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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

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  592 Ratings  ·  101 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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David Shane
Jun 17, 2012 David Shane rated it did not like it
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
Aug 07, 2011 David rated it it was amazing
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
Demetrius Rogers
Aug 10, 2012 Demetrius Rogers rated it it was ok
Shelves: bible-theology
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.

Mar 13, 2012 Katharine rated it really liked it
Shelves: faith
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
Mar 26, 2012 Bob rated it liked it
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
Kendra Winchester
Jan 03, 2016 Kendra Winchester rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology
Book Three of the Cornelius Series | While I disagree with Smith's basic premise that the Bible isn't a manual for life, he points out serious problems with fundamental evangelical interpretations of scripture--we as faulty human beings bring a lot of baggage with us when we interpret the Bible.

He argues, "Sometimes it seems as if believers--myself included--distract themselves with more obscure, speculative, and cryptic issues related to scripture precisely in order to avoid having to face and
Oct 29, 2011 D.N. rated it it was ok
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
Jun 05, 2012 Daniel rated it really liked it
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
Josh Welker
Dec 13, 2012 Josh Welker rated it really liked it
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
Paul Bruggink
Nov 02, 2012 Paul Bruggink rated it it was amazing
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
Erika RS
May 29, 2012 Erika RS rated it liked it
(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
Oct 28, 2016 Conor rated it liked it
While I did not grow up deep in the American Evangelical tradition, I imagine those who have would find this book a breath of fresh air in regards to what the bible is and how to read it well.

Smith's critique of biblicism is essentially twofold: 1) a critique of modernism and how its epistemological precepts have become synonymous with American evangelicalism, and 2) what biblicists believe the bible is, is in fact not what the bible is.

Smith is very open and upfront about what he's doing, arti
Jon Sedlak
Oct 04, 2014 Jon Sedlak rated it really liked it
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
Jun 16, 2012 Ashley rated it really liked it
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
Nov 22, 2011 Andy rated it really liked it
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
==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
Jacob McGill
Sep 04, 2011 Jacob McGill rated it really liked it
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
Brice Higginbotham
Nov 11, 2013 Brice Higginbotham rated it really liked it
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,
Lots of good things to say about this one. If you have ever wondered how people of good character can disagree so badly over what the bible says teaches and requires of Christians then this is the book for you. The main target in this book is to give an explanation of the sources of and the self defeating nature of what he calls biblicism. Biblicism (I summarize) is the idea the Bible is clear and univocal, able to be understood by everyone, and handbook like in its applicability. However, bibli ...more
Frankie Della Torre
May 26, 2014 Frankie Della Torre rated it really liked it
Shelves: christianity
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
Scott Ostlund
May 15, 2013 Scott Ostlund rated it really liked it
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
Sep 29, 2012 Jon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology
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
Rob McFarren
May 14, 2012 Rob McFarren rated it it was amazing
This is an important read. A very comprehensive and thoughtful critique of biblicism and its inadequacies as the primary lens for the use and authority of the Bible. It is well researched and admittedly resonated with many of the problems the thousands of varieties of the Christian faith have in saying "we're the only way". Stop trying to find the one and only biblical solution...start faithfully understanding the authority of scripture as what it is rather than a boost to theological ideology t ...more
Joshua Smith
Jan 17, 2012 Joshua Smith rated it liked it
Smith makes some very good points. The book relies on the assertion of the existence of biblicists, which Smith defines as evidencing 10 particular features. Many evangelicals do hold to a majority of these features though not all do. The book seems largely aimed at a naive biblicism (Kevin Vanhoozer's term) rather than a more nuanced variety. Thus, the force of Smith's argument is leveled against evangelical pop-culture where the overtures thereof should be heard and responded to. His construct ...more
Jun 23, 2013 Charlie rated it liked it
Shelves: biblical-studies
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.
Apr 23, 2015 Jeff rated it really liked it
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."
Stephen Bedard
Jun 21, 2012 Stephen Bedard rated it liked it
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.
Jason Postma
Aug 11, 2011 Jason Postma rated it really liked it
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.
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.
Adam Omelianchuk
Jun 22, 2012 Adam Omelianchuk rated it liked it
I should have liked Christian Smith's latest commentary on evangelical Christians and Scripture, but I didn't; The Bible Made Impossible never really hit an interesting target even though Smith shoots a scatter gun at what he calls "biblicism." What is biblicism? Smith lists ten things that function as biblicist beliefs:

1. The words of the Bible are identical with God's words written inerrantly in human language.
2. The Bible represents the totality of God's will for humanity.
3. The divine will
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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...

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“The evangelical Old Testament biblical scholar Christopher Wright states the matter even more strongly: “We are listening, not to a single voice, not even to a single choir in harmony, but to several choirs singing different songs with some protest groups jamming in the wings.”[113]” 1 likes
“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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