The Bible Made Impossible 1

Christian Smith’s new book The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture is nothing short of a frontal assault on the way we as Evangelicals read the Bible. I’ve been reading it in the evenings before bed the last couple of nights (I’m to ch 3) and Smith’s thesis is haunting me.

Biblicism is that approach to the Bible that posits theological assumptions about its nature, assumptions such as verbal and plenary inspiration, the perspicuity of Scripture, the internal harmony, the universal applicability, and the Bible is a compendium of divine teachings on a limitless range of subjects. The approach is most clearly illustrated, according to Smith, by Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

Have you read the book yet?

Biblicism, Smith contends, does not deliver what it promises. Irrespective of the truthfulness of the underlying assumptions about the Bible, those assumptions are completely undermined by how Evangelicals actually read and interpret the Bible. His basic question as I see it is: how can biblicism be true when there is a plurality of interpretative options for the Bible generally and discrete passages individually. If the tenets of biblicism were true then there should not be the diversity of interpretations that exists among biblicists.

The Bible Made Impossible is a friendly, albeit frank (and with no pulling of punches), confrontation. One that every thoughtful Evangelical Bible reader should agree to accept. This is a must read! Buy read it, discuss it. I’ll keep mulling it over myself.

Let me offer only this thought now: I think perhaps the core issue in this discussion is the relationship between the humanness of Scripture and its divine inspiration. I think we as Evangelicals need to wrestle with the nature of a book that is both human and divine. To me it is likely that the reason there is a plurality of interpretations among Biblicists of all stripes has to do with the situated-ness of the text. Yes it is divinely inspired, yes its the word of God (notice little “w”), but it is an incarnated word.

  • Michael from Perth

    Hi Joel,
    Yes, just started reading it as well. I am not sure that his question is “How can biblicism be true”? but whether the theory is adequate at all. As a theory regarding the nature of the bible it fails to deliver what it claims. Thus either the Scripture itself is inadequate, almost 100% of all bible readers in history are inadequate (i.e. wrong), or the theory is inadequate. The theory itself undermines the first two options; for Smith the third option is true, and thus the theory is not.

    What is really striking me so far (first two chapters) is his observation that where this kind of biblicism holds sway the church is utterly fractured. It seems that those who claim most for the bible agree least amongst themselves and so shatter the unity of the one body. It seems that recourse to the sole-sufficiency and authority of Scripture serves to undermine its ‘authority’ and to grant real authority to the individual interpreter. Despite our rhetoric, we function as our own authority. Perhaps if we were more modest in our declarations and sought the unity of the church above our “being right” we would actually find ourselves closer to the truth.

    • Anonymous

      Michael, your last sentence is surely on point.

      Is it correct to summarize Smith’s thesis thus: the alleged perspecuity of scripture should yield unity in interpretation, and since we don’t have this unity among Protestants, perspecuity is dubious. Therefore, Protestantism is undermined. (One implication that Smith, as a Catholic, could draw from this is that Catholicism’s concept of magesterial authority fills this gap.)

      Protestants are not unaware of the problem and in practice end up limiting perspecuity to “essential” matters — e.g., we may not be able to find out how God made or sustains the world, but we know he’s the creator of it and author of history. Jesus as savior is clear enough, even if we may disagree about infusion vs. imputaion, infra- vs. supralapsarianism, and even whether Jesus had one or two natures.

      Some of this seems more like what scholastics dream about (elevated to a test of orthodoxy in some cases) than it does impinging on essential matters of faith. But it nonetheless seems to leave us with a rather weak notion of perspecuity, which sounded so strong when it first announced.

      Do these qualifications undermine (Smith and fellow Catholics) or merely lessen perspecuity (Protestants)?

  • Michael from Perth

    Hi Joel,
    Yes, just started reading it as well. I am not sure that his question is “How can biblicism be true”? but whether the theory is adequate at all. As a theory regarding the nature of the bible it fails to deliver what it claims. Thus either the Scripture itself is inadequate, almost 100% of all bible readers in history are inadequate (i.e. wrong), or the theory is inadequate. The theory itself undermines the first two options; for Smith the third option is true, and thus the theory is not.

    What is really striking me so far (first two chapters) is his observation that where this kind of biblicism holds sway the church is utterly fractured. It seems that those who claim most for the bible agree least amongst themselves and so shatter the unity of the one body. It seems that recourse to the sole-sufficiency and authority of Scripture serves to undermine its ‘authority’ and to grant real authority to the individual interpreter. Despite our rhetoric, we function as our own authority. Perhaps if we were more modest in our declarations and sought the unity of the church above our “being right” we would actually find ourselves closer to the truth.

    • Anonymous

      Michael, your last sentence is surely on point.

      Is it correct to summarize Smith’s thesis thus: the alleged perspecuity of scripture should yield unity in interpretation, and since we don’t have this unity among Protestants, perspecuity is dubious. Therefore, Protestantism is undermined. (One implication that Smith, as a Catholic, could draw from this is that Catholicism’s concept of magesterial authority fills this gap.)

      Protestants are not unaware of the problem and in practice end up limiting perspecuity to “essential” matters — e.g., we may not be able to find out how God made or sustains the world, but we know he’s the creator of it and author of history. Jesus as savior is clear enough, even if we may disagree about infusion vs. imputaion, infra- vs. supralapsarianism, and even whether Jesus had one or two natures.

      Some of this seems more like what scholastics dream about (elevated to a test of orthodoxy in some cases) than it does impinging on essential matters of faith. But it nonetheless seems to leave us with a rather weak notion of perspecuity, which sounded so strong when it first announced.

      Do these qualifications undermine (Smith and fellow Catholics) or merely lessen perspecuity (Protestants)?

  • Jwillitts

    Michael. Thanks for your useful description. I think the question of truth or adequacy, as you put it, is a case of distinction without difference. If biblicism is inadequate as a theory, then the truth claims of the assertions on which the theory is based are irrelevant, if not completely questionable.

  • Jwillitts

    Michael. Thanks for your useful description. I think the question of truth or adequacy, as you put it, is a case of distinction without difference. If biblicism is inadequate as a theory, then the truth claims of the assertions on which the theory is based are irrelevant, if not completely questionable.

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  • Anonymous

    Hi Joel,
    I haven’t read the book, however it took me several readings of the Bible on my own, before I read it trying to see it from God’s point of view, instead of tradition/doctrines point of view. When I did that, I started questioning lots of “traditions of men” like: why the “do this in remembrance of me” referring to passover, the most mentioned date in the Bible, the day the Lamb of God was slain, is ignored to celebrate Ishtar? Or why doesn’t God, Jesus, the prophets or Paul mention the Sabbath had been moved to the day of the sun god Baal, until the council of Laodicea 300 years after Christ?
    I think Foxes book of Martyrs plainly proved Bible reading is an assault on the Pharisees & Scribes, Umm I mean Religious Leaders.

    • Anonymous

      You lost me.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Joel,
    I haven’t read the book, however it took me several readings of the Bible on my own, before I read it trying to see it from God’s point of view, instead of tradition/doctrines point of view. When I did that, I started questioning lots of “traditions of men” like: why the “do this in remembrance of me” referring to passover, the most mentioned date in the Bible, the day the Lamb of God was slain, is ignored to celebrate Ishtar? Or why doesn’t God, Jesus, the prophets or Paul mention the Sabbath had been moved to the day of the sun god Baal, until the council of Laodicea 300 years after Christ?
    I think Foxes book of Martyrs plainly proved Bible reading is an assault on the Pharisees & Scribes, Umm I mean Religious Leaders.

    • Anonymous

      You lost me.

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