Smith, Christian. The Bible Made Impossible. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012. Kindle Edition.
Chapter 3: Some Relevant History, Sociology, and Psychology
Most biblicists carry on with unperturbed confidence in biblicist assumptions and beliefs, paying little attention to the ramifications of multiple counterclaims about rival biblical teachings. Why and how can this be? The answers are multiple, and I can offer only conjectures about some of the possibilities here. (60)
Possibility number one: “homophily — love for and attraction to what is similar to oneself, is one of the strongest forces operating in social life” (60). Bottom line: people of faith have a very strong tendency “to cluster together into homogeneous social networks of similarly believing people” (60). Biblicists, who are people, are no exception, and thus their very tight social network reinforces the perceptions, concerns, beliefs, and practices of biblicism.
Possibility number two: the common tendency to minimize the real differences of interpretation with a response such as, “But most of those differences are about minor issues.” It seems they especially ignore (or are ignorant of) the fact that there are disagreements among biblicists “about what the Bible teaches on most issues, both essentials and secondary matters, [which] are many and profound” (62).
Possibility number three: “Establishing difference from others is a primary way that people and groups come to understand their own identities and continue to mobilize resources” (62). Smith notes that “different communities of faith come to ‘need’ others with whom they disagree in order to help sustain their internal identity commitments” (62-63). Knowing who is “in” and who is “out” is very important to the most conservative faith groups. He goes on to state, “biblicism’s need to create order and security to shield against chaos and error could be so powerful that it overrides concerns about pervasive interpretive pluralism” (66).
As one who was converted into, trained by, and raised up into leadership of a biblicist denomination, each one of Smith’s conjectures feels very familiar. I loved the relationships and the sense of unity in doctrine, practice, and mission that I experienced not only within my local congregation but within our multinational and expanding denomination. As one who served as an apologist for our form of biblicism, I absolutely minimized what I considered the Bible’s so-called contradictions and confidently expressed that there were ways to explain away these seemingly contradictory biblical teachings. Also, to my shame, I, too, needed opponents with whom I could disagree and label as “liberal,” “unbelievers,” “false teachers,” or at the very least “weak and struggling.” Knowing who was “in” and who was “out” was psychologically very important to me. I am grateful to many for helping me see and renounce my form of biblicist perspectives and convictions, but still do struggle, at times, with feelings of loss in that I’ve yet to find my place or role in my new faith world.
Chapter 4: Subsidiary Problems with Biblicism
Smith begins this chapter with a discussion of the problems caused by ignoring the reality of pervasive interpretive pluralism. The first is “that denial exacts heavy costs in undercutting intellectual honesty and theological credibility” (67). A second problem is the reality that most biblicists blatantly ignore a “myriad of biblical passages that contain clear commands and teachings” (68). Third, biblicists arbitrarily determine what teachings and examples in the Bible can be ignored because they are deemed as being cultural. “In other words,” Smith states, “biblicists very often engage in what we might call ‘uneven and capriciously selective literalism’” (69-70). Fourth, since “biblicism is impossible to practice in actual experience” its adherents often use the Bible “in various ways to help legitimate and maintain the commitments and assumptions that they had already held before coming to the biblical text” (75).
Fifth—and I think one of the biggest or most fundamental problems of biblicism—is that mainly there are but “five texts about ‘scripture’ [which] matter most for biblicists” (79). These are: John 10:35—“scripture cannot be broken;” Romans 15:4—“everything that was written in the past was written to teach us;” 1 Timothy 4:13—“devote yourself to the public reading of scripture;” 2 Timothy 3:15–17—“All Scripture is God-breathed;” and 2 Peter 1:20–21—“No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation” (79–80). Smith concludes, “All of that says a lot, but what it says does not add up to the theory of biblicism as described above and practiced by many American evangelicals” (80).
I think Smith is spot on here. These passages do not say the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible are “inspire,” “inerrant,” or “infallible” or that these books are the only “God-breathed” texts. Certainly at the writing of these NT texts, there was no officially recognized and complete “canon” of either the OT books or the NT books. To state as Greg Boyd, and many others do, that 2 Timothy 3:16 refers to the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible is wildly anachronistic! One can choose to believe that claim, but to say that the authors of these passages had the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible, and only these sixty-six books, is highly misleading!
But then Smith states, “What is clearly correct in biblicim, according to the Bible’s self-attestation, is scripture’s divine inspiration” (80). With that I wholeheartedly disagree, for so many reasons, which I won’t get into here. Someday soon, I’ll post updated articles explaining why I disagree that “divine inspiration” was a claim made by any biblical author. But for now, see Some Thoughts on 2 Timothy 3:16–17. With that exception—and I am not unaware of how important a disagreement that is—I agree with Smith when he states,
But none of these biblical passages themselves obviously or necessarily teaches divine writing, total representation, complete coverage, democratic perspicuity, commonsense hermeneutics, solo scriptura, internal harmony, universal applicability, inductive method, or the handbook model (as I described them above) … A significant gap exists between what the Bible has to say about scripture and what biblicism says. In order to bridge that gap, to get from actual biblical texts to biblicist theory, it is necessary to employ decidedly nonbiblicist methods, including eisegesis and the making of multiple inferences that the relevant texts hardly necessitate (80, 82).
He concludes this chapter by stating that “[t]here must be a better way to understand and read the Bible. What might that be?” (92). This is Smith’s launching point into Part 2 of his book, and specifically into “Chapter 5: The Christocentric Hermeneutical Key,” as his proposed better way to understand and read the Bible. However, I don’t believe it is the best way, and it certainly isn’t the only legitimate lens through which to read and interpret the biblical texts.
One thought on “My Thoughts on “The Bible Made Impossible” (4)”
This is a thought-provoking analysis of the challenges of biblicism, with insightful conjectures and criticisms of its assumptions and practices. Smith’s exploration of the sociological and psychological factors that reinforce biblicist beliefs and behaviors is particularly illuminating.
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