Last week I went to a public lecture in Cambridge, where Wayne Grudem spoke about “the perspicuity [clarity] of scripture”. I entered it with openness, but in the end found myself unpersuaded by his overall point: His main point was that Scripture has an inherent quality of clarity on all the issues about which it speaks – such that when it is studied in a spirit of prayerful dependence and with appropriate tools, its (one) meaning can be accessed.
Now, Grudem is a smart guy – he has a PhD in New Testament (1 Corinthians, no less!) from Cambridge. But to be honest, he came across more as a concerned pastor wanting to assure the flock than as a rigorous scholar. Perhaps he would even agree with that. I found his tone warm and humble – but I worried that he was so oversimplifying the issues that in fact it would eventually prove counter-productive for those he wanted to assure.
I decided to interact with him about it in question time (although I very rarely ask questions in question time!!). I’ll give the gist of it here – not in order to ridicule – but in order to continue to think about the things we discussed:
MM: When I read in the prophets, “Out of Egypt I called my son”, I don’t get the “one clear meaning” that Matthew the Gospel-writer gets.
WG: Yes – there’s a way in which it’s about Israel, and then about Jesus
MM: So when I read it in the Old Testament, should I take the “one” meaning to be about Israel or about Jesus?
WG: Well there is a sense in which it’s about both…
MM: So could we conclude that there might be multiple meanings to validly draw from a text?
WG: [pause]… There is a richness to the meaning…
I just wasn’t comfortable with him writing off “postmodern hermeneutics” in a few sentences, and assuring the audience that, even without knowledge of extrabiblical materials, it is possible to arrive at the single, clear intended meaning of every part of scripture. I don’t think that this is the historic doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture, and I worry that it’s setting people up for disillusionment.