Last year, Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible fueled some great conversations about the role of Scripture and the church today (see posts by Daniel Kirk and Rachel Held Evans for a few of my favorite conversations about the book). The book is fantastic – a very challenging but worthwhile look at how we read the Bible and how we are shaped by how we read the Bible.
In The Bible Made Impossible, Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame who has studied and written extensively about evangelical Christianity, targets the reading strategy and hermeneutic approach he calls biblicism, characterized by 10 assumptions (below as summarized by Daniel Kirk):
- Scripture contains the very words of God (divine writing)
- The Bible is God’s exclusive means of communication with people
- Everything God needs to tell us about belief and life is in the Bible
- Anyone can read, understand and thus rightly interpret the Bible
- The Bible can be understood in its plain, literal sense
- We can build theology from scratch without creeds or confessions
- All the passages touching on the same topic can be brought together into a harmonious whole
- The Bible is universally applicable to people in all times and places
- Inductive method leads to right hearing of the text
- The Bible, read this way, provides a handbook for living
According to Smith, biblicism, as outlined above, fails when faced with the reality of the Bible’s pervasive interpretive pluralism; biblicism, he argues, is a naïve theory that cannot withstand the questions inherent in the depth and breadth of the Bible. What is needed is an alternative method and practice of reading Scripture that moves past the puzzles of interpretation plaguing readers of the Bible.
Blogs are wonderful conversation hubs, but a book like Smith’s should be be read and discussed in the community’s of faith that read Scripture together in worship: these are the communities of interpretation that Smith addresses, and these are the communities that can craft a new way forward in faithfulness.
I’m grateful to be a part of a community that’s willing to take space and time to have such a conversation. This weekend, a number of us from Kairos will be having a conversation about Smith’s book but more so about our own assumptions about the Bible and the interpretative practices we use when we read the Scriptures.
My friend Matt and I put together an overview of the book as a resource for our community – a short summary of each chapter and some quotes selected throughout the book. Feel free to check it out – The Bible Made Impossible (Overview) – and use it if it would be helpful to you or your community.
But, seriously, read the book and find some people to talk about it with (and if you’re in LA, join us on Saturday night!).