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Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture Paperback – 1 Aug 2012
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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. Here is a genuinely evangelical catholic understanding of scripture."
--Scot McKnight, Northern Seminary
--Douglas A. Campbell, Duke University Divinity School "Given the importance and influence of evangelicalism in American religion and culture, this book is both a healthy corrective and a hopeful sign of positive developments within evangelicalism."
--Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, America
"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, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School "[A] finely constructed volume. . . . Smith makes a persuasive case for shifting one's focus from the sole authority of the words of scripture to the one whom scripture proclaims to be 'the way, the truth and the life.' Such a shift, he insists, is necessary for American evangelicalism to move forward."
--Publishers Weekly This edition includes a new afterword in which the author engages conversations stimulated by the hardcover edition.
About the Author
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 in South Bend, Indiana. He is the award-winning author or coauthor of numerous books, including What Is a Person? Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and Moral Good from the Person Up and Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. His research focuses primarily on religion in modernity, adolescents, American evangelicalism, and culture.
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Smith takes issue with the biblicist phrase that the bible is the "manual to life" along with 9 other indicators of biblicism. He draws out the problems with that kind of thinking and focuses on the criticism that if the bible were a manual to life then, like most manuals, we'd all think the same thing - yet we do not - there is much variation within authentic Christian thought, belief and practise. Smith suggests that biblicism is not a true evangelical reading of scripture.
Without providing any full solutions, Smith does provide hints at where we can go from here focussing (rightly) on a Christocentric hermeneutic.
Readable by the intelligent non-academic, Smith labours his point somewhat in the early chapters and provides perhaps too many examples (some of which are quite weak) to the point of repetition.
Overall Smith's work is both intelligent, challenging and a helpful contribution to the dialogue on how we make sense of scripture. Those of you studying hermeneutics or even Christian doctrine will find Smiths critical thinking and research an excellent resource, yet almost all Christian readers will find this work provides welcome insight as we continue to construct our own theological frameworks.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Smith is a sociologist, and while that's a problem for some, I take it as a pro. He's not concerned with all our statements and confessions, but with what those statements and the methods behind them produce in reality. He shows, very persuasively, how Christianity is pluralistic. "Meaning" is rarely unique (if ever), and there's simply not a lot of deep agreement on theological, sociological, political, or philosophical (etc) issues. We can all say "Jesus died for our sins," but what we all mean by each one of these words is different. In summary, this method of reading the Bible, "Biblicism," as a handbook for life which clearly gives us all the instruction necessary is deeply flawed. Is not that sometimes it doesn't work. It simply never does.
Smith helpfully presents the historical trajectory of how Biblicism became a "thing," specially in America. Needless to say more: it is a modernistic approach with modernistic aspirations and expectations.
So the first half of the book is de-construction: Biblicism fails. Plurality is the reality. What do you do with that? The second part addresses that. He's not attempting to develop a hermeneutical method, but simply to raise a few observations. First, Christological interpretations will lead us to the right place. Karl Barth is a good place to start. Second, we must accept that the Bible is a complex, diverse, non-conformed-to-models type of book, and it doesn't resemble the Summa or the Institutes at all. We ought to stop trying to help God out, by producing a book which is the opposite of what he gave us. The Bible is complex, and sometimes ambiguous. That's ok. You don't have to *use* every part of it to make it say whatever you think the Bible wants to say. Third, human knowledge is more complex. We have the mental and social need for propositional knowledge, but we are shaped to have other types of knowledge. These other types of knowledge do not demand inerrancy or theories of inspiration (it'd be stupid to question whether a promise is inerrant, for example). Fourth, the Bible is not authoritative "over" us, but it is authoritative "for" us. It does not put us under a burden, but it prompts us to something beyond itself. Fifth, we must understand that the meaning of Christian topics was not completed by the time of the NT writers. In fact, it has still not been completed.
With these things in mind, I believe Smith's criticism is (extremely) needed. I also believe his constructive approach is good, even though it is very limited. My critiques are that Smith poorly defines terms such as "Biblicism," though he exemplifies them; and "evangelical," though I believe he means something along the lines of "a high view of Scripture." He's striving for a much higher view of Scripture than Biblicism allows, and I commend that effort. My last critique is that he believes the issues stop at Biblicism, I believe they stop at the Bible and how human beings work. His issue is epistemology and hermeneutics, I believe the issue is actually anthropology and literature.
The book is very fast to read, thanks to him enjoying to say the same thing over and over and over (see?) again. It's worth the buy and will bring some issues to our awareness :)
In the first section, Smith launches an absolutely DEVASTATING critique of biblicism. Not only does his argument pulverize biblicism with blow after blow of incisive criticism, but he even does so on biblicism's terms - evaluating biblicism's claims against biblicism's outcomes. I have never read a more dense and thorough criticism of biblicism... or of anything else for that matter. It felt like I was a flyweight boxer taking a hurricane of absolutely precision hits from a heavyweight world champion. I cannot overstate how excellent this part of the book is - and if that part of the book were a standalone I would give it SIX stars.
In the second section, Smith outlines some alternative suggestions for biblical interpretation - ways that Protestants can interpret the scriptures without resorting to the hollow biblicism option. Although his suggestions are thoughtful, intelligent, and well-written, they somehow lacked the force of being entirely compelling.
A critical but honest reader might come away from this book THOROUGHLY convinced that biblicism "doesn't work". However, this book falls short of giving them a new anchor point; they might be left feeling adrift and unsure of where to turn. (For his own part, even the author seems to have had such a crisis - and he eventually landed on Roman Catholicism in an attempt to reconcile the theological dissonance he reveals within the book.)