There is a phrase which I’ve seen tossed around lately in all our talks about critical-race theory and other issues of social justice. The phrase is even one which has become a hallmark of the relatively newly launched Conservative Baptist Network (CBN) You can see the phrase in their Twitter tag-line: “Sufficiency. The Bible, alone.” That precious doctrine which is being propelled to the front line of battle is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. But I do not believe that phrase or the doctrine is being properly represented.
The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith explains it this way:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men (1.6).
Wayne Grudem’s definition falls in line with the historic understanding of the doctrine:
The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly. (Grudem, 127)
Note in particular that this doctrine concerns all matters of faith and practice. Tom Ascol gives a helpful caveat when he says:
“…does affirming the sufficiency of Scripture mean that we believe it contains everything that we need for every aspect of our lives? Not at all. If your roof springs a leak do not expect to find steps to repair it in Nehemiah or any of the other 65 books of the Bible”. (here)
John Piper also gives an important caveat and shows how this doctrine has been used historically:
In other words, the Scriptures are sufficient in the sense that they are the only (“once for all”) inspired and (therefore) inerrant words of God that we need, in order to know the way of salvation (“make you wise unto salvation”) and the way of obedience (“equipped for every good work”). The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Scripture is all we need to live obediently. (here)
In sum if you want to know the way to please God then the Scriptures are sufficient. The lion’s share of this doctrine relates to not adding to Scripture and not putting other things on equal value with Scripture. Scripture alone is our authority. But it also helps us to see that we cannot call something sin which the Bible doesn’t call sin nor can we say that something is required of us which the Bible does not require. Men like John Calvin used this doctrine to encourage folks not to fly off into wild speculations where the Bible doesn’t speak.
The Widening of the Doctrine
But in our day it seems that some have extended this doctrine to mean that you cannot use other sources without denying the sufficiency of Scripture. And I think one of the first places where we saw this extension was in the area of biblical counseling.
I’ll be the first to admit that I would consider myself in agreement with the biblical counseling movement (ACBC/NANC and CCEF) in most of these matters. I do believe that when I am pastorally counseling someone the Bible is sufficient to help them find substantial hope and healing and to live obediently before the Lord. But I also believe we are whole beings. And there may be some healing which comes through biological means. And that position is NOT denying the historical doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. If I said I really believe that in order for this person to tackle this temptation to pornography they MUST find healing in their past and to do this they must go through a rigorous process of EMDR in order to be obedient to God. Now, THAT would be denying the sufficiency of Scripture.
The Scripture claims for itself authority and sufficiency in the matters to which it speaks. How can I obey God with PTSD? The Scriptures are sufficient. How can I find temporal help and healing from my night terrors related to PTSD? The Bible does not claim for itself that kind of sufficiency.
Now let’s consider for a moment what resolution 9 says about CRT/I. One particularly offending phrase is this one:
Critical race theory and intersectionality alone are insufficient to diagnose and redress the root causes of the social ills that they identify, which result from sin, yet these analytical tools can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences (emphasis mine)
Resolved, That critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks
RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists will carefully analyze how the information gleaned from these tools are employed to address social dynamics
It is said that these statements are dangerous because they are denying the sufficiency of Scripture. We do not NEED these analytical tools. But you’ll also note that nowhere does resolution 9 say we “need” these tools. But rather that they can be used as analytical tools to learn about human interactions. The framers of this document were putting CRT/I into a sociological category and NOT putting it into a “faith and practice” category.
Would anyone have a problem with a statement like this:
“Resolved, that MRI machines be used only as a diagnostic tool to understand internal organs and not the actual spiritual condition of the human heart. And any findings are subordinate to the Scriptures.”
I realize the absurdity of this. I also realize it’s apples to oranges because few people are embracing MRI’s as their worldview. But wait…didn’t resolution 9 ALSO reject the use of CRT/I as a “transcendent ideological framework”? So they actually did put CRT/I on the level of an MRI just within the realm of sociology and not biology.
This is NOT denying the sufficiency of Scripture. And frankly, much of what people are shouting about isn’t touching on this particular doctrine. Call it something else if you must. Say that it’s unwise. Say that things are denying actual tenets of the faith, fine. But let’s be more thoughtful about throwing out the accusation of someone denying the sufficiency of Scripture. That doctrine has a historical reference and it has had a pretty specific meaning.
In the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means”.
This article is slightly modified from it’s original here.