Sunday, August 13, 2023

Once more on the word "biblicism"

What is "biblicism"? Matthew Barrett has found an early work from 1827 that uses the term "bibicism," probably the earliest known use of that word in the English language. Does this somehow imply that the word "biblicism" has that meaning used by its first author Sophei Finngan? If we go strictly by the "first use" principle, then certainly "biblicism" would have the same meaning as what Finngan meant by the use of that term. But should it?

When we examined Finngan's book (as found on Google Books), it can be easily seen that Finngan is an Irish Roman Catholic priest writing a polemical work primarily against the Protestants of England. "Biblicism" by Finngan is a wicked idolatry that uses the Bible wrongly and breaks the unity of the Roman Catholic church. In other words, Finngan's "biblicism" is a derogatory slur against the Protestant practice of Sola Scriptura. Finngan did indeed use the term to attack rank heretics like Spinoza whom he claims as springing from within Protestantism, but he does not see this as a wrong use of the Protestant interpretation of Scripture (as what Barrett and company wants to make it into), but rather as proof that atheism and all manner of heresies have their origin in Sola Scriptura.

Since, I hope, that supposed Protestant Great Tradition men want to insist that they hold to Sola Scriptura, Barrett's reliance on Finngan's use of the term "biblicism" is an own-goal. If one agrees with Barrett and Finngan, then the logical conclusion is to abandon Sola Scriptura altogether. This raises the important question whether Barrett actually checked the primary source here, as relying on anti-Protestant polemics to attack "biblicism" only serves to undermine the Reformation, even if Finngan had a valid point, which he did not. As with many polemics written in church history, reason and rational arguments are far from its pages, and the goal is to rile up the masses with mass accusations and guilt by association arguments.

Shoud we therefore consider that "biblicism" is a word that has many meanings then? Or is the term redeemable in some fashion? Dr. James White has been talking about the term "Reformed biblicism" as his way of approaching the Scriptures. The issue of word usage then is: Who gets to define the word? Or if there is none, should anyone be allowed to define the term in any way they wish? I would suggest not.

As I have mentioned time and again, I see church historian David Bebbington's usage of the word "biblicism" to be normative. Even with this current revelation that the word was used in the 19th century by a Roman Catholic priest, my position remains the same. Finngan had used the term, but few people caught onto the term as it was then used. What has caught on however is the Bebbington Quadrilateral, which remains an important element in the study of Evangelicalism. In other words, it is Bebbington's use of the term that is prevalent in the academy and the study of the history of Evangelicalism. The current bastardized use of the term by Great Tradition polemicists is a more recent invention, and one that plays off the established meaning of "biblicism" while eviscerating it of its historical meaning.

It is this more established use, a neutral historical use, of the word "biblicism" that makes me uncomfortable with Dr. White's attempted appropriation of the term in "Reformed biblicism." "Biblicism" has a certain use and meaning in the history of Evangelicalism. Unless Dr. White's hermeneutics is indeed similar to that of 19th century Evangelicals, he should not utilize that term of his hermeneutics. Dr. White does engage in systematic thinking, is not afraid of dealing with matters of church history, and holds to the historic creeds, so according to Bebbington's meaning of the term, Dr. White is not a biblicist.

For me therefore, it is the desire to be able to talk about Evangelical church history that drives me towards Bebbington's use of the word "biblicism." I have no desire to throw out an entire work of study on the history of Evangelicalism, just to appease recent doctrinal extremists. They are the ones who should stop their ignorant prattle, instead of spewing nonsense and creating their own sects.

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