08 May 2012

The sufficiency challenge

by Dan Phillips

I think the truth of the sufficiency of Scripture may be the central Biblical doctrine under attack in our day.  Of course cults, heresies and false religions attack it, as they must. What is saddest to see is all the "friendly" fire that well-meaning obsessives have leveled with a boldness that seems to be on the increase.

I've come at this topic "at sundry times and in divers manners," including here, here, and here, among many others.

Sunday was part three of our Thinking Biblically series at CBC, and the sufficiency of Scripture was one of the foci of the sermon titled What Should We Do with the Bible? (That and, well, once again too many other things.) I'll lift out a part of the sermon, part that actually wasn't in the notes.

I grant that my efforts may not have convinced everyone, though I will keep trying. But virtually all remotely-sound Christians will at least give a nod to the proviso that yes, yes, yes, the Bible is God's Word, and yes, it's some kind of sufficient, and no, no hemi-demi-semi-kindasorta revelation can displace it — well, not formally, anyway.

So agree with me on this. If you really believe what you say you really believe, this should be no problem. Here we go:

Agree heartily to believe in and use Scripture as befits what it claims about itself. Treat it like it is what you say you believe it is: God's actual, real-live, inerrant, personal, living and powerful Word. Approach it as you would actually approach such a treasure as you profess to affirm to have found in Scripture.

That is, pledge yourself exclusively to seek God and His will according to Scripture. Pray only for light to understand Scripture (cf. Psa. 119:18; 2 Tim. 4:7). Commit yourself only to regard what comes from Scripture as God's binding will for you. Set aside all the yeah-buts and evasions and distractions and special-pleadings and fourteenth-hand stories and traditions, for a time.

Set yourself to seeking and being in a church that emphatically teaches the Bible as if it were what it says it is, that devotes itself to the exposition and proclamation and practice of Scripture as God's inerrant word, without the endless distractions of entertainment and fads and dancing bears.

Devote yourself exclusively to studying Scripture, all sixty-six books. Set yourself to master every book, every chapter, every verse, every word. Seek perfect understanding of all of Scripture, and Scripture only, as containing what God really wants you to know. Memorize all of it.

Finally (and at the same time) commit yourself to practicing Scripture perfectly. All of it. Master it, and be mastered by it — exclusively. If it is not Bible or a valid straight-line application of the Bible, do not claim it as any level of special revelation from God.

Then and only then — when you have plumbed the full dimensions of Scripture in every direction; when you have conformed your thoughts, attitudes, affections and behavior to it; when you've ransacked every corner and crevasse and entirely emptied the cupboards and completely cleared the shelves — if you find that Scripture is truly insufficient to lead you to know and serve God in this life (contrary to its own self-testimony)...

...then look me up.


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Tom Chantry said...

I recollect a Q&A session when I was in college in which an older pastor said much the same thing. A student asked him something about discerning the will of God, and he asked in return, "How much of the will of God do you believe is revealed in the Bible? Would you say 95%? Maybe even 99%?" The students vaguely agreed that this was probably so. "Well," he replied, "I'd put that percentage about a point higher, but for the sake of argument, let's say 99%. How much of that do you actually understand, believe, and practice? 1% of that 99%? Not likely. I know I'm nowhere near that percentage." Everyone had to agree. "So," he concluded, "if you want to know God's will, and 99% or more of it is contained in a book you have ready access to, and if in a lifetime you're unlikely to master even a fraction of that, then get busy with the book, and don't waste your time on anything else. I guarantee you two things: you'll never fully understand the will of God, but you'll be a lot closer than the folks who read horoscopes."

So, Dan, were you hiding in the back of the room somewhere when he said that, or what?

DJP said...

Yes, because I never have original thoughts. Thank you for pointing that out.

(Actually I agree with Spurgeon, that if I did have a genuinely original thought, it would be wrong.)

Tom Chantry said...

I hope you know my question was tongue in cheek. Your post was evocative of the wisdom I've heard in the past.

Tom Chantry said...

As I continue to reflect on this post, I can only think of two reasons not to do what Dan is saying to do.

I mean, consider, if you believe that there is revelation both inside and outside of Scripture, it's pretty easy to figure out which is more accessible. Let's assume that I need to make dinner tonight and I've decided to make meatloaf, which I've never done before. And let's assume that there are several ways to learn to make meatloaf: I could wait to have a dream that tells me how to make meatloaf, or I could pray for God to open my heart to the ways of meatloaf, or I could look up "meatloaf" in a cookbook I have sitting right in my kitchen, or I could...

...wait a minute, why am I still looking for a way? You mean I have a book - right here, and in plain English - that gives me the information I'm looking for? Let's start there!

Now, my point is not to say that the Scripture is a simple how-to manual like a cookbook, but the information you seek - the will of God by which you might enter His kingdom and live to His glory - is readily accessible in readable English. Why would you look anywhere else first?

Either because 1. we don't actually believe that the Bible is sufficient to the task, or 2. what Dan suggests here is just way too hard, and you think you'd have more fun looking elsewhere.

Aaron said...


But what if you don't know what brand of tomato sauce to use on your meatloaf? And that is not given in the cookbook?


Tom Chantry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Chantry said...

Actually, Aaron, that's brilliant. What if you don't know, and all it says is "one fifteen ounce can of tomato sauce"? Is it possible that, in the mind of the cookbook company, it really doesn't matter? That perhaps, it's OK with them if you use whatever brand sauce you like??

It's amazing how easily we trust cookbooks that, even if they don't tell us everything we wondered about, they probably did tell us everything we actually need to know. It doesn't reflect well on our Christianity if we have greater faith in Betty Crocker than we do in the Holy Spirit.

Nord said...

A brilliant post, and Tom is in great form today as well! So many people hoping for a voice when the truth is written plainly.

Charlene said...

Ach! Tom you got me with Betty Crocker.

Dan, this is a most excellent and challenging post. I've been thinking much on this lately.

VcdeChagn said...

Yup. I rated this post 5 stars even before I scrolled down past the measuring tape.

I remember sitting at a Starbucks with my former pastor (cause this is how you do these things, yaknow).

He was calling me on the carpet for telling my class (I was teaching Grudem's Systematic Theology..the cut down one) that God doesn't speak anymore except through His Word.

I just kept asking why? Why do I need God to speak to me when His Word is sufficient. He didn't have an answer. I hope he never thinks he does.

Aaron said...


As to my brillance...let's just say that even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.

Aaron said...

you see..I can't even spell brilliance correctly.

Anonymous said...

Foodie analogies in a Pyro thread! I love it!

MitchKill said...

Your and the other Pyro-fella's posts on sufficiency of Scripture have really helped me flesh out what I learned to be true a few years back. I think one thing that causes a lot of folks to tacitly reject Scripture's sufficiency is a failure to recognize God's providence over their decision making. "If I take the elevator when God wants me to take the stairs, I'll miss the will of God and will have to settle for second best in my life!" They seem to think that God's will is dependent on them making the "right" decision. I'm thankful that God has helped me to understand that He works sovereignly over man's affairs.

Jeremiah Greenwell said...

As a wise man once said:

"A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all sound wisdom.
A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart."

I'd have to say these two verses from Proverbs 18 hit the nail on the head pretty well and are most applicable to scripture and its proper interpretation (2 Peter 1:20). Good short posts (cause it's all you really need to say) and excellent comments, God bless.

Aaron said...


Amen, brother, Amen. You are exactly right. Some people don't realize how liberating it truly is to rest in the knowledge that God is Sovereign and He has given us everything we need.

David A. Carlson said...

I would say the greatest threat to the sufficiency of the bible are those that deny it's sufficiency by adding to it's requirements - by instituting requirements that go beyond what scripture teaches. Someone had a name for them......

on a side note, I have found Pastor Mac to be one of the most committed to true sufficiency of the bible by his refusal to add requirements.

Gary Good said...

It seems that too many people are looking for God to tell them specific things to do in their lives. Should I look for a new job? Where should I go? What, specifically should I do today?

Some of this thinking, I think, can be attributed to leaders that talk about not missing out on the destiny that God has for us, as if we don't do A, B, and C, were going to miss out on some worldly blessing.

I can't seem to find anywhere in God's Word that talks about any kind of worldly destiny. Am I missing something?

Chris H said...


The greatest threat to peoples' understanding of the sufficiency of scripture would be people who deny it, however they do so.

No reason to be so particular when a broad stroke is just as true.

Scot said...

People ask, "Why you want a dead relationship with a book?"

The retort in my head, "Is the voice in your head backed up with miracles, 1600 years of history, and its own self-testimony? I'll take the so called dead book please."


"So instead you want me to listen to a voice that regularly wrong, comes from a missionary's dog thrice remove from its owner, or its just bad Mexican? Who's the crazy one here?"

zamar said...

our 'destiny' is death Ecc 7

Commit all to the LORD Prov 16
Seek first the Kingdom Matt 6
Do all as to the LORD Col 3

The attitude one takes in choosing seems to be key. Just MHO

Jeff said...

@scooter, I thought it was 2012, not 1633... Did I miss something? :o)

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Christians who think that believing God only speaks through His Word devalues Him being relational to us forget that His Word is "living and active".

TheTruthJustIs said...

Well said. Thanks for posting.

Unknown said...

Great challenge, Dan. When I was coming out of "charismania" I spent a little time in "reformed charismatic" circles-- thinking this might be the best of both worlds-- reformed doctrine plus charismatic gifts practiced in accordance with Scripture. But I really never found the "words" and "visions" offered to my wife and I helpful, in their non-specificity and being shared with the disclaimer-- "this may not be 100% on target, but take what you feel is relevant and leave the rest....". In the back of my mind I was thinking-- just give me a Bible verse or encouragement from the Word or a Scripture-centered prayer for us and we'd be more surely blessed.

ad nauseum said...

Look closer at Hebrews 4 Webster, take it in its context, youll see that it isnt talking about some extra-Biblical experience.

Rick Potter said...

Enjoyed the tapestry of this piece. The "tailors"tape, the "plumb" reference and the "leveling" aspects. For me, just as a tailored suit fits perfectly, and just as a plumb line will always point true, and just as a level will make sure that we're never "half a bubble" off, Dan did a great job of addressing the fact that we don't need to concern ourselves with which "tomato sauce" is right for the recipe even before it came up in the meta. And, I think...that was part of his point.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

ad nauseum,

That's what I meant, although my comment doesn't reflect that well.

It should have read, ". . . speaking through His Word devalues. . .", which makes it make sense. I've been challenged by some people who say that believing God only speaks through His Word makes Him to be unrelational to us because, in their opinion, a relationship is based on active communication - and for some reason they don't consider God's Word to be sufficient active communication. That's the point I was driving at, and I'm sorry that my pithy comment didn't communicate that well.

I wish Christians who believe that they have to strain to "hear God's voice" would realize what a tragic prison they've placed themselves into.

will said...

I couldn't agree more, particularly in my denomination (SBC). IMO the battle for inerrancy was largely won in the 1970's and 80's, but the battle for sufficiency for ALL faith and practice goes on. And I am not encouraged often by what I read and hear from our leaders and Seminary presidents.


ad nauseum said...

Oh sorry I think I should have looked closer at your post. Calvin's commentary on this verse is great, well worth reading. Yes the Bible is plenty of active communication, like Tom's first comment, we can plum the depths of it our whole lives and really only scratch the surface. In the end its not the Scriptures that are inadequate for us, its the other way around, and so we pray for the Spirit to give us understanding. Sorry for misunderstanding you, keep up the good fight brother Webster

Nonna said...

It is a blessing to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through Sacred Scripture. I have experienced such holy companionship on many occasions. Just recently, upon awakening from a restless night, I heard the voice of Scripture addressed to me, Take every thought captive to obey Christ. And yesterday, when I was dreading a particular task, Do not delay when the matter is unpleasant. It is times like these in which the Scriptures come alive and leaps off of the pages. Throughout the years, I have had such blessed instruction, sometimes being awakened in the middle of the night, other times while driving from one place to another, in the midst of suffering and trials, and many such situations too numerous to record here. Just the other day a close Christian friend of mine referred to a particular portion of Scripture in the gospels regarding Christ's refusal to acquiesce to Satan's worldly propossals. Her response immediately penetrated to the depths of my soul.

We are encouraged, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. His word cannot dwell within our hearts if we don't take and make the opportunity to read Scripture regularly. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. - St. Jerome

Nonna said...

Set yourself to seeking and being in a church that emphatically teaches the Bible as if it were what it says it is.

This statement is posited within your blog entry in a matter of fact way, as if such a task is possible for each and every Christian. If one lives in an urban area, I would suggest that this task is much easier and excuses to the contrary are less justified. However, for those who live in rural areas (such as in my case) the task to find the right (there's a lot involved in this adjective) church is quite overwhelming. Further, I would suggest that there are times when circumstances prevent Christians from attaining to this goal. In such cases, this is a sad testimony which addresses just how bad the state of affairs is out there. I also recognize that the opinion of Pyro bloggers and commenters would dissent from such an opinion.

My husband and I have been to MANY churches within a reasonable distance from our home. While I prefer churches that worship liturgically and he is inclined toward more informal worship, nonetheless we are both willing to make compromises. However, to what degree does one make compromises?

The following is a list of the kinds of churches we have encountered in our area:

1. Several over-the-top charismatic/pentecostal churches

2. Non-denominational that answers to no other church outside of themselves and does not exercise any kind of discipline with its members

3. Non-denominational that is inclined toward emergent and frankly, not very welcoming to visitors

4. Fundamentalist Baptist tied in with Bob Jones University, i.e. - all rock music is of the devil, alcohol is evil, any other view but a literal 6 day creation is the spawn of Darwin and the devil himself, etc.

5. Independent King James onlyism & all that comes with that

6. Evangelical churches that firmly believe in Once Saved Always Saved. Neither my husband or I assent to this doctrine.

7. Lutheran Missouri-Synod - my husband is not willing to be a member there for a few reasons of which I will not go into.

8. Wesleyan church - many things we liked about it except they have an assistant woman pastor.

9. Methodist church that has questionable views on homosexuality and women pastors.

10. Reformed Baptist church (yeah, I know, neither my husband & are are Reformed, but we were getting desperate) where the pastor left his wife and his pastorate resulting in no leadership presence there.

11. OPC - husband & I couldn't assent to certain doctrines.

12. Mainlines that are anything from pro-gay to female clergy and all that comes with that package.

I'm not sure that I included all our church investigative experiences, but I think this list is telling.

With all this said, my husband likes a particular Christian Missionary Alliance Church, but I am a bit cautious, especially when the pastor says: "We've got to take this country back for God. ???? Sounds like dominionism to me.

So, what seems to be left is Calvary Chapel, which we haven't attended yet - unless we want to drive MANY miles - something we cannot afford to do.

In the meantime, we read and discuss the Scriptures (my husband is an Old Testament scholar without a degree) and pray together for God's will to be done.

Michael Coughlin said...

More excellence. This is a good point on how we ought to proceed, and I love the first 4 comments.

I remember WAY before salvation I joined the AA program. My first night at a meeting, a man said to me, "go to a meeting every day, and if you want to drink, call me and I'll buy you your first one."

I found it odd, but later realized the point was he'd have tried to talk me out of it.

Your ending reminded me of that story.