MARTIN LUTHER AND HIS ENEMIES
from the lectures by Professor Phillip Cary
This "certain" for Christianity, this is especially on interpretation of Scripture. You have to base theology, the teaching of the faith, on a clear text of Scripture, what later is called proof-text. Protestants love to talk about a clear text of Scripture. Which means you can be certain as to what it means. Not just certain that God will keep his promises. Seems to me this is what every Protestant needs to keep hold of, certain that God keeps his promises. But being certain of our interpretation of God's promises is a different thing. It is being certain of something you have done, as your own achievement as an interpreter; but it also means you end up disguising your achievement as an interpreter, because human interpretation is fallible. Therefore your going to have to disguise the fact that your interpreting the text, saying: "Oh the other guy is interpreting the text. I'm just reading the text. It's clear what God's word says."
So it's their human interpretation against God's word. My act of interpretation sort of just disappears; I'm no longer interpreting at all. They are the ones interpreting, because interpreting after all is uncertain.
This puts all kinds of pressure on the Protestant doctrine of the Scriptures. The clarity of Scripture which Luther insists upon.
Originally the doctrine of interpretation became the doctrine that denies we're interpreting. That's the actual effect of it in later Protestant doctrines of Scripture.
It makes it difficult for Protestants to admit that their interpretive judgments come from a distinctive theological tradition. Because traditions are also human. Traditions don't come straight out of the Scripture; they are a human thing. And if your tradition comes from a human thing, then it must be uncertain. Which is very true.
The clarity of Scripture, a good way of getting at this issue, the clarity of Scripture, is in a way obvious. That does happen, there are many texts which are obvious in meaning, for anyone who knows the language. But obvious I think is relative to tradition. What I'm getting at is this: what is obvious to one person it not obvious to another person. And that depends on what you know, your skills, your training. It's obvious to someone who reads Hebrew, to open a book written in Hebrew, and be obvious; but for me I can't understand it at all. If you know the language, have the skill, it's obvious.
There are things obvious to an expert and not to a novice. Like: the example I gave earlier of the car mechanic listening to my car and knowing what is wrong, but to me I have no clue. It's obvious to him but not to me.
So what's obvious to you in the interpretation of Scripture depends what tradition your from. Some things will be obvious to Catholics, and some things obvious to Protestants. Some things are obvious to academic experts in Biblical studies. Rival traditions produce rival senses in what is obvious and clear.
Protestants do not always know that they are part of "tradition." Catholics know they have tradition, but Protestants often do not know they are part of traditions.
Modernity often does not know they are part of traditions. Modernity itself is part of a tradition it does not recognize is part of a tradition. Protestantism is first in modernity that does not know it is part of tradition. Therefore can not recognize the argument about interpretation in an intelligent way, it seems to me.
What Protestants will tend to do in response to 19th century critical movement is "Well that's all human interpretation, but I'm just reading the obvious sense of Scripture." And that's the move that gets you fundamentalism. The 19th century critical movement is still with us. It pushes some Protestants into a very individualistic direction. Like: "Oh well, I don't need scholarship. Just my heart, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit, and can be certain as to what God is speaking to my heart."
That means from a LUTHERAN PERSPECTIVE your going into a "spiritualistic route" - where it's spirit and not word.
THAT'S A RESOLVE LUTHER DID NOT INTEND!
To get an intelligent theological argument about tradition you need to recognize it's one tradition arguing with another tradition. There is no certainty here. You don't get certainty by going deep into your heart.
There is just God's word and you are going to have to argue about it.
That argument is on going. We'll talk about that in the next lecture also.
THE NEXT LECTURE FROM PROFESSOR CARY IS LUTHER AND THE JEWS