In my experience, evangelical Christianity seems enamoured with the belief that it is ‘biblical’ in ways that other groups are not. Generally, there is an implicit vitriol for Catholicism (as well as mainline Protestant groups such as the Episcopal Church and Presbyterian Church USA) which are seen as somehow not ‘biblical’. It is as if ‘the Bible’ is a static, unchanging document which can be understood fully without plumbing the depths of its roots, contexts, and history of transmission (to name but a few elements!). However, I have become fairly sceptical of such language because ‘biblical’ is almost always encoded and encapsulated with a pre-existing structure of beliefs. It’s amazing that ‘biblical’ in today’s context almost always means a brand of conservative American evangelicalism which believes women are ‘equal but different’ (meaning they can serve the congregation as, say, ‘children’s pastor’ or ‘worship leader’ but not as ‘pastor’), same-sex marriage is an ‘abomination’, and baptism must be done only to adult-ish converts fully immersed in water (and sometimes even with a specific language without which the baptism is somehow invalid). What many of those who purport a ‘biblical’ Christianity don’t realise is that it meant something completely different two hundred years ago (women couldn’t serve, full stop), four hundred years ago, and so forth. Eight hundred years ago, ‘biblical’ Christianity meant either western Catholicism or eastern Orthodoxy depending on where one lived.
So, let’s assume that ‘biblical’ Christianity means some kind of adherence to some ‘broad stroke’ concepts and/or principles which can be interpreted through some systematic approach to the biblical texts. Which approach? There are many; and throughout history, there are many different methods and interpretations which can be seen as plausible — some even contradictory or mutually exclusive. However, even if we take the bigger assumption that there is only one ‘ultimate’ set of principles (and all the others are classified in terms of acceptable deviations which is often none). Even within the Bible, that which is considered ‘scripture’ is frequently recontextualised for new meanings and interpretations. There is a slew of good scholarship (e.g. Brevard Childs’s The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture) which show how Christianity over two thousands years has recast just one of the biblical texts over time. Other scholarship has shown how, within the collection of biblical texts, intertextual relationships have modified or recontextualised older texts (e.g. Richard Hays’s Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul). I bring these up not to suggest that the biblical texts can be absolutely anything as in some sort of relativism, but rather there is a degree of give and play in the interpretation of those texts.
However, this wiggle room in the practise of interpretation is rendered mute by the evangelicals who speak about the ‘obviousness of scripture’. For them, not only is there a single interpretation to the text, but the current one must have always been the only interpretation (even when the history above shows otherwise). This also ignores the great amount of work which goes into producing a translation of the texts which render them in contemporary language. By ignoring this process, adherents to this practise construct an artificial ‘Bible’ through which their own beliefs and traditions are masked as being directly handed down by God, through Christ, the original disciples, and early Christianity.
Interestingly, the problem does not end there. Instead, many evangelicals who speak about ‘biblical’ Christianity include Judaism from its beginning through the Second Temple period. For some evangelicals, even the Jewish figures in the HB/OT were closet Christians who believed in Christ, a triune God, and so forth. However this is done only by exploiting the terminology of ‘Judeo-Christian’ and reading early Judaism as a thoroughly Christian venture which just happened to have been called Judaism. In other words, there is no double identity of Jewish-Christian to mediate in the early Church (e.g. the first disciples), but a single identity of Christianity made double through a virtual colonisation of Judaism. To put it bluntly, then, ‘biblical’ Christianity is nothing more than the same oppressive Christianity of history masquerading itself as some kind of new development which has recovered some imagined ‘golden era’ of the past which is no more ‘biblical’ than the other Christian groups which are cast as failing to be ‘biblical’.