Smith’s thoroughness anticipates this denial by spending the back half of Chapter 2 (37-42) in consideration of six Biblicist explanations for PIP. Most readers of this book will, like the author, find these explanations unsatisfactory. Smith offers an alternative explanation which is dependent on the very nature of all texts and languages. His explanation requires an understanding of two words he uses to describe the Bible: multivocal and polysemic . By describing the Bible as multivocal Smith writes, “it [the Bible] can and does speak to different listeners in different voices that appear to say different things.” (47) He defines polysemic as “multiple meanings”. (47) Beyond these linguistic and hermeneutical aspects of Biblicism, an entire chapter is devoted to the philosophical foundations of Biblicism and possible sociological and psychological reasons Biblicists are not troubled by PIP. (55-65)
Although pervasive interpretive pluralism is Smith’s central focus toward discrediting Biblicism, his Chapter 4 is a summary of other failings of typical evangelical and fundamentalist approaches to the Bible. This chapter highlights some of the same points Scot McKnight makes in his book The Blue Parakeet. The reader who has some familiarity with the last 20 years of books written on hermeneutics or a theological interpretation of Scripture will find nothing new or surprising here, but it is an excellent and accessible summary of the challenges which face Biblicism and should be faced squarely by the Church. These assertions coupled with PIP bring Smith to the simple conclusion with which he ends Part 1 of the book, “Biblicism is not the way forward for evangelicalism.” (89)
Part 2 of the book is an attempt to get started on a consistent and truly evangelical way of reading Scripture. The strength and the weakness of this section is one and the same… it is simple and straight forward. Chapter 5 makes the case for a Christocentric approach to reading Scripture. Smith writes, “The purpose, center, and interpretive key to Scripture is Jesus Christ.” (97) While this might seem obvious to most Christians in general and most evangelical folks specifically, this line of thought receives only cursory attention from most Biblicists. Again, Smith breaks no new ground here; his arguments are an elementary summary of the work of Karl Barth. For additional examples of this approach, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and Creation and Fall are excellent. Chapter 6 expresses several different ways to say one thing, Christians should not force the Bible to be anymore than God intended it to be. While Smith makes many helpful observations, he seems unaware of his own speculative assumptions. Here is where the book could have been greatly strengthened by engaging with those who are sympathetic to his thesis, but bring more theological depth to the discussion. For instance, Reading in Communion by Steve Fowl and Greg Jones assumes the epistemological shifts referenced in Chapter 7 by Smith, but places Bible reading where it belongs: in the context of the fellowship of the Church. How ironic that the most destructive weakness of Protestant Evangelicalism, individualism, Smith seems to have taken with him as he moved into Evangelical Catholicism. His inadequate ecclesiology is symptomatic of that which allows Biblicism with all of its internal contradictions to continue. The Bible is the Church’s book; canonization was the Church’s process of identifying and setting apart those particular works of literature as peculiarly authoritative. The Church alone can reclaim the Bible.
However, in spite of the shortcomings of The Bible Made Impossible, it comes along at a time when many Evangelicals are expressing suspicion towards the Biblicist approach to the Bible…it is the right time. It is written with an obvious appreciation for the Bible as the written Word of God…it is in the right spirit. It raises the most critical question effecting the debilitating divisions in the Church today, “How do we hear the voice of God in the Bible?”, in a way accessible to most members in our churches. It is the right book!
Michael Bowling is a member of the Englewood Church Community on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis, where he serves in a number of official and unofficial roles, including pastor.