Yesterday I uploaded a file to the website for the independent study course I am teaching for Tozer Seminary. The course is called “Christian Theology.” It is essentially a course in systematic theology. Systematic theology is an attempt to clarify, harmonize, and collate all that the Bible teaches on several major subjects.
I love studying theology.
Anyway, like I said, yesterday I uploaded a file that the class participants will read. And I realized just how little most of today’s Christians know about this topic.
What is that topic? you ask… The Perspicuity of Scripture.
Do not be alarmed. Say it with me. per-spik-YOU-itty.
Quick: give me a five minute speech on the perspicuity of Scripture. Can’t? That’s okay. Most pastors couldn’t either.
Perspicuity simply means that the Scriptures are written in plain language… and that anybody who’s willing to think and apply him- or herself can grasp its message. The Bible is clear on what it teaches.
Or if you like things complicated:
Scripture can be and is read with profit, with appreciation and with transformative results. It is open and transparent to earnest readers; it is intelligible and comprehensible to
attentive readers. Scripture itself is coherent and obvious. It is direct and unambiguous as written; what is written is sufficient. Scripture’s concern or focal point is readily
presented as the redemptive story of God. It displays a progressively more specific identification of that story, culminating in the gospel of Jesus Christ. All this is to say:
Scripture is clear about what it is about.
[ James Patrick Callahan, The Clarity of Scripture (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 2001) 11.]
Before you go listing all the hard places, and all the obscure statements in Scripture, take a deep breath.
Perspicuity doesn’t mean that the Bible is easy. It means that it is clear… i.e., that what is hard in one place is easy in another. It does not mean that you can approach Scripture casually and expect to understand it all. You have to apply yourself.
Thus the Holy Spirit has magnificently and wholesomely modulated the Holy Scriptures so that the more open places present themselves to hunger and the more obscure places
may deter a disdainful attitude. Hardly anything may be found in these obscure places which is not found plainly said elsewhere.
Right on, Augie.
For many years, the Medieval Church prohibited the PEOPLE from reading the Bible. Why? Because they denied the perspicuity of Scripture. This gave them a monopoly on truth, and therefore on heaven and hell.
During the Reformation, Luther and others fought back. They declared that even the most humble saint can understand the meaning of Scripture, without “mother church” telling him or her what to believe. Luther argued that the denial of perspicuity paved the way for men to be superior to the Word in matters of faith and doctrine.
The church shot back in the Council of Trent:
“In order to restrain petulant spirits [the Council] decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall — in matters of faith, and of moral pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, — wrestle the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, — whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, –hath held and doth hold.”
Get the point of that? Can’t have the “little people” reading the Bible! Only “the church” can correctly interpret the Scripture.
The later reformers shot back… back… The incredible Francis Turretin:
It is not a question of perspicuity that excludes necessary means for interpretation, such as the inner light of the Spirit, the attention of the mind, the voice and ministry of the church, lectures and commentaries, prayers and vigils. We acknowledge such means are not only useful but also normally are necessary,
but we want to deny any obscurity that keeps the common people from reading Scripture, as if it were harmful or dangerous, or that leads to a falling back on traditions when one should have taken a stand on Scripture alone.
AAAA-MMMMMENNNNNNNN! [That guy is Italian, and grew up in Lucca, where my grandfather came from!!!!!! His real name is Turretini, but he’s more commonly known as Turretin.]
Guess what! This battle over perspicuity is heating up again today. It comes in the form of CYNICISM. It sounds like this: “There are so many different interpretations, who’s to say which one is right? All we can do is be loving… and to not fight over doctrine.”
If God’s Word is a LAMP to our feet, and a LIGHT to our path, shouldn’t we expect it to be understandable? We should. And it is. If we dig in and apply ourselves. Which waaaayyy too few of Jesus’ followers are doing today. Yes, we’ll have our debates and come up with differing interpretations. But not on the really big stuff–not as long as we hold fast to what has been written.
Want to read the whole article that my class is reading? Click here.