snubnosed in alpha

Christian reflections on the way the world is and ways the world might be

Thursday, November 16, 2006

musings on the perspicuity of Scripture


“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” WCF 1:7
“The uncertainty lies always in the intellectual region, never in the practical. What Paul cares about is plain enough to the true heart, however far from plain to the man whose desire to understand goes ahead of his obedience.” -George Macdonald
Those things necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that only hardness of heart can obscure them. Note, this is not to say that the proper exegesis of a few key passages, like Romans 3 or Galatians 2 or John 10, is so universally plain that the only explanation for someone’s exegeting them otherwise is their wickedness.
Not all passages of nor things in Scripture are alike plain. But there are some things in Scripture that you cannot miss. Jesus is Lord. He is risen. He demands your allegiance and your obedience. If one’s heart is true, the call to discipleship and the sovereignty of Jesus will come through loud and clear. What the Bible cares about is plain enough to the true heart.
Isn’t it marvelous that our New Testaments are composed of a variety of literary genres? The Gospel narratives with Acts, the prosaic epistles which are peppered with hymns, creeds and poems, John’s hymn to the Logos, and, of course, the Apocalypse of John. I wonder if God, in His good providence, gave us such a set of Scriptures precisely so that someone from a culture unaccustomed to following dense argumentation of the Pauline sort, might hear Jesus’ call to discipleship loud and clear in, say, John’s apocalyptic imagery or in following Mark’s telling of Jesus’ story. When I went on a mission to Nepal, our method of gospel communication was not that of rigorous argumentation, a mode of discourse with which most mountain Nepalis were unfamiliar, but of telling the Gospel stories and parables. We engaged them, as best we could, in the manner of speaking they were used to. Perhaps those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place or sort of Scripture or other, that not only the Western, but the Nepali, the sub-Saharan African, the South American Indian, and many more, in a due use of the ordinary means available to them, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
Of course, this way of understanding the perspicuity of Scripture assumes that a fairly simple trust in and obedience to Jesus is all that is necessary for salvation. This approach assumes that it is your faith in Christ alone that justifies you rather than your adherence to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. And, of course, many in my tradition, the Reformed, have been awfully muddled on this point, confusing our doctrinal distinctives with the borders of the invisible Church. Many evangelicals and fundamentalists do the same thing. The fruit of such confusion is that we worry endlessly about the intellectual region wherein we, whether we like it or not, find uncertainty, and we woefully neglect those things which Paul and the rest of the Scriptures so clearly care about. Could it be that often our desire to understand trumps our obedience so as to blind ourselves to what our Lord plainly requires of us?
To put it another way: the bounds of God’s mercy and the bounds of orthodoxy are not yet coextensive. How many of us could clearly articulate an orthodox Chalcedonian Christology when we first believed? The truth is something most of us have to grow into (2 Peter 3:17-18; Ephesians 4: 1-16). Perhaps we might think of those things necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation that are so clearly propounded in Scripture, the call to Christian discipleship and the declaration that He is risen, as being the seeds of orthodoxy which, once sown in the good soil of the true heart, will grow to different heights in this age but will not fully flower until we see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 3:5-9; 13:12).

4 Comments:

Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

Great wisdom here, David!

1:46 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Thanks, Mark. This is kind of my first attempt at cracking the theological chestnut that Sam set before me in my 'a priesthood of scholars' post (http://snubnosed-in-alpha.blogspot.com/2006/10/priesthood-of-scholars.html). I really liked Joel's final comment as well in that discussion.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

'Could it be that often our desire to understand trumps our obedience so as to blind ourselves to what our Lord plainly requires of us?'.... good question!

makes me think of Hebrews 13:9 'Do not be carried about by various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who've been occupied with them'. How often I've been carried about by trying to understand and have missed something of the beauty only seen with child like simplicity. Grace.

One of my friends recently became a Christian (!) and she wrote this to me in an e-mail the other day: "I soooo like this book [Wayne Grudem's '20 things a Christian should know']! I have been contemplating and meditating on the 1st chapter still !! which asks the question what is the Bible? Never a truer word can I relate to than when it says how the Holy Spirit changes the reader of Scripture and how He makes me realise the Bible is unlike any other book... The words of the Bible move me kiddo"......

How refreshing it can be to be around a new believer :)

11:36 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

You know, Lisa, that's so true. I really miss being around new believers...people who are reading the Bible for perhaps the first time, at least the first time with new eyes...people for whom Paul is more like a mentor in Christ rather than a theological battleground...people for whom the cross of Christ is still a source of life and hope and not merely a piece of theological furniture...people who have not yet learned to ignore how strange a book our Bible is...people who still read first and foremost to meet Christ and not to hammer out their (escha-, soter-, ecclesi-...)ology...*sigh*...
Would that we all still had that sense of newness, simplicity and wonder.

4:39 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home