Perspicuous or Useless?

The Bible is perspicuous or it is useless. I read an article on Doug Douma’s blog A Place for Thoughts in which he made the preceding statement . It’s not like I didn’t already know that was true. It is one of those things that ought to be obvious, but isn’t to everyone. Seeing it stated so bluntly really had an impact. That statement really served as food for thought to me.  Those who advocate a Bible full of paradoxes, antinomies, tensions and mysteries are really advocating for one that is not perspicuous. and, therefore, useless.  The same ones who endorse the concept of a Bible that lacks perspicuity also promote the idea that precision in stating the doctrines derived from it is not something to be desired.  They argue that since the Bible is not clear, it is unbiblical to state any doctrine with clarity.  It is this type of thinking that leads to fuzzy definitions of important words that are part of crucial doctrines such as justification by faith alone.  If we don’t know what faith is, we don’t know what justification by faith alone means.

If our definition of faith contains an element of works, it makes Paul’s distinguishing of faith from works meaningless.  Gordon Clark says “unless one knows the definition, he does not know what he is talking about.”  He always emphasized the importance of defining terms.  After all a proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence.  A series of words without meaning is not a proposition.  Gordon Clark believed in propositional revelation.  Truth (or falsehood)  is a property of propositions alone.  The propositions of Scripture together with their logical implications reveal the whole counsel of God.

On the other hand those who promote a Scripture that is less than clear like Van Tilian John Frame write things like, “Scripture, for God’s good reasons, is often vague.  Therefore, there is no way of escaping vagueness in theology, creed, or subscription without setting Scripture aside as our ultimate criterion.” Frame prefers vagueness to precision of thought.

Elsewhere he writes, “Scripture, does not demand absolute precision of us, a precision impossible for creatures…. Indeed, Scripture recognizes that for sake of communication, vagueness is often preferable to precision…. Nor is theology an attempt to state truth without any subjective influence on the formulation.”

What is belief?  Belief is assent to understood propositions.  Clark and his followers (I am one) hold that belief and faith as used in Scripture are one and the same thing.  The difference between ordinary faith and the faith which justifies is the object of faith.  The object of saving faith is the Gospel.

The opposing view maintains that the difference between ordinary faith and saving faith is some additional component to simple belief.  Whatever this component is, it is confusing to anyone who holds the idea that truth is non-contradictory.  Every illustration given to this additional component is confusing unless it is acknowledged to be good works, but those who hold this view will not acknowledge anything of the sort.  Faith is broken down into three parts usually characterized by the three Latin words: notitia, assensus and fiducia.  Notitia and assensus correspond with understanding and assent in English. These two components  combined amount to belief.  According to those who support the three-fold explanation  The supposed additional component which must be added to belief to turn it into saving faith is fiducia which, they say, corresponds with trust in English.

These three Latin words first appeared as the three essential components of saving faith in the writings of Philip Melanchthon in the 16th century.  These three words are not found in Scripture because it is not written in Latin.

The position that saving faith is composed of understanding, assent and trust becomes redundant if trust and belief are the same thing.  If trusting a bank or a person amounts to assenting to certain understood propositions concerning them, then adding trust as a component of faith adds nothing.

Gordon Clark points out that fiducia comes from the same root word as fide, so that  defining faith as notitia, assensus and fiducia is tantamount to defining it as understanding, assent and faith,

One thing that is certain, efforts to define the component that supposedly separates “mere” belief from saving faith are as vague as the Bible these folks assert and just as useless.  They are as unintelligible as the unintelligible written revelation their unintelligible (or as they would put it incomprehensible) God has supposedly given us that we might obtain (analogical) knowledge from it.

I admittedly have no idea what analogical knowledge is and how it differs from genuine knowledge.  I also do not know what a square circle is.  I don’t think this lack of understanding on my part is really my problem.  Analogical knowledge (like square circles) is what one gets from a Bible that is not perspicuous and can only produce imprecise and vague doctrines.  An imprecise definition of faith is not far behind such a view of Scripture.  The problem is not with a definition of faith that is redundant, such as defining faith as understanding with assent plus trust, the problem is the ambiguous definition of trust.  The problem is that it is impossible to distinguish trust from works in the imprecise definitions and illustrations supplied by the advocates of vagueness.

Vagueness is not a virtue.  A vague Scripture cannot reveal anything but vague doctrines.  This is not a good thing regardless of what those like Frame may propose.  Understanding is essential to faith, because one cannot assent to what one does not understand.  Supposedly assenting to a proposition one misunderstands is really assenting to a different proposition, because a proposition is not a declarative sentence, it is the meaning of a declarative sentence.  Unless one understands the meaning, one cannot assent.  Assent implies understanding.  The very nature of vagueness is that the meaning is unclear, indefinite or uncertain.  One cannot assent to vague propositions, because they cannot be understood.

Saving belief and saving faith are the same thing: voluntary assent to certain understood propositions clearly stated in Scripture regarding the atonement.





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