My Thoughts on “The Bible Made Impossible” (1)

Smith, Christian. The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012. Kindle Edition.

Quotes & Notes re: “Introduction”[2]

Smith defines “biblicism” as follows: “a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.” He goes on to state that “…the biblicism that in much of American evangelicalism is presupposed to be the cornerstone to Christian truth and faithfulness is misguided and impossible. It does not and cannot live up to its own claims.” Smith emphasizes consistently throughout the book that “[i]n order for evangelical biblicism to appear to work, therefore, those who believe in it have to engage in various forms of textual selectivity, denial, and contortion…”.

The author then lays out that the claims of biblicism are undermined by one clear and obvious reality: the issue of what Smith calls “pervasive interpretive pluralism.” He states, “Pervasive interpretive pluralism is the proverbial massive elephant in the room of evangelical biblicism that nobody talks about. I want to talk about it.” But what is this pervasive interpretive pluralism of which he insists has always existed, and why is it such a problem for biblicism? Simply stated, pervasive interpretive pluralism is the reality that over the centuries there have always been a “ubiquitous variety and combinations of ‘biblical’ teachings that sincere readers of the Bible think it teaches on nearly every subject.”

Yet, biblicism insists that the Bible, being God’s word, is perspicuous[3] and self-evident in meaning and since “the Spirit performs the functions of a teacher to all the children of God, it follows inevitably that they must agree in all essential matters in their interpretation of the Bible.”[4] But that, insists Smith, is not the reality. Sincere readers as well as biblical scholars and theologians have, throughout the centuries, provided so-called “plain passages of scripture” with a wide variety of conflicting interpretations. Even those who hold to biblicism’s claims do not agree on interpretations of scripture which they all claim is clear and self-evident in meaning.  

In the first four chapters, Smith dismantles biblicism’s claims, by first presenting “the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism” and then by demonstrating “the extent and source of pervasive interpretive pluralism.” He, then, offers some historical, sociological, and psychological reasons why biblicism’s claim are so appealing to many. To finish out “Part 1: The Impossibility of Biblicism,” in chapter 4, Smith discusses other problems biblicism both has and produces.

In the next three chapters, Smith offers some suggestions and recommendations for better ways to read the Bible than through the lens of biblicism. He closes out the book with a “Conclusion” and, in his 2012 edition, an “Afterword.” Then follows thirty-four pages of “Notes,” and a sufficient but not extensive “Index.”

In reading the “Introduction,” I felt validated with regard to how I see the Bible as polyphonic (i.e., multivocal) and thus demonstrating a wide variety of theological viewpoints, some of which are not just held in tension but are contradictory. Therefore, many passages of scripture (both Old Testament and New) suggest a variety of valid interpretations. I had been taught and held to an essentially biblicist perspective and even served as an apologist for my denomination’s version of biblicism for the first thirty years of my spiritual journey. However, in the last sixteen years, I have become increasingly more convinced that conservative evangelicalism’s and fundamentalism’s denial of the polyphonic nature of the biblical texts is either innocently ignorant or else consciously deceitful.  

In particular, I looked forward to reading Part 1 of Smith’s book. However, I was still wary because of the following statement in which he provided a glimpse of his personal hermeneutical lens: “My argument as follows does not question the doctrine of divine inspiration of the Bible. … I am not suggesting that the Bible is just a set of historical writings set in particular cultures, or the record of human subjective experiences of the divine that has little to say to contemporary people, without being translated into terms that modern people can accept.” I do appreciate Smith’s “full disclosure, that, since completing the writing of this book, I have joined the Catholic Church.” He goes on to state that his “reasons for becoming Catholic…were many, and only partly related to the issues raised here.” This is a clue to a very different view of the Bible than I have; a fact that will be demonstrated much later in the book.

However, with a combination of optimism, excitement, and some wariness, I proceeding to delve into the depths of the book with the eye-catching and intellectually intriguing title, The Bible Made Impossible.

[1] Smith, Christian. The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012. Kindle Edition.

[2] I was reading from the Kindle Edition and unfortunately in the “Introduction” chapter, there are no page references given. However, page numbers can be found starting in Chapter 1.

[3] Perspicuous is based on Latin perspicere, meaning “to see through,” so that which is perspicuous is clear and understandable.

[4] Quote from Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology.

2 thoughts on “My Thoughts on “The Bible Made Impossible” (1)

  1. Interesting!! Also, you might be interested in Mark Alan Bowald, Rendering the Word: Theological Hermeneutics: Mapping Divine and Human Agency. Routledge – a whole chapter on the Kantian background of “objective reading” that lies back of some of that, and which also undermines the theological claims …


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: