Friday, July 13, 2007

The Clarity of Scripture

"For what solemn truth can the Scriptures still be concealing, now that the seals are broken, the stone rolled away from the door of the tomb, and that greatest of all mysteries brought to light--that Christ, God's Son, became man, that God is Three in One, that Christ suffered for us, and will reign for ever? And are not these things known, and sung in our streets? Take Christ from the Scriptures--and what more will you find in them? You see, then, that the entire content of the Scriptures has now been brought to light, even though some passages which contain unknown words remain obscure. Thus it is unintelligent, and ungodly too, when you know that the contents of Scripture are as clear as can be, to pronounce them obscure on account of those few obscure words. If words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another."

Martin Luther to Erasmus, in The Bondage of the Will

Luther saw, correctly, that Christ is the object and end of the whole of Scripture. He is the Logos, the eternal Word of God, and so it ought not surprise that He is the focus of the inscripturated word.

To claim, therefore, that the Scriptures are not open and plain in what they teach, or that we risk getting as lost as Becky Thatcher in the cave when we dive into them, is really a tacit denial of the Incarnation. God is not only Transcendant. He is not only holy, holy, holy and dissimilar to His creation. But He is has come near in Christ. The Word became flesh. And that, above all else, is what Scripture is about. Scripture is about making that clear.

So to hem and haw and wring our hands with false humility and refuse (as if with academic hesitancy) to hear what the Scripture says to us is to deny that God accomplished what He set out to do: which was to reveal Christ by them.

25 comments:

Rhett said...

Amen brother.

Gojira said...

Excellent post, brother.

Exist~Dissolve said...

I think its humorous that you would choose to invoke Luther on this subject in light of the fact that he was one of most historically notorious for imposing a very precise and definitive hemeneutical lens upon the Scriptures, a methodology which he felt was sufficient enough to warrant complete disregard of significant portions of Scripture.

As is quite clear from his writings (which I have studied extensively), "sola Scriptura" to Luther was not "sola Canon". Rather, Luther understood "Scripture" as only that which conformed with his understanding of the proper hermeneutics that he had himself defined in response to what he perceived to be abuses and errors within the Catholic Church.

Moreover, given the perpetual tension and struggle which Luther understood to exist between the God of a theology of glory (attempting to speak propositionally about God) and the theology of the cross (allowing the ambiguity and unknowableness of God to be affirmed in light of the only meaningful language about God as revealed in the life of Christ), I hardly see that you can press his words and methodology to support the assertions which you have herein made about the ability of the human epistemology to encapsulate the totality of absolute truth which you believe to be extant within the linguistic structures of the Scriptures (which conclusion is required if the logic of your argument is brought to fruition beyond the level of rhetoric).

Perhaps you people should actually read the authors you invoke before foolishly posting their words that you think will support your entirely untenable philosophy of interpretation.

Exist~Dissolve said...

Perhaps I am allowed to exegete a passage Luther-style? You would condemn his hermeneutical methods as well.

Gordan said...

I have read Luther. I don't agree with every jot and tittle of his interpretation. My post does not require that sort of agreement.

In its context, Erasmus had claimed that the doctrine of the human will, and how "free" it is, was a tricky subject, and foolish to pursue, because the Scripture didn't do a good job of explaining it. That's what Luther is responding to: the notion that we can't look to Scripture to teach us every doctrine we need, because it is too esoteric or obscure or whatever.

God's word to us on the matter is in there. It's not Scripture's fault if we get it wrong: and because many do get it wrong does not mean we shouldn't look there for the answers we seek.

My "entirely untenable philosophy of interpretation" is this: God is able to communicate to us exactly what God wants to communicate, even considering linquistic limitations. He's that powerful and all-knowing. He means us to be able to apply our reasoning and deductive powers to the study of His word. Those gifts which we have from Him, combined with the illumination of the Spirit, as well as (gasp!) the gift of Spirit-led teachers in the history of the church, are enough.

It is faithless to approach the Scriptures with a vacilating pseudo-faith, unsure whether or not it's even possible to understand them. Even worse, though, to avoid them altogether in favor of speculative human philosophy, on the same grounds.

Joshua A. Hitchcock said...

"Perhaps I am allowed to exegete a passage Luther-style? You would condemn his hermeneutical methods as well."

...Another unsubstantiated claim made by Exist Dissolve....how many is that....I have lost count...We need to start giving Exist and Deviant awards for unsubstantiated statements. I don't know who the winner would be. Let me see if I have their method nailed down:

1. Retaliate any kind of truth claim with postmodern "epsitimilogical humility and attacking the long held doctrine of the clarity of scripture.
2. Attack clear and simple presentations with the coolest words in the dictionary that nobody else on earth understands.
3. Make unsubstantiated claims that, if left unchallenged, would enable them to seem like the victor of any argument.
4. Attack anyones position and call it "theological or philisophical inconsistent, even if they appeal to scripture, and on the other hand, even though they don't appeal to the Bible whatsoever, call their position biblical.

Did I leave any out?

Deviant Monk said...

Did I leave any out?

Yes.

5. Be horrifically sexy while doing so.

Rhett said...

6. Dress Metrosexual and sip on a latte....

Gordan said...

7. Privately rejoice in being pagans but get all offended when called heretics.

8. Counter the charge of heresy with belief in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, as if those are the be-all and end-all of Biblical truth.

9. Come to the defense of the One True Church (whether that's Roman or Orthodox.)

10. Attack on the basis of "historic theology" even though your own system is a hodge-podge of modern German speculative philosophy, Karl Barth, and post-modern who-the-heck-knows.

11. Claim your opponents are hopelessly mired in philosophical contradictions. Don't actually bother explaining any.

Rhett said...

13. Tote a murse.

Gojira said...

E-D, if that is what you think was the totality of what Luther meant by Theology of Glory and the Theology of the Cross then I would simply point you back to his writings and tell you to read them with your eyes open.

Exist~Dissolve said...

I have read Luther. I don't agree with every jot and tittle of his interpretation. My post does not require that sort of agreement.

My point was that the "clarity" he saw was because he had created a very specific and artificial paradigm through which to interpret them. On numerous occassions, Luther is quite clear in defining Scripture as only that which affirms his notion of "justification by faith alone." The problem, of course, is that this criterion is itself presupposed before the approach to Scripture is made; therefore, that he would find such clarity in supporting his presupposed methodology of interpretation is hardly surprising.

In its context, Erasmus had claimed that the doctrine of the human will, and how "free" it is, was a tricky subject, and foolish to pursue, because the Scripture didn't do a good job of explaining it. That's what Luther is responding to: the notion that we can't look to Scripture to teach us every doctrine we need, because it is too esoteric or obscure or whatever.

Such presupposes that identifying the precise nature of human will in relation to the will and sovereignty of God is something "needed."

God's word to us on the matter is in there. It's not Scripture's fault if we get it wrong: and because many do get it wrong does not mean we shouldn't look there for the answers we seek.

No one has said that Scripture is at fault or without value. All that has been advocated is that the notion that Scripture encapsulates "absolute truth" is but a thin veneer for naivety or ignorance about the indelible ways in which the subjectivities of the interpreter influence and move towards the determination of meanings that are taken away from the text.

My "entirely untenable philosophy of interpretation" is this: God is able to communicate to us exactly what God wants to communicate, even considering linquistic limitations. He's that powerful and all-knowing. He means us to be able to apply our reasoning and deductive powers to the study of His word. Those gifts which we have from Him, combined with the illumination of the Spirit, as well as (gasp!) the gift of Spirit-led teachers in the history of the church, are enough.

I don't deny that God can communicate that which God wishes to communicate; my point is that medium through which this must occur--human experience, language, etc.--categorically remove any ability to classify said communication as encapsulating absolute truth.

It is faithless to approach the Scriptures with a vacilating pseudo-faith, unsure whether or not it's even possible to understand them.

And what criterion would one utilize to determine if one has "understood" them? Such a perspective presupposes quite a bit without actually defining the measurements by which one could claim--in a propositionally verifiable way--that one has attained "understanding."

My issue is not, ultimately, about whether the Scriptures can or cannot be "understood," for such a position actually presupposes--as you do--that they are somehow encapsulating, in and of themselves, of absolute truth. My issue, rather, comes down to what ends one is pressing the Scriptures--I believe you and the rest of the chess club push them to illegitimate ends.

Even worse, though, to avoid them altogether in favor of speculative human philosophy, on the same grounds.

Joshua A. Hitchcock said...

14. Deconstruct even the most basic and universal phrases to show that your philosophy hinders you from accepting reality and common sense.

Joshua A. Hitchcock said...

Here we go exist...Let me try to illustrate this for you....


Let us say you and I walk into a room together and we both look and observe the same chair. That chair has inherent properties. No matter what we may believe about the chair, whether we like it or dislike it, the chair is what it is. Someone may have told us in the past that it isn't a chair, and we may presuppose that it isn't really a chair. But again, the chair is what it is. It has inherent properties that make it a chair. Or perhaps we have different backgrounds, maybe I like chairs because all the chairs I have sat in work and are comfortable, and perhaps because of your background, you don't like chairs, and we both approach the chair with different backgrounds and different presuppositions about the chair. I would be more willing to sit in the chair without complaint, while you would have major problems with the chair.....

But none of that changes the properties of the chair, and none of that negates the fact that the chair is what it is...a chair.

The same thing with the Scriptures. They have inherent properties that make them truth, that show us that they are God's Word. What God speaks is true, because God is truth.

Certainly, we may approach them, and do with different backgrounds, different presuppositions, but that does not negate the fact that the Scriptures are what they are...truth.

By saying that we approach things with different background and different initial presuppositions does not lead to the belief that we cannot gain an epistemological understanding of the Scriptures. I believe we would ALL agree that nobody on this side of heaven will ever have an exhaustive knowledge of God's word, but there is enough clarity in the Bible that we can gain a true orthodoxy and orthopraxy from Scripture. To say that is not possible is to reject the Scriptures and thus reject God, because the Scriptures themselves declare they are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

I approach the scriptures and am more willing to trust in them, but you have major problems with the scriptures...just like the chair...you are not so willing to trust the Scriptures as something that is epistemologically reliable, because of your background and presuppositions, so you have to rely on some other source for epistemology and ontology, and that being your own personal philosophy, which is not authoritative in any shape or form, which is why you will never hold a convincing argument with any member of this "subversive chess club."


Answer this, why do you believe what you believe? Is it:

A. Because the Bible says so.
B. Because it seems most consistent to you.
C. Because any notion of reformed theology makes you hurl chunks in the bathroom.
D. Because some postmodern liberal professor at Asbury Theological Seminary told you so.
E. Other. IF E, explain.

Scribe said...

Hmm...am I late for the party...what did "Mr. McClaren" say? Did he clearly articulate his point...?

Exist~Dissolve said...

Let us say you and I walk into a room together and we both look and observe the same chair. That chair has inherent properties.

What "inherent" properties? You seem to have this notion that 1.) we agree that chairs have inherent properties and 2.) that such inherent properties are able to be delineated in such a propositionally verifiable way that one could assert their legitimacy over and against argument to the contrary and to such an extent that all parties would agree upon their existence as self-evident.

So then, what exactly are the "inherent" properties of "chairness" and upon what criterion have you established the legitimacy of these categories? Sounds like more grasping at over-power to me.

No matter what we may believe about the chair, whether we like it or dislike it, the chair is what it is.

Which is what, exactly? Does chairness have meaning in and of itself that exerts itself over and against our experience in space/time? If so, upon what criteria have you established this supposedly self-evident fact? How would you counter an argument that the meaningfulness of chair-ness is, in fact, terminated within the attribution of meaning by the one imposing experiential reality upon what is asserted to be "chair?"

As you see, your philosophical categories are shaky at best, as you take for self-evident that which cannot be established upon any meaningful criterion. You assume that "chair-ness" exists and, moreover, that is corresponds precisely with your conception of phenomenological reality. However, when pressed, you could not provide the basis by which to establish such propositions without, perhaps, resorting to an absurd Kantian notion of these categories of experiential ontology pre-existing within the being of the person. In other words, perhaps we are born with an innate knowledge of "chairness?" Ridiculous.

Someone may have told us in the past that it isn't a chair, and we may presuppose that it isn't really a chair. But again, the chair is what it is.

And again I ask, what is it that it "is"? You are presupposing that categories of being are not only universally applicable regardless of experience (making experience inherently pointless to the specimens of knowledge), but moreover that all have epistemological access to them whereby the propositional verifiability of your assertions is self-evident to all.

It has inherent properties that make it a chair.

Again, what exactly are these "inherent properties?"

Or perhaps we have different backgrounds, maybe I like chairs because all the chairs I have sat in work and are comfortable, and perhaps because of your background, you don't like chairs, and we both approach the chair with different backgrounds and different presuppositions about the chair. I would be more willing to sit in the chair without complaint, while you would have major problems with the chair.....

Given that you have completely failed to even attempt to philosophically define this "chairness", you would be correct that I would be quite hesitant to sit in it, especially given the fact that you are so intent on imposing these hereto undefined categories of being upon me. My initial reaction would be rejection, as I would not wish to become prey to the violent cycles of your hegemony of "chair-ness".

But none of that changes the properties of the chair, and none of that negates the fact that the chair is what it is...a chair.

And none of this changes the fact that you have completely failed to explain what a chair is. How can I agree with you that a chair is "what it is" if "what it is" is a completely nebulous conception?

The same thing with the Scriptures. They have inherent properties that make them truth, that show us that they are God's Word. What God speaks is true, because God is truth.

If you are attempting to correlate the "inherent" nature of the Scriptures to your vacuous delineation of the "inherent" nature of chairs, you have already failed in your attempt to establish the philosophical viability of your position.

Certainly, we may approach them, and do with different backgrounds, different presuppositions, but that does not negate the fact that the Scriptures are what they are...truth.

Just as a chair is...well, you never actually defined what a chair is. Given that you are unable to provide the criterion by which to establish to viability of your presuppositions concerning chairs, I hardly see why your assertions concerning the inherent nature of Scripture should be any more seriously considered. As with "chairs," you are assuming universal categories of being without even attempting to provide the criteria by which these categories could be shown to be universally applicable and absolute.

By saying that we approach things with different background and different initial presuppositions does not lead to the belief that we cannot gain an epistemological understanding of the Scriptures.

I never denied that understanding is possible. The only notion I have rejected is that 1.) such understanding can encapsulate objective, absolute true an 2.) that said understanding can be used in propositionally verifiable ways (e.g., apologetics, etc.).

I believe we would ALL agree that nobody on this side of heaven will ever have an exhaustive knowledge of God's word, but there is enough clarity in the Bible that we can gain a true orthodoxy and orthopraxy from Scripture.

But upon what basis do you establish that "x"--understood here as knowledge of Scripture--correlates meaningfully to "y"--"true orthodoxy and orthopraxy"? Assessing "x" as attaining to "y" would necessitate a prior apprehension of "y", such that "x" would be rendered entirely superfluous as it is presupposed in the necessary encapsulation of "y".
As I have asserted before, in saying that one is capable of interpreting in such a way that one's interpretation will attain to propositional truth, one must already have an apprehension of said propositional truth whereby one might determine whether or not one's interpretation obtains.

To say that is not possible is to reject the Scriptures and thus reject God, because the Scriptures themselves declare they are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

I think it is quite a leap to move from "profitable" to "encapsulating and attaining to objective, absolute truth".

I approach the scriptures and am more willing to trust in them, but you have major problems with the scriptures...

No, I don't have problems with the Scriptures at all, only with those who would press the Scriptures to be and say what they were never meant to be and say.

just like the chair...you are not so willing to trust the Scriptures as something that is epistemologically reliable,

What I am not willing to trust is you philosophically vacuous and epistemologically unsubstantiated claims about the nature of Scripture and their supposedly self-evident nature. And I reject these not because I feel that the nature of Scripture MUST be established on these bases, but rather because you must ultimately resort to these categories (albeit unsuccessfully) to establish the hegemonies of thought and belief which you would attempt to impose as categorically binding upon other while concomitantly disavowing any notion that you are somehow beholden to these methodologies of epistemological investigation.

because of your background and presuppositions, so you have to rely on some other source for epistemology and ontology, and that being your own personal philosophy, which is not authoritative in any shape or form, which is why you will never hold a convincing argument with any member of this "subversive chess club."

I realize that I will probably never convince you, but the reason is because like me, you are just as beholden to "personal philosophy, whether or not you have the intellectual honesty to admit it.

Answer this, why do you believe what you believe? Is it:

I believe what I believe for many reasons. The Scriptures, the history of Christian theology and praxis, philosophy, my own heart-searching...all of these things indelibly influence what I believe, just as they do for you and anybody else.

Exist~Dissolve said...

...Another unsubstantiated claim made by Exist Dissolve....how many is that....

As I mentioned, Luther understood Scripture to be ONLY that which spoke to what he understood as "justification by faith alone"--this is why he had no problem ignoring what he saw to be contradictions to his thesis in other parts of the canon.

In this way, Luther imposed a very specific theological and philosophical paradigm upon the texts, claiming that only through this methodological understanding could the proper understanding of Scripture be derived.

You accuse me of doing this very thing. Therefore, the final analysis is that if you condemn my methodology of interpretation, you should condemn Luther's as well, for his approach is not materially different from the characterization that you make of mine.

Joshua A. Hitchcock said...

Good job deconstructing what I said. However, your superfluous circumlocution is unnecessary. You are so distrait with your own philosophy that you see no validity in the thinking of anyone other than yourself. What constitutes "chairness." It is something you sit in. Perhaps we can call it something else, I don't care. People who do not speak english call it different things, but the fact is, it is a universal concept. There may be different types of chairs, such as booths, stools, buckets, office chairs, couches, recliners, but they all are chairs of some sort, because you sit down in them. Now, man has called the specific seating device a chair, and we don't argue that (except for you, because deconstructing my illustration is the best you can do), but people across the world, although they call it different things within their own language and culture, all agree on what a chair is, something that was named by man. Yet when it comes to God's revelation, the very being from whom truth comes from, postmoderns like yourself put up a strong resistance, attacking such doctrines like the clarity of scripture.


Exist, if you get your views from Scripture and Christian History...FOR THE LAST TIME FOR CRYING OUT LOUD SUBSTANTIATE YOUR CLAIMS!!!!!!!!!!! Stop saying things that you are unwilling to prove! Your arguments seem to be fool-proof, but they are always unsubstantiated. IF you get your views from those unclear and vague scriptures, then SHOW ME. Until then, go talk about something else, like denying the existence of the solar system.

Rhett said...

Now I think I know whey they used to burn heretics...

Scribe said...

Let us burn the heretics and be done with it, no matter how effeminate their pleas for mercy may be...

Scribe said...

Hmm, perhaps I do agree with certain practices propagated by the RCC. ;D

Deviant Monk said...

Hmm, perhaps I do agree with certain practices propagated by the RCC. ;D

The Genevans certainly did. ;-)

Exist~Dissolve said...

Now I think I know whey they used to burn heretics...

Because they were embarrassed that they couldn't come up with a meaningful answer, and didn't want to look foolish in front of their friends?

Joshua A. Hitchcock said...

No....because the heretics arguments are so ridiculous that people who know the truth can't stand them. Kind of like yours. You say the same thing over and over again, beating a dead horse....Come on exist...do you have anything better? I am really disappointed. I expect more from you.

Gojira said...

"Let us burn the heretics and be done with it, no matter how effeminate their pleas for mercy may be..."

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!!!!!!

That was funny.