is the Christian faith reduced to my conclusions? What right do I have, alone and unaided to think that my reading and study perfectly meshes with the mind of God? Jesus and me with a Bible under a tree-perhaps a romantic notion, but a dangerous and potentially damning notion.*

*Richard Barcellos (ed.), The Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastors’ Conference Papers (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2013), 114-115,119.

About lalvin1517

I'm married with two children and pastor McCall Baptist Church in McCall, Idaho.
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10 Responses to Why I Am Not A Biblicist

  1. Pingback: Why I Am Not A Biblicist - Christian Forums

  2. Pingback: Why I Am Not A Biblicist – Dr. James Renihan | The Confessing Baptist

  3. Hugh McCann says:

    Sounds less like biblicism and more like bibliolatry.
    But then, it’s not really that either, since it’s actually a perversion of Scripture (not an inordinate exaltation of it), and a hatred of its truths.
    Of course, the too-vaunted “Fathers, [most] Creeds, Medieval Doctors, Councils, etc.” are no more reliable than Charlie ‘The Taser’ Russell or Campbellitic eisegesis.

  4. Is there more of this article where Renihan maintains the importance of private personal Bible study?

  5. Bob Gonzales says:

    I’m in general agreement with Dr Renihan’s article. The Holy Spirit has been at work through the centuries illuminating the church, and the church, as a result, has grown in its knowledge of Scripture. We today should not, therefore, ignore the wisdom of our forefathers and attempt to interpret everything in the Bible from scratch.

    At the same time, I think there’s an opposite danger of elevating one’s favorite ecclesiastical tradition to the level of Scripture. This can and has happened in some Reformed circles (see my “Subtle Traditionalism“). The result is a tendency to insist all interpretations today must conform to those of, say, the 16th or 17th century. Ironically, this view, like the biblicism above, tends to downplay or ignore the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work of illumination. The only difference is that the former (biblicism) limits illumination to the present while the latter (Reformed traditionalism) limits it to the period of the Reformation or Puritan era.

    I think a more balanced and biblical approach–indeed, more Reformed and Confessional (!) — is “Something Close to Biblicism,” which affirms in doctrine and practice the doctrine of sola Scriptura, keeps creeds and confessions in their proper place (as subordinate standards), and avoids ecclesiastical traditionalism.

  6. Jeremy Boyce says:

    I’m no theologian but I know enough scripture and have seen enough back-and-forth to realize that there is a tension involved in the reverence of scripture. Doesn’t 2 Cor 3 tell us that the letter is not (nor ever will be) the ultimate expression? Doesn’t that tell us that whatever is written (as we are told “for our benefit”) is likewise limited in its application for rigorous systematization? Men like to set up systems – for some good reasons. It simplifies and attempts to remove the influence of fallible man. We can see its failures in politics and blame man’s nature and his freedom to do his own thing as the cause. But why, when we look at scripture, do we expect that same man to automatically line up perfectly with the written account of God’s Word? Do all believers all of a sudden read everything the same way (even if they don’t think the same way)? Systematization is an attempt to strip private interpretation from the letter. And that can’t be done by men. Inevitably, some bias is injected (or even read in). God Himself is the only “objective” standard – and once men handle the Word, it risks losing its sharp edge (Hebrews 4:12).

    But then maybe that’s what Dr. Renihan is trying to say…

  7. Reblogged this on Regeneration, Repentance and Reformation and commented:
    I have seen the results, and if I may say, I have experienced the bitter results of unbridled “biblicism.” Biblicism characterized by an over-emphasized text here, a twisted passage there, a forgotten context… and presto… a new denomination is born!
    At times, I have seen these devoted and sincere people who, when perplexed by some obscure passage, may even receive “visions” or “revelations” introducing some new and novel interpretation to scripture. When questioned, they may assert that these visions have confirmed “lost truths”; truths that were recovered through the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit.
    As I have said, I am convinced that most biblicism is not committed by people who are intentionally trying to lead anyone astray. Instead, I believe that biblicism is most often committed by people ignorant of the proper principles of biblical interpretation (hermeneutic), and get carried away by the intoxication of their own excitement; a farmer who receives a “vision” on how to interpret the book of Revelation while walking through his cornfield, or a woman who is convinced that an angel has stood at her shoulder and pointed out books in her library with certain passages to copy to pass on to others.
    These people are undoubtedly religious people, sincere people who in the end, are still totally wrong.
    The worst part of it is, that as part of the process, these fervent souls have inevitably, in some way, changed the Gospel. Therefore, they are fearfully judged by that Gospel they have so ignorantly denigrated.
    Even if by some fortune of Providence, they were to actually discover or restore some “ancient path,” it would be like, if I may quote the book of Proverbs, “a fine gold ring in the snout of a pig.”

  8. Hugh McCann says:

    If one allows a different definition of the term than that of Riker/ Renihan/ Barcellos, then one can be a confessionalistic biblicist. In fact, one ought to be, biblically-speaking. This, by the Presbyterian John Frame (‘In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism…’), is helpful:

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