Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, part 5
Stu Station is blogging through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. This is the first systematic theology I’ve read, although I have read numerous other theological books and a few that are basically doctrine-lite textbooks. I’m hoping that through this study I’ll learn a lot and be humble enough to change my views as the Holy Spirit leads. At this point I’m planning on blogging twice a week on Grudem’s Systematic Theology…but don’t hold me to that!
Chapter 6 – The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity
“Anyone who has begun to read the Bible seriously will realize that some parts can be understood very easily while other parts seem puzzling (pg 105).” And how! But then again, we have the Holy Spirit, so allegedly we can understand things better than people don’t have the Holy Spirit have. And yet…that has often not been the case in my life. This is one of those disconnects between what I’ve heard and what I’ve experienced; many agnostics and atheists seem to have a firmer grasp on the truths of Scripture than most Christians. Yet, since the Bible is true, this must mean our understanding of this truth is flawed. Obviously atheists and agnostics don’t understand Jesus in light of Scripture, even if they have a firm grasp on Scripture itself. “But it would be a mistake to think that most of Scripture or Scripture in general is difficult to understand.”
The Bible frequently affirms its own clarity. When read as the original authors intended, the Bible is remarkably clear. Recently I had a friend encourage me to read through Ephesians again, paying particularly close attention to several verses in one chapter. He was convinced that if I read those verses with an open mind, then I would be drawn by the Holy Spirit to his way of thinking. That may be the case, but instead I read through the whole book of Ephesians, and was highly encouraged…and not drawn in the least way to his particular views on that portion of Scripture. Quite the opposite, in fact. Most Christians probably haven’t been informed that Scripture wasn’t written with chapters and verses, and in fact didn’t even have paragraphs for the most part. You really get an entirely different interpretation and understanding of Scripture if you read it in the fashion that it was written in. (But the verses and chapters sure make studying easier!)
“The character of Scripture is said to be such that even the “simple” can understand it rightly and be made wise by it (pg 106).” Ps. 19:7, Ps 119:130, etc. “Jesus himself, in his teachings, his conversations, and his disputes, never responds to any questions with a hint of blaming the Old Testament Scriptures for being unclear…In a day when it is common for people to tell us how hard it is to interpret Scripture rightly, we would do well to remember that not once in the Gospels do we ever hear Jesus saying anything like this: “I see how your problem arouse – The Scriptures are not very clear on that subject.”
I appreciate Wayne Grudem’s understanding of what the clarity of Scripture is:
“The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it.”
And that’s the problem with it, isn’t it? Not all but a great many alternative readings of Scripture arise from the fact that it can be clearly understood…and people hate that, yet love enough about it so that they will reinterpret it based on their preferred understandings. The battle over who is rightly equipped to interpret Scripture is what led to our current Protestantism. One horrific side effect of the Protestant Reformation is now that everyone is an authority unto themselves, meaning they are only accountable to God for their understanding of Scripture, and no one else is an authority over them. For many, this has led to damnable heresies, and even worse, whole cults and streams of theology that are anti-biblical and demonic in origin. For some, it allows the opportunity to follow the Biblical admonition to be “iron sharpening iron” with each other. One of the reasons I’m doing this study with Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology is that I can learn from those who came before me, and where there is a disagreement, to see why that disagreement exists, and whether or not I’m wrong or they are right, or vice versa, or some combination of the two.
Wayne Grudem closes the chapter with a look at the role of scholars in relation to Scripture. Now, I grew up firmly modernist, where things like Scripture are extremely important; my parents even work for a seminary, whose role is the training and equipping of men and women for ministry. Yet I’ve also dabbled in areas of the church where the Bible may be important, but is not given to serious, rigorous theological study…or may be even entirely ignored in favor of experience and the Holy Spirit. So what is the proper role of scholars in relation to Scripture, according to Wayne Grudem?
1 – They can teach Scripture clearly, communicating its content to others and thus fulfilling the office of “teacher” mentioned in the New Testament.
2 – They can explore new areas of understanding the teachings of Scripture.
3 – They can defend the teachings of the Bible against attacks by other scholars or those with specialized technical training. The role of teaching God’s Word also at times involves correcting false teachings.
4 – They can supplement the study of Scripture for the benefit of the church.
These four functions benefit the church as a whole, and all believers should be thankful for those who perform them. However, these functions do not include the right to decide for the church as a whole what is true and false doctrine or what is proper conduct in a difficult situation. If such a right were the preserve of formally trained Bible scholars, then they would become a governing elite in the church, and the ordinary functioning of the government of the church as described in the New Testament would cease.