First, take the area of ordering our affections. I totally agree with the authors, that we have responsibility to exercise faith in God’s Word in a way that re-orders our affections, and that the Bible is an incredibly powerful force for good in this area. However, even if we didn’t have the benefit of all the research about the relationship between food and mood, we all experience the way certain foods or eating habits can impact our affections. There is a physical element to at least some of our affections at least some of the time.
Review of Chapter 6: The Sufficiency of Scripture by Steve Viars and Rob Green in Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling.
As I’ve said before, I think the book as a whole is tremendous, and a must-have resource for anyone involved in pastoral ministry. However, I also said that there were a couple of weaker chapters and I’m afraid this is one of them. There’s still really good stuff in it, but it’s lacking in some key areas.
The chapter starts with a moving story about Andrew Viars, the special-needs son of Steve Viars, one of the authors of this chapter. Andrew has suffered with a long list of physical challenges and disorders throughout his life, even recently being diagnosed as having multiple seizures every day.
So, when the authors ask, “Is the Bible sufficient for people with physical problems?” you know it’s not a merely theoretical or academic question. It’s a very real question that Steve has clearly wrestled with.
The chapter then moves from the “nature” question to the “nurture” question and asks, “Does our belief in the sufficiency of Scripture lead us to conclude that shaping influences in days gone by or instances of present suffering are unimportant?”
I was encouraged to see these two great questions posed right up front, because in many ways, they get to the heart of present-day debates about what the sufficiency of Scripture means.
The authors then set the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture in its historical context of being part of the protest of the reformers against the Church of Rome who did not think the Bible was sufficient without their own interpretations and additions. It’s so important to recognize this historical context for this doctrine – not opposing science, but rather opposing the view of Scripture held by the Church of Rome.
The chapter then lists the claims the Word of God makes about its sufficiency:
- The Bible has all we need to draw us to Christ
- The Bible has all we need to help us order our affections
- The Bible has all we need to explain our identity in Jesus
- The Bible has all we need to reveal the motivations of our hearts
- The Bible has all we need to change into the image of Christ
- The Bible has all we need to find our hope in eternity
This is a clear and helpful list, and I love the way Steve weaves his son’s story throughout to illustrate each point. However, I’d like to suggest a couple of areas that need a bit more thought.
First, take the area of ordering our affections. I totally agree with the authors, that we have responsibility to exercise faith in God’s Word in a way that re-orders our affections, and that the Bible is an incredibly powerful force for good in this area. However, even if we didn’t have the benefit of all the research about the relationship between food and mood, we all experience the way certain foods or eating habits can impact our affections. There is a physical element to at least some of our affections at least some of the time. PMT, tiredness, brain injuries, and some brain, gland, and organ disorders, can also have a significant impact upon our affections.
I’d like to have seen a greater recognition here that at least some feelings, at least some times, have at least some physical component to them that requires more than Scripture to fix. To me this does not undermine the sufficiency of the Scripture, unless the Bible claims to be sufficient to orderall our affections, which I don’t believe it does. Instead, the Bible claims to be sufficient to reorder the spiritual element of our affections, which is usually the majority, but not the totality, of our emotions. With such serious long-term health issues, I presume Drew takes some medications which, to some degree, helps stabilize him?
Second, what about the Bible’s sufficiency for changing us into the image of Christ? Part of the image of Christ in us is realized in our various vocations. In our daily work, we image Christ as we serve Him and do our work to Him. However, that means that we have to train and learn using manuals, courses, mentoring, etc., none of which we find in the Bible. The pilot is not imaging Christ if he tries to fly a plane based on Isaiah 40:31.
Another part of our imaging Christ is in caring for our bodies, which also involves researching training programs, diets, nutrition, etc. Again, this does not undermine the sufficiency of Scripture, because the Bible does not claim to have everything we need to pursue godliness in our careers, health-care, etc.
Clarification and Negation
Sometimes I worry that by overstating the sufficiency of Scripture, by claiming more for Scripture that it claims for itself, we risk losing this precious doctrine. Take this summary statement on page 98 as an example:
But God has given him (Drew) and us a Bible that is sufficient. He truly offers all we need for life and godliness.
No doctors? No medications? No scans? No physical therapy? No child health experts?
Of course not. That’s why such statements should be followed with important clarifications and negations. “Now that does not mean…We’re not saying…etc.” Otherwise people end up thinking either we don’t mean what we say or we don’t do what we say. Or, even worse, they give no credit whatsoever to the sufficiency of Scripture.
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.