I’m back in Pastor N. T Grayshon’s study with some more questions about how he integrates truth in God’s Word with truth from God’s world. 

Pastor Grayshon, although I’m really struggling to accept that we need more than the Bible for biblical preaching, I thought your example of preaching on the subject of digital technology was hard to argue against. I see how necessary science is in this area if we are to provide maximum help for people pursuing sanctification. But maybe that’s just an exception. Can you provide another example, this time to prove that we need more than the Bible for biblical counseling. And notice, I used the word “need.” I want you to prove that information from outside the Bible is not just helpful but necessary.

I don’t have all the answers here, Pastor. I admit that it’s not an easy area to navigate. But here’s an example I think might help. A few months ago, I was approached by parents who were really worried about their teenage son, James.

Over a period of time James had become really angry and bad-tempered. He wasn’t eating, he wasn’t socializing, he wasn’t talking. When he came home from school, he just went to his room and, apart from supper and family worship, he spent the whole evening there. His grades were dropping and his teachers were noticing him dozing off in class. He was a Christian, and his youth pastor initially had high hopes for him, but his Christian growth had slowed and his participation in service projects had tailed off. In the weeks before I saw him, his parents had taken him to the family doctor, but although she felt he was a bit run-down, none of the medical tests revealed anything serious.

So, let me ask you, if you were his counselor, what would you do?

Hmm, I think it’s pretty obvious. He’s watching porn on his iPad and his guilt is causing his anger, anxiety, loss of appetite, backsliding, and academic decline. He needs to repent of his sexual sin.

Yes, that’s where my mind went first too, but when I pressed James, he denied he’d ever looked at porn and offered me his iPad to prove it from his history. I noticed that he used Covenant Eyes and had blockers on other Apps to prevent accidental exposure to porn. I checked his history and noted that he mainly used the internet to visit Amazon and download Kindle books. They were all good books from Christian publishers, but I did notice that sometimes he was buying books very late at night, and sometimes very early in the morning.

What about his Bible reading and prayer? He’s probably stopped that.

I talked to him about that and he insisted he read and prayed every morning and evening. He admitted that he was finding it very hard to concentrate during these times and sometimes fell asleep on his knees.

You know, I’ve noticed a few times in the story that he’s very tired and sleeping odd hours. 

Yes, that’s where my mind was going too. I asked him about this and he admitted that he was sleeping less than six hours a night and often very irregular hours. He defended himself on the grounds that it was Christian books he was reading on his iPad, and that he was trying to prepare for Christian College and eventually even Seminary.

Oh, well, that’s probably OK then if he was doing it for a good reason like that.

Not at all. I’ve been reading a lot about sleep science the past few years and know that sleep deprivation is the cause of many physical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual problems.

But the Bible doesn’t say anything about sleep does it?

It does actually. The Psalmist tells us that sleep is a gift of God, that it sustains us, and that it’s pointless to deprive oneself of it (Ps. 3:5; 4:8; 127:2).

So did you counsel him with that?

Yes, I got him to read these verses, and he totally agreed with the biblical principles in them, but he wasn’t convinced that his problems were related to sleep deprivation and also argued that lots of successful people (and pastors) managed on less than six hours a night. I couldn’t think of anything else in the Bible that would convince him he was damaging himself and needed more sleep.

Did you show him the science?

Yes, I mentioned a few facts to him that I could remember. For example, I shared with him that the light that comes from an iPad is equivalent to the noonday sun behind a cloud and that sleep scientists have found exposure to it last thing at night not only makes it harder to sleep but also results in shallow and interrupted sleep. I gave him a few books from my shelf that dealt with it in more detail, most of them written by psychologists. Unfortunately, none of them were Christian books, but facts are facts and I just told him to ignore the evolutionary theories about sleep that appeared here and there.

So what happened next?

It was a few weeks before I saw him again, but I could immediately see he was a changed person. His parents came too and  said that he was back to his old self. He was talking, eating, exercising, socializing, involved in the Youth Group again, and so on.

What did he say was the clincher for him?

He admitted that he wasn’t convinced by my Bible quotations that his problems were caused by lack of sleep, and he wasn’t convinced that he needed at least seven hours of sleep a night. However, when he read the science and saw the proven impact of sleep deprivation on every part of life he got quite scared and felt convicted that he was disobeying Scripture in refusing to accept God’s good gift of sleep and in thinking that he could get more done by sleeping less.

Did he find it easy to change?

No, he said that he’d got into such bad habits that he found it really difficult to get back on track. That’s where the books came in useful again. They provided a lot of scientifically proven means to improve sleep hygiene and after a few days of trying some of these, he found himself getting into a good routine.

How’s he doing spiritually?

Well obviously now that he’s doing better in his health, in his emotions, in his thinking, and in his friendships, that’s having a beneficial impact on his spiritual life too. He’s much more alert and engaged in his private devotions and in public worship. Best of all, he told me that he no longer resents having to sleep, but embraces it as a good gift from a gracious God and thanks God every night for both the Bible’s teaching on sleep and also for the truth that psychologists have discovered.

I think I’m beginning to grasp the integration…sorry, I mean connection, between the truth of Scripture and the truth of science. What then are you saying about the sufficiency of Scripture here? Can you summarize it for me?

I haven’t thought this through fully, but as I reflect on these examples, I think the following is true:

  • The Bible is sufficient in the sense that we need no further special revelation.
  • The Bible is comprehensive in that it has something essential to say about every area of life (e.g. sleep) and is therefore necessary in every life situation.
  • The Bible is not exhaustive in the sense that it covers every area of life exhaustively (e.g. the impact of sleep deprivation, how many hours of sleep are optimal, how to sleep better)
  • The Bible is authoritative in that everything it says is true and all other knowledge is subject to it (e.g. the science of sleep is subject to the theology of sleep and nothing may be admitted from science that is contradictory to Scripture).
  • The Bible is foundational, in that we must always begin there and build upon it.
  • Sometimes God’s truth found outside the Bible is necessary if we want to provide maximum spiritual help to people.

So you’re basically saying, that biblical counseling needs more than the Bible if it is to be maximally effective?

I’ll let you say that. I don’t really want to get into debates about it.

  • Andrew Chance

    Great post. I appreciate you pushing this discussion further.

  • gyen

    This has been really helpful to me. I was already of the opinion that more than the Bible would be more helpful in many counseling situations, but it is hard to express against the simple argument, “but isn’t Scripture sufficient?”

    A lot of times the soundbite appeals to us because we have a Twitter-length attention span, while the truth may require more careful thought and a line of reasoning to follow.

  • Gabriel Powell

    My concern with this article is there is a bit of bait and switch going on. The article proves that Scripture is sufficient in addressing this young man’s problem. The sleep studies added nothing to the Bible in terms of necessary information to live a life pleasing to God. What they did was provide extra motivation to do what the Bible says.

    Another problem is that scenario assumes the point its trying to prove. It concludes that the sleep studies were necessary because they were helpful. In this narrative they are useful, but it cannot be proved that they were necessary. What if the counselor lovingly confronted the young man about his rebellion against God’s Word? Could not the Spirit have used biblical methods to bring conviction of sin?

    • Joel

      Gabriel, good observation. The word necessary means that it would be impossible to arrive at your goal without that thing.
      But there is a bigger problem. Why is getting enough sleep the goal here?

      • Gabriel Powell

        Well, as a biblical counselor I would say that “getting enough sleep” is not the ultimate goal. It is one necessary goal in the sense of taking care of one’s body to be able to fulfill God-given responsibilities. But the ultimate goal is to grow to become more like Christ, which includes getting necessary sleep for the body to function.

        • Joel

          We shouldn’t still not say that getting enough sleep is necessary. It is quite possible that God could intend to grow you in Christ likeness by not having you get “enough” sleep. Or we might say that God always gives his children enough sleep (ps127). And that might include getting no sleep. We must be careful because what we think is necessary might not be what God thinks.

          • Gabriel Powell

            True, it may not be necessary, there are many situations in life where inadequate sleep is unavoidable (solider in battle). But if it is avoidable, and especially if it is driven by inordinate desires, then it should be addressed.

          • Joel

            Good. The point I’m making is that it is a dangerous thing to say that extra-biblical resources are necessary and thus the resources of scripture are insufficient. See my separate comment above.

  • Joel

    Is the Bible sufficient to convince someone they need more sleep? Is God’s intention for his word to communicate that information? That’s kind of like asking if the Bible is sufficient for giving me the answers to my math homework. Of course it is not sufficient for that. In order to understand what we mean by the word “sufficiency” we must understand what the right problem is, what the right goal is, and how the Bible alone sufficiently provides the solution for moving us out of that problem and arriving at that goal.