The Bible Made Impossible
Biblicism, an approach to the Bible common among some American evangelicals, emphasizes together the Bible's exclusive authority, infallibility, clarity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability. Acclaimed sociologist Christian Smith argues that this approach is misguided and unable to live up to its own claims. If evangelical biblicism worked as its proponents say it should, there would not be the vast variety of interpretive differences that biblicists themselves reach when they actually read and interpret the Bible. Smith describes the assumptions, beliefs, and practices of evangelical biblicism and sets it in historical, sociological, and philosophical context. He explains why it is an impossible approach to the Bible as an authority and provides constructive alternative approaches to help evangelicals be more honest and faithful in reading the Bible. Far from challenging the inspiration and authority of Scripture, Smith critiques a particular rendering of it, encouraging evangelicals to seek a more responsible, coherent, and defensible approach to biblical authority.

The Bible Made Impossible Details

TitleThe Bible Made Impossible
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseAug 1st, 2011
PublisherBrazos Press
ISBN-139781587433030
Rating
GenreReligion, Theology, Nonfiction, Christianity, Christian, Faith, Sociology, Cultural, Spirituality, History

The Bible Made Impossible Review

  • David Shane
    January 1, 1970
    Let me say that I respect Christian Smith and have found some of his writings, particularly those on young Christians in America, quite valuable. And I wholeheartedly share his desire for Christian unity that is so clear in the pages of this book. Nonetheless, I found this book kind of a mess.The first part of the book discusses the problems of what Smith calls "Biblicism", which emphasizes the clarity, inerrancy, universal applicability and completeness of scripture. A few thoughts,1. I think h Let me say that I respect Christian Smith and have found some of his writings, particularly those on young Christians in America, quite valuable. And I wholeheartedly share his desire for Christian unity that is so clear in the pages of this book. Nonetheless, I found this book kind of a mess.The first part of the book discusses the problems of what Smith calls "Biblicism", which emphasizes the clarity, inerrancy, universal applicability and completeness of scripture. A few thoughts,1. I think he should have stuck to his main point, which is to argue that Biblicism must be wrong because of "pervasive interpretive pluralism" - that is, if the Bible is so clear, why do Christians disagree about so much? It's hard to deny that we disagree about a lot. But he throws in this "Subsidiary Problems with Biblicism" chapter that I thought exceedingly unfair - he raises lots of "how can Biblicists deal with this text?" questions that I felt not only had good answers, but also in many cases well-known and near-universal answers. Yet he gives his reader little clue that this might be the case.2. He talks a lot about multivocality - the idea that with any given text, a pastor could honestly and correctly gives lots of different sermons based on that text. The text can be read as teaching more than one thing, in other words. I agree that this is commonly the case, but I don't agree that this is a problem, unless the text can be used as evidence for *contradictory* teachings. But Smith seems to think any sort of multivocality is a problem for Biblicism. Now, it may be that, *as he has defined* Biblicism, he is correct - but if that's so, then perhaps there are simply far fewer Biblicists walking around than he thinks.3. Which brings me to my third complaint - I was never really sure whom he was talking about. He definitely gives the sense that most evangelicals are Biblicists, but then he attributes ideas to Biblicists that, I think, most evangelicals don't hold. For example, several times he implies that Biblicists think ALL matters in scripture are equally clear - that the Bible speaks as clearly about dating as it does about the Gospel, as clearly about predestination as it does about the divinity of Christ. Very few people indeed actually believe that, I think.We then get to his solution to this problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism - employing a Christocentric hermeneutic, making Christ and the Gospel the lens through which we read every passage from Genesis to Revelation. To that idea, I say:1. I think it excellent.2. I think it already quite common (Smith apparently does not).3. I don't think it would solve the pluralism problem (for proof, see #2).Why wouldn't it solve the pluralism problem? Because, as Smith himself acknowledges, the Gospel touches every aspect of our life. Therefore, while we certainly shouldn't look at the Bible as a book about dating, it may still have things to say about dating. Or church government. Or predestination. Pretty much *every* topic that divides Christians will still be discussed under a Christocentric hermeneutic.Smith later goes on to say that we ought to be more charitable toward Christians we disagree with, ought to do a better job understanding which beliefs are central to the Christian faith and which are not - and in that, I agree with him. But we don't need to, and shouldn't, abandon our beliefs about the clarity and applicability of scripture to reach that place of unity.
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  • Demetrius Rogers
    January 1, 1970
    Smith has some good things to say, but, in my opinion, his overall argument suffered terribly from straw-man examples and non-sequiturs. This book, more than anything else, seemed to me like the fruit from the author's journey from Evangelicalism into Catholicism. And yet it seemed odd that he wrote a book to advise Evangelicals when he no longer wants to be one himself. Smith was interesting to read and kept my attention throughout, but his work struck me as piecemeal and failed to persuade. Th Smith has some good things to say, but, in my opinion, his overall argument suffered terribly from straw-man examples and non-sequiturs. This book, more than anything else, seemed to me like the fruit from the author's journey from Evangelicalism into Catholicism. And yet it seemed odd that he wrote a book to advise Evangelicals when he no longer wants to be one himself. Smith was interesting to read and kept my attention throughout, but his work struck me as piecemeal and failed to persuade. The only reason I gave it 2 stars (and not 1) is because it was interesting to read.
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    This is an outstanding book, in which Christian Smith challenges "Biblicism" -- a constellation of common evangelical assumptions about the Bible. It's written to challenge those who approach the Bible as a inerrant handbook on all walks of life (science, economics, health, politics, romance, whatever). The author argues, quite convincingly, that the Biblicist outlook (including "exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and un This is an outstanding book, in which Christian Smith challenges "Biblicism" -- a constellation of common evangelical assumptions about the Bible. It's written to challenge those who approach the Bible as a inerrant handbook on all walks of life (science, economics, health, politics, romance, whatever). The author argues, quite convincingly, that the Biblicist outlook (including "exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability") is "not so much 'wrong' as it is impossible, even taken on its own terms. It simply does not work as proposed and cannot function in a coherent way". And for it to appear to work, evangelicals must engage in "various forms of textual selectivity, denial, and contortion -- which actually end up violating Biblicist intentions".Asking what is the Biblical view is on, say dating, indicates that the main point of the scriptures has been missed, and that the text is being forced into a form other than it was intended to be. Smith writes that the logic of Biblicism "tends to encourage Bible readers to search the scriptures to find whatever shreds of evidence and tidbits of possibly relevant information might be pieced together to come up with 'biblical' answers to their questions and problems. Then when others disagree, pervasive interpretive pluralism is born. In short, the church suffers from pervasive interpretive pluralism in part because too many people insist on the Bible giving clear and complete information, answers, and directions, which the Bible simply does not give". Smith goes on to identify how this causes most of the organizational and identify fragmentation in the modern church, as well as the common paradigm-protecting practices used to guard these sets of divisive beliefs.Smith considers himself a conservative Christian, and when accused of liberal theology, he writes "Slapping the 'liberal!' label on others is still a knee-jerk reaction of many evangelicals against any argument that one first glance does not seem identical to or more conservative than their own position. This tendency has much more to do with the sociological process of maintaining safe identity boundaries and avoiding truly challenging intellectual engagements than it does with sustaining Christian faith". While he steers clear of the inerrancy debate for the most part, he does hint at the complexity behind such a view, saying that any such defense of inerrancy dies the "death of a thousand qualifications".
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  • Bob
    January 1, 1970
    This has been something of a 'bombshell' book in evangelical Christian circles. That is because Christian Smith, a sociologist, takes on a question we tend to want to dodge. It is, "why is there such 'pervasive interpretive pluralism' if what evangelicals say they believe about the Bible is true?" Smith identifies the problem as "biblicism" which he defines as a theory of how to read the bible "evangelically" characterized by ten assumptions: 1)Divine Writing, 2) Total Representation, 3) Complet This has been something of a 'bombshell' book in evangelical Christian circles. That is because Christian Smith, a sociologist, takes on a question we tend to want to dodge. It is, "why is there such 'pervasive interpretive pluralism' if what evangelicals say they believe about the Bible is true?" Smith identifies the problem as "biblicism" which he defines as a theory of how to read the bible "evangelically" characterized by ten assumptions: 1)Divine Writing, 2) Total Representation, 3) Complete Coverage, 4) Democratic Perspicuity, 5) Commonsense Hermeneutics, 6) Sola Scriptura, 7) Internal Harmony, 8) Universal Applicability, 9) Inductive Method, 10) Handbook Model. For the sake of space I won't elaborate these. Smith argues that if these were workable assumptions for how we should read scripture, we would not have the pervasive interpretive pluralism that can be demonstrated by all the three-, four-, and five views books on the market. Smith argues that this theory fails to take into view the multivocity of scripture and in fact is not evangelical enough. Throughout, he contends that he is not abandoning the inspiration and authority of the scriptures and he speaks vigorously against liberal Christianity as an alternative.What then does he consider to be the alternative. While acknowledging his limits as someone writing who works outside the field of theology, he proposes that a Christocentric reading of scripture can help us, both in helping us distinguish what is central to the scriptures and for what we should be looking as we read them--how we approach this book. He points us to the fact that scripture is the narrative of God's redemptive work in the person of Christ and all of it points to him.There is much in this proposal I can affirm. In fact, I think the ideas of internal harmony and perspicuity rightly understood make sense when we understand that Christ is the melody around which all scripture harmonizes, that the message of Christ is the clear and simple thing that the workman and the intellectual can both find transforming. For that reason, I want to be careful in rejecting all that Smith associates with 'biblicism'. Inductive study, without the centrality of Christ can tend to lead to all sorts of moralistic applications but can also be a form of study that seeks to be attentive to the living Word as he is revealed in the written Word.I also think the humility of the mind of Christ should cause us to question when we deviate from the reading of scripture through the centuries or to arrogantly denounce the reading of others as flawed when it could be I who has the log in my eye. In some matters, like church government, we might even conclude that the matter has been left to human ingenuity so long as we choose spirit-filled people of character.I do think some of the reaction Smith provokes comes in his use of "biblicist" and "biblicism" to describe the objects of his critique. I suspect none of those who hold views similar to those Smith critiques see themselves in these terms, which seem pejorative. I'm not sure I know a better term but it may not have been the most helpful for gaining a hearing. What I do think Smith does is "name the elephant" and call us to stop pretending that our models of reading scripture are doing what they say they do. It may be neither the fault of the scripture nor the wrongness of our doctrine of scripture but rather the ways we have devised to read scripture in light of doctrine.
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  • Katharine
    January 1, 1970
    I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has grown up in evangelical culture and finds themselves rethinking what role the Bible should play in their life. I've found many criticisms of what the Bible shouldn't be in one's life, but there has been a vacuum of a positive solution as to what it should be. Smith tries to fill that vacuum, albeit incompletely.Smith describes biblicism as "a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, s I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has grown up in evangelical culture and finds themselves rethinking what role the Bible should play in their life. I've found many criticisms of what the Bible shouldn't be in one's life, but there has been a vacuum of a positive solution as to what it should be. Smith tries to fill that vacuum, albeit incompletely.Smith describes biblicism as "a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability." To me, the most compelling problem with biblicism that he points out is interpretative pluralism - meaning that well intentioned, well studied people use the Bible to justify very different conclusions on a topic. His alternative is to read the Bible through a christological lens. I'm still not sure I completely understand this, as it seems to be something I thought I did, yet I still found elements of biblicism present in my own view of the Bible. Anyway, it's a good read if you're struggling with these types of issues.
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  • Erika RS
    January 1, 1970
    (2/5 for presentation, 4/5 for the main point)There is a fine balance between supporting your point and belaboring it. In this book, Smith makes a very important case against what he calls biblicism, but nearly everything you need to get the core point can be found in the introduction and the conclusion. The rest of the book expands the points made there, but not in a way that enlightens. But the core insight of the book is one of those valuable "ah hah!" ideas that is worth pondering for anyone (2/5 for presentation, 4/5 for the main point)There is a fine balance between supporting your point and belaboring it. In this book, Smith makes a very important case against what he calls biblicism, but nearly everything you need to get the core point can be found in the introduction and the conclusion. The rest of the book expands the points made there, but not in a way that enlightens. But the core insight of the book is one of those valuable "ah hah!" ideas that is worth pondering for anyone who cares about how the Bible is read[1]. Rather than try to summarize the book, I'll link to a couple other reviews[2][3]. This quote from [3] nicely summarizes Smith's key point:"What is biblicism? Concisely, it is a theory (often unstated) about the nature, purpose, and function of the bible. Its ruling idea is that the meaning of the bible is clear and transparent to open-minded readers. The implication of this idea is that when people sit down to read the bible a broad consensus can be reached about the will of God for any number of issues or topics, from gender roles to the plan of salvation to social ethics to the end times to church organization."The first part of Smith's book is engaged in blowing up this idea. Empirically speaking, the bible does not produce consensus. Empirically speaking, what we find, to use Smith's phrase, is 'pervasive interpretive pluralism.' Even among biblicists themselves consensus cannot be reached. For example, Smith points us to books like the Four Views series from InterVarsity Press. Surf over to that link and look at the titles of the series. Four (and sometimes five!) views on just about every topic in Christianity. What does that say when conservative evangelicals, who hold that the bible is both clear and authoritative, can't agree?"Thus, Smith concludes that biblicism is a wrongheaded way of approaching the bible. Biblicism doesn't deliver on what it promises: consensus and clarity about 'the will of God.'"That really sums it up.[1] If you know me you might be saying, "Wait Erika, aren't you an atheist?" Yes I am, but I still care about how the Bible is read. First, how believers read the Bible impacts society and at large. Second, it's hard not to be interested in something when you spent a year intimately engaged with it (http://oneyearskeptic.blogspot.com/). [2] http://rachelheldevans.com/biblicism-... see the rest of the series about that book on Rachel's blog[3] http://experimentaltheology.blogspot....
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  • Steven Fouse
    January 1, 1970
    The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith is a fantastically uneven book that attempts to show the impossibility of biblicism and offer a more authentically evangelical approach to the Bible. Smith succeeds swimmingly at the first objective and fails disappointingly at the second.The Good: Smith destroys biblicism, as defined by 10 specific traits (p 4-5). While this first half of the book is not perfect, it is quite effective in its goal.The Bad: Smith's second half, attempting to offer an e The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith is a fantastically uneven book that attempts to show the impossibility of biblicism and offer a more authentically evangelical approach to the Bible. Smith succeeds swimmingly at the first objective and fails disappointingly at the second.The Good: Smith destroys biblicism, as defined by 10 specific traits (p 4-5). While this first half of the book is not perfect, it is quite effective in its goal.The Bad: Smith's second half, attempting to offer an evangelical option to biblicism, is wrought with fallacies (including the most obnoxious, the "no true Scotsman", and the most surprising, the strawman of "liberals" an "liberalism"). His approach is also prone to the same errors that make biblicism impossible, including yielding no agreement on what is essential to the faith.The Ugly: Smith avoids higher criticism, possibly to stay away from all things "liberal," but it is higher criticism that would save his argument and offer something substantial to those abandoning biblicism.This is my first encounter with Smith. He seems to be a dedicated scholar of Sociology, but his lack of background in biblical studies is evident here. The first half of the book is pretty good. Don't expect much help from the second half.
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  • K.D. Winchester
    January 1, 1970
    Book Three of the Cornelius Series | While I disagree with Smith's basic premise that the Bible isn't a manual for life, he points out serious problems with fundamental evangelical interpretations of scripture--we as faulty human beings bring a lot of baggage with us when we interpret the Bible.He argues, "Sometimes it seems as if believers--myself included--distract themselves with more obscure, speculative, and cryptic issues related to scripture precisely in order to avoid having to face and Book Three of the Cornelius Series | While I disagree with Smith's basic premise that the Bible isn't a manual for life, he points out serious problems with fundamental evangelical interpretations of scripture--we as faulty human beings bring a lot of baggage with us when we interpret the Bible.He argues, "Sometimes it seems as if believers--myself included--distract themselves with more obscure, speculative, and cryptic issues related to scripture precisely in order to avoid having to face and act on the parts that are very clear and directive. He has a valid point: we christians often spend our time sitting around arguing about insignificant details that are actually our opinions rather than confirmed-beyond-a-shadow-or-doubt truth. We would rather draw attention to how smart and "spiritual" we are than focus on our need to, first, love God and, second, to love others.While you need to have your roots firmly placed in the inerrancy of scripture before you read this book, Smith's rebuking arguments remind us to focus on Christ as the Savior and admit sometimes we just can't understand the "mysteries" Bible which are beyond our faulty human reasoning.
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  • D.N.
    January 1, 1970
    Skimmed. Not very good or engaging. The primary burden of this book is its desire to dress up what is essentially a conversion narrative in academic regalia. But the real pain and suffering in wading through it is that it lies to the reader, for this is no critique of "Biblicism" at all but rather a dislike and distaste for the Bible disguised as pseudo-scholarship that has been dispatched time and time again well into the last century. Smith has no appreciation for either the Bible or the depth Skimmed. Not very good or engaging. The primary burden of this book is its desire to dress up what is essentially a conversion narrative in academic regalia. But the real pain and suffering in wading through it is that it lies to the reader, for this is no critique of "Biblicism" at all but rather a dislike and distaste for the Bible disguised as pseudo-scholarship that has been dispatched time and time again well into the last century. Smith has no appreciation for either the Bible or the depth and breadth of traditional Protestant doctrine, and as a result this is a critical screed in search of an easy opponent. If you've done any work at all in Biblical studies, this territory has been covered well so often that your time is better spent on authors such as N.T. Wright (for example).
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  • Daniel
    January 1, 1970
    A challenging read, this book pushes those who love the gospel of Jesus Christ to consider how their love of the Bible can cause them to read the Bible like the Pharisees, instead of letting the Bible point them to the One it is really all about. It's a helpful challenge to stop reading for imperatives and "how to's" first, instead letting those flow from who Christ is revealed to be in Scripture. I especially appreciated the distinction between dogma, doctrine, and opinion (and the need to keep A challenging read, this book pushes those who love the gospel of Jesus Christ to consider how their love of the Bible can cause them to read the Bible like the Pharisees, instead of letting the Bible point them to the One it is really all about. It's a helpful challenge to stop reading for imperatives and "how to's" first, instead letting those flow from who Christ is revealed to be in Scripture. I especially appreciated the distinction between dogma, doctrine, and opinion (and the need to keep things from creeping out of their correct category) -- a distinction that could really help the Church in our day and age!
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  • Stephen Bedard
    January 1, 1970
    This was a frustrating book. I really did not like his description of biblicism and felt he was creating a straw man. Still he did pinpoint some problems with evangelical biblical interpretation. I also liked his Christ-centered approach. I almost didn't finish the book but there is enough good things in the second half that I am glad that I did finish the book.
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  • Josh Welker
    January 1, 1970
    This was quite a great read. Christian Smith's book has a very specific thesis that it articulates very well: that "biblicism" is both an intellectually dishonest and logically impossible way to approach interpreting the Bible. By "biblicism," Smith refers to a whole family of ideas regarding the Bible that are normally associated with conservative/fundamentalist evangelicals. Among them are the concepts of inerrancy, the Bible as a handbook for life, the Bible as a collection of facts and propo This was quite a great read. Christian Smith's book has a very specific thesis that it articulates very well: that "biblicism" is both an intellectually dishonest and logically impossible way to approach interpreting the Bible. By "biblicism," Smith refers to a whole family of ideas regarding the Bible that are normally associated with conservative/fundamentalist evangelicals. Among them are the concepts of inerrancy, the Bible as a handbook for life, the Bible as a collection of facts and propositions, the Bible as the ultimate authority for Christian faith, the Bible as the ultimate revelation of God, and the Bible as wholly and universally applicable to all times and situations.Smith's critique focuses primarily on "pervasive interpretive pluralism." He shows that in order for the tenets of biblicism to work, the Bible needs to speak in unity with one voice in a fairly self-evident and obvious way. The fact that so many sincere Christians throughout history have interpreted the Bible in such sharply different ways flies in the face of biblicism. Smith posits that most biblicists are implicitly aware of this and concede to non-biblicist positions when trying to rationalize their faith. One of Smith's big peeves is that while biblicists claim to have a high view of Scripture, the intellectual maneuvering required to maintain biblicism actually undermines the Bible. For example, most biblicists feel the need to "harmonize" conflicting stories, such as the multiple accounts, of the resurrection, Peter's denial, and the slaying of Goliath. In creating a harmonizing metanarrative that makes sense of all these stories, the biblicist effectively says that none of the actual texts of Scripture are correct.The multivocality of the Bible is a central theme in the book. Smith describes the books of the Bible and sometimes parts of the same book as saying conflicting things. A high view of Scripture, he argues, accepts the multivocality of Scripture and does not attempt to write it off through harmonizing gymnastics. If God in His wisdom gave us the Bible as an ambivalent, multivocal text, we should respect that and not try to make it what it is not. If the Bible is meant to be a definitive guide to all matters of life, science, and doctrine, then God did a horrendously bad job, Smith says. God would have done much better simply giving us a small bullet-point list.Much of Smith's criticism is actually a criticism of the foundationalist project that defined much of modern Christianity. Smith shows that most of the tenets of biblicism are vestiges of long-rejected approaches to epistemology and authority, in the tradition of Descartes and his ilk. While those positions have rightly been rejected, biblicism, which hinges upon them, still somehow persists.Smith spends the first part of the book delivering criticisms like this that show the untenability of biblicism. In the second half of the book, he puts forth an alternative model for understanding the place of Scripture. He calls it a Christocentric approach. The purpose of the Bible in Christian faith, he says, is to witness to Jesus, who is the ultimate revelation of God. The Bible is authoritative inasmuch that it testifies to the story and message of Jesus, but Jesus is the ultimate authority. He is God's Word, not the Bible. If the purpose of the Bible is to witness to Christ, then Christians need not fear the Bible's inconsistency and multivocality in other matters. The book was fantastic overall, but I had a few issues with it. I don't feel like Smith's critique went far enough. While his criticism of biblicism was excellent, Smith hardly discusses its implications for the meaning of biblical inspiration in general. I got the impression that he wants to leave room for a prophetic thus-sayeth-the-lord model of inspiration, which most other critics of biblicism find untenable (myself included). While he harps on the prevalence of multivocality in the Bible, he did not come to the natural conclusion that somehow multivocality diminishes the role of God in the process of inspiration.Smith tries his best to show that his approach remains faithful to a "high view of Scripture," but he does not discuss why a high view of Scripture is especially important for Christian faith. He alludes to the fact that Christianity flourished for several centuries without a canonized Bible, but he does not spell out what this means for the way we should view the Bible. Perhaps these criticisms are unfounded, though, because they are somewhat outside the scope of Smith's thesis: to show that biblicism is untenable. He does that extremely well. My hope is that all conservative Christians would be challenged by Smith's criticisms and respond in an intellectually honest way.
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  • Paul Bruggink
    January 1, 1970
    Dr. Christian Smith defines Biblicism as "a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability." He then gives ten assumptions or beliefs that commonly characterize the general biblicist outlook. This is followed by examples of biblicism in slogans and "Bible Answers for . . . " books. The first four chapters (87 pages) define and present evidence for "the B Dr. Christian Smith defines Biblicism as "a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability." He then gives ten assumptions or beliefs that commonly characterize the general biblicist outlook. This is followed by examples of biblicism in slogans and "Bible Answers for . . . " books. The first four chapters (87 pages) define and present evidence for "the Bible made impossible." The next three chapters and short conclusion (86 pages) offer suggestions for improving the situation.Dr. Smith then introduces the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism, wherein the Bible "says and teaches very different things about most significant topics." He then gives numerous examples: (1) the three, four and five views book series, (2) the two, three, or four alternative, Bible-based, evangelical views on each of 18 theological concerns that are each briefly discussed in Gregory Boyd & Paul Eddy's book "Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology," including inerrancy, providence, divine foreknowledge, Genesis, the image of God, salvation, sanctification, eternal security, the Lord's Supper, baptism, women in ministry, the millennium, hell, etc., (3) brief discussions in this book on pluralism in church polity, free will and predestination, the Fourth Commandment, the morality of slavery, gender differences and equality, wealth and poverty, war and nonviolence, charismatic gifts, atonement and justification, and God-honoring worship, (4) irreducible multivocal, polysemic (multiple meanings) and multivalent (many appeals or values) texts, (5) blatantly ignored teachings (four examples), (5) arbitrary determination of cultural relativism, and (6) strange passages.Although "[t]he primary purpose of the present book is to point out what appears to be a serious problem with Biblicism, not to elaborate complete solutions to that problem," Dr. Smith concludes that "there must be a better way to understand and read the Bible."In the second half of his book, Dr. Smith describes and discusses "a number of proposals for overcoming American evangelical biblicism," including (1) read Scripture Christocentrically, i.e., read everything in Scripture in relation to Jesus Christ, (2) keep in mind that not every belief is equally important, (3) consider the possibility that diversity of belief is okay, (4) learn to better distinguish between dogmas, doctrines, and opinions, (5) consider the possibility that God deals with us on a "need to know" basis, (6) don't insist on the Bible giving clear and complete information on every topic, (7) don't look at the Bible as a how-to handbook for living a Christian life ("deemphasizing of Bible passages as collections of complete and final teachings on every subject imaginable" ), (7) get more comfortable with "mystery" (there may be some things we will never know this side of heaven), (8) distinguish between what philosophers call locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts, and (9) consider the possibility of progressive revelation, suggesting that we would all be better off today if Christians realized that doctrine developed and changed over time from the beginning of Christianity. This approach is described in a three-page footnote because Dr. Smith did not want to actively suggest it in the text.Dr. Smith's conclusion is that biblicism is impossible and is intellectually and practically bankrupt. As a Christian layman with an interest in the subject of biblical inerrancy, I found Dr. Smith's book to be very thought-provoking. Despite some of the negative reviews in the blogosphere, I recommend this book for any Christian who has an interest in or concern about the subject of biblical inerrancy, regardless of whether or not you end up agreeing with Christian Smith's views. The book includes 32 pages of footnotes and an eight page index.
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  • Conor
    January 1, 1970
    While I did not grow up deep in the American Evangelical tradition, I imagine those who have would find this book a breath of fresh air in regards to what the bible is and how to read it well.Smith's critique of biblicism is essentially twofold: 1) a critique of modernism and how its epistemological precepts have become synonymous with American evangelicalism, and 2) what biblicists believe the bible is, is in fact not what the bible is. Smith is very open and upfront about what he's doing, arti While I did not grow up deep in the American Evangelical tradition, I imagine those who have would find this book a breath of fresh air in regards to what the bible is and how to read it well.Smith's critique of biblicism is essentially twofold: 1) a critique of modernism and how its epistemological precepts have become synonymous with American evangelicalism, and 2) what biblicists believe the bible is, is in fact not what the bible is. Smith is very open and upfront about what he's doing, articulating clearly that he is trying to show the impossibility of biblicism "as he describes it" (the twofold project I described above). I think he has successfully shown this. The "Christocentric Hermeneutic" he puts forth as an alternative to biblicism is good, faithful, and helpful. However, I worried at points his criticisms missed important nuances regarding certain understandings of Scripture. For instance, just because God speaks truth through Jesus, and this truth is mediated in Scripture, does not mean we will all agree about what Scripture is saying; true things always cause division amongst people. Think of the division Jesus caused! But I understand these points aren't really what Smith is going after, rather he's trying to show the impossibility of biblicism in general. Nonetheless, if one agrees with his conclusion, which I do, I would suggest further reading on things like the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS), further reading into language and interpretation, etc., to supplement and continue on to a richer, more faithful understanding of Scripture that Smith points towards.
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  • Jon
    January 1, 1970
    This is one of those kinds of books which is easy to react against. It's also easy to find a handful of holes in specific examples of argumentation. However, the general gist of the book is correct. How is biblicism used and abused in contemporary culture? How pervasive is this as a problem, considering if it is indeed problematic? One of the ways in which I respect Smith's approach throughout the book is to handle the problem of biblicism as a pervasive social phenomenon in contemporary America This is one of those kinds of books which is easy to react against. It's also easy to find a handful of holes in specific examples of argumentation. However, the general gist of the book is correct. How is biblicism used and abused in contemporary culture? How pervasive is this as a problem, considering if it is indeed problematic? One of the ways in which I respect Smith's approach throughout the book is to handle the problem of biblicism as a pervasive social phenomenon in contemporary American culture, not as a problem over "here" or "there" in this or that specific camp (let alone a specific camp throughout all the past ages). He covers a lot of ground in few pages while still portraying a very widespread and real dilemma in American culture. Is the pervasive interpretive pluralism among biblicists as "impossible" as Smith claims it to be? I think the answer is "yes," given the criteria he offers; however, because Smith doesn't cover every single camp of thought, that leaves room for certain biblicistic rhetoric and theories to be valued and discussed in separate, practical discussions about biblical authority, integrity, and application.
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  • Greg Williams
    January 1, 1970
    In this book, Christian Smith argues that the way conservative evangelical Christians often approach the Bible ("biblicism") is self-defeating and has resulted in vast disagreements and disunity within Christianity. These theological disagreements are not just over peripheral issues but also include foundational issues like salvation, atonement, Christology, etc. The result of this is that it is hard to identify much of anything that evangelical Christians share in common. Which explains why the In this book, Christian Smith argues that the way conservative evangelical Christians often approach the Bible ("biblicism") is self-defeating and has resulted in vast disagreements and disunity within Christianity. These theological disagreements are not just over peripheral issues but also include foundational issues like salvation, atonement, Christology, etc. The result of this is that it is hard to identify much of anything that evangelical Christians share in common. Which explains why there are so many different Protestant evangelical denominations and sects.The problem, according to the author, is that biblicism tries to make the Bible something that it is not. Biblicists (according to the author's definition) make several leaps from the premise that the Bible is inspired by God to one or more of the following ideas: * the human authors of the Bible were simply transcribing the exact words God told them to write * the Bible represents the totality of God's communication with humanity * the Bible tells us God's will for every situation we may find ourselves in * anyone can read the Bible in his own language and correctly understand the "plain meaning" of the text * on any given subject, all related Biblical passages fit together into a single unified consistent set of instructions * Biblical instructions to God's people at any point in history remain universally valid for all Christians at any other time unless explicitly revoked by subsequent Biblical teachingThe problem is that the Bible doesn't claim any of these things about itself. These leaps are the result of humans trying to make the Bible what they want it to be. One of the reasons that we do this is that we are uncomfortable with the ambiguity in the Bible and the inevitable subjectivity when interpreting it. So rather than trusting God and His Spirit to speak to us through the Bible we have, we force it into a mold that we are more comfortable with. The first half of the book focuses on describing biblicism and how it tries to force the Bible into its mold. The author focuses mostly on showing that the Bible in actuality is "multivocal". He writes: "the Bible is multivocal in its plausible interpretive possibilities: it can and does speak to different listeners in different voices that appear to say different things. . . . This makes scripture somewhat 'semantically indeterminate,' in that the exact meanings of its texts are underdetermined by the words of the texts themselves." He argues that this is not necessarily the result of subjectively reading our own presumptions into Scripture (though that does often happen). Instead, "the words of scripture themselves can and usually do give rise to more than one possible, arguably legitimate interpretation."The second half of the book offers some suggestions on how evangelicals can move away from biblicism to a truly evangelical approach to the Bible. The most helpful suggestion is to recognize that "the purpose, center, and interpretive key to scripture is Jesus Christ." Jesus Christ is "the true and final Word of God, in relation to whom the scripture is God's secondary, written word of witness and testimony." And again "Scripture is not worshiped. It is not in scripture that we place our hope. It is not on scripture that we stake our lives. All of that is reserved for Jesus Christ alone."I suspect this book will make many Christians uncomfortable, since it appears to argue against a popular understanding of what the Bible is. But, as a believer, I found this to be a valuable read. Christian Smith does a good job of documenting his arguments with copious footnotes. And he presents his suggestions in the second half of the book with humility. My biggest criticism of the book is that it often felt like the author was beating a dead horse, especially in the first half of the book. I understood where he was going after reading about a quarter of the book but he continued to pound on the same points over and over again from different angles. Perhaps he was trying to make sure the words of his book "overdetermined" the meaning he was trying to communicate :-)For me, the second half of the book was worth the price of admission. The chapter on a "Christocentric" approach to the Bible and the chapter on "Accepting Complexity and Ambiguity" are healthy reminders to any Christian on how best to read and interact with God's written word as it actually is. This book is written in an academic style, so it may not be accessible to everyone. If you are a Christian who is interested in the Bible and who can handle having your beliefs challenged without getting defensive, I recommend this one.
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  • Taylor Diehl
    January 1, 1970
    I was greatly encouraged to find an author, older and wiser than me, who had come to the same conclusions and frustrations that I have found myself in. This book was already exciting just for that reason. I will admit that the first half was pretty hard core, sometimes depressing, and there were moments when I feared where it was going. But, once I got to the second half of the book, I was relieved to find that he did not end in despair, but proposed ways that we might move forward. The picture I was greatly encouraged to find an author, older and wiser than me, who had come to the same conclusions and frustrations that I have found myself in. This book was already exciting just for that reason. I will admit that the first half was pretty hard core, sometimes depressing, and there were moments when I feared where it was going. But, once I got to the second half of the book, I was relieved to find that he did not end in despair, but proposed ways that we might move forward. The picture of a more unified Church that Smith paints near the end of this book keeps me hopeful that we might do better.
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  • Ashley
    January 1, 1970
    Christian Smith's goal in "The Bible Made Impossible" is that using a literal/Biblicist reading of the text of Scripture is illogical on its own terms. While many other authors have written many other books on this thesis before, Smith brings a unique perspective to the table. He defines Biblicism as distinct from "Sola Scriptura" doctrine and also points out that just because you oppose Biblicism does not mean you have to accept a liberal rendering. Thus, in Smith's world, one can believe in " Christian Smith's goal in "The Bible Made Impossible" is that using a literal/Biblicist reading of the text of Scripture is illogical on its own terms. While many other authors have written many other books on this thesis before, Smith brings a unique perspective to the table. He defines Biblicism as distinct from "Sola Scriptura" doctrine and also points out that just because you oppose Biblicism does not mean you have to accept a liberal rendering. Thus, in Smith's world, one can believe in "Sola Scriptura" and not accept liberal doctrine while still denying Biblicism. However, although Smith does explain that you do not have to be a liberal to reject Biblicism, he does appear to use a liberal paradigm himself. I personally have always felt more comfortable with a more liberal reading of Scripture, primarily because it seems more intellectually honest and seems to bring Scripture in more harmony both with itself and the world. For me, Smith's book was a breath of fresh air because I realized that many controversial parts of the Bible I have always struggled with is still up for debate, and not every decision that I ever make about my life should be answered by the Bible. I no longer have to do logical gymnastics in order to prove the conservative propoganda that many mainline denominations. I can still read Scripture and be a normal, fully functioning and logical human being. If you're a Christian who has not done any study in hermeneutics, this book might seem shocking at first. Smith points out that Scripture is not a handbook guide to how individuals should live their lives; and that we cannot always understand biblical text by reading them in their explicit and most literal sense. Smith argues that not every person who sits down to read the text of Scripture in their own language and pick up the correct meaning. Smith also says that not every commandment in Scripture remains universally valid for all Christians at every other time, unless explicitly revoked by subsequent scriptural teaching. Hermeneutics and the proper rendering of Scripture is probably one of the most foundational challanges of the Church today. So often we have used Scripture as a weapon to exploit and shame individuals and people groups unjustly. Anyone can walk into a Christian bookstore today and understand that our view of Scripture has been shaped by the marketing schemes of publishers that are making money off our ignorance. We see books published with the title of, "the Biblical cure for cancer"; "Biblical Principals for Operating a Business"; "Biblical Solutions to Handling Stress" and a boatload of other titles that promise consumers that if you buy this product, they will understand a "Biblical Worldview" better. Christians have also jumped on bandwagons like "The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" and other silly notions we have believed more out of cultural expectations that actual Scripture (because believe it or not, Scripture does not make a list of universal gender roles). Smith forced me to look in the face of a very startling truth: that most mainstream Christians are completely ignorant regarding the content and purpose of Scripture. Smith does a very good job of highlighting the purpose of what Scripture is and its function should be in our lives. We have to remember that Scripture contains a lot of confusing terms, concepts, images, genres, styles, contexts, narratives, purposes, statements, and arguments. Most average people cannot sit down with "A Tale of Two Cities" and enjoy it for its historical meaning and rich context until you seek to actually work hard and diligently at studying it. It's the exact same way at Scripture. Don't order a Bible and think because you've sat down and read a few verses that you know the entire narrative of Scripture. It takes a lot of work to "right divide" Scripture, and that is where hermeneutics comes in. One of my favorite part is when Smith highlights verses in the Bible that seem less clear and cannot be taken literally. For example, 1 Thess. 4:11 says that if a person will not work, they should not be allowed to eat. 1 Peter 2:18 says that slaves should submit to their masters (remember: we still have slavery today!). 1 Tim. 5:9 says that churches should not provide material help to widows who are younger than sixty years old. Lev. 19:28 makes us question whether Christians should be able to wear tattoos. Should Christians encourage the suffering and poor to drink beer and wine in order to forget their misery (see Prov. 31: 6-7)? Is everything meaningless (Eccles. 12:8)? Should Christians never call anyone on earth "Father" (see Matt 23:9)? Is homosexuality always a sin unworthy of the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10)? Are people who divorce their spouses and remarry always committing adultry (Luke 16:18)? No, contrary to what most Christians want you to believe, the Bible is not easy reading. Nor should Christians be required to take every verse in a literal and obvious rendering. If you want a clear and concise book on hermeneutics that leaves you more refreshed than when you started, I would highly recommend this book.
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  • Andy
    January 1, 1970
    In The Bible Made Impossible sociologist, Christian Smith, is attempting to show how "biblicism" is an "untenable" method for interpreting Scripture and a flawed view of biblical authority. He describes "biblicism" as a "constellation of related assumptions" about the Bible that pervades American evangelicalism. He admits that it is not a comprehensively formalized view that would be "subscribed to identically by all adherents," but again, describes it as a group of related, deep-seated assumpti In The Bible Made Impossible sociologist, Christian Smith, is attempting to show how "biblicism" is an "untenable" method for interpreting Scripture and a flawed view of biblical authority. He describes "biblicism" as a "constellation of related assumptions" about the Bible that pervades American evangelicalism. He admits that it is not a comprehensively formalized view that would be "subscribed to identically by all adherents," but again, describes it as a group of related, deep-seated assumptions that many evangelicals cling to at least in part. He outlines 10 specific assumptions that include, among others: inerrancy, a literal hermeneutic that involves reading the text for its face value in order to obtain its truest meaning, inductive study method as the best and clearest study method, and internal harmony in which all Bible passages fit together like "puzzle pieces." My own experience in American evangelicalism has shown that Smith's "constellation of assumptions" are accurate. As Smith explains biblicism throughout the book I could easily see how a number of church members, friends, and even myself at times have fallen into its trap. To put it bluntly, it's sloppy hermeneutics. Such poor readings of Scripture as biblicism leads Bible readers to faulty and inconsistent applications of the text. One of Smith's biggest beefs in the book is how often American evangelicals approach the Bible as a "handbook" or "manual" expecting it to provide a list for clean living. As he so carefully points out, we've simply got to read the Bible better than that. God did not provide us with a book of rules, but a complex library of books that should be read appropriately. (Ok, I'll get off my hobby horse now....)I particularly enjoyed Smith's discussion on why there are so many different theological readings of the same passages of Scripture, and why there are so many denominations and groups within evangelicalism. I know that I've felt disheartened by the division of the church on numerous occasions. A quotable sum of this discussion is on page 138: "The point is not that every particular Christian group and tradition needs to strip itself of all its distinctives. The point, rather, is in right humility to put those distinctives into proper theological and pastoral perspective, to not make any of them more theologically significant than they are, and to do everything possible to prevent them from serving as unnecessary obstacles to peace and unity."Smith, as a sociologist, writes on a subject outside his discipline. I think this affords him a unique viewpoint on the subject. He acknowledges this early on in the book and admits that some dyed-in-wool theologians will probably balk at this. That said, I think there's much to be gained from Smith's perspective. I enjoy reading theologians like Kevin Vanhoozer and New Testament scholars like Scot McKnight as much as anyone, but that doesn't mean that a sociologist might not also have something to say about biblical authority. I found his thoughts and examples from the world of sociology to be refreshing and challenging.Others have reviewed this book in more detail than I have here. I simply wanted to point out a few things I thought were particularly interesting. I don't know if I land exactly where Smith does in the end of the book, but I'm pretty close.I suspect that those with highly conservative theologies will be challenged the most by this book. Whenever you discuss the topic of "the authority of Scripture" with anyone it gets touchy. I've found that when folks wade into those waters it can often feels like they are filled with strong unseen currents. "Biblicism" is one of those currents, and Smith does a great job of outlining why it should be avoided. Recommended for any student in a biblical-theological discipline, and also for anyone who's ever asked questions like: "Am I really supposed to base my life off of old Jewish stories?" or "Doesn't the Bible contradict itself all the time?" or even still "How come my church pays lots of attentions to certain verses over others?" These are great questions and Smith will help you find the answers.
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  • Sverre
    January 1, 1970
    ==A noble vision in biblical reconciliation==Christian Smith has taken on the large task of attempting to convince evangelical fundamentalists to cease--or at least soften--their doctrinal prevalence of bibliolatry (Bible-worship), or, as Smith calls it, "biblicism" which means preaching the Bible's exclusive authority, infallibility, clarity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability. The most prominent example of such biblicism that Smith often r ==A noble vision in biblical reconciliation==Christian Smith has taken on the large task of attempting to convince evangelical fundamentalists to cease--or at least soften--their doctrinal prevalence of bibliolatry (Bible-worship), or, as Smith calls it, "biblicism" which means preaching the Bible's exclusive authority, infallibility, clarity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability. The most prominent example of such biblicism that Smith often refers to is the promotion of the Bible as a "how to" manual for every modern situation in morals, ethics, diet, relationships, marriage, sexuality, sickness/health, finances, business, education, politics, worship, etc, etc. Smith is blunt in his opinion that biblicism does not work and cannot be defended. He states: "The actual multivocality and polysemy of scripture simply cannot be disavowed without living in serious denial. To continue to insist on biblicism therefore is an act of intellectual dishonesty and practical incongruity." p 175 ["multivocality" meaning having many or different meanings of equal probability or validity; "polysemy" meaning having lexical ambiguity or doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention]Part 1 of the book is entitled "The Impossibility of Biblicism" and provides page after page of every factual and imaginable type of evangelical biblicism to the nth degree. Some would say that Smith overstates his case but others will recognize biblicism's pervasiveness. It is specifically an American phenomenon but does apply to some denominations worldwide. Part 2 is entitled "Toward a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture" and provides the author's suggested solutions to lessen biblicism's influence by educating Christians to evaluate and interpret scripture in a more spiritually honest and open way. Some would say that Smith is attempting to nail Jell-O to the wall but others may find his advice sincere and useful.Smith is totally committed to the revelatory veracity of the Bible and the orthodox Christian theology--specifically the dogmas of the Trinity and the Nicene Christology. He wishes to emphasizes the Christocentric nature of all scripture. He declares that Christians should accept the scriptures God has provided as they are without forcing them to be something which complies with divisive theories held as to what they SHOULD SAY. Although he is disdainful of theological liberalism he purports that the Bible should be taken for how it is relevant for present concerns. "Such a receptive approach is more likely to allow different Christians, through reading, discussing, and living the scriptures, to better live with some of the ambiguity about what the Bible seems to teach, to work to de-escalate rather than to reinforce pervasive interpretive pluralism." p 130 ["Pervasive interpretive pluralism" is the term used by Smith to identify the biblicist dynamic.]It is difficult to evaluate the merits of Smith's proposals and conclusions. They hinge greatly on spiritual inspiration which is highly individualistic and situational. This is a book for theologians and academics, authored by a sociologist. It is not an easy book for laymen to read and sort through. Its phraseology and terminology are inordinately scholarly, repetitive and rambling. Smith's conclusion is hopeful but sadly unrealistic given the fundamentalist mindset. The upper echelons of biblicism are going to tune him out or apply their well-rehearsed apologetic defences. A grassroots movement is what would be required to move Bible interpretation, understanding and tolerance in the direction advocated by Smith but this book will not be comprehensible to most rank and file Christians. However, Smith can be admired and praised for having shared his noble vision.
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  • Jacob McGill
    January 1, 1970
    I have high hopes for this book's impact on evangelical thinking. The critiques this book offers present much of my thinking since graduating from a highly reformed SBC school. As I have presented these ideas to others around me I have often been met with misunderstandings and people who think I am rejecting Christianity. Hopefully this book will bring some understanding to what neo-orthodox thinking about Scripture really is, and how it is not a re-working of classic liberalism. I think his cri I have high hopes for this book's impact on evangelical thinking. The critiques this book offers present much of my thinking since graduating from a highly reformed SBC school. As I have presented these ideas to others around me I have often been met with misunderstandings and people who think I am rejecting Christianity. Hopefully this book will bring some understanding to what neo-orthodox thinking about Scripture really is, and how it is not a re-working of classic liberalism. I think his critiques are valid, and his bringing the question to what the Bible actually is meant to be is insightful. I applaud him for wanting to reform the evangelical movement, but I myself have considered it a lost cause. It seems that divisions and slandering is built into the evangelical system. Hopefully this book will start the process of bringing about an ecumenical evangelicalism.He writing is very easy to read, and makes for a hard book to put down, but does get repetitive at times. I found this to be especially true of chapters 5 and 6. His proposal seems to be the weak part of the book, and perhaps this is where some specialists are needed more. Smith has opened the dialogue up for everyone to engage in now, not just the well educated who can sit down and read people like Vanhoozer. He combines 3 terms into one: Christological, Christocentric, and Christotelic.I think the book would have been much better and the discussion will be clearer if we speak more precisely with these terms. The proposal goes back and forth some on how we read Christ in the Bible, and I believe this to be caused by the lack of precision. Christological readings takes away the history of God's dealings with man. There is no need to understand God's covenant with Abraham and Israel or exile and redemption. It shortcuts the process of our understanding how the passage relates to Christ, and produces far-fetched/spiritualized interpretations. Christocentric readings seem to be somewhere in between Christological and Christotelic readings, I waver back and forth on how to really define this.Christotelic readings seem to get more at the reality. Paul definitely sees the importance of God's covenant with Abraham and the release from bondage: A cursory reading of Romans will prove the point. The details of the story are understood to point towards the climax, which is Christ. We must first do the groundwork of seeing how God is dealing with His people, and then relate this to Christ's redemption of the whole world. Christotelic readings seem to get at a better solution. We have a story of God redeeming his creation through the covenant with Abraham and Israel, with the goal (i.e. climax) being Christ. Christotelic readings preserve the history of Israel, while still allowing us to look at the bigger picture. I think this lack of nuance leads unhelpful readings of the Old Testament
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  • Brice Higginbotham
    January 1, 1970
    Strengths and Weaknesses of The Bible Made ImpossibleThe greatest strengths of The Bible Made Impossible come, unsurprisingly, from observations in the author’s area of expertise, i.e. sociology. Two sections immediately come to mind: (1) Why Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism Is Not More Troubling to Biblicists: Sociological and Psychological Conjectures on pages 60-65, and (2) Understanding Different Ways of Doing by Saying on pages 156-163. As can be seen even from their brief treatment below, Strengths and Weaknesses of The Bible Made ImpossibleThe greatest strengths of The Bible Made Impossible come, unsurprisingly, from observations in the author’s area of expertise, i.e. sociology. Two sections immediately come to mind: (1) Why Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism Is Not More Troubling to Biblicists: Sociological and Psychological Conjectures on pages 60-65, and (2) Understanding Different Ways of Doing by Saying on pages 156-163. As can be seen even from their brief treatment below, these two section show Smith’s strengths as a Christian sociologist and contribute greatly to the utility of this work. Another strength is, equally unsurprisingly, its Christocentric focus. Although its primary purpose is refutation, the work does a good job bringing the topic to places of great relevance for the Christian, biblicist or not, as it speaks of the encounter between man and God through the “one mediator,” the God-man Jesus Christ.The greatest weakness of the work is its vast multiplicity of examples in the earlier parts (6-16 and 22-37) and its redundancy throughout (which he mentions on 121). The ideas expressed are rather simple for a graduate student and the redundancy thus serves little purpose. This, however, is not a large weakness. In fact, the multiplicity of examples could lend strength to his argument if one is approaching it with a certain perspective or certain preconceived ideas.Overall EvaluationFrom mention of the book’s strengths and weaknesses, we see that The Bible Made Impossible is overall a very good and useful book. In it, Christian Smith certainly accomplishes his goal of offering a thorough critique of, and alternative to, biblicism by showing that pervasive interpretive pluralism makes biblicism impossible and by proposing a Christocentric hermeneutic of Scripture.ConclusionIn final analysis, one can say that The Bible Made Impossible showed that biblicism is truly not an evangelical reading of Scripture. It did so by, first, belying the validity of biblicism on its own terms, particularly by observing pervasive interpretive pluralism. Then, it showed that Jesus Christ, rather than the principles of biblicism, is the true key for reading Scripture evangelically. It was a blessing to read this work because of its cogent explanations, sociological insights, reminder that Christ is the key, uplifting of humility and fraternal charity, and evangelical utility. With perspectives broadened and hearts a bit more converted, may all who read this book go forth better equipped to come to know Jesus in his word well interpreted and, thus ignited, to go forth and introduce others to Him.
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  • Rob Haworth
    January 1, 1970
    This is an insightful critique of some widely-held American Evangelical doctrines of the bible, by an accomplished social scientist. While holding onto a core belief in biblical inspiration and a rejection of theological liberalism, Smith traces the causes and consequences of doctrinal excesses that have historically contributed to disunity in the church, denominational fragmentation, and a hermeneutic that promotes a distorted view of the bible as a “handbook” that has sole authority in the lif This is an insightful critique of some widely-held American Evangelical doctrines of the bible, by an accomplished social scientist. While holding onto a core belief in biblical inspiration and a rejection of theological liberalism, Smith traces the causes and consequences of doctrinal excesses that have historically contributed to disunity in the church, denominational fragmentation, and a hermeneutic that promotes a distorted view of the bible as a “handbook” that has sole authority in the life of the Christian. These excesses he dubs “biblicism”: a theory about the bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallability, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability. He suggests that scripture must instead be viewed through a Christocentric hermeneutical lens, taken as but one authority, alongside the historic teaching of the Christian church. Smith desires to engage with Evangelical Christians about these doctrines, but in spite of his careful presentation, unfortunately by many this will be seen as an attack on the bible itself. The weakness of the critique, however, that took stars away for me, lies in the proposed cure being worse than the disease.First, the good:a) Christian Smith (CS) voices a critique from a unique perspective. As a well-respected social scientist he has made a lifelong study of the nature and impact of Christian belief on American society. I am a big fan of some of his other books. He is well-informed in matters of faith, but is not a professional theologian. While this could be viewed as a liability, it actually allows him to speak freely about matters that might cause seminary professors to lose their jobs.b) CS rightly points out that biblicism sets up youth for crises of faith when non-biblicists point out problems with biblicist theory; this paints them into a corner, & puts them on a slippery slope that may cause them to walk away from their faith. This is an important point. As a scientist I have (in America) had many discussions with biblicists who insist that the Genesis account of creation and human origins conflicts with the scientific account of creation, and that I should believe the (their) understanding derived from Genesis if I am to be considered “sound”. They confuse the authority of scripture with the authority of their interpretation. This confusion arises from the belief that the meaning of scripture is self-evident, that is, accessible to anyone from the text alone. Works of scholarship like “The Lost World of Genesis One” by John Walton are viewed with suspicion by biblicists, because they imply that you may need some “lost” (i.e. foreign to us) background to properly understand the text. I’m with Walton.c) CS asserts that Biblicism is undermined by the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism: that the bible says very different things about most significant topics, and this has given rise to divergent teachings even on important matters. Divergent teachings are truly hard to reconcile with a doctrine of perspicuity coupled with assured guidance by the Holy Spirit. Such divergent teachings have historically led to the division of the church, especially post-reformation, resulting in a pervasive disunity. He has a good point. Also, he rightly points out that unity in the church was a major concern of Jesus as he was facing the cross (John 17), so this also is important. Biblicists should indeed take a hard look at their doctrine of perspicuity.d) The description of the 20th century origins of American biblicism as a response to liberalism and the perceived threat of science is I think accurate. This is a helpful perspective because it enables one to understand that Biblicism is a local cultural phenomenon, and not a part of the overall Christian tradition. When viewed as a reaction to perceived threats, the worst features of biblicism can be understood as an over-reaction to these threats. Over-reactions are understandable when perceived threats are great. It holds out hope that a correction is achievable.e) Smith rightly identifies the Gospel as the core identity of Evangelicals, more than any particular view of the bible.Now, the not-so-good.a) It is not clear to me that biblicism is the root cause of historical division in the church. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son, or from the Father alone? The answer given to that question (the Filioque controversy) caused the biggest-ever split in the church, that between the Roman and the Eastern Orthodox church in 1054AD, way before the Reformation or American biblicism emerged. It may well, rather, be that the common denominator of the divisive influence of these events is the overconfidence of theologians in their correct theology, the lack of proper perspective on the importance of the issues split over, and an underappreciation of the importance to God of unity in the church. CS lays all of the blame for these shortcomings at the door of Biblicism.b) Even though the point is well taken that individual interpretations of the bible can lead people astray, the teaching of Jesus appears to me to be aimed at the individual’s own perception of his message: “he who has ears to hear, let him hear”. To me this places the onus on myself to do a good job of listening to the Holy Spirit, with the expectation that hearing in some theologically valid sense is possible. Such listening includes doing all I can to understand the background of the teaching. Likewise for the rest of the bible. c) His proposal of critical realism as an alternative hermeneutic to biblicism was disappointing to me in the obscurity of its presentation. Critical realism, he says (p152), “recognizes the inescapably hermeneutical, cultural-historical, interpretive character of all knowledge, and brings to the table a number of crucial metatheoretical understandings about reality and knowledge that tend to foster openness and humility in inquiry”. OK, but what is it? He references his own book for further enlightenment, but a descriptive page or two of the crucial metatheoretical understandings in more down-to-earth language would have been helpful. d) It was a disappointment to me to learn that CS is seeking at least part of the answer to his concerns about biblicism by fleeing to Catholicism. I just do not think that such a recourse will address the concerns he raises in any meaningful way. He seeks refuge in the authority structure of the Catholic church, and in the possibility it offers of a progressive re-interpretation of the Christian Gospel. And yet that same authority structure has been shown by history to be open to abuse and error, even to the extent of withholding the Gospel message itself from the flock. It was only the determination of Luther to read and understand the bible for himself that exposed the corruption. CS allows that the bible must play a crucial role in the life of the church & of Christians, and yet many Evangelical churches, even Biblicist ones, have a significant population of ex-Catholics who have found that their souls are better nourished by churches that do preach from scripture.e) John Walton is a good example of the fact that not every Evangelical holds to biblicism as defined by CS. He may be right that the person in the pew is more likely than not to be biblicist, but the existence of academically respectable Evangelicals who are not biblicist indicates that the remedy does not require a solution as radical as CS has personally taken.
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  • Eric
    January 1, 1970
    Lots of good things to say about this one. If you have ever wondered how people of good character can disagree so badly over what the bible says teaches and requires of Christians then this is the book for you. The main target in this book is to give an explanation of the sources of and the self defeating nature of what he calls biblicism. Biblicism (I summarize) is the idea the Bible is clear and univocal, able to be understood by everyone, and handbook like in its applicability. However, bibli Lots of good things to say about this one. If you have ever wondered how people of good character can disagree so badly over what the bible says teaches and requires of Christians then this is the book for you. The main target in this book is to give an explanation of the sources of and the self defeating nature of what he calls biblicism. Biblicism (I summarize) is the idea the Bible is clear and univocal, able to be understood by everyone, and handbook like in its applicability. However, biblicism founders on the rock of "pervasive interpretive pluralism", by which he means the multiple interpretations that various Christian groups have produced, and the various ways that groups have used the bible. The first part of the book is his dismantling of biblicism, the second part is his attempt to sketch a way forward in a post biblicist world. Really this book is very important for conservative protestants of all stripes, from anabaptists to Southern Baptists, to read and deal with. His dismantling of biblicism is withering and the questions that he raises must be answered, I believe, for the sake of the witness of the unity of the Body of Christ. He also very helpfully gives historical and philosophical reasons for the ascent of biblicism in American evangelicalism in the last two hundred years. His suggestions for a "truly evangelical reading of Scripture" are helpful if not as thoroughgoing as will be needed to present an adequate and persuasive alternative to biblicism. Not because biblicism is a legitimate way of reading the bible but because it is such an ingrained way of reading the bible, any alternative must demonstrate that it makes better sense of more of the Bible in a way that leads toward greater unity among Christians and a more faithful discipleship to Jesus. I had minor quibbles with the book that I would like to discuss with any of you that are out there that have or will read the book. Here is not really the place. I do think that this is a very important book that will challenge the status quo in America. I hope that is won't suffer the same fate as Wendell Berry's book The unsettling of America, and be not so much refuted, but ignored.
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  • Frankie Della Torre
    January 1, 1970
    Is the Bible "God's Word"? And if so, what does that mean for the many diverse (some might say, fragmented) interpretations that are widespread throughout the church at large, and Protestant denominations in particular? In the face of this widespread disagreement about how to handle the Bible, Dr. Christian Smith (PhD, Yale) seeks to provide an explanation for how this could be the case.The fact of the matter is that 20th century hermeneutics has dealt a heavy blow to the supposed "hermeneutic o Is the Bible "God's Word"? And if so, what does that mean for the many diverse (some might say, fragmented) interpretations that are widespread throughout the church at large, and Protestant denominations in particular? In the face of this widespread disagreement about how to handle the Bible, Dr. Christian Smith (PhD, Yale) seeks to provide an explanation for how this could be the case.The fact of the matter is that 20th century hermeneutics has dealt a heavy blow to the supposed "hermeneutic of immediacy" which assumes a very, how should I put this, "convenient" perspective on the nature of language and interpretation. Biblicism falls prey to these critiques of postmodern hermeneutics because, as Smith articulates in his book with great evidential backing, biblicists of various shades all agree that the Bible is the "infallible, inerrant, inspired" Word of God.If the Bible really is inerrant, and there are a large number of Christians that believe it is, then what do we do with the obvious, empirically verifiable diversity that exists in how to interpret this Bible? All of the four-views-on-"blank" books that exist for nearly every single Christian doctrine are clear indicators that something is definitely wrong with the biblicist's picture. For even if we have an "inerrant" Bible, we do not have inerrant people interpreting this Bible--and that makes all the difference. I will not spoil the book but this is a big problem that Smith seeks to address. Just looking at the title of the book, I'm sure you can anticipate where he will take his argument.This book is important because it's challenging and it seeks to speak openly and honestly about the looming elephant in the room of conservativism. It's not intimidating, either. It's for anybody with a middle-school reading level and I think that Smith provides compelling reasons for the overall thrust of his argument. If the main thrust of Smith's argument is sound and valid, then there has to be some changes in the way we frame what the Bible is.
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  • Scott Ostlund
    January 1, 1970
    Helpful book on Biblicism and its EFFECTS. A major opposition to this text (as the author states), is that all of the main narrow manifestations of Biblicism are not present in Biblicist teachers, pastors or ministers. Smith states that though this is true... all of the manifestations of Biblicism are being prescribed to and lived out dogmatically among 'parishioners' or those who follow such Biblicist teachers. Even for those that have a narrow and hyper-literal method of interpreting Scripture Helpful book on Biblicism and its EFFECTS. A major opposition to this text (as the author states), is that all of the main narrow manifestations of Biblicism are not present in Biblicist teachers, pastors or ministers. Smith states that though this is true... all of the manifestations of Biblicism are being prescribed to and lived out dogmatically among 'parishioners' or those who follow such Biblicist teachers. Even for those that have a narrow and hyper-literal method of interpreting Scripture, this is helpful in thinking through our own methods. "The hermeneutical approach I am suggesting entails 'subjectivism' only to the extent that it acknowledges that all good Bible readers are active subjects seeking to understand the truth, with the Spirit's help, and that our own minds and spirits necessarily play an active role in that process. That is true about every human scripture reader (and reader of any other text), whether they realize and admit it or not. However, what I am suggesting here does not need to become 'subjectivism' in the sense of the reading subject acting as the sole arbiter of truth, as if the Bible itself simply becomes putty in the reader's hands to be molded as the reader wishes." (pg. 114)
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  • Jon
    January 1, 1970
    What Christian Smith seeks to answer in this book is what he perceives to be the logical inconsistency between the typical conservative Western Christian view of the Bible (or "biblicists"). Typically, he says, people fall into two camps: those who buy the biblicist theory, and those who reject any sort of inspiration. Both views fail if one is to view the Bible as a reasonable basis for faith. Smith attempts to challenge the prevailing conservative view by offering a framework for a potential s What Christian Smith seeks to answer in this book is what he perceives to be the logical inconsistency between the typical conservative Western Christian view of the Bible (or "biblicists"). Typically, he says, people fall into two camps: those who buy the biblicist theory, and those who reject any sort of inspiration. Both views fail if one is to view the Bible as a reasonable basis for faith. Smith attempts to challenge the prevailing conservative view by offering a framework for a potential solution to this problem and laying out an invitation for further work to be done in this area. All around, it's a compelling work, and a must-read for any Christian interested in Scripture.
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  • Rob McFarren
    January 1, 1970
    This is an important read. A very comprehensive and thoughtful critique of biblicism and its inadequacies as the primary lens for the use and authority of the Bible. It is well researched and admittedly resonated with many of the problems the thousands of varieties of the Christian faith have in saying "we're the only way". Stop trying to find the one and only biblical solution...start faithfully understanding the authority of scripture as what it is rather than a boost to theological ideology t This is an important read. A very comprehensive and thoughtful critique of biblicism and its inadequacies as the primary lens for the use and authority of the Bible. It is well researched and admittedly resonated with many of the problems the thousands of varieties of the Christian faith have in saying "we're the only way". Stop trying to find the one and only biblical solution...start faithfully understanding the authority of scripture as what it is rather than a boost to theological ideology that has to be brought into harmony. This book brings life to faith, but removing faith from untenable propositions placed upon it.
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  • Joshua Smith
    January 1, 1970
    Smith makes some very good points. The book relies on the assertion of the existence of biblicists, which Smith defines as evidencing 10 particular features. Many evangelicals do hold to a majority of these features though not all do. The book seems largely aimed at a naive biblicism (Kevin Vanhoozer's term) rather than a more nuanced variety. Thus, the force of Smith's argument is leveled against evangelical pop-culture where the overtures thereof should be heard and responded to. His construct Smith makes some very good points. The book relies on the assertion of the existence of biblicists, which Smith defines as evidencing 10 particular features. Many evangelicals do hold to a majority of these features though not all do. The book seems largely aimed at a naive biblicism (Kevin Vanhoozer's term) rather than a more nuanced variety. Thus, the force of Smith's argument is leveled against evangelical pop-culture where the overtures thereof should be heard and responded to. His constructive suggestions in the final section are by and large helpful. Though, as Smith himself says, they are merely starting points. Overall, a good book to read for any thoughtful evangelical.
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  • Charlie
    January 1, 1970
    This book has a particular audience. It is aimed at (mostly American) conservative evangelicals. Its purpose is to convince them that some of the beliefs they hold about the Bible, or at least how to use it, are ... impossible. Smith is stronger in his criticisms than in his positive alternative. Also, there is some irony in the subtitle, as Smith converted to Catholicism around the time of or soon after the publication of this book.
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