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:
- Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids-and How to Break the Trance
- Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time,
- iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us
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?