Perspicuity and Presuppositions

The authority of Scripture is an issue of massive importance for Christians, whether we realize it or not. As culture has continued to flirt with the notion that objective truth is unknowable (unless it’s the truth that truth is unknowable), we find ourselves in a really weird place:

Can we really know with any certainty what the Bible says or are we just dealing with questions of personal interpretation?

There are a number of people who would argue that we cannot know with any degree of certainty what the Bible teaches. This group would include Barth Ehrman (author of numerous critical popular level works including Jesus, Interrupted and Forged), as well as authors such as Brian McLaren. McLaren, incidentally, recently wrote that “no articulation of the gospel today can presume to be exactly identical to the original meaning Christ and the apostles proclaimed.”

Those who would say that we cannot know with certainty what the Bible teaches suggest that we’re dealing with—at best—personal interpretation, and to say that one view is correct over another would be arrogant.

In contrast to this view, Protestants have historically held a very high view of the Bible which is best explained by the doctrine of sola scriptura—that is, Scripture alone is our sole authority for doctrine and life. Other authorities, such as tradition and church leadership are not invalid according to this doctrine, but must always be subordinate to and corrected by the Word of God.

Recently I’ve read in a number of places statements similar to the following:

Sola scriptura is a nice idea, but it doesn’t work in reality—we all come to the Bible with our own baggage and presuppositions.

I can definitely understand this critique. I agree, we all approach everything with our own baggage and presuppositions. We all have implicit assumptions that are shaped by our experiences and worldview.

But this doesn’t mean that we have to fall into the error of relativism. We don’t do it at the bank, and we shouldn’t when dealing with the Bible.

Sola scriptura presupposes that the Bible is basically clear in what it teaches, although some passages are certainly less clear than others. This is what is known as the perspicuity of Scripture. Again, Christians have historically held that the God we worship has a desire to make Himself known. And because He wants to make Himself known, He is not going to shroud Himself in mystery.

In other words, God is not a beat poet.

But this doctrine isn’t simply about communication; it’s also about submission. When a Christian says that he holds to the doctrine of sola scriptura, he’s saying that, regardless of his own baggage, he is submitting Himself to the authority of Scripture and allowing the Holy Spirit to work through the Bible to transform him into the image of Christ.

Seems like a presupposition every Christian would want to have, doesn’t it?

Do you believe that the truth of the Bible can be known with reasonable certainty? If so, how has the Holy Spirit been working to conform you to that truth? If not, what determines your knowledge of Christ, salvation, and your purpose for being?

Book Review: The Gospel and the Mind by Bradley G. Green

The Gospel and the Mind by Bradley G. Green

Title: The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life
Author: Bradley G. Green
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

What does the gospel have to do our intellectual life? While some would argue that it has nothing to do with it at all, it’s interesting to note that, “wherever the gospel goes, it seems to generate intellectual deliberation and inquiry” (p. 12).

Why? What is it about the gospel that it encourages deep thinking?

And why is it that, “when the gospel ceases to permeate and influence a given culture, we often see a confused understanding of the possibility of knowledge and the meaning of our thoughts”? (p. 19)

Is there a connection between the loss of the gospel’s hold on the modern world and the modern world’s increasing skepticism about the viability, purpose, meaning, and possibility of an intellectual life? (p. 21)

In The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life, author Bradley G. Green proposes a two-part answer to this challenging question. He argues that:

  1. The Christian vision of God, man, and the world provides the necessary precondition for the recovery of any meaningful intellectual life.
  2. The Christian vision of God, man, and the world offers a particular, unique understanding of what the intellectual life looks like.

Green supports his argument by examining five themes:

  1. That the doctrine of Creation provides the necessary basis for any intellectual pursuit at all. “Without a robust understanding of creation and history, we cannot—ultimately—account for the nature of the intellectual life,” writes Green. (p. 50)
  2. That a compelling vision drives the intellectual life. For the Christian, the vision (or “telos” as Green puts it) is that we will one day see Christ face-to-face and know Him fully even as we are fully known (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12). “With the loss of this sense of a telos . . . there has been a corresponding confusion in thought [that] leads ultimately to nihilism.” (p. 176) Read More about Book Review: The Gospel and the Mind by Bradley G. Green

Sometimes What Sounds Deep is Merely Unintelligible

Biblical Christianity is not an esoteric religion. Its content is not concealed in vague symbols that require some sort of special “insight” to grasp. There is no special intellectual prowess or spiritual gift that is necessary to understand the basic message of Scripture.

You may find that in Eastern religions where insight is limited to some guru who lives in a shanty high in the Himalayas. Maybe the guru has been thunderstruck by the gods with some profound mystery of the universe. You travel to inquire and he tells you in a hushed whisper that the meaning of life is the sound of “one hand clapping.” That’s esoteric. that’s so esoteric that even the guru does not understand it. He cannot understand it because it’s an absurdity.

Absurdities often sound profound because they are incapable of being understood. When we hear things we do not understand, sometimes we think that they are simply too deep or weighty for us to grasp when in fact they are merely unintelligible statements like “one hand clapping.”

The Bible does not talk like that. The Bible speaks of God in meaningful patterns of speech. Some of those patterns may be more difficult than others, but they are not meant to be nonsense statements that only a guru can fathom.

R. C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, p. 19 (line breaks and emphasis added)

Book Review: Think by John Piper

Think by John Piper

R. C. Sproul once lamented that, “we live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Western civilization.” Strong words, to be sure. But there’s something to them, isn’t there?

Consider, for a moment, how we determine our agreement with ideas and experiences. More often than not, it’s based on what we feel. If it feels good, we do it; and if it feels good, it must obviously be good for us, right?

This comes into play in how we develop (or don’t as the case may be) our doctrine as well; we chafe at the hard truths of the Christian faith—the exclusivity of Christ, the atonement, the authority of Scripture, and countless others—because they don’t feel good. So we don’t wrestle. We don’t engage. We don’t search the Scriptures.

We don’t think deeply.

And because we don’t think deeply, we rob ourselves of a deeper love for God.

In his latest book, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, John Piper seeks to help readers understand how the heart and mind glorify God together and that “thinking is indispensible on the path to passion for God” (p. 27).

Taking its inspiration from Proverbs 2:3-5 and 2 Timothy 2:7, Think has a very sermonic feel to it. It’s less an academic work than a practical and pastoral admonishment. As Piper examines the necessity of thinking to the Christian life, he makes it clear that thinking is not the end goal, love for God is.

“Thinking under the mighty hand of God, thinking soaked in prayer, thinking carried by the Holy Spirit, thinking tethered to the Bible, thinking in pursuit of more reasons to praise and proclaim the glories of God, thinking in the service of love—such thinking is indispensible in a life of fullest praise to God,” he writes (p. 27).

Piper’s writing in this book has a certain comfortableness about it that allows him to communicate some fairly complex subject matter in great ease. He writes simply, without being simplistic. This is especially apparent as he deals with the issue of relativism. About this, he writes:

When objective truth vanishes in the fog of relativism, the role of language changes dramatically. It’s no longer a humble servant for carrying precious truth. Now it throws off the yoke of servanthood and takes on a power of its own. It doesn’t submit to objective, external reality; it creates its own reality. It no longer serves to display truth. Now it seeks to obtain the preferences of the speaker. . . . The goal of language is no longer the communication of reality, but the manipulation of reality . . . function[ing] in the devious capacity of concealing defection from the truth. (p. 109)

Particularly insightful was Piper’s examination of the two texts that some consider the pillars of anti-intellectualism. In Luke 10:21, Jesus thanks the Father that He has hidden His truth from the wise and revealed it to little children and in 1 Cor. 1:20-24, Paul writes that God has confounded the wisdom of the world in the Cross.

So do these texts encourage an anti-intellectual attitude? Not at all, says Piper. What they point to is the issue of pride. There are those who pursue wisdom arrogantly—to know for the sake of knowing. There are those who pursue a lack of knowledge with equal arrogance. “The warnings that Jesus and Paul have sounded . . . are not warnings against careful, faithful, rigorous, coherent, thinking in the pursuit of God,” he writes (p. 154). Instead, they are warnings against pride. “Pride is no respecter of persons—the serious thinkers may be humble. And the careless mystics may be arrogant” (ibid).

This insight is extraordinarily helpful, especially as one who errs on the side of pride in human intellect. The proper response for one such as me is not to give up intellectual pursuit, but instead pursue right thinking—thinking that is marked by a love for God and love for people.

All branches of learning exist ultimately for the purposes of knowing God, loving God and loving man through Jesus . . . it is profoundly right to say all thinking, all learning, all education and all research is for the sake of knowing God, loving God, and showing God. (p. 175)

This is what a biblical attitude toward intellectual pursuit looks like. Piper’s vision is captivating in its scope and application. Thinking and feeling aren’t opposed. Knowledge isn’t the enemy of experience. It’s not either-or. It’s both-and.

Read Think and be encouraged to love God with all your mind, and letting that fuel your passion for God in all your life.

Title: Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God
Author: John Piper
Publisher: Crossway (2010)