Christian Smith’s new book The Bible Made Impossible is an excellent argument for the need to go beyond the typical evangelical propositions concerning the bible. Before people get too upset about him striking at the core of evangelical Christianity (more on that later), please note that he is also the one who coined the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) which is the opposite extreme. I personally can attest to the problem with MTD since I belonged to a church for quite a few years who could not move past the shallow and selfish and go to the next level by helping others including the poor. When I started complaining that we don’t need another building or to spend more money and we should start helping the poor they kicked me out. So much for country club church with me. Christian Smith nailed it in that one (see the Wikipedia article on MTD) and he has done it again with his latest effort.
As bad as MTD is, I believe Biblicism is even more dangerous. Per Smith, Biblicism is:
- Divine Writing: The Bible is God’s very own words in human language
- Total Representation: Everything God wants us to know is in the Bible
- Complete Coverage: All issues are represented there.
- Democratic Perspicuity: All reasonable people can get the meaning of what is written
- Commonsense Hermeneutics: Read the plain literal meaning of the texts
- Solo Scriptura: The bible needs no outside creed or teaching to interpret any part of the text
- Internal Harmony: There are no inconsistencies
- Universal Applicability: What is taught in the bible is valid for everyone at all times.
- Inductive Method: Everything we need to know can be known by piecing together the bible
- Handbook Model: The bible makes a good handbook for living using its divine knowledge
Does that sound like anyone you know? It does to me. I live in rural Virginia and regularly run across people for whom this is the only way to understand the bible.
Smith’s central premise is that there is Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism in Christianity and given that, Biblicism cannot be true. Further, Biblicism itself contributes to the amount of interpretive pluralism out there in the community. I certainly agree. To say it in other words, if the bible is a divine representation of everything God wants to tell us and it is plain what those teachings are then why do so many people have different opinions about the truth the bible is supposed to reveal? Good question. The answer is that the Biblicism outlined makes the Bible impossible. It is not the Bible we have been given.
I feel this biblicism is dangerous because:
- It sets up people to fail. That is, they cannot succeed in seeing what biblicism says they should see.
- It makes Christianity close to being a cult, where people have to believe things that are unreasonable
- It puts people’s interpretation of the bible on the same level as the word of God
- and most importantly, it keeps people from truly discovering Christ Jesus.
Smith does not shirk responsibility and throw down the gauntlet without at least pointing us to a solution. And the solution is the obvious one, we need to interpret and understand scripture using a Christotelic hermeneutic. That is, we have to understand that the end purpose of scripture is Christ Jesus and we need to have Jesus be the center of our interpretation. Yes!
Now Smith’s book has been received very well by some elements of evangelical Christianity, including me, and quite poorly by others. Some have even said that this book takes a cut at the heart of evangelical Christianity. One of the interesting dynamics about the reviews is that the negative ones assert that the book is not about them, but then they go on to take great offense at what is written. Well, if the shoe fits, they need to wear it. If you care to read this negative review, and go toward the end of the comments section you will see Smith directly engaging the blog author on the review, good stuff).
While this book is definitely academic and not really the type of thing I would recommend to the average pew sitter, I enjoyed it so much I bought 4 copies so I can share. Give it a try!