The Bible Made Impossible

Christian Smith's book, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, suggests that evangelicalism's usual approach to the Bible is not only misguided and insufficient, but also dangerous. While maintaining that the Bible is inspired, he says that a "pervasive interpretive pluralism" (that is, widespread disagreement among "Bible believing Christians" about what the Bible says and how it must be applied) is a clear indication that Biblicism simply does not work. He encourages evangelicals, instead of trying to make the Bible say things and do things that it does not (e.g., approaching it as a "handbook for living," even to the extent of providing dating or dieting tips), to let the Bible be what it is: a a collection of "irreducibly multivocal, polysemic, and multivalent texts" that nonetheless powerfully points to (and only makes sense when understood in relation to) Jesus Christ.

He writes: "Regardless of the actual Bible that God has given his church, Biblicists want a Bible that is different. They want a Bible that answers all their questions, that tells them how to have marital intimacy, that gives principles for economics and medicine and science and cooking--and does so inerrantly. They essentially demand--in God's name, yet actually based on a faulty modern philosophy of language and knowledge--a sacred text that will make them certain and secure, even though that is not actually the kind of text that God gave. By contrast, we should 'confess at the outset, along with the historic Christian church, that the Bible is the word of God [written]. That is our starting point, a confession of faith, not creating a standard of what the Bible should look like and then assessing the Bible on the basis of that standard....Once we confess that the Bible is God's word, we can look at how it is God'[s] word" (p. 128).

I think he's right, although I think his proposed solution--a "Christocentric" hermeneutic (that is, reading, understanding, interpreting, and applying the Bible always in terms of how it points to Jesus Christ--is no more likely to eliminate "pervasive interpretive pluralism" than any other hermeneutic. There are many who strive to study and teach the Bible Christocentrically and end up being as diverse and as divisive as anyone else.

Smith also drove me to distraction with his frequent categorical statements along the lines of "It just doesn't work," and "They just didn't." That "just doesn't" work for me.

Still, The Bible Made Impossible is very helpful in identifying and clarifying the ways evangelicals misuse the Bible. It may not go far toward solving the problem, but for those who have ears to hear, it can help to unmask "largely unintentional habits of a particular subcultural style of thinking and behaving" (p. viii). And that's a good thing. Even a great thing.

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