April 30, 2014

If Scripture is Clear, Why Don't We Agree?

The fact that Christians disagree about so many issues seems to be an argument against the clarity ("perspicuity") of Scripture. If Scripture is clear, then why don't we all agree?

[Click here for the previous article on The Perspicuity of Scripture.]

Something that helped me with this question was a section in Erwin Lutzer's book Doctrines that DivideLutzer lists four of the reasons why Christians don't agree: the limitations of men, the perversion of man, the unbelief of man, and the traditions of man. These are problems that each of us should recognize.

The Limitations of Men
There are some doctrines that are difficult simply because human beings are limited in our knowledge and understanding. For example, discussions free will are notoriously difficult. The Bible is clear that God is sovereign over everything and that humans are morally responsible for their choices; but how to put those two truths together is a paradox. We simply don't have enough insight to understand how that works. We lack information and we lack mental ability. Our three-pound brains simply do not have the computing power for some problems. In addition, there are other truths that remain mysteries to us because God has not chosen to reveal them to us.

The Perversion of Man
What Lutzer means here is that we often twist the meaning of Biblical texts to suit our own desires or biases. We want something to be true, so we read the Bible in a certain way. This category doesn't merely include issues dealing with sexual perversion, although that would be one example. You need to work very hard to bend the Bible enough to say that sexual relations are blessed for anyone besides a husband and a wife who are married to each other. Yet, people write books to argue that. Of course, there are countless other examples of this category besides sexual issues. Sometimes people know full well that they are twisting Scripture, but often they want to see something in Scripture so badly that they see mirages.

The Unbelief of Man
Some people have a naturalistic worldview that absolutely rules out any involvement from God. There is no way to believe all of the Bible's teachings related to science, creation, prophecy, history, and miracles if you start with a precommitment to naturalism. The Bible is not anti-scientific, but it does include the core idea that God exists and that He can interact with the created world. For various reasons and pressures, some people refuse to accept that. Many professing Christians have been influenced by naturalism to one degree or another. There are Bible commentaries built upon a foundation of unbelief. It is a mistake to let our worldview shape our view of Scripture instead of letting Scripture shape our worldview.

The Traditions of Man
We all have inherited certain traditions about what Christians should believe. The only difference is that some people recognize their traditions and some people are blind to them. The person who says, "I have no traditions" may be like a fish that doesn't realize that it swims in water. In truth, many of our disagreements boil down to the fact that we swim in different ponds with different accepted beliefs. There is often little incentive to reexamine these beliefs, especially if it might mean having to find another pond.

In addition to these, let me add a few more:

The Desire to Please Men
We usually think about "traditions" being something old, but in reality any influence we have from the people around us can distort our view of God and the Word. For many people today, the new "tradition" is the desire to be seen as progressive. People want to be judged well by their peers. No one will be true to God's Word who craves the approval of the world.

The Failure of Men
Many Christians have no idea what they should believe because they are Biblically illiterate. Many churches have failed at discipleship. Many pastors have failed to faithfully preach God's Word. Many parents have failed to instruct their children. And many Christians have failed to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth. (Sorry to be so negative here! I wish I were wrong.)

In addition...
Beliefs are connected. One wrong belief often affects another. For example, if you have a low view of God's holiness, you will have a shallow view of man's sin. If you have a shallow view of man's sin, it would be difficult for you to see why sin is so awful that God should punish it with eternal condemnation. It would be difficult to see why it was necessary for the Son of God to come as a sinless sacrifice to pay an infinitely horrible price as our substitute. You see, false teaching leads to a chain reaction of error.

In conclusion, there are many reasons why professing Christians disagree. All of these reasons have one common core: man. The reason Christians disagree is not because God is a bad communicator. The problem lies with us.

[Note: The four original main points are from Lutzer but the comments are mine.]

See also: The Perspicuity of Scripture; and How to Silence God on a Subject You Don't Like

April 28, 2014

The Perspicuity of Scripture

Satan hates God’s Word and he will do whatever he can to keep people out of that book. One of his most successful lies is the myth that the Bible is too complicated to be understood by normal people. Don’t bother. Be afraid. Leave it to the experts. “Don’t try this at home.”

The word perspicuity is obscure, but what it refers to is the “clarity” of Scripture. (Ironic, isn’t it?) Perspicuity means clarity, plainness, transparency, or intelligibility. The perspicuity of Scripture means that Scripture is written so that it can be read and understood by ordinary believers.

Lie: The Bible is too complicated to be understood by normal people.

Truth: The Bible is meant to be read and understood. Think about these words from Deuteronomy 6:6-7:

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

These instructions are given to parents, not scholars. In order for this to make sense, God’s message must be clear enough that it could be understood by everyday parents and communicated to everyday kids.

Lie: You cannot understand the Bible without special teachers.

In the early church, the Gnostics claimed that they alone had secret knowledge that was the key to true understanding. If you wanted true understanding, you were held hostage to these teachers. Over the years, many other teachers and authorities have implied the same thing. Some church authorities have claimed that everyone must look to them for the official interpretation of Christian teachings. Some scholars love to give people the impression that they are the only ones skilled enough to analyze and understand the complex labyrinth of God’s Word. In addition, even evangelical teachers write books and publish videos claiming that they have discovered the keys to finally unlock God’s mysteries. You too can have these keys—if you buy their book or pay to go to their conference.

Truth: The Holy Spirit is given to all Christians to help them understand His truth. Read these words from the Apostle John in 1 John 2:27:

“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true…”

John’s point was that believers didn’t need to be held hostage by the false teachers that were claiming that Christians needed them to give them the true interpretation of Scripture. Instead, John taught that all Christians have the anointing of the Holy Spirit and that part of the Spirit’s work is to illuminate the message of God’s Word to them. I don’t think that John is saying that teachers aren’t useful for Christians (there is a spiritual gift of “teacher” after all), but what he is saying is that Christians don’t need to be dependent on human teachers.

What Perspicuity Doesn't Mean

Having said that, we need to make sure we don’t swing to the opposite extreme. There are several things this doctrine does not mean:
·         The doctrine of perspicuity does not mean that nothing is difficult to understand. Some parts of Scripture are difficult. Even the Apostle Peter recognized this (2 Peter 3:15-16).
·         The doctrine of perspicuity does not mean that you will understand everything automatically. Effort is involved. Sometimes, a great deal of effort and practice is involved.
·         The doctrine of perspicuity does not mean that you will understand verses out of context. You couldn't even understand a sentence from a simple children’s novel out of context. Why would you think you could do that for Scripture?
·         The doctrine of perspicuity does not mean that you will understand everything.
·         The doctrine of perspicuity does not mean that you will understand Scripture infallibly. Be humble and open to correction.

However, this doctrine does mean that the most important doctrine of Scripture are clearly set forth for those who are willing to read it, seeking God’s help with a heart that is willing to hear and obey God’s Word. I believe some of these clear teachings include the deity of Jesus Christ, the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and basic instructions about God’s moral will for our lives.

Sometimes the real reason why people think God’s Word is unclear is because they do not want it to be clear. They don’t like what it says. They want to pretend that God’s Word is cloudy so that they do not have to obey it.

Is God is a competent communicator?

Ultimately, it comes down to either believing that (a) God is a good communicator, or (b) God is a lousy communicator. Yes, there are challenges for an infinite God to communicate to finite beings like us. And yes, there are problems even with communication between human beings—context, perspective and background information can all shape or distort the message that is heard. Still, the same people who write books about the impossibility of communicating truth still assume that you can understand  their books, blogs, and comments well enough. How arrogant it is to think that we can communicate better than God.

God does not have a speech impediment. We have a hearing problem. Our problem is that we have our hands over our ears to keep ourselves from hearing what God is saying. God’s Word is clear because the God who made us is a good communicator. Take your hands away and hear His voice through His written Word.

This article was part of a series, Five Things I Hope You Believe are True About Scripture: (1) Necessity, (2) Authority, (3) Inerrancy, (4) Sufficiency, and (5) Perspicuity. Also related: How to Silence God on a Subject You Don't Like and If Scripture is Clear, Why Don't We Agree?
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