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The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture Hardcover – August 1, 2011
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From the Inside Flap
"Many books have been written either defending or detracting from an evangelical view of the Bible. Christian Smith, as a trained sociologist, offers a much-needed perspective: explaining evangelical biblicism as a sociological phenomenon. Smith demonstrates, respectfully but critically, that the type of biblicism that often characterizes evangelicalism cannot account for how scripture itself behaves. Biblicism is retained, however, because of its sociological value for 'maintaining safe identity boundaries.' Smith's analysis of the problem of biblicism and his offer of a way forward are important contributions to the current developments surrounding evangelicalism and the Bible."--Peter Enns, author, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament
"Christian Smith plainly says what so many others have been thinking or implying for some time--namely, that many strands of evangelicalism believe things about the Bible and theology that are simply impossible. Smith exposes the scholastic alchemy that holds this fragile theological edifice together and helps us understand that serious damage is done to the church and its witness when we perpetuate the errors of biblicism."--Kenton L. Sparks, Eastern University
"Smith vigorously presents a compelling possibility: The Bible could be more alive, the church could be more unified, those of us who care deeply about scripture could be less fearful about some collapse of authority and more honest about what is actually in the Bible if we simply began to listen with more humility and openness to what it is God seems most concerned to reveal. A great book for this time in the life of evangelicalism."--Debbie Blue, pastor, House of Mercy; author, Sensual Orthodoxy and From Stone to Living Word
From the Back Cover
"Evangelicalism is cracking apart not because of theological drift to the left but because the only theology that can sustain a genuine evangelicalism is--to use the only word appropriate--a catholic theology. Many who were nurtured in American evangelicalism (as Christian Smith was) and now find it seriously deficient (as Christian Smith does) seem to be those on whom the light has dawned. I first saw a chapter of this book and was stunned; I've now read it all and am delighted. Here is a genuinely evangelical catholic understanding of scripture."--Scot McKnight, North Park University
"Biblicism remains one of the most entrenched and pressing problems facing the church. In his characteristically lucid, direct, and fair-minded fashion, Christian Smith asks questions about biblicism that need to be answered. Smith also begins to articulate an alternative, Christ-centered approach to biblical interpretation that is supremely constructive--a truly evangelical account of scripture. Here his words fall like water on parched ground. We may expect the church to flourish as it reads them."--Douglas A. Campbell, Duke University Divinity School
"Ever the sociologist, Smith forces readers to confront and account for the stubborn fact that not everyone who ascribes supreme authority to 'what the Bible says' hears God saying the same thing. Even those, like me, who are not persuaded by his 'truly evangelical' alternative will benefit from this strong dose of realism about the way in which evangelicals actually interpret and appeal to the Bible."--Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Wheaton College Graduate School
"I do not think that biblicism has been quite as destructive as Christian Smith describes it in this book (for example, among evangelicals there is very little 'pervasive interpretive pluralism' in understanding John 20:31). Despite this reservation, I think Smith has written an extremely valuable book. Although his account of the problems besetting biblicism is devastatingly effective, his appeal for a Christ-centered approach to scripture is wise, encouraging, and even more effective."--Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame
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I can empathize with the emotional pains related to Smith's epistemic* struggles and journey, but readers need to be aware, this book is polemic in nature and the author is not hesitant to exaggerate at times or employ caricatures.
Based on my own experience of being raised within American Catholicism**, "pervasive interpretive pluralism" (PIP) is NOT exclusive to Protestant Evangelicalism, in spite of all the pervasive Catholic gloating. So-called "authoritative" interpretations of Scripture, by the Roman Magisterium, are really only cathartic for the lesser educated. Catholicism has simply done a good job of hiding it's own internal problems of PIP from the public.
Strangely, or maybe not, Smith overlooks the one point on which Evangelicals are commonly united and identify--the centrality of the biblical "New Birth." As I finish this book, I'll additional thoughts to this review.
* related to the philosophic sub-category of epistemology, which is the study of knowledge: what we know, how we know it, and how we can have certainty of anything.
** became a "born-again" Christian on October 9th, 1969.
In short, I agree with all of the major assertions in the book:
A. It is possible to have *too high* of a view of the Bible, and that comes at a high cost.
B. Biblicism leads to unnecessary crisis of faith for younger people; Bart Ehrman and countless other leading critics of Christianity were all raised on a fundamentalist/biblicist view of the Bible that was simply untenable, and if they had not been, perhaps their whiplash reaction to the Scriptures wouldn't have been so severe.
C. Christ is the center and focus of the Scriptures and of Christianity. Yes, every Christian must question themselves when they realize that their faith is more about the Bible than about Jesus.