Yesterday we met a pastor who claimed that he needed more than the Bible for Biblical preaching. Today I’m going to confront him and call him to repentance for undermining the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. My part of the conversation is in bold.

Good morning Pastor N. T. Grayshon. After talking yesterday, I came away deeply concerned about your view of Scripture and wanted to make sure that I heard you rightly. Did you say that sources of knowledge from outside of the Bible were necessary for understanding, preaching, and applying the Bible?”

Yes, but I can understand how you might misunderstand me. So let me give you an example. I always think it’s better to deal in concrete practical terms rather than in theoretical abstract arguments where different words (like “sufficiency”) often mean different things to different people.

Let’s take digital technology for example. I preached a sermon about this a few weeks ago. The sermon arose out of numerous conversations with parents and Sunday school teachers who were increasingly worried about the impact of smartphones on their children. It wasn’t that the kids were viewing porn, violent games, or anything like that. Most of it was just seemingly harmless stuff like Snapchat, Instagram, social media, etc. They couldn’t put their finger on it or prove it but they all felt that smartphone use was damaging the kids’ ability to concentrate, to relate, to manage their emotions, and even to read their Bibles and pray. So, they asked me to preach a sermon on it!

I wasn’t sure where to turn, apart from “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12) and insisting that the kids simply obey their parents and teachers when they said that they should put their devices away. However, I could just imagine the unproductive conversations that would ensue in many homes.

“Stop using your phone!”


“’Cos I said so and God said you are to obey me!”

That doesn’t prepare children for life outside the home. I’ve found it’s much better to help people implement Scriptural imperatives by supporting them with reasons and motives. That’s the way God usually works in the Scriptures.

I then noticed that there was a motive clause: “….that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord God is giving you.” I thought, “If I can prove that obeying their parents on this would extend their lives then that would surely be much more persuasive.”

But there’s nothing about that in Scripture.

I know, that’s why I turned to Amazon! I bought:

I was absolutely stunned at the research demonstrating the physical, chemical, emotional, and relational, damage that excessive use of digital technology is doing to our kids. Some of the books had scientifically tested various remedies and were able to recommend ways to explain this to kids, implement changes, manage “withdrawal symptoms,” and gauge the best limits for different kids.

After I’d done this research I changed my text to something much more direct: “You shall not kill” (Ex. 20:13), and was able to argue that excessive technology use was forbidden because the sixth commandment “requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life and the life of others” (Shorter Catechism 68).

Later in the sermon I also referred to texts about the duty of stewarding our bodies for God’s glory (1 Cor. 6:15-20) and the command to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2), which, at the very least, requires us to care for the health of our brains.

So, the Bible was the foundational authority for my sermon. The Bible was absolutely necessary. The Bible was sufficient to provide these basic principles. In this way, as someone once said, the Scriptures are authoritative, sufficient, necessary, and not surpassed or equalled for biblical preaching.

But science was also essential to proving that, above certain levels, digital technology use is damaging to our kids’ physical, mental, emotional, and relational health, and therefore a sin. It was also essential to guiding parents and kids about how to discover optimum time-limits of digital engagement, and what strategies work in managing technology for our good and God’s glory—although none of these books mentioned God, sadly.

Obviously, the Bible did not have exhaustive information about this subject. It had necessary and authoritative truth. But so did science. Science provided me not just with helpful facts but with necessary facts. I not only included a lot of these facts in my sermon, I encouraged my congregation to thank and worship God for enabling scientists to discover this vital information and for sharing it with us so that we can advance our obedience to this command, progress in sanctification in the parenting realm, and also help our kids move forward in their spiritual lives.

But, by saying that the Bible does not have exhaustive information on the subject of digital technology use, are you not undermining the authority of the Bible?

Only if the Bible claimed to have exhaustive information on it and then failed to deliver. But the Bible does not claim to be an exhaustive source on the way digital technology undermines obedience and sanctification. It does claim to be comprehensive though, in the sense that it has something vital to say about every area of life.,

Are you not abandoning the protestant doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture?

No, not at all. The Reformation doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture was directed against the Roman Catholic claim of additional special revelation (see here), not against the existence of helpful and even necessary truth that God has made available outside of the Bible.

So are you saying that if we didn’t have science, we couldn’t help people in this area of sanctification?

No, I’m saying that if we didn’t have science, we couldn’t help people as much as when we do. In fact, I’d agree with John Calvin who said that truth from non-biblical sources was not just helpful, and not just necessary, but to neglect it is a sin.

The human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. . . . We will be careful . . . not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. . . .If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole foundation of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? . . . No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. But if the Lord has willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics, and other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloths (Calvin, Institutes 2.2 15-16)

Sounds like it’s me that needs to repent! Anyway, how did your congregation respond to the sermon?

Well, from what I’ve heard in the weeks after preaching it, there have been some wonderful conversations between parents and their kids. Kids were able to see the scriptural authority for preserving their lives, for stewarding their brains for God’s glory, and for renewing their minds. But they also said that the introduction of the science nailed the Scriptures into their minds in life-changing ways. Many kids have asked their parents to get them these digital technology books so that they can learn how to protect themselves from themselves. But the best part of this has been that the kids have seen how comprehensive the Bible is, how relevant and authoritative the Bible is to every part of their lives, and are studying their Bibles more than they ever did before.

I’m actually dealing with a lot of counseling problems in this area of digital technology in my own congregation. Sounds like we need more than the Bible for biblical counseling too. Is that too dangerous to say?

Why don’t you come back tomorrow and we can discuss that?

  • Bonhoeffer1945

    This seems incredibly wise to me. Thank you.

  • beccaj rt

    The blessed Words from the Holy Spirit in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, and from the Lord in Matthew 4:4, and throughout the Holy Bible, are clear. Sources of knowledge from outside of the Bible are not only not necessary for understanding, preaching, and applying the Bible; they sow, among other things, confusion which always entails fallacious reasoning.

    While more could be said, this, “Science provided me not just with helpful facts but with necessary facts”—is a statement (among others) that simply assumes what it’s trying to prove, i.e., that “science” provides “necessary facts” and that “science” has “necessary and authoritative” truth. It also begs many questions, e.g., who determines what is “necessary facts” and what are not, and who said “science” has necessary and authoritative truth, and what “science” are you talking about anyway?

    This issue reminds me of Charles Lyell, who sought to “free the science from Moses” so that the Church would accept his “science” i.e., his uniformitarian ideas. Ideas which the Word of God specifically through Moses contradict. Please don’t assume I’m saying that is what you’re doing; “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” 2 Corinthians 11:3.

    Of course, none of those books mentioned God, that’s the way of the world, it’s been that way since the fall. The serpent enticed Eve to question what the Word of God really means as a means to an end; to forget God and His Word and rely instead on her own “reasoning” and the words (ideas) that came of it. She obviously told herself (based on the short book from the serpent) “that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise” and so forgetting God and His Word, “she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” Genesis 3.

    The world doesn’t care about “vital information” and “necessary facts” it wants you to take your eyes off of God and turn your ears from His Word. Of course, that entails encouraging you to rely your own “reasoning” and the “reasoning” of secular scientists who say this “_____” (fill in the blank) today and that “_____” (fill in the blank) tomorrow.

    By the way, John Calvin’s claim, “that truth from non-biblical sources was not just helpful, and not just necessary, but to neglect it is a sin” is par for that course. The Holy Bible makes no such claim, so why would you need to repent?

    “One sweeping charge may be brought against the whole of Christendom, and that charge is neglect and abuse of the Bible.” J.C. Ryle

  • beccaj rt

    David Murray, my comment was deleted with the claim, “Detected as spam”—was that by you or by Disqus? Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question, the answer doesn’t matter. The truth is my comment was not spam and nor was there anything in it to warrant deletion. I’m now going to delete my Disqus account. Goodbye.

    • David Murray

      I didn’t delete it. So it must have been Disqus. I’ll go into Disqus later as it’s usually possible to restore comments that Disqus flags. It was sent to me by email and I saw nothing to fear from your argument.

      • beccaj rt

        That’s interesting, right in the middle of deleting my account, Disqus, or someone, reposted my comment; that’s a first in what can only be described as a history of censorship on Disqus. Oh and David, my comment is not an “argument—Again, the blessed Words from the Holy Spirit in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, and from the Lord in Matthew 4:4, and throughout the Holy Bible, are clear.

    • David Murray

      I just went in to Disqus and unspammed it for you.

  • Gabriel Powell

    If the question is, “Does technology lead to a shorter life?” Then extra-biblical information is likely necessary. But if the question is, “How can I honor the Lord with my use of technology?” Then extra-biblical sources have nothing to say about that, unless they are commenting on Scripture.

    Further, using the fear of death as a (the?) motivator to consider technology does not address heart and wisdom issues, and it puts self at the center instead of God.