Once again “Thank-you!” to Bob Trube, Senior Area Director for InterVarsity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministry in the Ohio Valley, for his contribution to the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) Blog! Consider these thoughts on Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture to some degree an extension of ESN’s interaction with work of Peter Enns, including an earlier review of two of Enns’ books by Bob.
Before getting to Bob’s review, let me point out that I was excited to find his insights on How to Write a Book Review [of this style] when I visited his blog. In response to an ESN Facebook Wall request for a book review, one Emerging Scholar volunteered to do one based upon Bob’s style/recommendations. Stay tuned :)
Note to all our readers: As I have done such previously, I encourage you to read a book before you comment upon it :) It’s my intention that reviews such as those offered by Bob will not only provide opportunity for dialogue by those who have read the material, but also serve as teasers — helping our readers discern what books to place in their personal and book discussion group queue. If you have books you desire to review and/or have reviewed, please email me. ~ Thomas B. Grosh IV, Associate Director of ESN, editor of ESN’s blog and Facebook Wall.
The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Christian Smith)
This has been something of a ‘bombshell’ book in evangelical Christian circles. That is because Christian Smith, a sociologist, takes on a question we tend to want to dodge. It is, “why is there such ‘pervasive interpretive pluralism’ if what evangelicals say they believe about the Bible is true?” Smith identifies the problem as “biblicism” which he defines as a theory of how to read the bible “evangelically” characterized by ten assumptions:
- Divine Writing
- Total Representation
- Complete Coverage
- Democratic Perspicuity
- Commonsense Hermeneutics
- Sola Scriptura
- Internal Harmony
- Universal Applicability
- Inductive Method
- Handbook Model.
For the sake of space I won’t elaborate these. Smith argues that if these were workable assumptions for how we should read scripture, we would not have the pervasive interpretive pluralism that can be demonstrated by all the three-, four-, and five views books on the market. Smith argues that this theory fails to take into view the multivocity of scripture and in fact is not evangelical enough. Throughout, he contends that he is not abandoning the inspiration and authority of the scriptures and he speaks vigorously against liberal Christianity as an alternative.
What then does he consider to be the alternative? While acknowledging his limits as someone writing who works outside the field of theology, he proposes that a Christocentric reading of scripture can help us, both in helping us distinguish what is central to the scriptures and for what we should be looking as we read them — how we approach this book. He points us to the fact that scripture is the narrative of God’s redemptive work in the person of Christ and all of it points to him.
There is much in this proposal I can affirm. In fact, I think the ideas of internal harmony and perspicuity rightly understood make sense when we understand that Christ is the melody around which all scripture harmonizes, that the message of Christ is the clear and simple thing that the workman and the intellectual can both find transforming. For that reason, I want to be careful in rejecting all that Smith associates with ‘biblicism’. Inductive study, without the centrality of Christ, can tend to lead to all sorts of moralistic applications but can also be a form of study that seeks to be attentive to the living Word as he is revealed in the written Word.
I also think the humility of the mind of Christ should cause us to question when we deviate from the reading of scripture through the centuries or to arrogantly denounce the reading of others as flawed when it could be I who has the log in my eye. In some matters, like church government, we might even conclude that the matter has been left to human ingenuity so long as we choose spirit-filled people of character.
I do think some of the reaction Smith provokes comes in his use of “biblicist” and “biblicism” to describe the objects of his critique. I suspect none of those who hold views similar to those Smith critiques see themselves in these terms, which seem pejorative. I’m not sure I know a better term but it may not have been the most helpful for gaining a hearing. What I do think Smith does is “name the elephant” and call us to stop pretending that our models of reading scripture are doing what they say they do. It may be neither the fault of the scripture nor the wrongness of our doctrine of scripture but rather the ways we have devised to read scripture in light of doctrine.
BONUS: Visit Brazos for several short youtube clips from an interview of Christian Smith on The Bible Made Impossible. As a teaser, a video on “Why Evangelicals need to read the Bible in a more Evangelical Manner” is given below.