THE DOCTRINE: THE PERSPICUITY OF THE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE
Satan has waged one of his major attacks against God and His Word with regards to the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. Satan wants men to think that they cannot understand the Word of God. Men who have proclaimed Scripture as sole authority have expounded this doctrine. In print we read Francis Turretin from the mid seventeenth century:
Repulsed by sinful flesh, man excuses himself by claiming that he couldn't understand what God was saying. "There are so many interpretations." "The Bible is too difficult to understand." Foreknowing this attack, God settled in His Word before time began a defense of His own clarity.
It is not a question of perspicuity that excludes necessary means for interpretation, such as the inner light of the Spirit, the attention of the mind, the voice and ministry of the church, lectures and commentaries, prayers and vigils. We acknowledge such meansare not only useful but also normally are necessary, but we want to deny any obscurity that keeps the common people from reading Scripture, as if it were harmful or dangerous, or that leads to a falling backon traditions when one should have taken a stand on Scripture alone [Francis Turretin, The Doctrine of Scripture, ed. and trans. by John W. Beardslee III (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 185].
The Word of God is a lamp, bringing light or understanding, not darkness. Psalm 119:105, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." 2 Peter 1:19a, "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place." Every verse of Scripture is profitable, so it must be clear to do what 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 says it will do: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." Even a child can understand Scripture on salvation. 2 Tim 3:15a, "And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation." Scripture is addressed to everyone, universally, to common people, not just religious experts (Deut. 6:4, Mark 12:37, Eph. 1:1, 1 Cor 1:2). Parents can teach Scripture to their children, nothing excepted. Deuteronomy 6:6, 7, "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."
THE COROLLARY: THE PERSPICUITY OF THE APPLICATION OF SCRIPTURE
OK, so we can understand Scripture. It's clear. But can we apply it? Post-modernism has elevated the tack of questioning the clarity of Scripture. Men will sware loyalty to inspiration, even to inerrancy (of the original manuscripts). These "emergents" think they have the inside track on the postmoderns, who reject truth for something that makes them feel good. This is what Wikipedia says is the emergent strategy:
Their idea of God's love is compromising doctrine, elevating people's feelings above God's Word. Salvation and sanctification aren't miracles to them, but human process pushed along by man's efforts. This viewpoint that says we cannot know what God is saying chafes at new-evangelicals like John MacArthur, who have spent a lifetime telling people that they can know what the Bible means. I applaud "we can interpret." I can understand, however, some of the emergents who think they may have missed something with MacArthur's (among other's) teaching. One Master's (MacArthur's seminary) graduate writes:
Proponents of the movement advocate an ecumenical, non-dogmatic view of doctrine in which they embrace a continual reexamination and flexible approach to theology which causes them to see faith as a journey rather than a destination, and to accept even radical differences in doctrinal views and moral standards. This humility and generosity leads most emergents to extend an invitation to people of all religions and beliefs to contribute to the conversation.
I think John MacArthur is the best Bible preacher/teacher living today. That’s why I attended the college and seminary of which he is president. . . . His presentation seemed to indicate that because believers have the mind of Christ, everything should be simple and clear. . . . I do not think that this would be an accurate understanding of the view MacArthur actually holds. I just opened one of his commentaries and quickly found the following quote:The non-separatist, universalists like MacArthur, Piper, Swindoll, and others don't want what they started to go any further than what they want it to. They want latitude. They want space on everything, but the gospel. Now the emergents take their worldliness and bring it one step further. The emergent leaders will use foul language to get across their point. They will employ grunge bands in their services with the accompanying tatoos and piercings.
This verse has many legitimate possible interpretations; The careful and honest interpreter may survey the several dozen interpretations offered and still not be dogmatic about what it means… (after suggesting one interpretation as the best) Whether this is the right interpretation of the verse we cannot be certain.
So perhaps not every scripture is absolutely clear.
WHY THE EMERGENTS EMERGED
But where did all this start? It started when expositors like the above-mentioned reduced the non-negotiables to a very minimum group of doctrines. Why? No reason. There is no Scriptural basis. They just made it up. They talk of cardinal doctrines and essentials made up of lists of their own choosing. Certain doctrines are more important than others. Sure. But that doesn't mean the rest aren't important. The message of Scripture is plain (perspicuously so) that all of the Bible is to be obeyed. However, MacArthur and others made it clear that we can't separate over the "less-important" doctrine and practice, especially cultural issues. He and others contend that the gospel alone is worth getting together. Other things are just peripheral that we musn't stress over (even like mode and recepient of baptism). The only gospel that will save is also the gospel that will separate us from the world and its influences and expressions (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; 1 John 2:15; Romans 12:2). Therefore, not practicing all of Scripture undermines the gospel, confusing men about what the grace of God is all about.
We have something even more insidious than this, bad as it is. Non-separatist, new-evangelicals sold out to post-modernism first. They paved the way for the emergents with their own bad examples. How did they do it? MacArthur and his lot abolished the authority of the application of Scripture. "Sure, we can know what Scripture means, but we can't be dogmatic about how it applies." There is little difference between Christians and the world today because these new-evangelicals essentially axed the doctrine of personal separation. People want to fit in with the world. The world has just gotten worse and worse, and now it's even too bad for the new-evangelicals. They're drawing lines now. They're even talking about worldliness. It is far from enough.
WHAT IS NEEDED
Separatists never stopped preaching against worldliness. They kept preaching standards. They never slowed down on the mortification of the flesh. Many of these new evangelicals associate themselves verbally with the Puritans and Spurgeon, the old evangelicals, but you will not hear them bring up Spurgeon's teaching on worldliness, well, until recently in a very vague and ambivalent way. With the new expression of post-modernism, things have gone too far, even for them.
Sadly, they already have lost the exegetical ground to deal with the worldliness of the emergents. The elephant's in the room. They are long past their ability to stop the fast moving mud slide, unless they repent, admit the error of their way. But then they would lose so many of the people that they "got" with their compromise. People stayed because they could fit in with the world. They could get their Bible interpretation, meaty stuff, and yet still live nearly like everyone else, at least enough not to stick out---and all the self-gratification anyone would ever want; just toned down a little. One step forward, two steps backward. No Kurt Cobain, but as much pop rock as you want.
Applying the Bible to the doctrine of personal separation has always characterized New Testament Christianity, and it continues to today. The corollary to clarity of interpretation is perspicuity of application. Both are important to which to hold fast. We can know what worldly lust is. We can make application for "fleshly lust," "inordinate affection," "not fashioning [ourselves] according to the former lusts," "be not conformed to this world," "sensual," and "the attire of a harlot." Before postmodernism started breaking down inerrancy and then the perspecuity of interpretation, it was diminishing the application of Scripture. Evangelicals went right with the flow, sailing downstream in the world's current. They ignored the doctrine of separation. The new-evangelicals failed and still are failing in the clear applications of the Word of God. What should you do? "Come out from among them and be ye separate."