How To Avoid Biblicism

The basic question at stake is, “What makes a doctrine biblical?” That question is of course important to Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike, but it is particularly important for us Protestants, affirming as we do sola scriptura. What I would like to do here is articulate an appropriate theological method that is faithful to sola scriptura in a robustly theological and historical manner (which, by the way, is how the Reformers originally articulated the idea). In contrast to a stark biblicism that sees theology as essentially an individual project whereby the reader exegetes a handful of passages and then makes theological conclusions, this method is, I think, more careful to understand that theology is not autonomous, it is not presupposition-less, it is not a-historical, it is not merely a matter of proof-texting or collecting a handful of texts, and it is not unmoored from other Christians reflectionthroughout space and time.

Matt Emerson

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  1. Whilst the study of Historical Theology is important, the best way to “articulate an
    appropriate theological method that is faithful to sola scriptura” is to make sure that
    that theological method is in agreement with the analogy of faith rather than by
    scripture & tradition, we are not romanists, the historical testimony of uninspired
    history or “Christians reflection throughout space and time”, whilst worthy of study,
    is in itself subject to Scripture!

  2. Are we all sure that Emerson’s definition of “biblicism” is correct? I am not sure.

    I’ve started re-reading Calvin’s _Institutes_for the umpteenth time, and his theological method seems to be what lots of people would call “biblicist”; at least in the sense that Calvin is willing to let the Scriptures stand in judgment over the whole of theology and church tradition.

    • And would not Luther have been seen as a Biblicist at the time? And can we honestly say that Karlstadt’s credobaptist tendencies (on which he, admittedly, wavered), coupled with his thoroughgoing antisacerdotal approach, made him a Biblicist, whereas Luther was not? And what about Bucer’s Church within a Church? Was that Biblicist?

      • 1.Read RRC. There’s a full discussion of biblicism.

        2. Luther did not appeal to Scripture apart from the church, creeds, & other voices.

        3. Bucer’s theory anticipated pietism (about which see RRC).

    • “And would not Luther have been seen as a Biblicist at the time?” I would say
      no John, as Luther was relaying a Foundational Doctrine which was lost or
      neglected by the Visible professing Church ie: Justification by Faith, laying
      Matt’s definition of stark biblicism to on side, the root of the problem with
      biblicism is its laying undue stress on literalism in exegesis on one hand whilst
      at the same time thumbing its nose at good & necessary consequence when
      interpreting a Bible verse

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