Addendum to my first review of Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible

Addendum to my first review of Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible September 27, 2011

Obviously my posts are not perfectly perspicuous–sometimes even to me (when I go back and read them)!

This is not the second installment of my multi-part review of Smith’s book.  Here I just want to clarify some matters raised by some of you.

One of my points is that EVEN IF the Bible were all that biblicism claims (as Smith defines biblicism) (setting aside his tenth assumption or belief of biblicism–that the Bible is a complete handbook of answers to all of life’s questions–which I think is blatantly wrong and not really held by any serious scholar) there would be PIP.

Now, I happen to think the Bible is NOT all that biblicists claim (as Smith defines biblicism).  For example, Smith includes inerrancy in biblicism.  I only confess Scripture’s inerrancy if I’m allowed to define inerrancy! 🙂  It’s one of those terms that has very little meaning because of such a wide range of meanings given to it by even conservative evangelicals.

Putting that caveat aside for now, my point in my first installment of my review was that EVEN IF biblicism is a correct view of the Bible, PIP would be unavoidable due to human beings’ lack of perfect perspicacity, objectivity, etc.

Secondly, I tried to make the point that I believe the Bible IS perspicuous with regard to beliefs essential or important to salvation and dealing with how to live a life pleasing to God (at least in terms of generalities) even if it IS NOT perspicuous about secondary matters.

I think my analogy of the Constitution works.  Some of you objected because the Constitution can be amended.  That’s beside the point.  EVEN AS AMENDED the Constitution gives rise to PIP.  That we have a Supreme Court to hand down authoritative interpretations based on precedents doesn’t solve anything.  There’s still PIP about it.  Many people disagree with the Supreme Court decisions about what the Constitution means.  And what good would it do to say the Catholic Church’s magisterium is like the Supreme Court–the authoritative body for interpreting the Bible?  The only thing that MIGHT accomplish (but doesn’t in today’s RCC) is to enforce conformity to its decisions.  It can only enforce conformity within itself.  Even there, I would argue, PIP exists.  But even if you disagree (which to me just means you’re not aware of all that’s going on in the RCC worldwide) there’s the fact that not all Christians are RCC–unless you think they are.  The only way to avoid PIP, it seems to me, is to have a dictatorial leader of one tightly organized church body THAT IS THE ONLY GROUP OF CHRISTIANS with the power to enforce his interpretations on everyone.  Some cults think they have that and, admittedly, PIP is minimal or non-existent within them.  Who wants that?

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  • Tim Reisdorf

    “I perceived how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth except the Scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue.” – William Tyndale

    William Tyndale thought it best that people be able to read and understand the Bible (as far as that could take them). He was told not to translate the Bible into English because this “would” cause the PIP that Mr. Smith dislikes. Tyndale was told this by the very Church that Mr. Smith joined. That Church desired the “one, true interpretation of the Bible” so much that it killed Tyndale (for his own good, of course). I am not afraid of the PIP, but I could be convinced to be afraid of such a Church – or any Church that acts in like manner.

  • PSF

    Do we need for push for greater nuacne when we talk about the Bible’s perspicuity? In general, I think that the idea is important, especially in contexts where we need to counter the over-professionalization of biblical interpretation or where traditionalism takes hold (e.g., Luther’s context, leading to the democratization of Bible study and interpretation – which was a good thing). But there are many other issues that the average person may not grasp correctly without the assistance of teachers and scholars. For example, how should we properly interpret Genesis 1-3 and the book of Revelation. There are historical and interpretive issues at work there that the average Bible reader is oblivious to (not that they can’t get anything profitable out of reading these texts devotionally, but I think you understand what I’m getting at). I think your notion of folk religion addresses this problem.

    But I think for Smith the problem gets bigger. The handbook model seems to me to be widespread amongst evangelicals. Even if evangelical scholars reject it, the problem itself in the evangelical churches seems pretty pervasive. I think evangelical scholars need to ask themselves “why”? If we can be relatively effective in achieving unity about the central things, why are we having such a poor influence in this area?

    • rogereolson

      There I think Smith is right in referring to Nathan Hatch’s idea of the “democratization” of American Christianity. There is little to no sense among the laity that ministers or professional theologians as teachers have anything to contribute of any real importance to their Christian faith. There is a sense that everyone’s interpretation is as good as everyone else’s so long as it is inspiring. Once that genie is out of the bottle I don’t know how you put it back again. Even among Catholics this idea is quite prevalent–at least in the U.S. This is one and perhaps the major cause of PIP.

  • This is a little off the point, but something you said sparked some curiosity with me. I’m with you on the lack of meaning surrounding the word “inerrancy,” and I am fairly certain that we hold a similar view of the Bible’s authority, authorship, etc. What definition of inerrancy would you offer such that you would affirm it?

    • rogereolson

      “Perfection with respect to purpose.” I now some leading inerrantists who define it that way. Other leading inerrantists absolutely reject that meaning as inadequate. Among the inerrancy crowd there are so many different meanings of inerrancy I doubt it really has any useful meaning at all. It has become little more than a gate keeping shibboleth (IMHO).

  • I really liked your analogy to Congress, particularly on the one point that you emphasize, as you say.

    In reading your review of the book, I was also reminded of a post a few months back in which you talked about human fallibility (though I don’t think that was the exact term you used). PIP will always exist because of our own fallibility, it seems to me, and so the problem with Smith’s biblicism is something entirely different from PIP. At least that’s the conclusion I am coming to as I read the book (and I have to confess I am commenting without yet having finished it).


    • rogereolson

      I think you mean my analogy to the Constitution?

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Mr. Smith is uncomfortable with the PIP – obviously preferring a single source for answers (to everything?). That source must be living and responsive and able to answer questions as they are asked – rather than the Bible, which is largely responding to different questions and situations. But to what lengths would one go to maintain uniformity of belief when there is some dispute? In the past, the RCC sometimes went too far and pushed people to break away in protest. In smaller ways, other denominations expressed their interpretations with such rigidity that dissenters were marginalized. (Lots of that sort of thing happened in the New England colonies in the 1600-1700’s. Even more so in Europe.)

    The Church needs to be able to kick out people and enforce their own “belief and behavior borders” (ICor5). To negotiate those borders takes more leadership skills than I possess. But we dare not go back to thinking that physically harming a person might actually be good for them spiritually – even if we know for sure that their interpretation of Scripture needs correction.

  • Jon T

    Yes cults, but also certain groups and individuals within evangelicalism with strong sectarian tendencies. Don’t you think this is why he wrote the book? Because there are those within evangelicalism who seem not to have even considered these issues (haven’t we all met at least one Christian like this?) and won’t consider the possibility of alternate inerpretations even on so-called secondary issues. Of course we’re not talking about scholars here. But there are plenty of “self taught” Christians out there who consider themselves well studied and informed who would agree (and maybe only sub-consciously) to many or most of Smith’s definition of biblicism. Unfortunately it seems like the choir (those who already agree) is the only group likely to be interested in Smith’s book. DeYoung strongly implied in his review that Smith’s book wasn’t worth his (DeYoung’s) readers’ time.