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The Bible Made Impossible


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#1 Tyler

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 07:15 PM

I saw this when Overstreet posted this on Facebook.

Amazon page product description:

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. Smith describes the assumptions, beliefs, and practices of evangelical biblicism and sets it in historical, sociological, and philosophical context. He explains why it is an impossible approach to the Bible as an authority and provides constructive alternative approaches to help evangelicals be more honest and faithful in reading 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.



#2 Ryan H.

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 07:58 PM

From that blurb, it's entirely hard to gauge whether or not Smith has anything new to bring to this well-worn discussion. Given the amount of attention that has been given to this topic, I'm kinda skeptical. If it becomes clear that Smith does have some new light to shed on these matters, though, I'll pick it up.

Edited by Ryan H., 22 March 2011 - 08:00 PM.


#3 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 08:05 PM

My best friend at church is fond of the late Raymond Broun, a scholar of the Gospel of John. We together encountered the biblicist term working through one of Broun's books. I have since happily declared myself a biblicist. My anecdotal experience on the subject is that biblicists, whatever their faults with respect to, I imagine, comprehensive interpretation of scripture, actually read, absorb, and inwardly digest the scriptures. They have much of scripture at their fingertips. Many who, anecdotally now, might enjoy using biblisism as an epithet are not so familiar with scripture and enjoy the study about scripture and the meta analysis of scripture. Many, not all. I will read this book.

I say the above as the official Bible scholar at St. John's. In the land of the blind, One Eye is king.

#4 mrmando

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 11:53 PM

Are the potential errors of biblicism greater than the potential errors in other approaches?

#5 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 12:20 AM

So a sociologist's new take on the ancient Christian doctrines of Sola Scriptura and Inerrancy, huh?

I can hear the way the book reads already ...

The out-dated paradigm of inflexible interpretive method does not account for the many different variable connections and substantial points of view that have arisen out of the same text, purported, by those holders of the old paradigm scheme, to not allow for heterogeneous connotations. If we do not insist on being so rigorous, we could see how impossible it is that any one discipline should be allowed to construct a single theory without taking into account the multiplicity of social activities and movements which may, or may not, each have their own important nexus with perfectly valid assimilations to the text, none of which could properly be denied by any minority group. The recent policy shifts within the evangelical community alone, in only the last couple decades (although a small sample size), have been instrumental in demonstrating the insurmountable difficulties in making a simple claim to one meaning or truth of the text in the face of different successful human agencies, some of whom have been able to create a new evolving nexus between their daily activities and the emotional attainment that is useful to understanding the communal shifts in humanity in response to interfaith workings that are innervated by more amenable parts of the Bible, and in spite of the non-resiliency of a quantitatively small group of fundamentalists. Thanks to the modern theory-building (we now have a hyper-paradigm) social performances allowed us today by increased public choice analysis, we no longer have to be bound by debilitated and limited viewpoints on the ancient text, but also, generally when ... yadda, yadda, yadda and please kill me now.

(And yes, I admit it, I disliked my college sociology class strongly.)

Edited by Persiflage, 21 May 2011 - 01:44 PM.


#6 Overstreet

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 12:26 AM

This community is getting really good at making dartboards out of books that aren't even published yet.

I'm looking forward to reading Smith's book.

Until I do, I'm going to refrain from critiquing it.

#7 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 05:13 AM

This community is getting really good at making dartboards out of books that aren't even published yet.

I'm looking forward to reading Smith's book.

Until I do, I'm going to refrain from critiquing it.

I'm sorry Jeffrey. I had no intention of creating a dartboard.

I was responding to another encounter with a rarely used and heard term outside of particular theological circles. A term I embrace in response to its use as a pejorative (I don't know of its use other than as a pejorative). It is the employment of a term that galvanizes me, not the trashing of books yet to be read. I will read it.

Edited by Rich Kennedy, 23 March 2011 - 05:15 AM.


#8 Thom Wade

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 07:36 AM

The idea of sola scripture and that the Bible is inerrent is not actually scripturally based, but extra-Biblical. :)

Rich...it was a thorough reading of scripture that left me seein th boolishness of Biblicism. :P :)

#9 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 04:21 PM

The idea of sola scripture and that the Bible is inerrent is not actually scripturally based, but extra-Biblical. Posted Image

I've always been uncomfortable with the term inerrancy. "In the original autographs" is not something I want to defend without the original autographs to hand. Now, maybe sola scriptura as defined by the solas might be extra biblical, but it would seem to me that taken at face value, the writers of the scriptures certainly are arguing God's truth as it was revealed to them. And they, by reason of tradition and canon are not ordinary writers. If scripture is not the most stalwart of the three legged stool, there is not much to anchor the church in "the faith once revealed to the saints". Besides, the real practical value of scripture is the stuff few read because it has no real reverse-prooftext value (by this I mean the cherrypicking of the odd passage to highlight the anachronicity of scripture).

Rich...it was a thorough reading of scripture that left me seein th boolishness of Biblicism. Posted Image Posted Image

Feel free to explain. Like I say, I've never seen Biblicism used as a non-pejorative term.

Edited by Rich Kennedy, 23 March 2011 - 04:25 PM.


#10 Ryan H.

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 04:29 PM

I've always been uncomfortable with the term inerrancy.

Me too. In the "inerrantist" / "infallibilist" debate, though, I've always found myself uncomfortable with articulations of the infallibilist position, too, which inevitably seems to result in people reading over the scriptures and saying, "We don't really need to accept that or that," which almost always starts with relatively minor things and then ends up with some pretty big things. If someone can articulate the "infallibilist" position with some firm and clear boundaries, then I would love to read that work.

#11 M. Leary

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 04:30 PM

This community is getting really good at making dartboards out of books that aren't even published yet.

I'm looking forward to reading Smith's book.

Until I do, I'm going to refrain from critiquing it.


I do wish these kinds of blurbs didn't resort to terms like "biblicist." Anyone that has ever opened a bible is a biblicist.

As far as the topic of authority is concerned, I look forward to seeing if this book as anything to say above and beyond Wright's immense word on the matter.

#12 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 05:20 PM

Overstreet wrote:
: This community is getting really good at making dartboards out of books that aren't even published yet.

Well, no more than it does of films that haven't even been made yet, at any rate.

Rich Kennedy wrote:
: I've always been uncomfortable with the term inerrancy.

Yeah, it's a completely indefensible term if it's taken literally, as applied to the Bible itself, and the efforts of some savvier evangelicals to save the word by saying that the Bible is inerrant not with regard to the content of the text itself but with regard to how it "serves God's purposes" or something just makes me wonder why we don't ditch the word altogether.

: "In the original autographs" is not something I want to defend without the original autographs to hand.

Heh, an interesting point, and not one I think I've ever heard anyone make before.

As far as proper methods for interpreting scripture go... well, it always catches me by surprise when I come across a New Testament passage that interprets an Old Testament passage in a way that most modern evangelicals would find rather sloppy or creative or, um, non-biblical.

Case in point: The other day I posted some stuff in our thread on Paul about the difficulties in calculating how long the Israelites were in Egypt before the Exodus. In Genesis, God makes a covenant with Abraham and predicts that his descendants will be strangers in a foreign country -- enslaved and mistreated -- for 400 years. In the standard Hebrew version of Exodus, we are told that the Hebrews stayed in Egypt for 430 years -- but the Greek and Samaritan versions of that text tell us that the Hebrews stayed in Egypt AND CANAAN for 430 years, thereby apparently indicating that God's prediction included the time that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in Canaan prior to the move to Egypt. Then Paul comes along, in Galatians, and clearly casts his lot with the 430-years-in-Egypt-and-Canaan crowd -- relying, as the New Testament writers so often do, on the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament and not on the original Hebrew version (at least as it is currently known to us; cf. also the version of Amos that James is quoted as citing in Acts 15).

One of the interesting little details here is that the NIV translation of Exodus says "430 years in Egypt" and relegates "and Canaan" to a footnote -- even though later Christian tradition, as embodied by New Testament co-author Paul himself, would presumably have put Canaan in the main text. But things get even more complicated when we look at the larger point that Paul is making, and how he makes it. Paul talks about how a promise was made to Abraham's "seed", singular, rather than "seeds", plural. But is this a distinction that would have made any sense, in context, in the original Hebrew or even in Greek? The OT passage that Paul cites is translated in the NIV not as "seed" but as "offspring", which would seem to make sense to anyone who was reading Genesis without the filters that Paul or any other Christian writer put on it. (Cf. also how Matthew's gospel insists on the idea that Isaiah 7:14 was predicting a "virgin" birth even though, in its original Hebrew and historical context, the passage was saying no such thing. Although in THAT case, I believe the NIV allows the later Greco-Christian interpretation of the OT to trump other, arguably more literal, readings of that passage.) So what do we do with those filters themselves?

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 23 March 2011 - 08:54 PM.


#13 Ryan H.

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 05:26 PM

Rich Kennedy wrote:
: I've always been uncomfortable with the term inerrancy.

Yeah, it's a completely indefensible term if it's taken literally, as applied to the Bible itself, and the efforts of some savvier evangelicals to save the word by saying that the Bible is inerrant not with regard to the content of the text itself but with regard to how it "serves God's purposes" or something just makes me wonder why we don't ditch the word altogether.

I've not heard the term "inerrancy" used that way. I have heard the term "infallibility" used that way, but all the folks I've encountered who claim the title "infallibilist" wouldn't try to retain the term "inerrancy."

#14 mrmando

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 06:18 PM

I do wish these kinds of blurbs didn't resort to terms like "biblicist." Anyone that has ever opened a bible is a biblicist.

I've seen people using the term "bibliolator," if you want something even more pejorative than "biblicist."

#15 Christian

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 07:39 PM

This community is getting really good at making dartboards out of books that aren't even published yet.

And, in general, at stating what we're against rather than what we're for.

#16 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 11:46 PM

And, in general, at stating what we're against rather than what we're for.

Heh heh, I believe that is the jist of the term co-belligerent. Seriously, it is always easier to state opposition than afirmation, particularly in theological and philosophical matters. Detailing what one is for often makes one the mountain in a game of "King of the Mountain" just about anywhere. That said, I am for immersing oneself in the scriptures as much as possible, consulting the scriptures first in an interpretation enterprise rather than sticking only with various studies of scripture. I affirm the value of reading scripture for its own instructive value and because it is God's Word on a page.

#17 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 24 March 2011 - 12:58 AM


This community is getting really good at making dartboards out of books that aren't even published yet.

And, in general, at stating what we're against rather than what we're for.

How about this?

#18 Christian

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Posted 24 March 2011 - 08:45 AM



This community is getting really good at making dartboards out of books that aren't even published yet.

And, in general, at stating what we're against rather than what we're for.

How about this?

Well, that's something, although I was thinking more of theology-specific threads when I wrote my post above.

#19 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 24 March 2011 - 04:33 PM

So Christian, relevant to this particular thread, what are you for.