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The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture
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The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  452 ratings  ·  87 reviews
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 evangelic ...more
Hardcover, 220 pages
Published August 1st 2011 by Brazos Press
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The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnightScripture and the Authority of God by N.T. WrightThe Bible Made Impossible by Christian SmithMisreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E. Randolph RichardsWhose Community? Which Interpretation? by Merold Westphal
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Community Reviews

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David Shane
Let me say that I respect Christian Smith and have found some of his writings, particularly those on young Christians in America, quite valuable. And I wholeheartedly share his desire for Christian unity that is so clear in the pages of this book. Nonetheless, I found this book kind of a mess.

The first part of the book discusses the problems of what Smith calls "Biblicism", which emphasizes the clarity, inerrancy, universal applicability and completeness of scripture. A few thoughts,

1. I think h
Demetrius Rogers
Smith has some good things to say, but, in my opinion, his overall argument suffered terribly from straw-man examples and non-sequiturs. This book, more than anything else, seemed to me like the fruit from the author's journey from Evangelicalism into Catholicism. And yet it seemed odd that he wrote a book to advise Evangelicals when he no longer wants to be one himself. Smith was interesting to read and kept my attention throughout, but his work struck me as piecemeal and failed to persuade.

This is an outstanding book, in which Christian Smith challenges "Biblicism" -- a constellation of common evangelical assumptions about the Bible. It's written to challenge those who approach the Bible as a inerrant handbook on all walks of life (science, economics, health, politics, romance, whatever). The author argues, quite convincingly, that the Biblicist outlook (including "exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and un ...more
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has grown up in evangelical culture and finds themselves rethinking what role the Bible should play in their life. I've found many criticisms of what the Bible shouldn't be in one's life, but there has been a vacuum of a positive solution as to what it should be. Smith tries to fill that vacuum, albeit incompletely.

Smith describes biblicism as "a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, s
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: 1)Divine Writing, 2) Total Representation, 3) Complet ...more
Skimmed. Not very good or engaging. The primary burden of this book is its desire to dress up what is essentially a conversion narrative in academic regalia. But the real pain and suffering in wading through it is that it lies to the reader, for this is no critique of "Biblicism" at all but rather a dislike and distaste for the Bible disguised as pseudo-scholarship that has been dispatched time and time again well into the last century. Smith has no appreciation for either the Bible or the depth ...more
A challenging read, this book pushes those who love the gospel of Jesus Christ to consider how their love of the Bible can cause them to read the Bible like the Pharisees, instead of letting the Bible point them to the One it is really all about. It's a helpful challenge to stop reading for imperatives and "how to's" first, instead letting those flow from who Christ is revealed to be in Scripture. I especially appreciated the distinction between dogma, doctrine, and opinion (and the need to keep ...more
Jon Sedlak
This is one of those kinds of books which is easy to react against. It's also easy to find a handful of holes in specific examples of argumentation. However, the general gist of the book is correct. How is biblicism used and abused in contemporary culture? How pervasive is this as a problem, considering if it is indeed problematic?

One of the ways in which I respect Smith's approach throughout the book is to handle the problem of biblicism as a pervasive social phenomenon in contemporary America
Paul Bruggink
Dr. Christian Smith defines Biblicism as "a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability." He then gives ten assumptions or beliefs that commonly characterize the general biblicist outlook. This is followed by examples of biblicism in slogans and "Bible Answers for . . . " books. The first four chapters (87 pages) define and present evidence for "the B ...more
Josh Welker
This was quite a great read. Christian Smith's book has a very specific thesis that it articulates very well: that "biblicism" is both an intellectually dishonest and logically impossible way to approach interpreting the Bible. By "biblicism," Smith refers to a whole family of ideas regarding the Bible that are normally associated with conservative/fundamentalist evangelicals. Among them are the concepts of inerrancy, the Bible as a handbook for life, the Bible as a collection of facts and propo ...more
Erika RS
(2/5 for presentation, 4/5 for the main point)

There is a fine balance between supporting your point and belaboring it. In this book, Smith makes a very important case against what he calls biblicism, but nearly everything you need to get the core point can be found in the introduction and the conclusion. The rest of the book expands the points made there, but not in a way that enlightens. But the core insight of the book is one of those valuable "ah hah!" ideas that is worth pondering for anyone
Frank Della Torre
Is the Bible "God's Word"? And if so, what does that mean for the many diverse (some might say, fragmented) interpretations that are widespread throughout the church at large, and Protestant denominations in particular? In the face of this widespread disagreement about how to handle the Bible, Dr. Christian Smith (PhD, Yale) seeks to provide an explanation for how this could be the case.

The fact of the matter is that 20th century hermeneutics has dealt a heavy blow to the supposed "hermeneutic o
In The Bible Made Impossible sociologist, Christian Smith, is attempting to show how "biblicism" is an "untenable" method for interpreting Scripture and a flawed view of biblical authority. He describes "biblicism" as a "constellation of related assumptions" about the Bible that pervades American evangelicalism. He admits that it is not a comprehensively formalized view that would be "subscribed to identically by all adherents," but again, describes it as a group of related, deep-seated assumpti ...more
Jacob McGill
I have high hopes for this book's impact on evangelical thinking. The critiques this book offers present much of my thinking since graduating from a highly reformed SBC school. As I have presented these ideas to others around me I have often been met with misunderstandings and people who think I am rejecting Christianity. Hopefully this book will bring some understanding to what neo-orthodox thinking about Scripture really is, and how it is not a re-working of classic liberalism. I think his cri ...more
==A noble vision in biblical reconciliation==
Christian Smith has taken on the large task of attempting to convince evangelical fundamentalists to cease--or at least soften--their doctrinal prevalence of bibliolatry (Bible-worship), or, as Smith calls it, "biblicism" which means preaching the Bible's exclusive authority, infallibility, clarity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability. The most prominent example of such biblicism that Smith often r
Christian Smith's goal in "The Bible Made Impossible" is that using a literal/Biblicist reading of the text of Scripture is illogical on its own terms. While many other authors have written many other books on this thesis before, Smith brings a unique perspective to the table. He defines Biblicism as distinct from "Sola Scriptura" doctrine and also points out that just because you oppose Biblicism does not mean you have to accept a liberal rendering. Thus, in Smith's world, one can believe in " ...more
Brice Higginbotham
Strengths and Weaknesses of The Bible Made Impossible

The greatest strengths of The Bible Made Impossible come, unsurprisingly, from observations in the author’s area of expertise, i.e. sociology. Two sections immediately come to mind: (1) Why Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism Is Not More Troubling to Biblicists: Sociological and Psychological Conjectures on pages 60-65, and (2) Understanding Different Ways of Doing by Saying on pages 156-163. As can be seen even from their brief treatment below,
Scott Ostlund
Helpful book on Biblicism and its EFFECTS. A major opposition to this text (as the author states), is that all of the main narrow manifestations of Biblicism are not present in Biblicist teachers, pastors or ministers. Smith states that though this is true... all of the manifestations of Biblicism are being prescribed to and lived out dogmatically among 'parishioners' or those who follow such Biblicist teachers.

Even for those that have a narrow and hyper-literal method of interpreting Scripture
Apr 23, 2015 Jeff rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2015
"Biblicism discredits church proclamation by creating conditions that encourage massive disunity and fragmentation. Christian churches - particularly biblicist churches - speak not about one Lord, one faith, one baptism. They speak rather with a cacophony of voices about many version of faith, involving various approaches to baptism and concerning a God who by various accounts can end up sounding like quite different Lords."
What Christian Smith seeks to answer in this book is what he perceives to be the logical inconsistency between the typical conservative Western Christian view of the Bible (or "biblicists"). Typically, he says, people fall into two camps: those who buy the biblicist theory, and those who reject any sort of inspiration. Both views fail if one is to view the Bible as a reasonable basis for faith. Smith attempts to challenge the prevailing conservative view by offering a framework for a potential s ...more
Nov 05, 2014 Ron added it
In this book, Christian Smith contends that “biblicism”, an interpretative approach to the Bible that emphasizes its “exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability” is an approach that is not simply erroneous, but according to Smith, it is “impossible”. For Smith, biblicism cannot work on its own terms, and those who adhere to its tenets have to engage in various processes of denial and selectivity relat ...more
Jeff Bettger
This book clearly articulates some things I have thought about for many years, but did not have words for. Christian Smith is known for bringing us the cultural critic of American Spirituality in his book "Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers". He calls our generic form of spirituality as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

In this book he introduces us to another term that describes the state of evangelical christianity and its multi faceted low view (regarded by ev
Matt LeFevers
I just changed my rating of this book four or five times, back and forth, between two and three. If I could rate its ideas and insights a five and the writing a two, that would hit closer to the mark.

Simply put, this book is densely written. Verbose, loquacious. I have owned a Kindle for several years now and almost never needed to use its "dictionary" feature until yesterday, when I needed it six or seven times in one chapter. For entertainment's sake, I took one random paragraph (maybe four se
This book has a particular audience. It is aimed at (mostly American) conservative evangelicals. Its purpose is to convince them that some of the beliefs they hold about the Bible, or at least how to use it, are ... impossible. Smith is stronger in his criticisms than in his positive alternative. Also, there is some irony in the subtitle, as Smith converted to Catholicism around the time of or soon after the publication of this book.
Stephen Bedard
This was a frustrating book. I really did not like his description of biblicism and felt he was creating a straw man. Still he did pinpoint some problems with evangelical biblical interpretation. I also liked his Christ-centered approach. I almost didn't finish the book but there is enough good things in the second half that I am glad that I did finish the book.
Pauline Youd
This is a book that needs to be read from back to front or at least start with Part 2. I was so tired of hearing about the author's pet phrase "pervasive interpretive pluralism" that I quit reading the book several times and let it sit with a bookmark in it. But since my son gave it to me and thought so highly of it, I at least wanted to finish it and give it a chance at redemption.
The author seemed so "up in arms" at the thought of people using the Bible as proof for all their pet indulgences,
Jason Postma
Smith's critique of biblicism is incisive and devastatingly effective. Trouble is, he'll probably end up preaching to the choir (if you have any doubt, take a look at Kevin deYoung's "review" of it over at the Gospel Coalition).

Either way, this is an important book to be read by pastors, seminary students, and the discerning lay person.
Trevor Lloyd
Really enjoyed this book. I think that every Bible teacher should read it. By making us face the reality of 'pervasive interpretive pluralism'(even those who claim to believe in biblical authority actually disagree on what it teaches on many things, including quite crucial issues)he doesn't weaken our confidence in the Bible, but in biblicism! Rather, he helps start to clear the ground for putting our confidence in the Bible on the better foundation of Christ, who he rightly sees as the focus an ...more
Helen Bratko
Loved this book, but it was on the intellectual side and a bit hard to get through, therefore the 4 stars. I think every evangelical or post-evangelical should read this book and hopefully turn to a less certain, more loving approach to the bible and others.

“Appealing to the same scriptural texts, Christians remain deeply divided on most issues, often with intense fervor and sometimes hostility toward one another.”

“What holds scripture together is not simply accurate information or inerrant posi
Richard Coombs
A challenging and stimulating read. Raises issues of 'scriptural authority' when there ends up being a variety of 'views and interpretations'. Appreciated his honest questions.
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Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. Smith's research focuses primarily on religion in modernity, adolescents, American evangelicalism, and culture.
More about Christian Smith...
Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving

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“What holds scripture together is not simply accurate information or inerrant propositions about God, life, and the world. What holds it together is the reality of Christ himself, the living, eternal Son through whom God reconciles the world to himself in love.” 1 likes
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