Is This Really About the Sufficiency of Scripture?

Is This Really About the Sufficiency of Scripture? September 24, 2019

According to this article, we are supposedly going to learn “why” this “spat” is “actually” about the sufficiency of Scripture.  We have an assertion in the title: This argument may be about a lot of things, but, “actually,” it’s about the sufficiency of Scripture.

Okay.  So, I read with interest…and, was disappointed.  Nowhere in the reporting could I see where such was what this “spat” was “really” about, unless of course, we agree with Tom Ascol and the “Founders” people.  Yes, they are asserting such, but I thought this was a reporting, an account of this dispute.  Why is the author (editors?) making Mr. Ascol’s case in his/their title?

We are never told why the, “sufficiency of Scripture” is what this dust-up is about.  We are only told one party to the spat thinks such is the case.  I’m not sure that is the best way to present an objective and fair view of the problem, but maybe that’s just me—and maybe that wasn’t the goal.

Putting that aside, I’m not interested in the, “spat” they speak of, which has to do with the “documentary” put together by this group, the “Founders.”  I want to address this idea of the sufficiency of Scripture.  I seriously doubt such is the true concern here, and wonder if the true concern in one’s interpretations of Scripture, pertinent to the issues brought up by Mr. Ascol, such as social justice, women in leadership, and race relations.

What is meant, in this context, of the sufficiency of Scripture?  We read:

“Ascol told CT [Christianity Today] that everyone involved in the current SBC discussion is committed to Scripture, but there’s a divide between those who see learning from secular ideologies as a threat to the sufficiency of the Word and those who ‘think we can use the tools of these ideologies without getting burned by the ideologies themselves.’”

First, what happened to the idea that all truth is God’s truth?  Ascol would probably agree that all truth is God’s truth, so what is he really asserting here?  The only way we might get “burned,” by these other tools, is if it turns out they are not true, right?  Is that his true complaint?  If it is, then why not make that case?

But let’s look deeper:

“For example, he [Ascol] said, the Bible states qualifications for pastors in 1 Timothy 3:1–7, but some undermine Scripture’s sufficiency by claiming a preacher isn’t qualified to state the Bible’s teaching on race unless he also studies extensively the experience of ethnic minorities. Similarly, Scripture presents plain teaching about gender roles, but some claim that teaching cannot be understood without studying extensively the experience of being female.  ‘It can be a very good thing’ to seek understanding of other believers’ experiences, Ascol said. ‘But to suggest’ that ‘we somehow cannot know truth unless we do this’ implies ‘the Bible really is not sufficient.’”

First, who said we cannot know “truth” unless we do this?  What these others are saying, or suggesting, I assume, is that all truth is God’s truth, therefore it arises from the same origin as Scripture, i.e., God.  It’s possible that Ascol’s true concern here is the interpretation of Scripture, rather than its sufficiency.  It could be he’s more concerned the Bible might end up being interpreted differently than he would like in the areas of social justice, racism and woman in leadership.

The Bible, whether New or Old Testament, has never been sufficient in all matters in and of themselves.  The written words we attribute to God’s inspiration and ultimate origin, are only one aspect (no matter how important) of God’s revealing or communicating.  In addition to general and special revelation, we must also consider the Incarnation (in Jesus, in history, Christians believe God became human).  And, we would have known about such (through an oral tradition), written words or not.

This idea of the “sufficiency of Scripture,” which stems from one of the Reformed solas, sola scripture (and one fundamentalists and evangelicals have made even more extreme and radical), is very similar to the fundamentalist/evangelical trope of, “chapter and verse.”  I speak to that here.  What I speak of there, goes to the same issues addressed here.  More importantly, even if accepted as Ascol and those he is critical of do, simply spouting the “sufficiency” of Scripture means nothing at the end of the day until we talk about the interpretation of those sufficient Scriptures as they pertain to the issues disputed (these supposed other “tools”).

Putting that aside, as to the Incarnation, let’s consider Ascol’s own words:

“It can be a very good thing” to try and understand the experience of others.  Really!  That is exactly what happened in the Incarnation.  God became human, God took on flesh, like, us.  God understood and experienced what we do as human beings.  Ascol’s assertion is, not only ironic given his complaint, but also certainly an understatement.

In my opinion, these issues and this row are not, contrary to the article’s title, about the, “sufficiency” of Scripture.  They are about power and control.  Too often those who proclaim the “sufficiency” of Scripture are using the claim as an authoritarian positioning tactic.

The purpose is to make those who disagree with them, think they are actually disagreeing with God (rather than just having different interpretations of Scripture), or don’t hold Scripture in high regard.  While in fact, people are simply noting either that all truth is God’s truth, or they disagree with Ascol’s interpretation of Scripture.

A high view of Scripture and, in my view, interpreting it correctly, means believing all truth is God’s truth, no matter where found.  I’m sure Ascol would champion any scientific or archaeological discovery that either conformed with, or substantiated, some truth or assertion of Scripture.  If those truths were introduced along with Scripture to better help us understand our world, I doubt he would cry out, “We shouldn’t be considering such, Scripture is sufficient!”

What then is the true problem here?  I doubt it has much to do with the “sufficiency” of Scripture.

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  • This calls to mind the whole hypothesis behind Jay Adams’ nouthetic counseling. All you need to know to be a good psychologist is what the Bible says.

    Interestingly, no biblical writing says that the Bible is the source of all truth and has all the answers to all our questions or all the directions for all human activity. The contention that it does is an extrabiblical contention, which seems to imply the Bible is sufficient for conveying all truth except in the area of the doctrine of sufficiency.

  • Questioning

    ” It’s possible that Ascol’s true concern here is the interpretation of Scripture, rather than its sufficiency. It could be he’s more concerned the Bible might end up being interpreted differently than he would like in the areas of social justice, racism and woman in leadership.”x

    I think you have stated the crux of the problem and quite possibly the source of many “spats”, not only within the SBC, but seen all over these boards.