One of the objectives in our teaching is clarity but how do we achieve it when we are teaching the Word of God?
Martin Luther has something to say about this. He talks of two types of clarity of the Word of God; claritas externa and claritas interna. Now Claritas externa says that everyone can understand the message of scripture, know the fundamental will of God and what is the good news. Claritas interna, however, is not achieved by human reason or strength but by the Holy Spirit in response to prayer and an obedient life.
On the face of it, this seems to exclude the hard work of scholarship but that would be to mis-represent Luther. He was strong on the necessity of education for faith, on the study of the original languages (the sheath of the sword of the Spirit) and on the need to be able to give a good account of your faith using rationality and disputation. The scientific study of theology is certainly Lutheran.
But there is more to theology for Luther than external understanding based on rationality. We are not just dealing with ancient documents like any others, nor are we un-involved scholars, the essential thing is for you personally to hear the Word of God clearly. Luther’s famous triad of what makes a theologian is Oratio (prayer), Meditatio (meditation on scripture) and tentatio (temptation – working obedience out in the struggles of life).
So what about our classrooms? A large proportion of theological education today is integrated in some way with national and international higher education which still tends to operate within the enlightenment paradigm. As Wolterstorff describes this in his article “The Travail of Theology in the Modern Academy”, it includes seeing all learning as generic rather than particular in that one does not study as a woman or man, African or Westerner, Muslim or Christian, but as a rational human being with unbiased critical judgment.
Luther would have loved the hard, rational, careful scholarly work done in this way but he would have added “Come Holy Spirit” and told us that the conditions for Him to come to us are faith, obedience, prayer and the open-ness to be personally changed. At one point, he advised those who were to become theologians to “Kneel down in private and pray seriously and with humility to God that he may give you by his beloved son his Holy Spirit who may enlighten you, lead you and give you sense.”
Our job as teachers is to see that the rational task of higher education today results, by hard careful scholarly work, in a claritas externa of scripture and theology by the students – and tested, if necessary by examination open to all. We must also help our students to a claritas interna by the help of the Holy Spirit, available to those who have faith, struggle in prayer and commit to work out their discovered truth in their obedient lives.
Anything else is to be less than biblical in studying the bible and less than theological in studying the great theologians such as Martin Luther.