Feb

23

2012

Chris Castaldo|2:00 AM CT

God Aims to Be Understood

Perspicuity---the notion that the Bible is sufficiently unambiguous on the whole for well-intentioned persons with Christian faith to understand with relative adequacy---is no small thing. Recognizing that none of us, even the most hermeneutically savvy, is immune from the cataract of confusion that inhibits a perfect reading of the text, evangelical Protestants nevertheless stand on the conviction that Scripture's clarity is rationally and empirically defendable. In the recently released book Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism, I respond to Catholic historian Brad Gregory of Notre Dame by arguing that the doctrine of perspicuity is indeed supported by reason and by history.

The first hurdle that perspicuity must clear is the accusation that it, along with sola scriptura in general, is "perfectly circular." Logically speaking, an explanation of one's ultimate beliefs always involves a degree of circularity. The Protestant relies on Scripture to define his belief in Scripture as the supreme source of authority; the Catholic relies upon the church institution to define authority by that institution; the Muslim relies on the Quran for his Quranic religion; and the secular humanist clings to his own reason. This is not to espouse fideism---that faith is independent of reason. The foundation of our beliefs should be regularly scrutinized. Intellectual honesty requires it, as does the deepening of our faith. Nevertheless, the circular pattern of ultimate truth claims is an unavoidable function of the fact that every view stands upon some sort of epistemic ground. In other words, there is no such thing as a view from nowhere.

However, our commitment to this ground shouldn't inhibit further investigation. As imperfect interpreters, we must carefully assess and measure evidence to determine which rendering of the data is most tenable. Short of core tenets of faith, such as what we have in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds---primary doctrines that God's people have agreed upon from time immemorial---honesty and humility requires that we remain open to doctrinal reform.

God Has Spoken

Evidence for perspicuity is based on the premise that God has spoken in order to be understood. Accordingly, the Hebrew prophets addressed themselves to regular people, not only to religious leaders (Ps. 119:105). Scripture is said to be clear enough for the "simple" to understand and benefit from its message. "The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple" (Ps. 19:7). Again, we read, "The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple" (Ps. 119:130).

The New Testament attests to the same emphasis by Jesus and the apostles. When Jesus encountered individuals who misunderstood doctrine, their confusion was never blamed on the imperspicuous nature of Scripture; instead, our Lord responds with statements such as "Have you not read . . ." (Matt. 12:3, 5; 21:42; 22:31), "You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matt 22:29; cf. 9:13; 12:7; 15:3; 21:13; John 3:10; et al.), or even "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken" (Luke 24:25). In each of these instances, Jesus expected his interlocutors to understand the proper meaning of Scripture.

The epistles of the New Testament offer further proof of the Bible's clarity. Paul's letters were written not to church leaders but to entire congregations, "to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi" (Phil. 1:1; cf. 1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:2). Peter addressed believers scattered throughout Asia Minor (1 Pet. 1:1). Although Peter acknowledged that Paul's letters contain some things that are hard to understand, he nowhere lets readers off the interpretive hook, but instead places the blame on the "ignorance and unstable people" who distort these passages "as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Pet. 3:16).

Sin-Darkened Intelligence

Augustine deals with the issue of interpreting obscure passages in his work, On Christian Doctrine, describing how they reveal our sin-darkened intelligence. What's interesting is that Augustine says nothing of a church magisterium as the solution to these conundrums; rather, he portrays hard sayings as purposefully arranged by God to subdue our pride and feed charity. [1] Augustine's view on this point is also the biblical portrait. Scripture lacks any example of an infallible teaching office; nor does it have a revealed interest in one. Instead, it portrays an eschatological reality in which we now see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, awaiting the day when we will see truth face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). This reality should infuse the activity of biblical interpretation with a conscious balance of grace and truth, or, in Richard Baxter's words, "unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; and charity in all things." We contend for the faith (Jude 1:3) while simultaneously preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

What about Professor Gregory's challenge to evangelicals to furnish evidence of perspicuity in history? Here is one example: the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, held October 17 to 25, 2010, in Cape Town, South Africa. Out of 4,000 delegates, 197 nations were represented. A spectrum of churches and ethnicities were included speaking eight official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Centered upon a common commitment to the gospel, this global church council (including cardinals from the Catholic Church observing on behalf of the Vatican) gathered as brothers and sisters in Christ to prayerfully seek the Lord's wisdom to address the challenges and opportunities for the spread of the gospel in today's world. Christian humility born from the recognition of our sin-stained hearts and minds prevented any one church from claiming dominance over the other; nevertheless, participants engaged in discussion with an absolute regard for truth. Along with the enabling grace of the Holy Spirit, this was made possible because of the perspicuity of Scripture.


[1] Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, 2.6.7. Augustine explores challenges of interpreting obscure passages in several chapters of Book II and into Book III.

Chris Castaldo serves as director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He is the author of Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic. He earned an MDiv at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is completing a PhD at the London School of Theology. He blogs at www.chriscastaldo.com.

  • Justin Beers

    I think that Chris Castaldo is missing the fact that the Lausanne Conference was also full of people who would fundamentally disagree about all sorts of things historically central things such as male-only leadership (something universal in the early Church, and confirmed at Nicea I), the nature of the sacraments (something also universal in the early Church, not just in the Latin Church), the doctrine of predestination vs. free-will, and many other dividing doctrines beside. The Lausanne Conference was not united in anything except the very basics (which are significant so I'm not hating, to be sure), but that doesn't allow the unity in the Church's reading of the Bible that will bring the Church together like the early Church. Just look at the division in the conservative Protestant world today and we will soon see that even dedicated "biblicists" do not agree on many points of doctrine. This is a naive realism that badly needs updating.

    • http://www.chriscastaldo.com Chris Castaldo

      I am a Gordon-Conwell grad, and therefore know the diversity about which you speak. In seminary classrooms, I enjoyed sitting beside Presbyterians and Free Will Baptists, Bible Church Cessationists and Third Wave Charismatics, egalitarians and complementarians, etc. Yet, despite these differences, there was a common evangelical core. To suggest, as you do, that the early Church possessed a synoptic view of biblical doctrine, with all due respect, is more than naive; it is fanciful.

      The view that I am proposing is properly called "critical realism"--the perspective that affirms truth's (real) objectivity, even though our ability to apprehend it remains to some extent flawed. If you're going to call me names, at least call me the right one.

      • Justin Beers

        Chris, Are you saying that all of the "Presbyterians and Free Will Baptists, Bible Church Cessationists and Third Wave Charismatics, egalitarians and complementarians, etc" can all be right in their interpretations?

      • Justin Beers

        To answer your question about whether the early Church had a "synoptic view of biblical doctrine", I would say (first off) that I'm not sure what you mean by that exactly (do I think that every doctrine was the same in every author??? a: no), but they (secondly) did have much more in common than say, the Gospel Coalition (and that's only conservative soteriologically Calvinistic Protestants, which is a very, very small part of the global Christian Church). The ecclesiology, liturgy and sacramentology in the Church in Persia, Egypt, Syria, Greece, Italy, France, North Africa and elsewhere were nearly identical, if not identical - and their respective theologies have a lot in common to this day, after centuries and centuries of separation. I would suggest that the practice of these global churches do have clear implications for reading many Scriptures. These readings would definitely not be anything like Baptist readings either (Baptists are something like "trinitarian Jehovah Witnesses" in that they think everything in the Church fell apart right after the Apostles, until they re-founded the true doctrines a millennia and a half later).

        Thus, when one says, the Scriptures are "perspicuous", I don't deny that by necessity, I just say "perspicuous to who?", on what condition(s) are they "perspicuous"? In what way are they "perspicuous"? What parts are perspicuous? Are these all perspicuous to the Baptists? Presbyterians? Bible Church Brethrens? Anglicans? Alliance? Pentecostals? Salvation Army? All of the above? Half of the above? 1/3rd of the above? How much is perspicuous? Who defines that? And what if one disagrees with them? What role does Protestant tradition play in this supposed consensus? What role will the first genuinely post-Constantinian generation (no Church-State or Cultural-Church) play on these interpretations? What if some Protestants bring back more of the sacraments of the Persian Church, Oriental Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox? Would that be un-biblical? When 1 Cor 14 says that people who disregard the Pauline directive to have women NOT speak in church (as all the historical churches do not allow) at the risk of not being considered a church, is that clear enough? Or is that "secondary"? Paul seems to think it is essential.

        As you can see the questions start to multiply quite quickly.

        • http://redeemingwords.wordpress.com Damien

          As a former fundamentalist Baptist, I can say you're right about the view of Church history of some Baptists (a sort of restorationism); however, as a Reformed Baptist I have to say you're being way too simplistic - many Baptists recognize a Protestant heritage and hence, a lineage with the early church.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    But the plain evidence of current beliefs directly contradict what you are saying. As Christian Smith says in his book, the Bible Made Impossible, there is pervasive interpretive pluralism out there and that certainly points to the fact that the bible is not characterized by perspicuity.

    Just because you can come up with things supporting a view of perspicuity you have not proven the point. You must also explain why there is PIP>

    • http://www.chriscastaldo.com Chris Castaldo

      “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12).

      To my Catholics friends who propose the Magisterium as the answer (the teaching office of the Catholic Church), I would remind them of Avery Cardinal Dulles’s statement from his book titled "Magisterium" “The meaning of magisterial decisions, in turn, has to be studied with reference to the way they are understood and interpreted by pastors, theologians, and the faithful. The study of the Magisterium, therefore, would be incomplete without some attention to the process of reception.”[1] In other words, when it’s all said and done, the Catholic approach to interpreting truth—relying on “the insights of pastors, theologians, and the faithful”—is strikingly similar to that of Protestants. This is because there is really no way to get around the plurality of interpretations. With the noetic affects of sin, during this inaugurated period of seeing through an epistemological dim glass, we will inevitably have disagreement among good, godly interpreters. But this shouldn’t lead us to despair; rather, it should fortify our exegesis and proclamation with humility. This is how I explain PIP.

      Particular examples of where magisterial conclusions are open for interpretation include: whether the ground of justification is monergistic or synergistic (no small difference), is Scripture "inerrant" (the famous debate on how to properly interpret Dei Verbum 11... whether it merely concerns salvation [i.e., Fuller Seminary] or all truth), which papal pronouncements were infallible prior to 1870 (when the doctrine of infallibility was made official by Pope Pius IX) and what exactly constitutes a "secondary object of infallibility"--an inference or deduction that follows from an existing infallible dogma (e.g., are females ipso facto excluded from the priesthood since Jesus assembled twelve male apostles?)

      As for Christian Smith’s theory, I would suggest reading Kevin DeYoung’s review of "The Bible Made Impossible," or my review of Smith’s recent book, "How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic..." in which he describes the issue of PIP in his conversion to the Catholic Church.

      [1] Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith (Naples: Sapientia, 2007), 10.

      • http://LostCodex.com DRT

        Chris, you have not responded to the accusation. Certainly we all see through a mirror dimly, and that applies to you as well as me. That is an argument for rejecting perspicuity, not supporting it. If we all look through a glass darkly now, then it is quite obvious that the word is not perspicuous since the basic premise is that we cannot see it in its true form.

        You say "we will inevitably have disagreement among good, godly interpreters." Well, that is in direct contradiction to your post if I am reading correctly. Aren't you advocating that the majority of people can reach the same conclusions about the bible? Yes there are disagreements, but there exist disagreements that are well beyond trivia.

        I for one reject the assertion that god could plan the methods of evil as Calvinists profess. I would say the perspicuity on such a fundamental matter as whether god is the planner of evil should fall under perspicuity, don't you? How can the image of god be so diametrically opposed among believers in a perspicuous society?

        The bible is not characterized by perspicuity.

        • http://www.chriscastaldo.com Chris Castaldo

          The notion that perspicuity is discredited by “pervasive interpretative pluralism” (or PIP) is based on the fallacy that a perspicuous text requires Scripture to always yield an obvious and fully accessible interpretation. I don't know anyone who holds this position, even among my naive realist friends. I suggest (in the first sentence of my post) that "perspicuity" is simply a way of saying that "the Bible is sufficiently unambiguous on the whole for well-intentioned persons with Christian faith to understand with relative adequacy." This is true today as it was in Jesus' day. In other words, was there PIP among the various sects of Second Temple Judaism? Indeed there was. Nevertheless, Jesus didn't let his Jewish brethren off the interpretive hook; nor does he today.

          • http://LostCodex.com DRT

            Well, I guess we are going to have a disagreement about that then. People of good faith used the bible to condone slavery. People of good faith continue to use the bible to put women down. People of good faith use the bible to say god decides what evil is done in the world. And in many cases it is the same people who have believed all three of those things. You have nuanced the definition of perspicuous beyond recognition, in my opinion. Sufficiently that people of good faith would no longer share the same definition.

          • http://LostCodex.com DRT

            ...and just to be clear, my definition of perspicuity does not require "Scripture to always yield an obvious and fully accessible interpretation". The part of you comment that is wrong is in your using the word "always". I think nothing like that.

            But, I do think, per my other comment, that there would be broad recognition as to the basic character of god, don't you?

            There are 39,000 Christian sects. Do you really think that any rational person could say that the basis for them is perspicuity? I don't.

          • http://www.calledtocommunion.com Bryan Cross

            Chris,

            You wrote, "The notion that perspicuity is discredited by “pervasive interpretative pluralism” (or PIP) is based on the fallacy that a perspicuous text requires Scripture to always yield an obvious and fully accessible interpretation."

            Not at all. The notion that the perspicuity thesis is falsified by PIP is based on the fact that otherwise, the perspicuity thesis is an unfalsifiable (for the reasons I explained in a comment below) and vacuous claim, since if the perspicuity thesis were in fact false, the situation in reality would look exactly as it does right now, i.e. PIP.

            In the peace of Christ,

            - Bryan

  • http://redeemingwords.wordpress.com Damien

    Nice little article, thanks. I ordered my copy of Journeys and am anxious to read it.

    I wonder if there's been a fully treated Protestant theology of perspicuity. It would be helpful to develop this more theologically, and in addition, providing exactly what is perspicuous and what needs more clarity. I doubt we'll all agree on such a "list" but I think it will come close.

    • Justin Beers

      Damien, there is a book by Packer and Oden called "One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus". It quotes things like the Lausanne Covenant documents, Seminary statements of faith and much else besides to show that the evangelical consensus is quite large over a wide variety of issues (that has defined evangelical Protestantism over the past 500 years)

      • http://redeemingwords.wordpress.com Damien

        Thanks, bro. Two of my favorite authors!

  • Pingback: What I Read Online – 02/24/2012 (a.m.) | Emeth Aletheia

  • http://www.calledtocommunion.com Bryan Cross

    Chris,

    You used that same Dulles quotation in comment #38 of the Short Video on the Identification of the Apostolic Faith thread back in December. (You subsequently turned your comment into a blog post, and then you later deleted that post a few days later.) I responded in comment #52 of that same thread, and explained how your interpretation is a definite misconstrual of Dulles' words.

    Regarding your perspicuity thesis, if Scripture were, in fact, not sufficiently perspicuous for the unity Christ intended His Church to have between His Ascension and His Parousia, and all the fragmentation of Christians were in fact evidence of its not being sufficiently perspicuous for the unity Christ intended His followers to have in this present age, how would you know?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

    • http://www.chriscastaldo.com Chris Castaldo

      Thanks, Bryan. We can let readers decide which explanation is more convincing. What you call a "definite misconstrual" is simply a contextual reading of Dulles. If the Magisterium was thoroughly perspicuous, the good Cardinal's comment about the need to study the *meaning* of magisterial decisions with regard to the way they are understood by "pastors, theologians, and the faithful" would be unnecessary. As for my deletion of the article from my site, a few comments were patently unkind, so it seemed best to delete the entire post.

  • Truth unites… And divides

    Pastor Castaldo,

    Is it fair to say that you prefer the perspicuity of Scripture to the perspicuity of magisterium teachings?

    • http://www.chriscastaldo.com Chris Castaldo

      It is not so much a question of which perspicuity one prefers, so much as which source of authority (Scripture or magisterium) possesses the character of infallibility. In many respects I am grateful for the magisterium. It would be foolish for evangelicals to entirely ignore Catholic teaching simply because it's Catholic. Statements on the objectivity of truth, moral law, the sanctity of life, even biblical theology, as in the Pope's work on Jesus, are full of valuable insights. However, the magisterium remains subservient to Scripture insofar as God's word is infallible and the magisterium is not.

  • http://www.calledtocommunion.com Bryan Cross

    Chris,

    Of course the readers can decide (there is never a situation where they don't have that opportunity). But that doesn't address the actual evidence I presented in my comment #52 of the "Short Video" thread showing that your construal of what Cardinal Dulles says makes him out to be saying something contrary to the actual teaching of the Catholic Church, and contrary to what he says in other parts of his book. And that is very good reason to believe that you are misunderstanding him. It would be irresponsible to continue to use Cardinal Dulles' statement in order to advance an anti-Catholic agenda, without explicitly and carefully addressing the evidence Catholics provide to you that you are misunderstanding him.

    So far as I know, no one has claimed that the Magisterium is "thoroughly perspicuous." But the fact that the Magisterium is not "thoroughly perspicuous" does not entail parity, with respect to perspicuity, between governance by a book, and governance by a body of persons. I explained this in Section III: Persons and Texts of my dialogue with Michael Horton.

    My previous question regarding perspicuity was not a rhetorical question. I want to know, from your perspective, how you would know if in fact all this disagreement among Christians regarding the proper interpretation of Scripture were evidence of the falsehood of the Scriptural perspicuity thesis. It seems convenient to chalk up all the disagreement to our 'sin-darkened' intellects not being "immune from the cataract of confusion," while still asserting that Scripture is perspicuous, rather than allowing the disagreement among Christians regarding the interpretation of Scripture to show the falsehood of the perspicuity thesis. What you have presented here, it seems to me, is an entirely unfalsifiable claim about perspicuity. That's because according to your ideology, no degree of disagreement regarding the proper interpretation of Scripture could possibly falsify the principal assumption in that ideology, namely that Scripture is so perspicuous that no magisterium is necessary. If you disagree, then at what level of disagreement and dispute among Christians regarding the meaning of Scripture would you consider the perspicuity thesis falsified?

    Yes, there is no "view from nowhere," but that does not mean that we must arbitrarily leap to the starting point of "Scripture" or "the Church." We are not born with a belief in Scripture or the Church. The notion that Scripture (or "the Church) is our epistemic "starting point" is fideism, because it entails that the first step, i.e. adopting "Scripture" or "the Church" as our touchstone, is an arbitrary leap. I have explained this in more detail in "Wilson vs. Hitchens: A Catholic Perspective."

    Regarding Lausanne, I'm very glad for the common ground between Evangelicals and the Catholic Church. But, the gathering together of people who generally share the same interpretation of Scripture is no evidence of the perspicuity of Scripture. Otherwise, every denomination in the world could use its own general assembly as proof that Scripture is perspicuous regarding the truth of its own unique interpretation of Scripture.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

    • http://www.chriscastaldo.com Chris Castaldo

      Bryan, with all due respect, I have not seen evidence from Catholics to refute my reading of Dulles. I realize that you regard your own arguments as utterly convincing, which leads you to call my view an "ideology" and "anti-Catholic agenda," but the truth is that I don't find your case any more persuasive than you find mine. That is why I suggested that readers can decide for themselves.

      As for your question about when it would be proper to abandon the doctrine of perspicuity, we must begin with a proper understanding of what the term means. The most helpful explanation that I have read is by Gregg Allison. He writes in his book "Historical Theology," "Perspicuity is a property of Scripture as a whole and of each portion of Scripture whereby it is comprehensible to all believers who possess the normal acquired ability to understand oral communication and/or written discourse, regardless of their gender, age, education, language, or cultural background. However, the level of people's comprehension of perspicuous Scripture is appropriate to and usually caries proportionality with various factors, including, but not limited to, spiritual maturity. In addition, the doctrine of perspicuity is always affirmed in the context of a believing community, a context which assumes the assistance of others in attaining a more precise understanding of Scripture, and perspicuity requires a dependence on the Holy Spirit for Scripture to be grasped and calls for a responsive obedience to what is understood. Moreover, perspicuity includes the comprehensibility of the way of salvation to unbelievers who are aided by he Holy Spirit, and it does not exclude some type of cognition of Scripture in general by unbelievers." Among churches that I serve, it is precisely as Gregg describes... people read the Bible for themselves, they study it, they hear it preached, they discuss it in small groups, the grow in their understanding, and, in this way, the Church is built up in faith. If this wasn't happening, there would be reason to question the legitimacy of the doctrine of perspicuity.

      Indeed, this is how God's Word functioned in Jesus' day, studying Scripture in the context of synagogue, in the home (Deut 6), and personally meditating on it. Rabbis provided assistance. Modern day pastors and teachers function the same way. This is the essence of perspicuity: all of God's people engaging the interpretive enterprise for themselves, in the context of community, with assistance and accountability. It can be messy and at times confusing, but it is what God has called us to as his people. In the words of 2 Tim 2:15, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."

      • http://LostCodex.com DRT

        Chris, would you then please explain how the bible can be perspicuous for say, Michael Horton and Roger Olson (For and against Calvinism)?

        They are believers participating in faith communities and are arguably spiritually mature.

  • http://www.calledtocommunion.com Bryan Cross

    Chris,

    I read through your reply, and I still don't see your answer to my question: At what level of disagreement and dispute among Christians regarding the interpretation of Scripture would you consider the perspicuity thesis falsified?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

    • http://Www.chriscastaldo.com Chris Castaldo

      When Christians are unable to understand Scripture in keeping with the explanation of perspicuity above, the doctrine would be falsified.

  • http://www.calledtocommunion.com Bryan Cross

    Chris,

    That answer amounts to this: The perspicuity thesis would be falsified when it is false. And that's trivially true for any proposition, and therefore insulates the perspicuity thesis from falsification (even if the thesis is in fact false), since your reply is compatible with there being among Christians no concrete level of interpretive disagreement at which the perspicuity thesis would be falsified. That's because the Allison definition you stated above is compatible with the coming into existence of a million additional Christian sects, each basing itself on Scripture, and each coming to a theological position incompatible with all the others. Not just a million, but ten million, or a hundred million. Moreover, the Allison definition is compatible with all these sects remaining divided and in disagreement with each other not just the five hundred years since the coming into existence of Protestantism, but an additional five hundred years, even a thousand more years, even 10,000 more years. In short, your reply allows the formation, multiplication and endless perpetuation of *any* number of Christian sects, each basing itself on Scripture, and each coming to interpretations incompatible with all the others. So therefore, given your reply, no number of Christian sects disagreeing about the interpretation of Scripture, no matter how long these disagreements lasted, would falsify the perspicuity thesis.

    And that is part of the reason why it is an "ideology," not merely because it is unfalsifiable, but because you think it is falsifiable but protect it from falsification by setting the test of falsification such that no concrete level of disagreement over the interpretation of Scripture actually falsifies it. This is the same way that Mormons treat the archaeological record in the Americas; they maintain that their position is empirically verifiable and falsifiable, but in their mind no amount of archaeological evidence contrary to their teaching actually falsifies it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  • http://www.calledtocommunion.com Bryan Cross

    Chris,

    When you say, "Among churches that I serve, it is precisely as Gregg describes..." it seems to me that you are saying that that couldn't happen if the perspicuity thesis were false. In other words, so long as two or more people can come to an agreement concerning the meaning of Scripture, the perspicuity thesis is verified, and not falsified. It would be falsified, according to this perspective, only if no two people could come to an agreement concerning the meaning of Scripture. In other words, PIP is no knock against the perspicuity thesis, so long as you and the people in your pews can reach agreement concerning the meaning of Scripture.

    But, if Christ intended His followers from His Ascension to His Return to hold one and the same faith, share all the same sacraments, and be led by a visibly unified government, and if the perspicuity of Scripture (as you/Allison have defined it) is not capable of providing this unity, and if this unity can be maintained only by following the divinely ordained Magisterium, then even if the perspicuity thesis (as you/Allison have defined it) is true, it does not eliminate the obligation for Christians to submit to this Magisterium.

    In other words, when you define perspicuity such that it is fully compatible with the multiplication of schisms upon schisms, and interminable and intractable disagreements among Christians concerning the interpretation of Scripture and the number and nature of the sacraments and every area of theology, all described as being 'branches within' the 'tree' of a merely invisibly unified Church, then unless you are prepared to claim that this fragmentation is the level of unity Christ prayed for in John 17, and provided for when He established His Church, the truth or falsity of the perspicuity thesis becomes entirely irrelevant to the Protestant-Catholic question. Perspicuity is reduced to a red herring.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  • http://www.chriscastaldo.com Chris Castaldo

    Thanks, Bryan. This is where our presuppositions about what constitutes apostolic faith become most evident. I believe, for example, there was more gospel unity at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, among men and women from a variety of denominations who hold to the same evangelical core, than there actually is in the institution of the Catholic Church, where you find the spectrum from progressive liberals (such as my priest friend with whom I recently had lunch, who contended that Muslim's are equal members of the New Covenant on account of Abraham's fatherhood) to the ultra conservatives who regard Vatican II as a conciliar sell out. In other words, because evangelicals define unity by the message of the gospel and not by the institution of the Church, perspicuity is more than acceptable; it is the gift of God that allows us to celebrate Christian unity.

    • http://LostCodex.com DRT

      I agree that the LC was a great note for conformity. But that has very little to do with you claim of perspicuity wihtout many caveats as to what you mean.

      You are taking a basic agreement on principles of Christianity and are generalizing it to perspecuity of scripture and you have not made a case for that. Actually, I think what you are doing is quite misleading. If you reach tacit agreement with someone that by your narrow definition of perspicuity it exists, then you go to someone else and proclaim "scripture is perpicuous" and that person looks up that word in the dictionary then they would be grossly mislead. I believe you are telling half truths in this and strongly ask that you reconsider your approach.

      • http://Www.chriscastaldo.com Chris Castaldo

        Thanks, DRT. It would help me if you could provide some current definitions of perspicuity by respected evangelicals that deviate from what I have described above. I cited Allison, because his explanation is rather standard (plus Gregg did hid Ph.D. on the topic perspicuity).

        • http://LostCodex.com DRT

          Packer wrote "Anyone who engages seriously with the Bible, humbly asking God for light, will duly see...this great picture [of God and godliness] in all its divine glory." Packer and Oden, One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus 2004.

          And just today on Jesus Creed, Scot says "As compared with those who fought for “perspicuity” (text is plain and clear in its fundamental message) Edwards pursued the “fecundity” of Scripture." http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/02/27/spiritual-interpretation-of-the-bible/

          It seems to me that perspicuity not only is untrue, but it sells scripture short.

          • http://www.chriscastaldo.com Chris Castaldo

            I say "amen" to Packer's statement. As for Edwards' reading, I see no reason why a pursuit of Scripture's so called "fecundity," what Scot describes as "a deeper sensate reading: an intellectual interiority of communion with God (as he understood God and God’s redemptive history in this world)," must be over and against a perspicuous reading. In other words, Scripture's clarity should not preclude the church from reflecting on its message to appreciate deeper patterns of significance and application.

            • http://LostCodex.com DRT

              Well, based on Packer I don't think we could stand Olson and Horton together and say they agree on the picture of god. Olson says Horton's picture is a monster, and I agree.

              As far as McKnight, he says that is definitional.

            • http://LostCodex.com DRT

              Also, I think I have beat this dead horse enough. Thanks for your interaction, I really appreciate having a voice.

    • http://www.calledtocommunion.com Bryan Cross

      Chris,

      The unity of the "institution of the Catholic Church" is, as you know, threefold. She teaches one faith (laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church), shares all and only the same seven sacraments, and is governed by one hierarchy of bishops, in communion with the bishop of the Church at Rome. The unity of this institution is not based on what percentage of persons who were either baptized in the Catholic Church, or call themselves 'Catholic,' now believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God. Persons who were baptized in the Catholic Church, or who call themselves 'Catholic,' but who dissent from one or more teachings of the Catholic Church, separate themselves from the one faith of the Church, and thus in that respect separate themselves from the institution of the Catholic Church. Their dissent (i.e. material/formal heresy) does not make the Catholic Church divided; it only separates them from the unity of the Catholic Church.

      I agree with you that there was a certain unity at the Lausanne Congress. It was a unity based on certain shared beliefs about Christ's deity, His love for us demonstrated on the cross, and shared love for Christ, and a shared desire to take the love of Christ to the world. All that is good, but it is just a small part of the full unity Christ wants us to have, which includes incorporation in one visible catholic Church through baptism, and sharing in one Eucharist. So, experientially, the unity at Lausanne undoubtedly felt more tangible than it does at an ordinary Catholic mass, but it was only a small part of that fuller unity Christ established in His Church, because it was not a full doctrinal unity, not a full sacramental unity, and not a governmental unity.

      As for your priest friend, the Catholic Church nowhere teaches that Muslims are "equal members of the New Covenant." In fact, it teaches instead that through baptism we brought into the "one People of God of the New Covenant" (CCC 1267). Moreover, the Catholic Church teaches that "If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation." (Dominus Iesus, 22) So his opinion is not in line with the teaching of the Church. And for the reason I explained above, the existence of dissenters and heretics does not detract from the unity of the Catholic Church. The mark of unity (expressed in the Creed) was never in the entirety of Church history conditioned on absolute unanimity either among those who had been baptized Catholic or those who named themselves Catholic.

      But, all this is a red herring in relation to the matter in question in this discussion, which is how one would know when the perspicuity thesis had been falsified. Your answers above seem to indicate that in your mind the perspicuity thesis can never be falsified, so long as two or more persons can agree upon its meaning. And my reply to that is that the early Protestants would be rolling over in their graves at such an answer, as I explained in comment #11 of the "Short Video on the Identification of the Catholic Faith" thread, drawing from Anthony Lane. This redefined perspicuity thesis is altogether incompatible with a visible catholic Church, since it allows that persons of sufficient intelligence, sincere desire, and the aid of the Holy Spirit, can come to many incompatible interpretations of Scripture that perpetually prevent visible unity in one visible body. That's not what the early Protestants believed about the perspicuity of Scripture, and it is not what they (e.g. Calvin) believed about the visibility of the Church.

      In the peace of Christ,

      - Bryan

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  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Chris Castaldo: "However, the magisterium remains subservient to Scripture insofar as God's word is infallible and the magisterium is not."

    (1) What would be an agreed-upon procedure to falsify the thesis that the Magisterium is infallible?

    (2) Many Catholics would seem to implicitly agree with you, although they would not explicitly agree with you. See this article by a Catholic Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame:

    Birth Control, Bishops, and Religious Authority

    Excerpts: "As critics repeatedly point out, 98 percent of sexually active American Catholic women practice birth control, and 78 percent of Catholics think a “good Catholic” can reject the bishops’ teaching on birth control. The response from the church, however, has been that, regardless of what the majority of Catholics do and think, the church’s teaching is that birth control is morally wrong. The church, in the inevitable phrase, “is not a democracy.” What the church teaches is what the bishops (and, ultimately, the pope, as head of the bishops) say it does.

    But is this true? The answer requires some thought about the nature and basis of religious authority. Ultimately the claim is that this authority derives from God. But since we live in a human world in which God does not directly speak to us, we need to ask, Who decides that God has given, say, the Catholic bishops his authority?

    It makes no sense to say that the bishops themselves can decide this, that we should accept their religious authority because they say God has given it to them. If this were so, anyone proclaiming himself a religious authority would have to be recognized as one. From where, then, in our democratic, secular society does such recognition properly come?

    In our democratic society the ultimate arbiter of religious authority is the conscience of the individual believer. It follows that there is no alternative to accepting the members of a religious group as themselves the only legitimate source of the decision to accept their leaders as authorized by God. They may be wrong, but their judgment is answerable to no one but God. In this sense, even the Catholic Church is a democracy.

    But, even so, haven’t the members of the Catholic Church recognized their bishops as having full and sole authority to determine the teachings of the Church? By no means. There was, perhaps, a time when the vast majority of Catholics accepted the bishops as having an absolute right to define theological and ethical doctrines. Those days, if they ever existed, are long gone. Most Catholics — meaning, to be more precise, people who were raised Catholic or converted as adults and continue to take church teachings and practices seriously — now reserve the right to reject doctrines insisted on by their bishops and to interpret in their own way the doctrines that they do accept. This is above all true in matters of sexual morality, especially birth control, where the majority of Catholics have concluded that the teachings of the bishops do not apply to them. Such “reservations” are an essential constraint on the authority of the bishops.

    The bishops and the minority of Catholics who support their full authority have tried to marginalize Catholics who do not accept the bishops as absolute arbiters of doctrine. They speak of “cafeteria Catholics” or merely “cultural Catholics,” and imply that the only “real Catholics” are those who accept their teachings entirely. But this marginalization begs the question I’m raising about the proper source of the judgment that the bishops have divine authority. Since, as I’ve argued, members of the church are themselves this source, it is not for the bishops but for the faithful to decide the nature and extent of episcopal authority. The bishops truly are, as they so often say, “servants of the servants of the Lord.”

    The authority of the Catholic bishops is enforceable morally but not militarily or politically. It resides entirely in the fact that people freely accept it.

    The mistake of the Obama administration — and of almost everyone debating its decision — was to accept the bishops’ claim that their position on birth control expresses an authoritative “teaching of the church.”

    The bishops’ claim to authority in this matter has been undermined because Catholics have decisively rejected it. The immorality of birth control is no longer a teaching of the Catholic Church. Pope Paul VI meant his 1968 encyclical, “Humanae Vitae,” to settle the issue in the manner of the famous tag, “Roma locuta est, causa finita est.” In fact the issue has been settled by the voice of the Catholic people.

    • http://LostCodex.com DRT

      An interesting take. But how about this perspective.

      Could the Catholic Church actually recommend something that is wrong? More specifically if they were convinced that something was wrong, is there ever a time that they could recommend it?

      Life is complex, the judgments that people make have to be made in the context of a society that has already accepted many things that would be sin if you started from a blank slate. Certainly you would never recommend killing someone, not even capital punishment. Never recommend eating foods that harm your body and cause medical issues and societal waste. And the list goes on and on.

      I feel that the dividing line between the Catholic Church and the laity is one relating to actually having to live in a world where there are greater and lesser evils to choose between.

      I personally feel the Catholic Church does a good job in balancing telling it like they see it, and accepting people who disagree in good conscience.

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  • Josh

    I think Bryan is asking a very good question regarding the perspicuity and the plethora of denominations, but I think TUAD's first question regarding the falsification of the magisterium is an equally good one.
    It seems as though, as Chris pointed out, that there is a paradigm difference here rooted in ecclesialogy. For the Protestants, we cannot reject the perspicuity of Scripture because it would necessitate some body or organization to aid in interpreting it. For Catholics, it is impossible for the magisterium to err and so, just like with Scripture, apparent contradictions are simply that: apparent not real.
    Would it be possible, with regards to perspicuity, to say that it exists on two levels: one is the basic level of what the text means, which is generally perspicacious (it's pretty clear what is happening), but that the real debate exists on the level of providing present day meaning of the text today. To my mind Catholics often conflate the two as though any poor person picking up the New Testament couldn't figure out this Jesus figure was significant, while I think Protestants often assume the connection between what happened and what we need to be doing is perfectly clear, when it is not always. This may not get us very far down the road, but it seems that this is essentially what happens already and why we have pastors and preachers, to apply God's Word to us in the present, yet under Protestantism are we not, as individuals, still the final arbiters of truth for ourselves? That is, we must test the words of the pastor against our own understanding of Scripture.
    Anyways, this is a really interesting discussion and I hope to see it continue!

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    The Bible is both a work of God, and man.

    Just as our Lord Jesus was fully man, and yet fully God, the Bible is a finite work that contains the infinite.

    The Holy Spirit is the Author of Scripture and He best understands the meaning and usage of the words of Scripture. The task of the interpreter is to let Scripture interpret Scripture.

    The Holy Scriptures ought be read through a scheme of grace (Romans 1:16), or the gospel, since that is what Jesus' mission was...to forgive sinners. But the law still has a puepose, to expose us sinners and drive to Christ. And a civil use that we might live together as best we can without anarchy.

    This is the Lutheran perspective, which is that the Word alone, is enough when it comes to interpreting the Bible.

    ( I am painting with a large brush when I say 'Lutheran"...I know that...but that is what Luther believed, anyway)

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.com/ Randy

    I find the issue not so much in the unfalsifiable nature of the proposal. I would have been happy to remain protestant if that was the only issue. What made it untenable for me was getting to know Christians from different traditions. I could not see any defects. They were smart. They prayed. They loved Jesus. But all of them saw the same doctrines clearly in scripture. Doctrines I and those I was raised with saw as clearly denied by scripture. It happened over and over. The conclusion was predictable based on the person's tradition. It was not the case that the best biblical interpreters agreed no matter how I defined "best."

    It got worse when I started to read history. It was full of people who seemed like wonderful Christians but did not arrive at reformed doctrines. It seemed like tradition was very powerful. Scripture could fit many very different traditions. But it happened subconsciously. All the people groups thought they were following the clear teaching of scripture. That is the Sola Scriptura Christians thought so. Catholics and Orthodox admitted tradition was a big deal.