In my previous post I discussed the following three statements made by Prof. Osipov:
1) One cannot treat Christian theology purely as science. To understand God one must first be a Christian, and not just a nominal one but completely devoted to God
2) Western church made a mistake by learning from people who tried to study theology as pure science
3) Since Bible does not often interprets itself well, we need to view it through the spectacles of other interpretation sources, e.g. early church fathers and saints
Here are my thoughts on each of the statements:
1) I think what Osipov says here is biblical. In the article in Grudem’s systematic theology on the clarity of scripture the author says that “The New Testament writers frequently state that the ability to understand Scripture rightly is more a moral and spiritual than intellectual ability “:
1 Cor 2:14
14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
2 Corinthians 3:14-16
14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
John 7:17 (NIV)
17 If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.
2) First of all, what Osipov says here is true. Protestants have accepted many of the teachings that originated from critical (or liberal) Christian thought. The liberal Christianity had become such a big force in the last century’s Germany, that conservative Christianity simply had to use their own tools to fight back. If you ever did a Bible study where you discuss when and by whom has the book been written, you are following techniques originated from liberal thought.
Many of these liberal Christians were not really Christians and hence cannot fully comprehend God. So, why should we borrow their techniques? The original intention appears to stay relevant – a defense to show the world that Bible can stand the critical test – that all the doctrines that have been acknowledged earlier would still stand even if we employ the critical tools. Did the church succeed? Yes and no. On one hand, all major doctrines did stand the test. But the critical study brought up many small (and often unimportant) nuances that considerably fragmented these doctrines, often confusing people. On a positive side, I think even worse outcome would result if the church did no engage liberal Christianity. Russian Orthodoxy was sheltered from these developments and, in some sense, just lucky.
3) I think both parties here agree that Bible needs interpretation. Orthodox church favors interpreters from early church, hoping that these would be closer to the truth. Protestants prefer much later interpreters, armed with more historical knowledge. Both have pros and cons. Ultimately, a good student of the Bible should be aware of all sources, old and new alike.
The necessity of sola scriptura is a different issue. Insisting that the Bible is above all interpretations means that interpretations are dispensable. This often makes people pick and choose the interpreter they like, leading to church fragmentation. On the other hand, putting interpretation on the same level as (or even higher than) the Bible makes it much more permanent and leads to better unity. But what if this interpretation happened to be wrong in the first place?