I’m taking a quick break from the blog series I’m doing right now called “Stats Lie” to do a quick review on a book I just finished – Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture.
I had been wanting to read this for about a year before finally diving in. I really enjoyed the read, in part because the area covered – the revelation and authority Scripture are a couple of the areas I’m most interested in theologically (because I think most major issues and dysfunctions in the church can be traced back to this principle area).
I also liked it, because Smith tackles some of the things that began to really expand my paradigm in this area back in seminary – things that the average lay person in the Evangelical church aren’t usually exposed to.
Smith’s main argument is that the way people read the Bible today does not hold water philosophically in any stretch. What he calls Biblicism, fails to deliver on what it promises – a unified and coherent interpretation of Scripture that promotes unity in the body. Examples of Biblicism most notably are the “Bible is Life’s Handbook” approach with answers for every single area of life today.
Smith, has taken heat for this book, but he’s asking important and needed questions for Christians today. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog that most Bible Study training offered today assumes many a thing about how to read Scripture and the focus is on the skills of observation and interpretation. The thing that is greatly lacking is the foundation of theory – sound ways of understanding how Scripture works as communication. Too often we have skipped this, just saying it’s “the word of God” and just dive into study. We don’t often discuss the impact of various philosophies of knowledge or communication theories on what we deem to be authoritative in Scripture.
Smith does a great job reviewing some of the history here in terms of how evangelicalism came to embrace such a strongly held approach to Scripture and where it fails to hold up in the face of even its own claims.
What I like about the book is that Smith isn’t just taking shots, but the last half of the book is a constructive effort to try to reframe how to approach the Bible in ways that don’t undermine the authority of Scriptures, but that also don’t pretend that the Bible is saying what it often isn’t. He’s working out what it looks like to hold onto the authority of Scripture without self-contradictions inherent in Biblicism.
There’s a lot in this book, but it will be a challenge for many. I have read a lot previously that raised some of these issues – both the philosophical angle and the communication theory side. But this book could blow people’s minds or rub people the wrong way depending on where you’re coming from.
Either way – these are questions we need to start engaging, because I do agree with Smith that the future of the church needs to involve a more responsible Hermeneutic. Smith offers his best shot at it here and I think by and large it’s pretty helpful, but there’s more to work out.
I also just finished Francis Chan’s Crazy Love which I read for free via Amazon Prime. But as it probably doesn’t rank in my top 200 of all time books read I’ll pass on offering a review.
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