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It’s been a few days, but I want to finally bring my five part review of A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture to a close. (Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four).

In Chapter 5, “A Sharp Double-Edged Sword,” Mark Thompson summarizes his exploration of the doctrine of perspicuity. “The clarity of Scripture,” he writes, “is that quality of the biblical text that, as God’s communicative act, ensures its meaning is accessible to all who come to it in faith.” William Whitaker, from an earlier day, described perspicuity thus:

Our fundamental principles are these: First, that the Scriptures are sufficiently clear to admit of their being read by the people and the unlearned with some fruit and utility. Secondly, that all thing necessary to salvation are propounded in plain words in the Scriptures. Meanwhile, we concede that there are many obscure places, and that the Scriptures need explication; and that, on this account, God’s ministers are to be listened to when they expound the word of God, and the men best skilled in Scripture are to be consulted.

The clarity of Scripture, then, does not mean that everything is equally clear or that everyone is equally capable of understanding every part. But the doctrine does teach that everyone can learn the way of salvation from the Bible and that even the hard parts can be understood correctly with skill and the Holy Spirit.

Perspicuity is such a crucial doctrine, not just because our understanding of the Bible is at stake (and whether we can understand the Bible in the first place), but because the doctrine is intimately connected with our understanding of God. “In short,” concludes Thompson, “a confession of the clarity of Scripture is an aspect of faith in a generous God who is willing and able to make himself and his purposes known.”

So before we resort to “all we have are interpretations”, let’s remember that we also have God, who want to be interpreted correctly. Before we let postmodernism tell us what we can and cannot know about texts, let’s look at Jesus and the Apostles and see how they handled the Old Testament. And before we let the chastened epistemology of contemporary voices wow us with their French philosophers and the rhetoric of hermeneutical humility, let’s not forget that God “has something to say and he is very good and saying it.” As Luther put it 450 years before pomo lit classes, “If Scripture is obscure or ambiguous, what point is there in God giving it to us? Are we not obscure and ambiguous enough without having our [own] obscurity, ambiguity, and darkness augmented to us from heaven?” Hear hear.

Thank God for Martin Luther. Thank God he wants to be known. Thank God for human language. And thank God that despite recent protestations, the word of God illumines our darkness instead of augmenting it.


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4 thoughts on “A Clear and Present Word (5)”

  1. StuntMonk says:

    I wonder whether the problem is really the Emergent Church per se, or simply the direction that its’ most visible leaders are influencing it towards.

    If the more liberal voices in the movement were discredited one by one (as individuals, not as representatives of the Emergent Church), maybe that could clear room for some of the more solid guys like Dan Kimball to steer things in a good direction.

    Mind, a book called “Why We Aren’t Fans of Doug Pagitt (By Two Guys Who Should Be)” would probably be a weird one to sell.

  2. randy buist says:

    but… that subtitle would be as dishonest as the subtitle of the first book.

    …or perhaps selling books is a good reason to dismiss the biblical command to be honest with our tongues?

  3. StuntMonk says:

    Randy, you can disagree with the subtitle, but calling it an outright lie is unhelpful and mean-spirited.

    You don’t know whether or not it was a lie (although demographically speaking -white, urban, raised in a Christian home, educated- Kev fits the mold of most Emergents).

    Also, the uncharitable tone in your last message really obscures the good things about the Emergent conversation: reconciliation, peaceful dialogue, reaching forward together as broken people…

    All that to say, please represent your theological stance in your blog posts.

  4. Brad says:

    Kevin,

    In the first post in this series, you quoted James KA Smith about always only interpreting and then in this post talk about not resorting to the view that “all we have are interpretations.” But in the fourth post you all but agree with this view (or, at least, it seems Thompson does). You write how Thompson prefers the term “reading” instead of “interpretation” and then a little farther down you write “we do read texts from a particular location and as a particular people. We are not neutral readers.” Could you clarify for me how this view is different than what Smith is saying in the first post?

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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