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.
American evangelicalism is a textured and varied collection of believers, scholars, and students. Despite the variety of belief and practice, one idea unites them: the centrality of the Bible, and the determined appeal to sola scriptura that has defined their religious basis from earliest times. The much published Smith, a professor of sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame, sets out in this finely constructed volume to question not just the wisdom but even the possibility of depending only on the Bible to define faith and practice. The "Bible only" foundational belief is so ingrained in the consciousness of evangelicalism that asserting its irrationality and logical impossibility strikes at the very heart of what motivates and defines the evangelical community. Smith makes a persuasive case for shifting one's focus from the sole authority of the words of scripture to the one whom scripture proclaims to be "the way, the truth and the life." Such a shift, he insists, is necessary for American evangelicalism to move forward.