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With Osipov on Christian theology and sola scriptura

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 5:48 pm on Sunday, May 18, 2008

What is Christian theology? Do we understand this term correctly? How can we know God? These are the questions that Prof. Osipov keeps coming back again and again in many of his talks.

In Osipov’s definition, Christian theology is much more than studying God and his revelation. You don’t have to be Christian to do that. Osipov believes that one can never know and understand God until he starts to live in accordance with his law. This seemingly simple and believable statement, however, has two very important implications.

1) Osipov believes that western Christianity and Protestantism, in particular, went in a wrong direction by treating theology as a science, which can be studied by anyone who wishes. The main reason for so much disunity in the western church is because anyone can weight in their interpretation and because the church, in general, often accepts Biblical interpretations from people whose heart is far from God.

2) Osipov just cannot understand the Reformer’s insistence on sola scriptura. In his mind Bible while being the true word of God is not self-explanatory and does not present complete knowledge about God. Many concepts present in the Bible are at best vague or barely mentioned. Why do we keep arguing about the purpose of Lord’s supper or necessity of baptism or about how to organize the church government? Because Bible does not speak clearly about these and hence is subject to interpretation.

What is Osipov’s solution? We need additional interpretation sources. However, these must come from people who walked closely with God rather than those who treat theology as science. Hence the reliance on the early church fathers and later saints of the church (by saints here Orthodox church means people who by their holy life have proved their understanding to be trustworthy).

His advice to seminary students? Do not try to understand God without trying to live a holy life, doing otherwise puts you in a great danger. There is nothing worse than knowledge puffed up by pride. And don’t start with the Bible, but with saints and early church fathers. Read the Bible through the spectacle of their teaching.

Well, as usual, I will give my response in the next post. Meanwhile, your comments are welcome!

4 Comments

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Comment by Joon Edward Sim

May 20, 2008 @ 12:18 am

Hi,

I think that the importance of holiness is a good reminder and certain circles of Protestantism need more doses of such emphasis.

On the other hand, the perspecuity of scriptures is something of a dividing line between Protestantism and other “forms” of Christianity. Perhaps a few clarifying remarks would be helpful:

A. By perspecuity of scripture, the reformers never meant that all scriptures are equally clear and easy to understand. However, the core message of God especially those pertains to salvation, should be easily understood from certain texts.

B. I wonder how does Eastern Orthodoxy interact with the idea about the noetic effects of sin. That is, being sinful creatures means that we have poisoned minds that twist the truths of God no matter in which way they come to us. Thus, the misunderstanding of scriptures arises more due to our own fault rather the unclearness of scripture.

C. Just an extended observation from A. There seems to be a false dichotomy between mystery and clarity. It seems to me, why can’t it be both at the same time? It was said of John by Augustine (yes the archetype of western christianity) that it is so shallow that a child could wade in it and yet so deep that it takes an elephant to probe its depth.

D. Protestantism has never denied the fact that though they consider scripture as clear, the church needs pastors and teachers who are gifts to the church as according to Ephesians 4. The only thing is, the authority of these teachers and pastors are merely derivative rather than original. That is, they are only authoritative in so far as they are faithful to transmit the message from God. It is only a departure from scripture when the church begins to choose its teachers and pastors based on ability rather than character. 1 Tim and Titus gives clear qualifications for leaders. Both godliness and ability to teach are qualifications for teaching, there’s no need to choose between the 2.

E. How about the role of the Holy Spirit in Eastern Orthodoxy? In classic Protestantism, the (gradual) removal of the noetic of sin is attributed to the Holy Spirit who dwells within the believer. After all, Jesus did say that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. It seems to me to have been one of the strengths of Protestantism that intimacy with God is actually possible because the Holy Spirit dwells in us while Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy tends to stress so much on God’s mysteriousness that God becomes remote.

my 2 cents,
Edward

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May 22, 2008 @ 5:55 am

[…] my previous post I discussed the following three statements made by Prof. […]

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Comment by Vitali

May 22, 2008 @ 6:36 am

Just read an article on the clarity of scripture in Grudem’s systematic theology. I wasn’t familiar with this concept before.

Do I accept the teaching? Yes and no. Clarity of scripture (according to Grudem) means that “The Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it.” Yet, later in this same article he mentions example of Jesus own disciples who constantly misunderstood the scriptures. Well, these were clearly listening to the word of Jesus and hoping for his help and were willing to follow him. How could they then misunderstand it? Is it because it’s not just about a desire to seek help and follow but some amount of maturity in doing this? But in this case I can hear Osipov saying, “You see, I told you, you can misunderstand the scriptures if you are not mature enough. Go and read mature interpreters, e.g. early church fathers and saints”.

Dunno whether Osipov would agree with gradual removal of noetic effect of sin and whether Holy Spirit has a part in it. I don’t think this can be clearly derived from the Bible.

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Comment by Edward

May 22, 2008 @ 5:45 pm

Hi,

I don’t think that I am happy with Grudem’s definition too. Clarity of scripture doesn’t imply every passage is as clear or easy to understand.

Hmm… I don’t quite understand the difficulty in substantiating the part about noetic effects of sin and Holy Spirit from the Bible.

The Bible clearly talks about “minds” being darkened/dulled:
-Romans 1:28, 2Cor 4:4, Eph 4:17

As for the Holy Spirit’s work –
2Cor 4:6(in context), Romans 12:2 (Talks about being renewed in the mind), John 16:13 (talks about being guided into all truths)
Theologically speaking, there are lots of text speaking of Holy Spirit’s work in helping the believer to become more Christlike. Since the mind is an area where sin has darkened as well, I don’t really see why the renewing of the mind is not a work of the Holy Spirit. And since sanctification is gradual, it is simply a corollary that the removal of the noetic effects of sin is gradual. Am I making sense? *scratching my head*

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