Have Evangelicals Made the Bible Impossible?

I just received my copy of Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible (Brazos) and am eager to alert interested readers about it. Smith is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology at University of Notre Dame, and his book looks at evangelical views of Scripture from a sociological perspective.

To summarize, Smith shows how evangelical “biblicism” (his term) crumbles under its own weight, but continues to survive because of its historical role in establishing evangelicalism’s sociological boundary markers.

This is why evangelicals have had a history of bending over backwards to protect their doctrine in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.

Smith’s central contention is that “pervasive interpretive pluralism” renders moot evangelical presumptions of the nature and authority of Scripture. Smith means that since the Bible clearly “teaches very different things about the most significant subjects” and since highly competent biblical interpreters come to very different conclusions about the same texts, assertions about the Bible’s inerrant authority ring hollow (pp. x-xi).

Smith’s solution to this dilemma, rather than ignoring or contorting texts (what Kenton Sparks calls “scholastic alchemy” on the cover blurb), is to be more consistently evangelical, which for Smith would involve a Christ-centered hermeneutic and accepting complexity and ambiguity as part of the nature of Scripture.

Smith strikes a good balance between an “emperor has no clothes” vibe and a truly constructive and irenic tone. He will not doubt attract a vociferous response from some, but Smith’s thesis deserves careful consideration, and I am sure it will receive the attention it richly deserves.

 


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