Southern Baptist Convention

For this week’s word, sufficiency, we remain under the doctrine of Scripture. Scripture is inspired, inerrant, sufficient, and clear. As such it is authoritative for Christian life and practice. (Clarity and authority are topics in forthcoming posts).

The sufficiency of Scripture means that in whatever God intends to communicate to us regarding himself, mankind, life, faith, and salvation, it is sufficient for those things.

The Bible is complete for the purpose for which it is given.

Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, 200.

At the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, convention messengers passed resolution 2 “ON THE SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE FOR RACE AND RACIAL RECONCILIATION.” You can read more about it in the Tuesday bulletin page 7, from last week’s annual meeting. SBC Annual Meeting resolutions represent the beliefs and affirmations of a specific convention meeting. While they are not binding or necessarily actionable by the messengers of the annual meeting or the entities, they are important as theological affirmations. If you would like a little more detail on the meeting, listen to the special episode of the Thursday Show podcast that aired last week or read my reflection post.

What does it mean that the Bible is sufficient for race and racial reconciliation? In short, it means that the Bible addresses a sufficient anthropology (who we are as humans), promotes an adequate view of ethnicity (how we interact with various ethnicities inside the one human race), and applies the appropriate solution to racial tensions and the need for gospel-centered reconciliation (how the gospel answers racism). You can read one of my posts from last year on this subject. While our nation is at odds politically and in conflict racially with regard to Critical Race Theory, it is important to note that the solutions to these tensions are not in the future waiting to be found. The solutions to these tensions are not in cultural marxism, hatred, anger, politics, division, or punitive actions. The solutions to these tensions have been revealed to us in the pages of Scripture with regard to the reconciliation paid for by the blood of Christ and declared by followers of Jesus.

Below, you will find four statements regarding the sufficiency of Scripture. The first is in the positive and the next three are in the negative. They are aimed at explaining this important doctrine.

The sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible is complete in everything that God intends to communicate to us. The Bible is enough. God’s revealed Word is sufficient to guide us into truth about God, humankind, sin, and salvation. We do not need another incarnation from Jesus, nor do we need extra revelations. Because we have the Bible, we are able to know truthfully what God intends for us to know.

The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Bible contains all truth. While the Bible is truthful and inerrant in what it intends to teach, it does not provide us exhaustive information about everything. It is helpful here to remember that the biblical affirmations regarding history and science are not in actual conflict with scientific or historical truth. I will admit that the Bible is in conflict with many historical and scientific theories, but not with affirmed historical and scientific truths. It has been said that all truth is God’s truth. And while we hold to the sufficiency of Scripture, this does not mean that the Bible contains all truth about everything. The sufficiency of Scripture asserts that the truth the Bible intends to teach is sufficient for its purpose: the revelation of God, mankind, and salvation.

The sufficiency of Scripture means that we do not need more than the Bible to truly know God. Two errors have arisen in church history connected to the sufficiency of Scripture: mysticism and traditionalism. Mysticism is the idea that we need extra revelations from God in order to fully or rightly follow him. Ancient Gnosticism fell into this trap. In contemporary Christianity, some versions of the charismatic movement lean into this error with the claims of revelations added to Scripture by apostolic teachers. Traditionalism is the error of equating church authority or creeds with the authority of Scripture. Roman Catholicism is guilty of this error by equating tradition with Scripture. Practically, contemporary fundamentalism follows a similar path to the Pharisees in the New Testament. Whenever one adds to the Law (the extra laws the Pharisees added in the first century) or whenever one adds legalistic demands to Christian practice, one is in danger of falling into the error of traditionalism.

The sufficiency of Scripture does not negate the need for the the Holy Spirit in biblical interpretation. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit as our guide into truth (John 16:13). Within biblical theology and scriptural interpretation, many issues are discussed and debated. This reality does not undercut the sufficiency of Scripture. Rather, it reminds us of the need to humbly interpret Scripture and seek the help of the Holy Spirit in our interpretations.

One of the greatest benefits of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is that it points to the powerful nature of the Word of God.

The grass withers, the flower fades
    when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:7-8

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 

Hebrews 4:12

The Word of God stands forever, accomplishes God’s purposes and is powerful to look into our hearts and introduce us to God.

We’ll close with a quote from Princeton theologian, B. B. Warfield, of the late nineteenth century who emphasized the sufficiency and power of Scripture in our lives.

The Bible is more than rule of faith and practice; it is more than the rule of faith and practice; it is more than a sufficient rule of faith and practice; it is the only rule of faith and practice.

B. B. Warfield, quoted by Robert Letham in Systematic Theology, 203.

In recent posts, we’ve worked through terms related to special revelation: canon, inspiration, and manuscripts. These terms relate to the all important subject of inerrancy.

Inerrancy is the doctrine that the Bible in its original autographs is without error. Inerrancy is a logical doctrine that flows from the doctrine of inspiration. If God is the Author of Scripture (albeit through human writers), then the original writings must be without error. God is incapable of flaw or falsity (Hebrews 6:18). If the Scriptures are authored by God, then they are inerrant and infallible (not capable of being wrong).

It is important to recognize, that those who hold the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture do so with regard to the original autographs. Copyists and translators may have made mistakes in translations. One blatant example is the 1631 reprint of the King James Bible where the all important negative not was committed from the sixth of the ten commandments reading “Thou shalt commit adultery,” as opposed to “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The previous posts on the canon and manuscripts detail that while a copy and translation may not be inerrant, they do clearly affirm the Biblical intentions from the original autographs. We can trust the Bible we do have.

As early as the fourth century, Augustine reflected on the importance of inerrancy.

For it seems to me that most disastrous consequence must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books: that is to say, that the men by whom Scripture has been given to us, and committed to writing, did put down in these books anything false… For if you once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement as made in the way of duty, there will not be left a single sentence of those books which, if appearing to any one difficult in practice or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away, as a statement in which, intentionally, and under a sense of duty, the author declared what was not true.

Augustine, Letter 28 quoted by Robert Letham in Systematic Theology, 191. 

Augustine is absolutely correct. When one comes to the Scripture believing it can be in error, then the interpreter stands in judgment of Scripture. Potential errors will arise in biblical texts where the teaching of the Bible runs contrary to cultural and social norms.

To use a contemporary example of the importance of inerrancy, the Southern Baptist Convention turned back theological liberalism in its seminaries and entities using the dividing line of inerrancy.

Theological liberalism of the 18th century arose as an attempt to explain away the supernaturalism found in Scripture. Authority and truth post-Enlightenment came from what could be ascertained with historical or scientific certainty. The supernatural claims of Scripture (creation, miracles, Jesus’ resurrection), could not be verified by science or history. So many secular philosophers simply denied them outright. The theological liberalism that rose post-Enlightenment attempted to remake Christianity into religious system that could coexist without its supernatural claims. One way that liberalism attempted this move was to use textual, literary, and source criticism to explain away the supernatural claims of Scripture (particularly the Gospels and miracles of Jesus). Theological liberalism could not do this without rejecting the doctrine of inerrancy. This type of theological liberalism spread through Europe and then the United States in seminaries and universities. By the middle of the twentieth century, the six Southern Baptist Seminaries had some faculty members that were teaching from a theologically liberal point of view.

While there are other contrasting perspectives, the baseline for theological liberalism is inerrancy. The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Denominational leaders recognized the trend toward theological liberalism at the seminaries and moved to secure leadership that held inerrancy. Known as the conservative resurgence, it is one of the only examples of a denomination turning back theological liberalism.

As an aside, the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting will occur next week (June 15-16, 2021 in Nashville, TN). Divisions and debates still exist in SBC life. Some claim that the convention is returning to liberalism. I don’t believe that to be true. By and large, we are theologically conservative and believe the Bible to be inerrant. Our divides and divisions result from interpretive nuances and power struggles. If you are interested in reading more about the current divisions, Trevin Wax has written an insightful piece at the Gospel Coalition blog entitled, “What are Southern Baptists Really Fighting About?”

One of my mentors and heroes, Dr. Kenneth Ridings used to say, “I believe in the Bible from Genesis to maps.” His point was that if the Bible is not God’s inerrant Word, then it can be rejected and reinvented. If the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, and God is the Author, then we must submit to it.

I believe in the doctrine of inerrancy. I have staked my ministry on the authority of God’s Word. If you believe the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, then accepting it and obeying it are not up for debate. While it is appropriate to work through differences of interpretation (we’ll get there in these posts), we do so in a spirit of humility.

If we lose the doctrine of inerrancy, we will eventually lose the importance and simplicity of gospel truths:

Jesus loves me,
Yes I know,
For the Bible tells me so.

If we are not certain that God is the author of Scripture, and we believe the Bible is in error, how can we be certain about the truths we desperately need from Scripture?

Jesus loves me. This I do know. And I know it because God’s inerrant and infallible Word tells me so.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash