It does take effort, and prayer, and time, to make sense of the Bible, but no matter how tough some parts may be, it can be understood.
The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not mean that the Bible is instantly clear, or equally clear to all, or fully clear to anyone. What it does mean is that the Bible can be understood.
I’ve often made the passing remark in teaching settings that the authors of the Bible were neither drunk nor wasteful. That is, they were coherent in their thoughts, and efficient in their writing.
They didn’t waste words or papyrus, they wrote in order to be understood by their intended audience.
But their is a greater Author involved too. He is the master communicator and He made sure the Bible communicates exactly what He wants communicated, down to the very last word.
Praise God that He is a communicating God to the core of His triunity! He is not a glory-hungry despot who communicates with impenetrable complexity in order to make us feel small!
This truth does not negate the necessary work involved in making sense of the Bible. We do have to cross a significant historical, geographical, political, religious, cultural and linguistic divide.
It does take effort, and prayer, and time, to make sense of the Bible. But no matter how tough some parts may be, it can be understood!
So what are some implications of the doctrine of biblical clarity for preachers?
1. Preachers have to work at understanding the Bible, there is no excuse for making up our own message (ab)using a passage
When we preach our own message from a passage, we subtly give the impression that the text is not there to be understood, but abused.
Don’t be surprised when listeners copy our textual abuse patterns and come up with ideas we don’t like.
2. Preachers don’t have to make every detail instantly understandable to listeners, but we should be breeding confidence that study leads to understanding.
The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not imply that God is patronizing. We don’t need to be, either. Some parts are very tough, acknowledge this, don’t fudge.
There is much more that can be understood than is seemingly impregnable – help people see this.
3. Preachers are representing a God who made His book understandable, we should model a passion for clarity in our communication
We don’t represent Him well when we make our message dense, impregnable or overly complex.
There’s one more issue that I wanted to add to the list. This might be the one we need to ponder more than the others.
Clarity is not really about intellectual capacity. The brightest scholars can make the biggest mess with interpreting Biblical texts. The simplest Christian can profoundly understand God’s Word.
Intellect is a blessing, but it is not a requirement. Formal training is a privilege, but it is not the definitive necessity. Reference resources are helps, but they are not preconditions for understanding.
We have to grasp the fact that understanding communication is not an exclusively brain-defined exercise – our brain, or anyone else’s.
4. Preachers have to both recognize and model that understanding is not primarily a matter of intellectual capacity or formal training, but alignment of heart by the Spirit
We can so easily purvey the notion that scholarship and intellect are pre-eminent distinctives of effective biblical study. The Word of God makes wise the simple. But there is a profound spiritual and relational aspect to understanding the Bible.
Notice how Jesus speaks of the role of the soil in the parable of the good soils (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8). In his explanation the repeated issue is their hearing.
He continues on in Mark and Luke to speak of a lamp under a jar, then returning immediately to the issue of hearing. He warns them, “Take care then how you hear, for the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”