A Reformed Protestant gentleman writes:
Why can’t the answer simply be that the Bible, if read perfectly, provides a system of doctrine, but due to our sin and hardness of heart no one reads it perfectly. Thus it is not the Bible’s fault that its readers misinterpret it, any more than it is God’s fault that agnostics don’t see him.
If this is the case, then we Reformed should have a measure of hermeneutical humility as we acknowledge that the “T” in TULIP still affects us. In a word, we might be wrong about some things. But given both our imperfections as well as the sincere desire to hear God’s voice in Scripture, we believe that the Reformed system of doctrine is correct. But we don’t consign to hell those who don’t see it.
With regard to the answer proposed in the first paragraph, I can think of three problems. First, St Peter says that there are passages that are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). He doesn’t say that the difficulty is in us; he says that difficulty is an attribute of portions of the Bible. So it won’t do to say that sin is the sole cause of misunderstanding the Bible. St Peter has effectively ruled out that possibility. He goes on to say that the “unlearned wrest” the hard parts “to their own destruction.” So unless the gentleman wants to say that in St Peter’s view to be unlearned is just to be wicked, it isn’t reasonable to say that sin is the only obstacle we must overcome when we attempt to understand the Bible.
Secondly, it seems to me that this proposal does not eliminate the epistemological problem the Protestant faces. I take it that “to read the Bible perfectly” means “to understand it perfectly and completely.” If that is correct, then it seems the gentleman would have to be willing to accept the idea that we are unable to identify what God has revealed in the Bible, because we are unable to distinguish revealed truth from human error.
Following upon this, the third problem I see is that it is a self-refuting proposal. It seems pretty clear that the gentleman draws his views on the noetic effects of sin from the Bible. If sin prevents all of us (including him) from understanding the Bible perfectly, then there is no reason for us to grant that his view of the noetic effects of sin is correct because (like everyone else) he may be wrong about that (due to sin). So the claim “the Bible teaches that sin prevents understanding the Bible perfectly” undermines itself.
The only way that one could conceivably escape that noose is to have a privileged means for ascertaining what the Bible says, and our author seems to understand this. He goes on to say in the second paragraph: But given both our imperfections as well as the sincere desire to hear God’s voice in Scripture, we believe that the Reformed system of doctrine is correct. But given the noetic effects of sin which he has proposed, this is nothing more than sheer fideism, because he has no basis for supposing that he and his Reformed comrades have escaped the noetic effects of sin when it comes to Reformed theology. If the justification for that claim is to be found in their “sincere desire to hear God’s voice in Scripture” (something I absolutely do not question), then I’m afraid that he has given away the whole store. Because Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, and everyone else (including Catholics!) is no less sincere in holding that same desire. Heck, so are Mormons. So a mere sincere desire to hear God simply isn’t sufficient to justify the claim that one’s views are true. But the same is likewise true about any other means he might propose by which to escape the noetic effects of sin, since within Protestantism there are always groups who disagree about basically every point of doctrine. The only way to escape that problem is to say that one has a privileged means for doing so that others do not.
So it seems pretty clear that the gentleman’s proposal does not resolve the problem of uncertainty associated with Protestantism.
[Update] Another Reformed gentleman asserts, by way of attempting to get around the problem associated with claiming that sin prevents us from understanding God’s word perfectly:
Nope, the Bible defines the church and it defines Reformed doctrines clearly, especially justification by faith alone. God is simply pleased to illuminate some more than others on the ins-and-outs of doctrine.
If this is true, then it would certainly provide a privileged means by which to to escape the noose of the noetic effects of sin. The rather obvious problem is that the gentleman has no means for substantiating the claim apart from an appeal to the Bible. But of course if he does so he immediately slams into the brick wall of sin’s noetic effects: why should we believe that he has escaped those effects when he says that God illuminates “some more than others”? The answer is that no one should believe him when he says that. Granted the first (the noetic effects of sin impairing man’s ability to rightly understand the Bible) it is flatly impossible to know with certainty that the second is clearly taught in the Bible. So he cannot justify the claim that God illumines some more than others by an appeal to the Bible while at the same time saying that sin prevents men from properly understanding everything the Bible teaches. The upshot is that the claim he has made amounts to fideism.