Wandering away from “Biblical Christianity”
I recently read a comment on an ancient post on a blog I have never visited before, which critiqued the late Clark Pinnock for his Open Theism, suggesting that in this “he wandered away from Biblical Christianity”.
Thing is, though I am not an “open theist”, a pretty good biblical case can be made for a version of this doctrine – it relies on close exegesis, as many have now shown. I think, for example, of various comments in John Goldingay’s stellar theology of the OT volumes. In other words, I suspect that it is a version of biblicism which can lead to Open Theism.
Open Theism falters, I think, in not thinking theologically enough, in failing to consider its various proposals in terms of other doctrinal themes as these have been hammered out in both the scriptures, and in the reception of these scriptures. In other words, I suspect that in part Open Theism is a child of a myopic biblicist agenda, founded upon a certain (mis)construal of the notion of the perspicuity of scripture.
Of course, perhaps I am assuming too much, namely that the above critique of Pinnock understands the phrase “biblical Christianity” to be practically synonymous with “straightforward exegesis of what the bible says so that we know what to believe” – an approach to systematic theology propounded in many evangelical circles, for example by Wayne Grudem.
But certainly “biblical Christianity” does not have to mean this, and it could indicate at least
- a method of theology without excluding consideration of hermeneutics and tradition, to name two important factors
- a theoretical commitment to sola scriptura or even just prima scriptura
- that one’s theology is in accordance with the biblical witness and not simply the content of the theology of the Bible (I echo here Gerhard Ebeling’s point about the ambiguity of the phrase “biblical theology”)
Problem is, the simple phrase “biblical Christianity” does not clarify such matters, and indeed in popular parlance more often than not coheres with Grudem’s naive and misleading approach.
Which is why I will not use it.
For example, what does Michael Kruger mean, in his Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books, when he writes of certain “Critics of biblical Christianity”? This naturally implies the set “unbiblical Christianity”, but I am not sure what is won by this, especially when the meaning is not specified.
Hence, I suggest we take leave of unqualified uses of the phrase “biblical Christianity”. It only plays into the hand of naive and unreconstructed biblicism, which is the bane of so much popular Christian literature, ignoring as it does the role of doctrinal coherence, the development of the canon, trinitarian ontological reflection, and many more matters beside.
 he claims: “Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, 'What does the whole Bible teach us today?' about any given topic. This definition indicates that systematic theology involves collecting and understanding all the relevant passages in the Bible on various topics and then summarising their teaching clearly so that we know what to believe about each topic”. Ken Schenk is helpfully taking Grudem’s approach to task for this kind of nonsense, here.