Thoughts on Sufficiency

Scripture is God's true, perfect, delightful, inspired and sufficient word to the world. While every Christian I know affirms all of this, in practice the sufficiency of Scripture seems to be getting far less attention, and I am convinced that it is the most important aspect of Scripture for the church in the 21st century to wrestle with. It is possible to affirm verbal, plenary inspiration and the inerrant and infallible nature of Scripture, and still miss the principle that it is enough; that the Scripture alone is our only rule in faith and practice. When we miss this truth, we may find ourselves falling into the errors of legalism, speculative theology, or ecclesiological invention that goes beyond and works against what God has revealed. If we really believe in both the authority and sufficiency of God's word, then we will embrace both certainty and mystery when it comes to our faith and express that faith in confidence and humility.

Because God has spoken definitively of himself, his creation and his salvation in the pages of Scripture, some things can be known. By "some things," I mean those things he has chosen to address. One can have certainty in his theology, and make those "absolute truth" claims that are getting so much press these days. I have to admit such wording is not necessarily biblical and sounds like an oxymoron, but I do not have trouble using the term. Truth is absolute and God has revealed truth in Scripture. In short, there is no such thing as Christian theology that does not make absolute claims about God, man, and redemption, and I have grown very weary of the growing trend to dismiss any form of dogmatism that goes beyond the catholic creeds.

To take no pleasure in assertions is not the mark of a Chritsian heart; indeed one must delight in assertions to be a Christian at all. ...take away assertions and you take away Christianity. Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, 66, 67.

In a culture that rejects the concept of truth being the unchanging reality of God, this is something we need to articulate well to the people God has sent us to. If we believe that God has spoken, that he has revealed himself in a way meant to be understood, then we cannot avoid the need to make assertions, and to be certain. But such assertions concerning the believer's ethics and theology must be radically limited to the word of God.

If this thought prevails with us, that the word of the Lord is the sole way that can lead us in our search for all that is lawful to hold concerning him, and is the sole light to illumine our vision of all that we should see of him, it will readily keep and restrain us from all rashness. For we shall know that the moment we exceed the bounds of the Word, our course is outside the pathway and in darkness, and that there we must repeatedly wander, slip and stumble. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.XXI.2.

Sufficiency teaches all of this. God has revealed himself and it is enough. But sufficiency says still more.

The sufficiency of Scripture equally pushes the need to humbly affirm the mystery and limited nature of our knowledge of God. God has spoken to us in words we can understand, but there is much he has not told us. And some of what he has told us is simply more than we can fully comprehend. If God has spoken definitively, and if we believe the canon is closed, then we have to admit that while we have all of the answers we need, we do not have all of the answers. The sufficiency of Scripture halts dogmatism in those areas God has not addressed. If his word is enough for us, then speculative theology and extra-biblical and inventive ethics must not hold sway in the life of the church.

The desire to go beyond what Scripture says in developing our theology and determining the will of God is to reject the gift of God's revelation and remain dissatisfied with what God has given. It is the claim, at least implicitly, that God was not clear enough, or that he needs our help in leading his people in righteousness.

When we grasp both the authority and sufficiency of Scripture the result is confidence and humility. Confidence comes from the knowledge of what God has revealed. He can be known (in part) and his word is meant to be understood and communicated to others. Humility comes from understanding that we are absolutely dependent on God's divine self-disclosure in Scripture to grasp any truth about him at all, for even though he is revealed in nature, we naturally reject it. Humility also comes from the knowledge that of all that God has told us, we are still left with questions that will not be answered this side of the resurrection. Though we can known God, his eternal nature is more than our finite minds can comprehend.

I believe that if we can maintain a healthy understanding of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture we will have clearer expressions of the truth, a more generous spirit when cooperating together for the cause of Christ, greater boldness to declare the God who speaks, and appropriate humility when speaking on his behalf.