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on March 31, 2015
Interesting and challenging. As the author admits, he frames the problem very well and only proposes a possible solution as a start of dialogue. His intent is to stimulate a healthy discussion and break the lock of closed minds (and spirits?) in the evangelical Christian community with regard to our most precious book. The Biblical Christian community should this book seriously, seek God's wisdom in the topic of biblical understanding, and become better prepared to engage with skeptics and believers in a post-Christian era.
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on December 17, 2016
This is excellent for anyone who wants to believe what the Bible says but is troubled by the fact that many passages have many compelling interpretations. A focus on Jesus alive in you allows you to become one with the Word that was made flesh and now dwells in you by the power of the Spirit of Truth. Just like during a sermon, 10 people can hear 10 different messages so can a passage of Scripture have more than one meaning and that it ok.
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on September 17, 2016
Having read other works by the author, Christian Smith, I highly respect his powerful intellect and mastery of written English. Smith is a sociologist of the highest rank.

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.
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on October 13, 2014
I used this book as a participant in a book discussion group. The consensus of my group was that Smith indeed accurately lifted up a problem within American evangelical Christianity called pervasive interpretive pluralism. Because I come from a non-evangelical, mainline Christian background, I was already very familiar with his solution, viz. the Christocentric hermeneutical key which he borrowed from Karl Barth. My book group said, "Okay, if we need to handle scripture through the lens of a Christocentric hermeneutic, what does that look like? This uncovers the weakness of the book and why, I suspect, that Smith caught strong negative feedback from some of his fellow evangelicals. He could have helped his cause by stepping away from his scholastic approach and invested in a bit of vocational training in hermeneutics. Another thing that Smith could have done to help the outcome of his tome - he could have written positively about his theology of scriptural authority and the theology of scripture as the word of God. [Of course, Smith claims his role as sociologist but denies his role as theologian. If he's not a theologian nor developing a theology, then perhaps he should leave theological topics alone.] Finally, if Smith is brave enough to admit that he is at the very least an armchair theologian, I believe that he has some unfinished business in the book, viz. he often alluded to the emptiness of Protestant liberalism and that he was not capitulating to that theological camp. Specifically, what is he not embracing, and how is he keeping from it? While it is true that I have several questions for Smith, I do think that this is a worthwhile read.
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on May 6, 2014
This book comes as a very useful addition to the recent wave of books on bibliology that question the "conservative" norm - aka alongside Kenton Sparks, Peter Enns, and various others.

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.
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on August 11, 2012
Christian Smith (PhD, Harvard University) is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. He is the award-winning author or coauthor of numerous books, including What is a Person? Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good From the Person Up and Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.

While Smith is no biblical scholar or theologian, he is a gifted writer whose insights into the church are helping to reveal one of the greatest challenges facing 21st century evangelicalism. Smith believes that American evangelicals are suffering from what he calls "biblicism." This commitment to biblicism has led to what he calls, "pervasive interpretive pluralism." Evangelicals are often guilty of misusing the Bible, even idolizing the Bible and their interpretations, and judging other Christians against their "plain" and "self-evident" readings of an ancient text. Therefore, leaving little to no room for unity among the Body of Christ.

Smith states: "By "biblicism" I mean a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal application. Different communities within American evangelicalism emphasize various combinations of these points differently. But all together they form a constellation of assumptions and beliefs that define a particular theory and practice" (p.4).

Smith doesn't question the inspiration of Scripture, though he does call for a redefining and understanding of what "God-breathed" really means. Instead, Smith claims that the current theory and practice of biblicism is "misguided and impossible" to maintain. Smith says, "It does not and cannot live up to its own claims." Smith believes evangelicals have made all sorts of dangerous assumptions about the Bible's nature, purpose, and function. He unpacks these assumptions and gives ample evidence of how evangelicals prove, by their endless divisions and factions, there is no consensus on what the Bible teaches about many issues.

Smith writes: "Regardless of the actual Bible that God has given his church, Biblicists want a Bible that is different. They want a Bible that answers all their questions, that tells them how to have marital intimacy, that gives principles for economics and medicine and science and cooking--and does so inerrantly. They essentially demand--in God's name, yet actually based on a faulty modern philosophy of language and knowledge--a sacred text that will make them certain and secure, even though that is not actually the kind of text that God gave" (p.128).

He says, "Christians remain deeply divided on most issues, often with intense fervor and sometimes hostility toward one another." If biblicists were correct in their assumptions about the Bible, then there ought to be a solid consensus on what it teaches, especially on the most important matters. But there isn't, and there never will be.

What then is a truly evangelical reading of Scripture?

It means living with Scriptural ambiguities. It means dropping the compulsion to harmonize everything. It means being able to distinguish the difference between dogma, doctrine, and opinion. It means extending the right hand of fellowship toward all believers. It looks like a more inclusive study of Christian traditions and historical interpretations. And it means moving beyond the biblical text onto Christ himself--the Word made flesh.

Smith says this would help to create an atmosphere where Christians could address disagreements in love and grace, "perhaps toward overcoming pervasive interpretive pluralism." If the early church lived without "the Bible" for nearly four hundred years, surely 21st century evangelicals can stop to consider "the role of the church, the Holy Spirit, and the "rule of faith" in the function of scriptural authority for Christians."

Finally, Smith calls for a "Christocentric" hermeneutic. There is no way to hold to biblicism when the function of Scripture is soley to exalt the living Christ who can be known in the church today.

He writes: "Perhaps, if and once people have really grasped the good news of Jesus Christ--what really matters, in light of which anything else must make sense--God is happy to let his people work their lives out in different forms of church government and using different modes of baptism, for example. Perhaps some diversity in such matters is okay. And perhaps God has not interest in providing to us all of the specific information people so often desire about the "end times," divine foreknowledge, and the destiny of the unevangelized. Further, perhaps God wants us to figure out how Christians should think well about things like war, wealth, and sanctification, by thinking christologically about them, more than by simply piecing together this and that verse of scripture into an allegedly coherent puzzle picture" (p.112).

The Bible Made Impossible will challenge you on many levels. I encourage you to consider what Smith has written about the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism and the biblicists abuse and misuse of Scripture. And hear his evangelical alternative to a biblicist reading of the Bible.

If evangelicalism is going to take a step closer to the heart of God in Christ, we must deal with the division over the Bible that is ripping the church apart, and confusing a lost world. There is a better way.
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on May 6, 2012
Many reviewers have praise Smith for his intellectual honesty and candor. I want to look at this book from a different angle. While The Bible Impossible focuses on academic arguments, it is nevertheless a deeply personal book that also focuses on addressing some of the pressing issues that hound Christians.

Unless you are living in a walled off compound miles from the nearest town, you probably know a few Christians who don't believe exactly as you do. If you live in a big city, you probably are married to, friends with, or attend church with people who don't share your views on particular topics from the inconsequential to the substantial. Behind these academic issues are real people that we interact with and who Jesus calls us to love.

With that in mind, Smith introduces several currents in contemporary Christian thought known collectively as "Biblicism". Biblicism is the confluence of several attitudes toward scripture that Smith argues are causing modern Christianity to paint itself into an hermeneutical corner. Ultimately drawing from sources outside of the Bible, Biblicism is in essence an over-simplistic and tragically flawed system of interpreting the Bible that has been elevated to the level of doctrine in many churches.

For the average layperson, this isn't a huge problem unless one is forced out of his or her faith "bubble". Smith notes how many Christians can insulate themselves from these issues though a variety of ways. However, thoughtful Christians find themselves struggling to process a huge amount of information at a great personal cost. Simply put, many in the Evangelical community have settled for Biblicism as a panacea to rid themselves of messy and uncertain personal discipleship to Jesus, opting instead for one-liners about the Bible not fit for a fortune cookie.

Smith also touches on a disturbing result of Biblicism. The doctrinal walls that emerged as a result of Biblicism are causing divisions in the Body of Christ. In one of the most powerful lines of the book, Smith asks his fellow Christians whether or not we have forsaken what is clear and what we know to police doctrinal borders of our own making. We know that Jesus asks us personally to love our neighbor, to serve the poor, and to work in the vineyard. When we start to dismiss, vilify, and act unlovingly toward Christians who believe slightly differently, we have a noveau Pharisaical outlook that is distressingly unbiblical.

This is not an easy read. At many levels, readers will find themselves challenged and saddened. At the same time, this is a tremendously brave work of victory and triumph. Personally, Smith's work has made a great difference in my life and helped me to understand how Jesus really talks to us and how we should respond. I encourage you to pick up a copy if you haven't already. Rather than confusion and intellectual intimidation, pray for a peace and understanding that will equip you to serve God better.
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on August 16, 2011
Overall a great book on why fundamentalists do not carry out their logic to its conclusion - if so there would be a lot more women with head coverings and washing of feet going on. This should be read in concert with Engaging Scripture by Stephen Fowl (see my review of that book).

One thing I was a little concerned about was that I do not know that Smith proved that Christ should be what Scripture points to. Yes, Christ is the ultimate revelation of God, but does Ecclesiastes and much of Proverbs and Song of Songs point to Christ? If Song of Songs is about sex and marriage how could Jesus relate?

Also Smith said he once heard a sermon that was a proper exposition from the letter of James, but it was something that could have been preached by a Mormon or Unitarian. That leads to a question - if it was a proper exposition then did James know how to sermonize Christocentrically? Should we then put James on a lesser pedestal then Paul when it comes to preaching? Maybe Smith would agree but its not clear. If James does not know how to do it then what hope do we have?

I am not convinced by the Christocentric answer. I have heard the CHristotelic version form my former professor Dr. Enns whom SMith quotes quite often. I am uncomfortable with it because of Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Song of Songs mostly, but also for reasons I am still hashing out in my brain - things like where Scripture is written so that we will not do what the Israelites did. That is not so much Christotelic as it is a Fatherly warning of what could happen if one goes a certain way.

But if you do not read this book you are really missing out. Very convincing about pervasive pluralism
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on November 30, 2015
A necessary and important book for Christians who use scripture as a guide for their lives. In brief, we're doing it wrong. And Dr. Smith explains why.
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on June 21, 2013
Smith eloquently outlines the problem of Biblicism, which results in a pluralism of interpretations and inconsistencies among Evangelicals. The problem, laid bare, articulated several things that I've struggled with for a while, things I've come to recognize, and many more things that had not occurred to me. This book will be challenging to read for some, not because of its size, prose or technicality (it is fairly accessible to the average person) but because the strength of Smith's argument is a stark call for Evangelicals to honestly self assess our beliefs and deal with inherent and pervasive problems in how we understand the Bible.

I cannot recommend this book enough to pastors, Bible teachers and any believer who is wants to be as faithful as possible in understanding God's Word.
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