Truth

The Bible is our authority for Christian life. As a professor of Western history, I’ve often used the theme of authority to describe historical eras.

Under the Roman Empire, Rome had authority.

During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church had authority.

The Reformation occurred precisely because of the issue of authority. Roman Catholics equated church tradition and Scripture as equally authoritative while the Reformers understood the Scripture to be their sole authority.

The Enlightenment Era shifted the authority from revelation (Scripture) to reason (science and philosophy).

In postmodern thought, authority has shifted toward individualism and personal freedom.

The idea of authority, who or what gets to determine what is right, true, or moral, is tremendously important for human experience.

To see the importance of biblical authority, we can look at the story of Charles Templeton and Billy Graham. Templeton and Graham both served as traveling evangelists with Youth for Christ in the 1950s. While Billy Graham was simple, clear, and direct, he was also genuinely productive when he preached. Charles Templeton was a young evangelist who had charisma, eloquence, and vigor in his preaching. In many ways, Templeton was superior to Graham as a communicator. Templeton ended up leaving Youth for Christ in order to go to Princeton to receive theological training. Several times he argued with Billy Graham and challenged him to head to seminary as well to develop his theological perspectives. At Princeton, Templeton was taught that the supernatural events of the Bible were made up stories to give credibility to early Christianity rather than accounts of what actually happened. He (as so many theologians of the era) developed a bias—that modern thinkers know more than and think about theology better than the original authors.  Templeton challenged Billy Graham on these matters, and Graham didn’t have answers to the theological questions Templeton was raising. Templeton and Graham differed on the issue of biblical authority. Templeton shifted his view of authority from revelation to reason due to the theologically liberal education he received. Graham was understandably troubled. The story goes that Graham went to spend some time in the woods praying and seeking God. Upon his return, Graham concluded that he was going to trust that the Bible was God’s Word (that it represented God’s authority) and preach it as such. God immensely blessed Graham’s evangelistic ministry as a result.

Billy Graham made famous the phrase, “the Bible says.” But you may never have heard of Charles Templeton. Graham’s ministry was built on biblical authority, while Templeton’s theological drift led him away from Biblical preaching. (You can read more about this story in William Martin’s book, A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story, pages 110-112). 

But we must not hold to biblical authority simply because of pragmatics (the apparent blessings of Graham’s ministry compared with Templeton’s shift in ministry). The issue of authority is ultimately about God.

Consider Jesus’ claim when he gave the Great Commission:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (emphasis mine)

Jesus has authority. So the word of Jesus, the Bible, has authority because it is from God. Our previous posts about canon, inspiration, manuscripts, inerrancy, sufficiency, and clarity underscore the following truth: if God is the author of Scripture, then we must submit to God as the ultimate authority in our lives and obey what Scripture teaches.

N.T. Wright argued in his book Scripture and the Authority of God, that God exercises his authority through Scripture. In essence, Scripture is authoritative because God has ultimate authority.

Here are some implications for this doctrine of authority:

  • If the Bible is authoritative, then salvation is exclusively through Jesus Christ (see Acts 4:12). This is the reason we believe in the mission of the gospel to our neighbors and the nations. If they do not hear of Christ and follow Christ, then they are apart from salvation.
  • If the Bible is authoritative, then followers of Jesus must share the gospel. See the previous point. If we really believe in the doctrines of the Bible as inspired, inerrant, sufficient, clear, and authoritative, then the only hope for dying world is the life-giving message of the gospel (John 10:10). We must be witnesses of this news.
  • If the Bible is authoritative, then followers of Jesus must submit to the Scripture. The primary reason we must read, learn, study, apply, and memorize the Bible is because it is God’s message to us. If God is our ultimate authority, then Scripture is how he exercises and communicates his authority to us (2 Timothy 3:16).
  • If the Bible is authoritative, then cultural mores will often be at odds with biblical ethical commands. For example contemporary views of human sexuality contradict Biblical sexual ethics (see Romans 1:18 ff). It is at these places where Biblical authority and cultural values intersect. If God has authority, then Christians will live and look differently than the world around them.

During my ministry, I have tried to operate under the authority of God through Scripture. When we bend our hearts and wills to God through obedience to his word, we have the opportunity to experience the blessings of relationship with God.

Today’s cultural expressions of individualism, personhood theory, and personal truth are at odds with biblical truth specifically in the arena of authority. If I am the authority in my life, then I don’t have to submit to another authority.

But when we find ourselves at odds with biblical authority, ask yourself this question, “Who knows more, us or God?”

Since God knows all, then we can trust his Word. Since we can trust his Word, we can obey it.

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.