The Bible gives us more than mere commands. It gives us the proper lens whereby to understand life.[i] The psalmist says that God’s Word is a light to our path (Ps. 119:105; cf. Ps. 1; 119:44-45; Prov. 6:23; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 1 Peter 1:23; 2 Peter 1:3-4).
What does it mean that God’s Word is a light to our path? Here’s a friends story. It was dark and pine trees overhung and blocked any light from wandering onto the path. The moon and stars may have been bright but you couldn’t tell.
My friend was camping with some guys. It was late. Everyone was in for the night. But he had to go to the bathroom. Luckily he had a flashlight. He made it to the potter-pot, over a football field length away, with no problems. On the way back, however, the light flickered and went out.
My friend was in trouble. But he thought if he just walked slowly he would be ok. He would softly pat the ground in front of him and once he was convinced it was the road he would continue. Well, after walking like this for a while he became pretty comfortable and confident. He began to walk faster.
He was making good time walking. When he walked right off the road. He tripped on something, maybe a skunk for all he knew, and fell down a hill. Luckily he didn’t fall all the way down the hill. He was stopped by a tree. Actually, he was stopped pretty abruptly. Eventually he regained his composure and crawled back up the hill.
After about an hour his friends were wondering where he was. So they sent out a “search party.” They found my friend crawling in the wrong direction. He was a little bruised and battered. But his pride was worse off.
My friend now knows the vital importance of having a light to light the path!
Having a “light” is no less important in life. It is actually more important, a lot more. There is more to fear then a tree or being found by your friends crawling in the wrong direction.
It is wrong to approach the Bible like a magic encyclopedia. It does not address every issue. Or, at least, not in the same way. However, it is fundamental to every issue. It gives the foundation on which to build. It is the ever-present and needed North Star. It is the compass pointing the way.
However, as John Piper works out in his article “Thoughts on the Sufficiency of Scripture”: “The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Scripture is all we need to live obediently. To be obedient in the sciences we need to read science and study nature. To be obedient in economics we need to read economics and observe the world of business. To be obedient in sports we need to know the rules of the game. To be obedient in marriage we need to know the personality of our spouse. To be obedient as a pilot we need to know how to fly a plane. In other words, the Bible does not tell us all we need to know in order to be obedient stewards of this world.”[ii]
Scripture is not all we need. But we surely need it! And we especially need it to address moral and spiritual issues.
Eric Johnson points out that Paul “does not say that the Scripture contains all the soul-care information there is—all the knowledgethat God has regarding the care of souls—or that all extrabiblical information that bears on human nature and counseling is irrelevant or useless or sin.”[iii] Instead, he says, “The Bible contains what might be called the first principles of soul care—the most important truths for the maturation of the soul—and so it provides the God-breathed foundation for a radically Christian model of soul-healing.”[iv]
So, how then is Scripture sufficient to address our problems?
First, Scripture gets to the most fundamental and important questions in all of the universe. It answers the questions: Does God exist, How did we get here, What is wrong with the world, what should we do with our life, what happens after this life, and other massive and important questions.
Second, Scripture tells us how we can receive salvation in Christ and live in Christ.[v] Thus the Bible tells us how to be transformed. David Powlison says, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is as wide as human diversity and as deep as human complexity. The Scriptures that bear witness to this Christ in the power of His Spirit are sufficient to cure souls.”[vi]
Third, and something I have hinted at, the Bible gives us a lens in which to see the world. It is, again, the light to our path. John Calvin used the illustration of spectacles to explain this (Institutes 1.6.1). He said that the Bible is not only what we read, but what we read with. We use its pages as spectacles to view and read the world and the knowledge God has distributed throughout it.
Though Scripture may not be the only helpful text, it is the only necessary text. Further, and not surprisingly, God’s Word must be the authoritative text. God’s Word is the last word. That is not to say, however, that there are no other helpful resources. There certainly are. And it is in wisdom to make use of them. But, let it be clear, they must always be subordinate to the Word of the LORD.
God’s truth, as truth, is invaluable. God’s truth, as truth, is also immensely practical. It is practical for addiction.[vii] It is even practical for aviation. Though, as the figure above points out, Scriptures relevance various depending on the topic. Scripture has less relevance in aviation. Yet, even in aviation Scripture is still important. For instance, it is through Scripture that we see that there is a God that rules the cosmos and thus we have laws that govern the realm in which we live. Laws that allow for flight under certain conditions. We see that the pilot must strive to be the best pilot he can be to the glory of God. We see that the pilot must praise the Lord who made the expansive world in which he lives. So we learn a few things that apply to aviation. However, we are not taught how to fly a plane. We are not taught how much fuel a plane will consume under various operating conditions.
Scripture does and does not address every relevant fact in the universe. It does address everything in that through Scripture we know the beginning and telos (goal) of all things. Yet, if obviously does not address every single datum of information. What it does is grander. More useful even.
The Word of God is truth. Guides us in truth. Makes us holy (Jn. 17:17). I realize this is not an apologetic,[viii] but I can’t help but say with C. S. Lewis that I believe in Christianity and the Bible as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.[ix] “To the man enlightened by the Spirit, Scripture is no longer a bewildering jumble of isolated items… Part chimes in with part, Scripture meshes with Scripture, and the unified bearing of the whole Bible becomes apparent. The accompanying experience of the ‘taste’, or ‘flavour’ of spiritual realities is immediate and ineffable.”[x] Again, this is not something I can prove, it is a work of the Spirit. God the Spirit transforms by means of the Word of God. This is the biggest testimony of the sufficiency of Scripture; whether or not there is irrevocable evidence to prove it.
I will further say, that because God’s Word is truth, it gives us an accurate view of reality and of ourselves in that reality. “A true self-understanding is only possible in response to the word of God.”[xi] Without God’s Word we are left to our own devices. We are left relying on a desperately wicked heart (Jer. 17:9). “Understanding Scripture promotes our understanding of God, ourselves and the way of salvation, so it is indispensable for our psychospiritual well-being (and for Christian soul care).”[xii]
Look at what a proper, biblical understanding of our identity does: The Christian religion alone expels both the vice of pride and despair through the simplicity of the Gospel. “For it teaches the righteous, whom it exalts, even to participation in divinity itself, that in this sublime state they still bear the source of corruption, which exposes them throughout their lives to error, misery, death and sin; and it cries out to the most ungodly that they are capable of the grace of their redeemer. Thus, making those whom it justifies tremble and consoling those whom it condemns, it so nicely tempers fear with hope through dual capacity, common to all men, for grace and sin, that it causes infinitely more dejection than mere reason, but without despair, and infinitely more exaltation than natural pride, but without puffing us up. This clearly shows that, being alone exempt from error and vice, it is the only religion entitled to reach and correct mankind.”[xiii]
So, as Eric Johnson has rightly pointed out the Bible claims to be and is a soul-care book.[xiv] “The Old and New Testament Scriptures together… have a virtue-shaping function… With the Holy Spirit’s aid, the Word of God reconfigures the minds of believers, recalibrates their hearts and reshapes their lives, moving them, communally, into an increasingly theocentric way of life.”[xv]
God’s Word is truth and we are sanctified by it (Jn. 17:17). God’s Word is relevant. God’s Word is practical. God’s Word is sufficient.
[i] Michael Hortan says that “Theology is the lived, social, and embodied integration of drama (story), doctrine, doxology, and discipleship. I am suggesting that hearing the covenantal Word of our Lord is the source of that dethronement of the supposedly sovereign self and of the integration that subverts the disintegrating logic of Western dualism and individualism” (87). He goes on to say, “The ultimate goal of theology is practical—namely, to reconcile sinners to God in Christ and to restore them to communion with God and each other in true worship” (96).
[ii] “Thoughts on the Sufficiency of Scripture: What it Does and Doesn‟t Mean.” Desiring God (2005) [on-line]. Accessed 19 April, 2009. Available from http://www.desiringgod.orgResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ ByDate/ 2005/1282_Thoughts_on_the_Sufficiency_of_Scripture_What_It_Does_and_Doesnt_Mean/; Internet.
[iii] Foundations of Soul Care, 119.
[v] Here are some relevant statements on Scripture: The Westminster Confession of Faith says, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed” (1.6). “The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience” (Abstract of Principals). “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience” (The Baptist Confession of Faith ). “We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses” (XI of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy). Wayne Grudem says, “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 all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Systematic Theology, 127). John Frame says “Scripture contains all the divine words needed for any aspect of human life” (John Frame, DWG, 220). He goes on, “Theology is the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life” (DWG, 276). I think especially helpful here is David Powlison’s article “Affirmations and Denials: A Proposed Definition of Biblical Counseling” in JBC 19 (2000): 18-25. Also see “On The Sufficiency of Scripture in a Therapeutic Culture” adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention.
[vi] David Powlison, “The Sufficiency of Scripture to Diagnose and Cure Souls,” 13.
[vii] Scripture surely speaks to the problem of addiction. Interestingly you could put a passage of Scripture alongside each step of many of the Twelve Step Programs. In many ways that is exactly what Celebrate Recovery has done.
[viii] In defensive of Scripture I have found Frame, DWG helpful.
[ix] Is Theology Poetry?”, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses.
[x] J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 92.
[xi] Johnson goes on to say, “Scripture teaches that sanctification involves repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ… and only within that context can genuine soul-healing occur. God’s word radically changes one’s perspective on one’s psychological predicament” (Ibid. 75).
[xii] Johnson, Foundations, 38.
[xiii] Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 68.
[xiv] Foundations of Soul Care, 28 see also ch. 2. He says “The Bible is the primary soul care text for the Christian community” (Ibid., 18 italics mine). He says “primary” because he understands that other sources, even secular sources, can be helpful.
[xv] Johnson, Foundations, 33.