A New Book Caricatures the Bible’s Place in Colonial American Politics https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/2017/04/a-new-book-caricatures-the-bibles-place-in-colonial-american-politics/

April 7, 2017 | Glenn Moots

While finding much to learn from in Mark Noll’s In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783—the first volume of a projected trilogy—Glenn Moots argues that it is clouded by the author’s narrow view of how Scripture ought to be used:

In the Beginning Was the Word is Noll’s own implicit sermon against what he considers misappropriation of Scripture. But his sermon is flawed—most notably by his belief in Puritan exceptionalism, and by his imprecise dichotomy of the “Bible” opposed by “the Enlightenment.” His presumption of a stark change in New England and the middle colonies, wherein leaders “had self-consciously tried to shape politics and social life with explicit biblical precepts” but were later seduced by political opinions “sanctioned by biblical references and allusions,” is questionable. Noll calls this earlier self-conscious shaping “biblicism” or “Bible fixation.” Those touched by this “fixation” attempted to derive their social thinking entirely from the Bible. Noll categorizes the Protestant Reformers, the Puritans, and then the revivalists of the Great Awakening as exemplary biblicists. . . .

Noll’s ideal biblicist not only has to reason from the Bible, he has to do it exclusive of other arguments—especially secular arguments. No amount of citation, interpretation, or exegesis suffices if Noll judges its use insincere. Noll wants his biblicists to read the Bible (1) uncritically as Christian believers and (2) never simply as history, philosophy, or political theory and without proper commitment to its status as salvific revelation. Noll insists that a true biblicist must focus only on “the eternal consequences of sin, the wrath of God at human sinfulness, the power of God in redirecting the human will, the necessity of Christ as mediator.”

By insisting that social appropriation of the Bible must be rooted in some kind of Christian piety or orthodoxy, Noll implicitly rules out other promising avenues for understanding the Bible’s role in political thought (e.g., the political Hebraism advanced by Eric Nelson or Yoram Hazony). In developing such a simplistic caricature of biblical thinking about politics, Noll imagines a mode of biblical interpretation that actual American practice—colonial or otherwise—does not recognize.

Read more on First Things: https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2017/03/the-bible-and-colonial-america