This post is part of a three-part series on The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture by Christian Smith
This book is fatally flawed.
That is, I think there’s a problem with this book that undercuts it’s premise entirely. But you’re going to have to wait until Friday to read my opinion on that. In the meantime, I’m going to look at Smith’s diagnosis of the ailment affecting how some people read the Bible, and his proposed cure. Today, the diagnosis:
Smith defines “biblicism” as “a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.” (viii) He lists ten common characteristics of this way of understanding the Bible, which I will not enumerate here. He lists over two pages of books from evangelical publishers to make his point that this really is how evangelicals read the Bible (notably, he lists not a single book published by Baker, the publisher of his book, though Baker sure has definitely published books in this vein). [UPDATE: Smith does, in fact, list at least one book from Baker -- the last link in my previous sentence -- but he does not list the name of Baker in the list of evangelical publishers he's criticizing.]
Smith catalogues statements of faith at churches and evangelical colleges, with which many of us are all too familiar. And he lands on this as the major problem of biblicism: evangelicals say that the Bible is inerrant, but you look around the church and that different groups interpret and apply the same passage very differently. Smith labels this pervasive interpretive pluralism:
“The very same Bible — which biblicists insist is perspicuous and harmonious — gives rise to divergent understandings among intelligent, sincere, committed readers about what it says about most topics of interest.” (17)
This is indeed a devastating critique of inerrancy. Smith goes on at length to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that pervasive interpretive pluralism reigns in evangelicalism. Included is a page-long list of titles in the popular evangelical genre of “three/four/five views on ________.”
Yes, I agree with Smith: biblical inerrancy is an untenable position to hold. That’s why I don’t hold it. Never have. In fact, you can see how easily it is deconstructed in the video below.
In other words, Christian Smith is solving a problem that I don’t have.
But, I agree with him, a lot of people do ascribe to biblicism. So, I say kudos to him for show how illogical a hermeneutic it is.