Friday, October 11, 2013

"The Bible Made Impossible" by Christian Smith

From the Brazos blog:

Jack Heppner reflected on the role of Scripture and turned to The Bible Made Impossible, by Christian Smith.“Christopher Smith laments the fact that evangelicals have too easily written off Barth’s view of revelation. He summarizes Barth’s view as follows: ‘The highest , truest, most real and authoritative divine revelation to humanity is the Word of God, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity (John 1:1-18)…The Bible is also God’s Word, his word written. But Jesus Christ is the highest, most final, most real word of God. The Bible is God’s word written, which exists as a witness and testimony to the Word of God, Jesus Christ’ (124).”  link

Biblicism, an approach to the Bible common among some American evangelicals, emphasizes together the Bible's exclusive authority, infallibility, clarity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability. Acclaimed sociologist Christian Smith argues that this approach is misguided and unable to live up to its own claims. If evangelical biblicism worked as its proponents say it should, there would not be the vast variety of interpretive differences that biblicists themselves reach when they actually read and interpret the Bible. Far from challenging the inspiration and authority of Scripture, Smith critiques a particular rendering of it, encouraging evangelicals to seek a more responsible, coherent, and defensible approach to biblical authority


"Evangelicalism is cracking apart not because of theological drift to the left but because the only theology that can sustain a genuine evangelicalism is--to use the only word appropriate--a catholic theology. Many who were nurtured in American evangelicalism (as Christian Smith was) and now find it seriously deficient (as Christian Smith does) seem to be those on whom the light has dawned. I first saw a chapter of this book and was stunned; I've now read it all and am delighted. Here is a genuinely evangelical catholic understanding of scripture."
Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament, Northern Seminary
"Biblicism remains one of the most entrenched and pressing problems facing the church. In his characteristically lucid, direct, and fair-minded fashion, Christian Smith asks questions about biblicism that need to be answered. Smith also begins to articulate an alternative, Christ-centered approach to biblical interpretation that is supremely constructive--a truly evangelical account of scripture. Here his words fall like water on parched ground. We may expect the church to flourish as it reads them."
Douglas A. Campbell, associate professor of New Testament, Duke University Divinity School
"Christian Smith's The Bible Made Impossible is a slap across the conservative evangelical face: a challenge to a duel/debate over the nature and practice of biblical authority. Ever the sociologist, Smith forces readers to confront and account for the stubborn fact that not everyone who ascribes supreme authority to 'what the Bible says' hears God saying the same thing. Even those, like me, who are not persuaded by his 'truly evangelical' alternative will benefit from this strong dose of realism about the way in which evangelicals actually interpret and appeal to the Bible."
Kevin J. Vanhoozer, research professor of systematic theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
"I do not think that biblicism has been quite as destructive as Christian Smith describes it in this book (for example, among evangelicals there is very little 'pervasive interpretive pluralism' in understanding John 20:31). Despite this reservation, I think Smith has written an extremely valuable book. Although his account of the problems besetting biblicism is devastatingly effective, his appeal for a Christ-centered approach to scripture is wise, encouraging, and even more effective."
Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame
"Many books have been written either defending or detracting from an evangelical view of the Bible. Christian Smith, as a trained sociologist, offers a much-needed perspective: explaining evangelical biblicism as a sociological phenomenon. Smith demonstrates, respectfully but critically, that the type of biblicism that often characterizes evangelicalism cannot account for how scripture itself behaves. Biblicism is retained, however, because of its sociological value for 'maintaining safe identity boundaries.' Smith's analysis of the problem of biblicism and his offer of a way forward are important contributions to the current developments surrounding evangelicalism and the Bible."
Peter Enns, author, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins and Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament
"Christian Smith plainly says what so many others have been thinking or implying for some time--namely, that many strands of evangelicalism believe things about the Bible and theology that are simply impossible. Smith exposes the scholastic alchemy that holds this fragile theological edifice together and helps us understand that serious damage is done to the church and its witness when we perpetuate the errors of biblicism."
Kenton L. Sparks, professor of Hebrew Bible, Eastern University
"Smith vigorously presents a compelling possibility: The Bible could be more alive, the church could be more unified, those of us who care deeply about scripture could be less fearful about some collapse of authority and more honest about what is actually in the Bible if we simply began to listen with more humility and openness to what it is God seems most concerned to reveal. A great book for this time in the life of evangelicalism."
Debbie Blue, pastor, House of Mercy; author, Sensual Orthodoxy and From Stone to Living Word

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