Preaching Today: The (Almost) Forgotten Task, Part 2

Desiring God 1999 Conference for Pastors

Preaching Today: The (Almost) Forgotten Task

David mentioned a lot of things that I would love to take time to comment on and won’t, but one perhaps relates to what we’re going to talk about here today: the study of the Bible and its sufficiency. One of the things we’ve done in Philadelphia over the years is to establish area Bible studies. We found that is a good thing in itself, and it fits very well with the city ministry. When I came 31 years ago, we had a regular midweek meeting, which is very common. Of course, it was on a Thursday night, and our difficulty was that it was hard to get people to come back into the city on a Thursday night.

My wife and I had been greatly influenced by university during our college days. We always attended Bible studies on the campus and we thought, “Well, that’s really what we needed.” So we began to develop area Bible studies. We had a hard time getting it to catch on at first. We attended one for three years out in a suburban area. There even was a second, but then suddenly they began to take off. We had 7, and then we had 30, and so on. And they’ve grown. Today, we have them really meeting all over the metropolitan area. Sometimes it’s been about as high as a hundred. We probably have about 80 of them meeting at the present time.

The only reason I go into all this is to say that a number of years ago, we put a list together of all these Bible studies to see where they were meeting for people who wanted to join them. There were 99 on that list. And that very week, somebody was visiting Philadelphia and was walking across the city and was noticing what the Inner City was like. One of the things they were paying special attention to was the number of street people. They were sitting on the corners. Some of them were begging. Often, they sit on the grates because they keep warm. As they were passing along, they passed a grate, and there were four men sitting there on the corners of this grate on the street. They had books in their hands, and that was puzzling.

So this visitor went by to take a sharp look to see what was going on, and the books were Bibles. The visitors said to them, “What in the world are you doing?” And they said, “We’re having a Bible study.” And they said, “Where in the world did you learn to do that?” They said, “Tenth Presbyterian Church.” We have a group of street people that we work with throughout the week, especially on Sundays. They were doing what we taught them to do, so we added them to our list. We had a hundred. And if you come to Philadelphia and want to join a Bible study that meets on a grate, we’re not sure exactly where it is. I think it moves around, but somewhere in the city, we are doing that.

Preaching the Bible

Let me read from 2 Timothy as we begin. We’re going to talk about preaching the Bible today. We started last night with preaching the gospel or preaching doctrine. I want to encourage doctrinal preaching, not just preaching with stories, but actually teaching the doctrines. Now I’m talking about teaching the Bible. This is a great passage in 2 Timothy 3. Let me read the entire chapter, then pray briefly, and we’ll begin to think about these verses. Paul says:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings — what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:1–17; all Scripture references are taken from the NIV).

Living in the Last Days

This is a very fascinating chapter, and I am particularly interested in the way it begins because Paul writing to his young understudy, Timothy, starts by reminding him about the terrible times that are going to come in the last days. I’m sure you know that there are different ways that the phrase last days is used in the Bible. Sometimes, it’s used for the very, very last days. That is the time immediately before the second coming of Christ. You don’t know how long those last days are, whether that’s days or weeks, months, possibly even years, but it’s at the end of history, before the return of Christ and the final judgment. The other way that phrase is used is to describe the current age. That is the time between the first coming of Jesus Christ and the second.

Now, I think you can argue it both ways. You can say yes before the end, there probably will be particularly terrible times, but what I recall is that Paul is writing to Timothy, and he is giving Timothy instructions as to what he should do in the last days. I can’t help but think that what he’s doing is describing the age in which we all live. And when I approach it that way, I say, “Yes, it’s not hard to demonstrate that either,” because if you look at those phrases, you say, “Well, that’s very much what our time is like. It must have been what Timothy’s time was like. Indeed. It’s what the world is like because this is just a list of the vices of this world that’s in rebellion against God.” Of course, we don’t call it by these names.

Here it is: “lovers of themselves.” We generally don’t speak that way, but there is a way of talking about it. Some years ago, “Time Magazine” published a cover story called “The New Narcissism.” Narcissism is a word based on Narcissus, the Greek hero, who saw his reflection in a pool of water and fell in love with himself and wasn’t of any use to anybody afterward. All he could think about was himself. Here’s “Time Magazine” saying that’s what our age is like. We had a terrible change in our own time from an age where — really you could document this — people were primarily interested in other people to an age where people are primarily interested in themselves with self-fulfillment and all of that. Well, Paul says that’s going to be characteristic of these last days.

We read about “lovers of money.” It talks about a materialistic age. Ours is certainly one. He mentions people being “boastful,” “proud,” and “abusive.” That almost becomes a virtue today. We talk about people having an attitude or being arrogant, and that almost becomes something good. He mentions children being “disobedient to their parents.” We just call it the generation gap. He mentions people being “ungrateful,” “unholy,” “without love,” and so forth. You don’t need to labor to find illustrations for all of that. All you have to do is pick up the newspaper and read it. So we say, yes if Paul is giving instructions for the last days, he’s certainly giving instructions for the times in which we live.

A Form of Godliness

But now when I look at that, I review that list of vices, and I find myself saying, but even that isn’t the worst thing that Paul says about these terrible last days, because the worst thing he says about them is not what he says in 2 Timothy 3:1–4 but what he says in 2 Timothy 3:5, because having given this list of vices that are in the world, speaking of the same people, Paul says, “Having a form of godliness but denying his power.” What’s he talking about when he talks about people who have a form of godliness while denying his power? He’s not talking about the pagan world. Paul would never have said that of the ancient Greeks and Romans — that they had a form of godliness. He would’ve said they have multiple forms of ungodliness if you will. That’s what Romans 1 is all about. Paul’s talking about people who have a form of godliness but deny its power.

What he’s talking about apparently is the visible church. When I see that, I go back and look at this list and say it does throw another slant upon it, because when I read “lovers of themselves” I have to say that’s not just talking about a narcissistic culture out there, which is divorced somehow from the church. This is talking about what the church itself is going to be like in the last days. Christian people are going to be focused on themselves.

One of the criticisms that is being made of the evangelical church today by people like David Wells and others is that we have this preoccupation with ourselves in churches. We think the church exists to serve us to meet our needs. We preach to felt needs, and God gets pushed out of the picture, because we’re not really thinking about God very much because, well, we are lovers of ourselves. When you talk about “lovers of money,” you would have the impression of many churches that all we’re interested in is money. When he says “boastful,” “proud,” and “abusive,” there’s a great deal of arrogance in the church and among ministers, and of course, all the other vices are there as well.

So here is Paul talking about terrible things, and he says, “What makes it particularly bad and that for which I write the chapter is that all of these vices that we are inclined to say are located in the world and these terrible last days are actually going to be found within the church.” Now, we’d say to ourselves at that point, “What are we going to do about that?” Certainly, in terrible times like that, there’s going to be some secret weapon that Paul will propose. He’s going to say, “Now, look, when those terrible last times come, Timothy, here’s what you have to do. You’re not going to use this weapon until that point, but when that happens, this is what you want to do.” And then he’ll unveil some secret, mysterious thing. But that’s not what he does.

He says, “Look, when those terrible times come, here’s what you have to do, you have to continue in what you’ve been doing from the beginning, and that is the teaching of the word of God. You know what you’ve been blessed by, you know where it comes from, and you know its quality, and therefore, remember this, all Scripture is God-breathed and it’s that which is useful for teaching rebuking, correcting, and training and righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good word.”

A Constant Assault on the Bible

The reason of course is that the Bible is not like other books. It’s God-breathed. It’s God’s own word. Other books may entertain. Other books may contain profound truth. Other books may stir, but only the word of God gives life because God is the source of life. Therefore, Paul says to Timothy, “Don’t forget to teach the Bible.”

Now if that’s what the Bible does, and if that’s the remedy for the ills that confront the church as well as the world, we would expect and expect quite naturally that the Bible is always going to be under attack, and it has been. I suppose there are various ways in which one could write the history of the Christian Church, but certainly, one way you could write the history of the Christian Church would be in terms of the various attacks on the Bible. I don’t want to take a lot of time to go through it now, but some of them are worth mentioning.

We were talking last night about Reformation distinctives, and the fact that when the reformers talked about the formal principle of the Reformation, they talked about the Scriptures, but they attached the word “sola” to it — Scripture alone — just as they also attached the word “sola” to Christ, grace, faith, and the glory of God. It’s Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and the glory of God alone, and as the formal starting principle from which everything else came, Scripture alone.

And the reason for that, of course, is that the medieval church of their day — like the liberal church of our day — certainly will talk about Scripture. The church of the Middle Ages believed that God had given us the Bible. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was the Bible wasn’t known. So all sorts of other things came in alongside of the Bible and eventually pushed the Bible aside and came to dominance. So you had all of the debilitating kinds of traditions that had grown up in the evil church. People didn’t even know what the gospel really was.

Now that’s not a new problem. That’s what Jesus talked about in his own day when he was talking to the Pharisees. He said, “Isn’t it true of you what Isaiah said, ‘These people worship me when their mouths with their hearts are far from me’? What you’ve done is create a religion of rules made by men” (Matthew 15:7–9). Now, that’s what had happened in the Middle Ages. So when the reformers began to study these things, they found out that the practices of the church really were inconsistent with the teaching of the word of God. So rather than allow the traditions to continue at the same level as the Scriptures, the Scriptures had to judge the traditions, and the church had to be corrected by the Bible.

Traditions and Biblical Revelation

Let me suggest what happened just by a simple visual illustration. Before the time of the Reformation, in theory, the reformers as well as the Roman Catholic Church held to the same thing. Everybody recognized there were traditions. Luther certainly was aware of that. The Calvinists were aware of it. You and I are aware of it. We all have our traditions. They’re not necessarily bad. And then everybody, even the heretics in those days recognized that the Scriptures were from God and were authoritative. So you had authority here in the Bible, and you had the traditions down here. In theory, that meant that the scriptures always would correct the traditions. You always have them, and that’s all right, but they had to be corrected by the Scriptures.

Of course, as the reformers began to study the Bible and find out what it really taught, they began to attack things like purgatory, the indulgence system, and the whole business of doing penance on which it was based. That again was an error that had crept in through the Latin Vulgate. The translation of poenitentiam agite was “to do penance” because that is how Jerome had rendered the Greek term for repenting. Luther realized that wasn’t a sacrament at all. He said it was “an attitude of mind.” So when he put the 95 Theses up, the very first of the 95 theses stated a biblical doctrine of repentance that said, “When Jesus Christ told his people to repent, he meant that all of life is to be characterized by repentance.” So they began to undercut that system, and of course, it was financially helpful for the Roman Catholic Church.

St. Peters in Rome was built on the money made through the indulgence process at the time of the Reformation, and the Roman Catholic Church, instead of allowing Scripture to correct the tradition at this point, said, “We have to hang on to this tradition because it’s lucrative.” So at the time of the Council of Trent, they did something absolutely fatal for the theology of the Roman church. Instead of saying Scripture alone, which in theory they had held to before, they brought traditions up to the level of the Scriptures.

The phrase that was used in the Council of Trent was scriptura et traditiones (“Scripture and traditions). They said God speaks in two ways. He speaks through the Bible, yes, but he also speaks through the councils of the church and from the popes as they speak ex-cathedra, and so on. So human traditions were elevated and brought up to the same level as the Scriptures and the development of debilitating doctrines like Mariology in the Roman Catholic Church since has been a product of that.

The Sole Authority of Scripture

Now, before we get too proud, we have to realize that something similar though at the same time different happened in the Protestant church, because in the late 19th century and into this century as the impact of the Enlightenment and the rationalism of the time and higher criticism of the Bible, the Bible and Protestantism — at least in the liberal branches — was dislodged from its unique place and as the authoritative, inerrant word of God and was made essentially a human book. So what happened is that the Scriptures, which before this were held highly, were now brought down to the level of tradition.

Now it looks better to have Scripture and tradition up here at least you’ve got two infallible authorities rather than Scripture and tradition down here where neither one is infallible but in practice, it amounts to the same thing, because as long as you have human wisdom alongside divine wisdom, you and I being sinful are always going to prefer what is human, and the Scriptures are going to get pushed aside. So it was that to which the reformers were speaking when they said, “No, it’s never scriptura et traditiones; it is *sola scriptura*because the word of God alone must have authority in the church.” And yet that’s the way the attacks came.

The Battle of Biblical Inerrancy

Now in our time, it’s come in a different way. For 10 years, I was part of an organization called the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, and we started that in 1978, because at that time, it seemed to many of us that this high view of the Scriptures which had prevailed among the evangelical churches was under attack and being lost. In other words, the same things that were happening in the liberal churches were now happening in the evangelical churches. People were beginning a waffle on the authority of the Bible. The real matter was an inerrancy. They were asserting, “Well, yes, the Bible’s the word of God, but after all, you can’t deny that there are mistakes,” and so on. We realized that you can’t really have authority in a full, biblical sense without inerrancy. So this organization was formed.

I mentioned Francis Schaeffer last night. At the beginning of those meetings, he said, “Unless we do something to counter this, we’re not going to have an evangelical church to pass on to our children.” So we tackled that, and we began to work on it for a number of years. I remember that this was the problem that I faced when I went to seminary. I went with a high view of Scripture and, by the grace of God, left the same way, but when I was there, I was wrestling with the kind of things that you hear from liberal professors.

They would say things like, “It’s wonderful to have that high view of the Bible, which people had in the past, and we commend you for that. That’s great, but you really can’t honestly hold onto that anymore because the data has come in from various branches of academic learning, from historical studies and comparative religions, from textual studies, and from numismatics and all kinds of things. We have just learned that the Bible does have errors in it, and so you can give great reverence to the Bible, but you certainly don’t hold it at the same level that your grandparents did.”

When you’re a student, that’s a hard thing to wrestle with because professors have all the scholarship and you’re just beginning. I said to myself, “How do you answer that kind of a question?” I began to look into it and I discovered a couple of interesting things. One thing I discovered is that most of these alleged problems that were advanced by the scholars and by my liberal professors were nothing really new. They were pretending that it was the result of modern scholarship, but actually, most of the difficulties were already known. There are things in the Bible I don’t understand. Most of these things were well known. The Bible teachers and theologians of past ages discussed them and, in some cases, discussed them thoroughly.

Reliability in the Biblical Canon

One example would be Augustine and Jerome. I mentioned Jerome. Jerome was doing his translation at the time. Augustine was doing his theological writing and teaching and they corresponded back and forth, and often, they talked about difficulties with the narrative. Augustine said in one of his letters, “Well, look, here’s what I do. I came to something in the Bible that seems to be a mistake to me. I conclude either that the translation is wrong or that the text is wrong, or number three, I just don’t understand it.” That’s not a bad position, of course, but all of those things were known and were being discussed. So it wasn’t all that novel.

Then the second thing I discovered was that as the data came in over the last 20, 30, 40, 50, or 100 years, the tendency was quite the opposite of what I was being told. As the data has come in, it has not increased the difficulties with the Bible. As a matter of fact, it has tended to resolve problems that we had earlier but we really didn’t know what to do with it. I sometimes use an illustration that goes like this. It’s like a line starting over here with point A. If we had a blackboard, I’d write “Point A,” and it would go all the way over here to “Point B.” That line represents all the data in the Bible. Now we ask the question, “How much of that is reliable?” It has been backed up. There’s no reason for questioning it, though there are things we don’t understand.

Now in any gathering of honest scholars, people would say, “Most of it is reliable. There’s no real reason for questioning it. The Bible is the most remarkable historical book.” So we’ll make that line representing all the data that you don’t need to question at all a solid line. Over here, somewhere, we’ll have a dotted line, which represents areas where we still have problems or don’t understand exactly what’s being taught. Now let’s ask the question, how much of that line is solid? How much of it is dotted? Most scholars would say, “A great percentage of it is a solid line.” Now, of course, you’d have differences. Liberals would say, “80 percent of it. There are an awful lot of errors there.” Evangelicals would say, “No, it’s 98 percent. There are only a few little things we don’t understand.” But the general agreement would be that that solid line is longer.

Now with that kind of an example set up, let’s ask this question: As the data has come in over those 20, 30, 50, or 100 years, in what direction has that solid line been moving? Is the solid line getting shorter and shorter, with more and more problems? Or is the solid line getting longer and longer and the dotted line getting shorter and shorter? Again, I would argue in any gathering of honor scholars, there would be general agreement that that solid line has been getting longer and longer. So the tendency of history in a scholarship has to support the authority of the Bible rather than to undermine it.

Growing Confidence in Scripture

“Time Magazine” did something along those lines. Some years ago, they had an article on the Bible that came out right at the end of December. In those days, “Time” used to be a religious issue of some sort, and that’s what they did this particular year. It had three wise men on the cover and was a great big title in black letters that said, “How true is the Bible?” I was very anxious to read that. I got into it and wanted to see what they said, and they did a very good job. They discussed the literal understanding of the Bible and the liberal criticisms. They mentioned Bultmann and others. I can’t think of all of the scholars right now.

When they got to the end, they had a rather conservative conclusion, and it went like this. After more than two centuries of facing the heaviest guns that could be brought to bear, the Bible has survived and is perhaps the better for the siege. Even on the critic’s own terms, historical fact, the Scriptures seem more acceptable now than they did when the rationalists began the attack. That’s not bad for “Time Magazine.” It’s not an evangelical house organ after all, but they were saying, “As the data comes in, that solid line has gotten longer and longer.” I stopped and I said to myself, “But I better wait and read the letters column in two weeks because I can’t imagine that that’s going to go unchallenged by the liberal scholars.”

Sure enough, two weeks later, there was a cover story on hypertension. I should have read that first. I turned right to the letters column and there was one by Martin Marty from Chicago Divinity School, one from Harvey Cox at the Harvard Divinity School, and one of them, that began, “The faith of your Bible believers is the opposite of biblical faith,” and I got angry. I said, “That’s not fair.” The Bible hasn’t been presented by “Time Magazine” as anything inerrant. They didn’t even talk about it being inspired. All it said it was a reliable historical book, and these men can’t even stand to have it be called reliable. I got so angry. I had to stop and pray, and I know God only speaks to you through the Bible, but on this occasion, God said to me, “It’s not bothering me. Why should it bother you? Go on and enjoy the magazine,” so I did.

The letters were upfront about page 38, and I kept on reading. I got back to about page 68. There was a science column and there was a story there about an archeological expedition that had taken place in the Sinai under the direction of a Jewish archeologist whose name was Beno Rothenberg. He had gone way down to the very tip where Aqaba is and had investigated an area there that the guides tell you is the site of Solomon’s mines. It wasn’t really a mine. It was a smelting operation, but there really was the question of whether perhaps the Jews in the time of Solomon melted down the gold that was used in the temple, because of course, the breezes come up the Gulf of Aqaba, and it’s a good place to have bellows and so on.

Beno Rothenberg was investigating this, and he got down to the level that was there at the time of the Jewish occupation, the time of Solomon. He said, “Yes, the Jews really were there. It might have been used for that, but the Jews didn’t invent metallurgy. This was there before them.” So as he dug down, he recognized it had been occupied by the Egyptians. Before that, it had been occupied by the Midianites.

Now, “Time Magazine” was aware that virtually none of its readers had any idea who the Midianites were. So there was a little line in the magazine like this. It was an explanation that said, “The Midianites, a little-known people who dwelt in the area and are identified in the Book of Genesis as the first metalworkers.” I thought the Holy Spirit really does have a sense of humor. I don’t know if he’s as funny as C.J. Mahaney, but he has a sense of humor. That little science piece could have occurred in any issue of the magazine, but it occurred in the very issue where the liberal scholars were saying, “The faith of your Bible believers is the opposite of biblical faith.” So what happens is that as the data comes in, the high view of Scripture that has always been characteristic of the church is upheld.

The Hole in Our Doctrine of Scripture

But now, let me say this. As important as I think that the matter of inerrancy is — and we spent 10 years in the inerrancy council writing and making efforts in various ways to defend it — I don’t think that’s the major problem where Scripture is concerned today, especially among the evangelicals. I think that the problem today is not the inerrancy of the Bible but the sufficiency of the Bible because if you go to evangelical churches, as I think I said last night, and you ask the right questions, and you do it in the right way, you get the right answers. If you say, “Is the Bible the word of God?” people say, “Yes, of course it is. We wouldn’t be evangelical if we didn’t believe that.” You can ask, “Do you believe it’s authoritative?” and they will say, “Of course, God speaks authoritatively. It has to be authoritative.” You can say, “Do you believe it’s inerrant?” and they will say, “Oh yes, it’s inerrant.”

I think we lose Sola Scriptura at that point, not because of our doctrine, but because of our practice. We have, in many of our churches, the idea that although it may be the word of God and it may be authoritative and it may be inerrant, somehow, it just isn’t sufficient to do what we need to do today. It’s not sufficient for evangelism and it’s not sufficient for sanctification growing in grace. It’s not sufficient to know the will of God. It certainly isn’t sufficient. We’re changing our society, and so we’re looking to all kinds of other means to get the work done instead.

Let me read some questions that I think are provocative in those three areas. We talk about evangelism. Here’s the question: Do we need sociological techniques to do evangelism? Must we attract people to our churches by showmanship and entertainment? Do we have to win them by signs and wonders, or is the Bible what we need? How about sanctification and Christian growth? Do we need psychology and psychiatry for Christian growth? Is the Bible enough, or do we have to have little self-help groups? How about knowing the will of God? Do we need extra-biblical signs or miracles for guidance, or is the Bible enough? And as far as impacting our society is concerned, is the Bible’s teaching adequate for achieving social progress and reform?

When we come back to our text, what does it say? It says:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

In other words, what Paul is saying is that the word of God is sufficient for everything that really needs to be done. Let’s look at these one at a time.

Evangelism and the Sufficiency of Scripture

How about evangelism? We have a lot of people that really don’t think you can do evangelism by teaching the Bible today and you have to do all sorts of other things to get people interested and somehow win them. You have to entertain them. They have to come in and you have to make them feel good and keep them happy so that they’ll come back week after week.

Of course, we all use various methods. We don’t want to be unattractive. But the difficulty with that kind of approach is that, as one person has said, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” If what you’re doing is winning them by entertainment then they’re there for the entertainment. And if you switch away from that and begin to do something else, they go away. So churches get trapped in that way of operating. You have to keep entertaining people because if you don’t, they’ll go. And if they go, you won’t succeed. You understand what happens. It’s a great temptation, but it’s one that has to be resisted.

I want to give you an example of the way the Lord Jesus Christ handled exactly that temptation, and it comes from the first chapter of Mark. You have an opening section in which John the Baptist appears and preaches and baptizes the Lord. Then in Mark 1:14, it is the first time the ministry of Jesus where he himself is introduced, and it goes like this:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

Now that’s the first thing we’re told about Jesus in his ministry. What that means is that Mark has introduced Jesus as a preacher, a teacher of the Bible. When it says “proclaiming the good news of God,” that of course is the gospel. That’s what good news means. And if you say, “Well, what is the gospel? What’s the content of that good news?” That next verse tells you. It says:

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).

The kingdom of God is near. It’s near because the kingdom is embodied in the king. The king is Jesus. He is there. The good news, the gospel, is centered on him. He has come to proclaim himself and he does it as the fulfillment of the Scriptures. And if you ask the next obvious question, “Well, how do we become a part of this kingdom that the king has come to establish?” The answer is to repent and believe the good news. In other words, it’s exactly what we teach today: Repent of your sin and believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior in what he has done. Now that’s rudimentary. It’s at the beginning and it’s going to be unfolded as we go along, but there’s an awful lot there right at the beginning in two verses.

Miracles and Increasing Crowds

Now Jesus calls some disciples and then he goes to Capernaum and Mark 1:21 tells us what he did when he got to Capernaum. He says that on the Sabbath day went into the synagogue and began to teach, and the next verse says:

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

When you get to the end of that little section, the people are so amazed that they all ask each other, “What is this, a new teaching? What authority!” (Mark 1:27). Now by that time, we really should be getting it, right? Mark is saying that Jesus came to teach.

Now what happens is that Peter’s mother-in-law gets sick or told in Mark 1:30 that she was in bed with a fever. It’s a serious thing. Nowadays, we don’t think much of fever, but many people died of fever in those days. In fact, probably more people died of fever than anything because they couldn’t control it. Somebody has said that aspirin saves more lives than any other drug in the history of the race. So this is serious, and they invite Jesus, “Is there anything you can do about it?” And of course, there is. He has power and he cares, and so he heals this woman.

Now what happens then is exactly what you would expect to happen. Here’s a genuine healing and the word begins to get out. So everybody who is sick or who has a friend who is sick comes to Jesus or brings their friend to Jesus. And pretty soon, he has a great big crowd there. He carries on for the rest of the day healing them — an awful lot of them as goes on, takes a lot of time. It gets dark, of course. They can’t be out after dark. They all go home. The disciples go to bed and they sleep that night. And then in the morning, as soon as the light comes up again, it begins to get a little bright. All these people come back. Now, there are actually more of them because the word is spread even further. So, anybody who has a goiter or pain in his back or an ingrown toenail or anything worse, they all come. They want to get healed by Jesus. So the disciples go to get him and he’s not there.

Well, where do you suppose he is? Someone says, “Oh, I know where he is. He’s out praying.” It must have been Peter who said it. That’s what he does. He gets up in the morning and goes out to pray. Maybe they thought, “Wow. I mean, prayer is fine. We all believe in prayer too, but for heaven’s sake, look, we have all these sick people. We can go out and get him and bring him back down here so that he gets on with the work.” So that’s what they do. Mark 1:37 has it and it says:

And when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

In other words, “What are you doing out here praying at a time like this? Jesus, we believe in prayer. It doesn’t matter. We haven’t asked you much about it yet, but later on, we’re going to say, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’ We want to be able to pray. But let me point something out to you, Jesus. I know you don’t pay attention to numbers or anything like that, but we do. It’s our job. We were there in the synagogue with you in Capernaum yesterday morning. You were teaching. It was a brilliant message but we were looking at who was there. There were only 22 people, and most of them were old women. And then you got into this healing thing and do you know what happened? I mean, we had several hundred there last night, and you should see the crowd that’s there this morning. I’m not exaggerating, there are probably three or four hundred. Jesus, we got the key to it. I don’t know if you intended to do this, but look, we have stumbled upon it. The way to do evangelism is by signs and wonders. So come on back here and let’s get on with the work.”

Jesus’s Priority

Now look at What Jesus says. Don’t forget this. This is a negative. It’s very significant. Jesus replied:

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

Isn’t that fascinating? He didn’t go back to carry on the healing ministry. Why not? Didn’t he care? Of course, he did. Had he lost his power? No, he had power. He heals more people as the story goes on. Well, then, why didn’t he do it? For this reason, he knew that if he went back, he could heal them. He could heal everybody in Palestine. It would be the most wonderful place to live on earth. We’d be close to paradise, but it would not be paradise. And when they died without the gospel, they would all perish and spend eternity in hell. He knew he could put that aside and go on with the ministry of teaching the Bible and eventually die to fulfill the Scriptures. So the people who believed in that, who committed themselves to him, even though they had bad health, would die, but they would go to heaven.

You see, Jesus saw it from a spiritual perspective. You find it in other places. I won’t go over it again and again, but if you look at the sixth chapter of John, there’s something similar. Jesus is teaching there, and what he teaches is Calvinism, of course. And people didn’t like it. They all went away. And finally, he’s left there with the 12, and he turns to them. And do you know what he asks them? He says, “You don’t want to leave, too. Do you?” Some of our translations say, “Are you also going to go away?” (John 6:67). Peter now answers them. Now, Peter says a lot of foolish things in his lifetime, but he got this one right. Peter said to him:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.

You see, in this situation, the people didn’t want to be taught doctrine. They wanted to be fed so that they wouldn’t be hungry. And Peter got it right. He said, “Now what really matters is the word of God, and that’s why we’re with you.” Listen, Peter later wrote in his first letter:

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23).

That’s how the spiritual will work is done, and there’s no substitute for it. We can build a big church. We can have thousands of people. We can even have a glass cathedral. Unless you’re preaching the gospel from the Bible, blessed by the Holy Spirit, people are not going to be converted, because that’s the way it happens, and that’s the work we’ve been given to do.

Sanctification and the Sufficiency of Scripture

Let me talk about sanctification. How do we get people to grow in grace? Well, we have different approaches to it today. I’m not against them all. I think we have two main approaches today. We have some people who say, “Well, the way you’re growing grace is by a formula. There are certain things you have to do. You have to study the Bible. You have to pray. You have to go to church. You have to get active for God.” And all those things are good. But over here, you have people who say, “No, you can do that and just be dead orthodoxy. What you really need is a special experience of God’s grace. You need a baptism of the Holy Spirit, or you have to speak in tongues or something.” We’re not against multiple experiences of the grace of God. We better have that, but listen, that’s not the Bible’s approach to sanctification.

I spent, as I said, a long time teaching the book of Romans. I learned a lot of lessons in eight years of studying that book. But I suppose the thing that has stuck with me most, as a result of that study, is the way the apostle Paul handles the matter of sanctification. He does it in the sixth chapter. It’s a point where he actually gets around to it. And the key verse in my judgment is Romans 6:11, which says:

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Now that’s an imperative. He’s telling us to do something. And what we’re to do is count ourselves dead to sin. It’s the word logizōmai, which means “to reckon it to our account.” He is saying, “Get it into your head. Start operating on it.” That’s what he tells us to do. Now let me ask this question. How many times in the book of Romans up to this point have we had an imperative? Guess how many times has he told us to do something? Review that in your mind. What does he tell us to do in the first five chapters? The point is that this is the first time in the book of Romans that he actually tells us to do anything because up to this point what he has been doing is teaching. He’s sharing information. He’s trying to get the theology across. And now for the very first time, he tells us to do something. And what he tells us to do is begin operating on the basis of what he has taught us. That’s very significant.

He’s taught that we have died to sin. That’s what the fifth chapter is about. So he says, “If that is true, get it into your heads that that is true.” He’s taught us that we have been made alive to God in Christ Jesus. That’s what he’s done in the verses preceding. He says, “Get it into your head that that’s what God has done.” Because that’s what God has done and God doesn’t go back on what God has done, you are a new creature in Christ. You can’t be what you were before. So get on with being what you are. That’s Paul’s approach to sanctification. If I can put it this way, Paul’s approach to sanctification is doctrine.

Union with Adam and Christ

We look at the evangelical church and we say the evangelical church in many cases is acting just like the world. And the reason is that it doesn’t know the doctrine. It hasn’t been taught. I mean, this is significant, isn’t it? If this is where Paul is talking about sanctification and we’re concerned about sanctification, we ought to study it to find out what he’s saying, but we really don’t do it very often. How many sermons have you preached or heard on this verse or the latter half of chapter five on which it’s based? What he talks about at the end of chapter five is this mystical union that we have with Christ. We had this federal union with Adam so that when Adam sinned, we were guilty of his sin. The judgment upon Adam was not only Adam but our judgment, and we died in Adam and all of that.

People don’t like that. It’s difficult. It’s hard to explain, but that’s what he says. Then God has taken us out of Adam and has joined us to Jesus Christ. So now in exactly the same way that what Adam did has affected us, what Christ has done has affected us. Just as we died in Adam, now we have been made alive in Christ. Just as we were under wrath and condemnation because of our union with Adam. Now, we are experiencing blessing and newness of life because of our union with Jesus Christ. That’s what has happened. That’s the doctrine. It’s on the basis of that he says, “Now get it into your head that’s what happened and get on with living the Christian life.”

Let me put it another way. You can’t go back to being what you were. So if you can’t go back to being what you were, the only sensible thing to do is get on with being what you are and go forward. You can’t go backward, so you might as well go forward. That’s what he’s saying. It makes perfect sense. You might say, “Yeah, but I mean, can Christians sin?” It’s not only that they can, but they do it all the time in thought, word, and deed. But what do you say to a Christian who is sinning? You say, “You’re a Christian, stop sinning.” That’s Paul’s approach to sanctification.

Let me use an illustration of that. Here you have an adult. Let’s ask this adult whether this adult can become a child again. We know the answer to that. The answer is no. An adult can’t become a child again. You can’t reverse the aging process. But now let’s ask the question this way: Can an adult act childish? The answer is yes, of course, adults do. Now, what do you say to an adult who’s acting childish? This is a question for the women because they say it to men all the time. What do you say to the men when they act childish? You say, “For heaven’s sake, just grow up,” right? That’s what Paul is saying.

Can a Christian act like a non-Christian? Yes, every time we sin, we do. And what do you say to one who is doing that? You say, “Stop sinning because you’re a Christian. It’s inconsistent with what you actually are.” Do you see that? That’s an important principle. That’s a profound insight. That’s the way Paul handles it. If I may put it this way, the secret to it is the teaching of the word of God. Why don’t we see more holiness in our churches? Because our people don’t know the Bible. We’re not teaching it to them. If we’re going to see growth, we have to do it again.

God’s Will and the Sufficiency of Scripture

Well, let me talk about knowing the will of God. How do we know the will of God? Everybody wants a special revelation from God. There are different views here. I suppose the majority view in the Reformed camp is that God never speaks in any way other than through the Bible. The Holy Spirit and the Bible always go together. It’s a great Reformation insight. I preach that again and again but I don’t do it in absolutely exclusive terms, because I always argue myself that you can’t put God in a box. God does sometimes, on occasion (in my judgment) reveal something to an individual in a special way. Most of us would probably echo that in some sense or another in terms of our call to the ministry because there wasn’t any verse in the Bible that had your name in it and said you were called to the ministry. God may speak through the Bible as we read it and so forth, but that’s a personal thing. So I don’t exclude that ever being possible.

The way God normally speaks is through the Bible, and we don’t have any reason to anticipate something else. We certainly don’t have any claim upon God to do it in any other way. God has given us plenty in the Bible to keep us busy. If you want to know the will of God, start with the 10 Commandments and that’ll keep you busy for a long time. Or you can go to the Sermon on the Mount or the teaching of the epistles. That’s what you have to do. That’s what God wants for your life. You say, “Well, yeah, but that doesn’t tell me what job I should take, and it doesn’t tell me who I should marry now.” But if you’re trying to follow God and be obedient and godly, then you’ll make the right decision. That’s all right.

Make the decision. Trust God to guide you in that, but do what you need to do. What I think we want is something special, and it goes along with this introspection of our time, the narcissism. We think it’s invalid unless it’s a personal little individual revelation to us that has nothing to do with anybody else with the Bible or church history or anything.

I have an associate who sent around to the staff a little text, which presents itself as a suggested text for what’s called an “evangelical psychiatric hotline.” Do you know what that is? When you call up anybody today, you never get a person. You just got a recording, and they tell you what button to press and so on. And this was a chart that had a little ministry for people who have psychiatric problems. The little text goes like this. It says, “Hello, welcome to the psychiatric hotline. If you are obsessive-compulsive, press one repeatedly. If you are codependent, ask somebody else to press two if you have multiple personalities, press three, four, five, and six. If you’re paranoid, we know who you are. Just stay on the line until we can trace the call. And finally, if you’re an evangelical, just listen quietly and a little voice will tell you which number to press.”

When I was growing up in an evangelical church, if somebody came into a meeting or something and said, “The Lord told me so-and-so,” the response of the older Christians would always be something like this. They would say, “Chapter and verse?” What they meant was, “Where does it say it in the Bible?” We need to get back to that as evangelical people.

Cultural Transformation and the Sufficiency of Scripture

Well, there’s a final matter that concerns us, and that is our culture. We want to see change in our culture. How does that happen? Do we do it the way the world does? Do we think, “Well, in order to make an impact on America and get it to be a godly nation again (I’m not sure it ever was) do we have to get Christians elected into office? Is that the way to do it? Do we have to pass laws and outlaw abortion? And then, of course, we’ll force everybody to do it our way? What’s going to make America a Christian country? Will that make a difference?”

Changes don’t come that way. Changes don’t come from the top down, forcing people to conform. If you have godly people, you have godly laws, but changes come from the bottom up. Let me illustrate that by telling you what happened in Geneva at the time of the Reformation. Geneva was a pretty wild city back in the days before the Reformation. You’d never know it to visit today because the Swiss are such a stolid people. But back in those days, they used to have very wild times. They used to actually run around naked, sing body songs, and that kind of thing. It was almost like New Orleans at Mardi Gras. They had a ruling body called the Councils of Two Hundred, and they passed all kinds of laws against it to make the country and the city act properly. They had to have good laws.

So they said, “You mustn’t run around the city naked and sing body songs.” But it didn’t do anything at all. So eventually, they said, “Well, maybe the answer is religion. We’ve been a Catholic country all this time. What we need to become is a Protestant country.” So in 1535, they declared as the council that from that time on Geneva was going to be a Protestant country. It was going to align itself with the Reformation. Do you know what happened? Nothing at all, of course. The same problems existed, but they did do something good along the way. They said, “If we’re going to be a Protestant city, we need a Protestant preacher. We have to find somebody.”

Luther was occupied, of course, but there was a rather skinny intellectual from Paris. His name was John Calvin. They said, “Come on over here, John, to see if you can be our preacher.” So he came the following year in 1536, and he began to teach the Bible. Do you know what he was teaching in those days? He was teaching Calvinism, of course. And the people didn’t like it then any more than they like it today or than the time of Jesus Christ. So he wasn’t there very long, only a couple of years. They said, “Look, we’ve had enough of this. Get out of here.”

Steadfast Biblical Teaching

They set him away and he went on down the Rhine to Strasbourg where he settled in for about two and a half more years. He liked it down there in Strasbourg, but things were not going well in Geneva. All of the old problems were continuing. And finally, they said, “Well, look, we probably should bring this guy Calvin back,” and so they did. They prevailed upon him to come. He didn’t want to go, but they got him to come. So he came back in 1541. Now, he didn’t have any power. He didn’t have any authority. He had already failed once. He had no political power.

The first year he was there they even forgot to pay him. So he certainly didn’t even have money, but he did have the Bible. He came back and started to teach it. The story is that he picked up in 1541 exactly where he had left off in 1538, two and a half years before. I don’t know what verse that was, but I was just talking about Romans 6:11 and if that’s what he was talking about, he said something like this. He said, “Now the last time we were studying verse 11, I’d like you to open your Bibles to verse 12 because we’re going to study verse 12 today.” That’s what he did, and he began to teach.

He taught the Bible every day, several times on Sunday. Under the impact of the preaching of the Bible by John Calvin, Geneva was radically transformed. People became converted. When they became converted, they stopped behaving like pagans. They started acting like Christians. All of the immorality declined. They began to be concerned about their neighbors. There were all kinds of poor people in the city because it was a center for refugees from all over Europe because of the persecutions. And they were sleeping out on the grates and things.

They said, “We need to do something about these people.” So they built hospitals to take care of them. Many were sick. There were children running all over the place. They said, “Look, how are these children going to grow up to be Christians if they can’t study the Bible? And they can’t study the Bible if they can’t read. So we better start educating them.” So they established a whole system of schools that began with the youngest grades and went right on up to the great academy established by Calvin where the teaching was for the ministers who went out and spread the gospel all over French-speaking Europe. And they got interested in industry.

Calvin, as you know, taught that money was not a bad thing, but it was a case of stewardship that should be used for God. So they began to apply the resources and there was a developing industry. They brought in the silk industry and other things, and the city began to prosper. John Knox was one who had studied there. He said years later from where he was in Scotland, that in those days Geneva had literally become a new Reformation. And the way it happened was by the teaching of the word. Nothing is more important than that.

You might say, “Well, there are a lot of differences between Calvin’s Geneva and the city in which I live,” and that’s true in some cases. In Calvin’s day, Geneva only had 10,000 people. It’s relatively big but small by our standards. Philadelphia, where I minister, has about four million in the greater Philadelphia area. In those days, one man and a city of 10,000 could have a profound citywide impact. It’s difficult today, but I don’t read that we’re responsible for impacting the whole city or the state or the nation, whatever it may be.

Our responsibility is to do what God tells us to do where we are. Wherever God has put us, our job as ministers of the gospel is to teach the gospel and to teach the Bible and to pray and seek the blessing of God on that. And if we do that, who knows what God might do? It might be in the providence of God that we would have a new Reformation.

Questions and Answers

In relation to your last point, what is your evaluation of the Christian reconstructionist movement? Is theonomy a threat? Is it a prevailing thing that’s knocking on the door of the church?

I don’t have a lot of first-hand contact with those people, although I’ve read some of what they are writing. The idea is that God’s law is God’s law, and it’s eternal. And therefore, it should be applied at all times. That means the whole Old Testament law should be applied today. If we could create a Christian nation, that’s what we should do. We should be governed by the law of the Old Testament. Now, there’s some force in that kind of argument. It’s hard to dismiss it easily. These men are not heretics. They want to be faithful to the Bible. The strength of the argument is that God’s law is God’s law. God’s character remains the same and you would expect his law to remain the same.

In my judgment, it fails to make distinctions that have always been made theologically, especially in the reformed camp between various kinds of law. You have civil law, moral law, and ceremonial law. Generally, the reformed people have said, and they’re not the only ones that are fulfilled in different ways. The moral law is eternally binding. That’s the 10 Commandments. The civil law, which is what was given to Israel, was given to Israel, and it’s not to be imposed on other nations in the theonomy way. And then there is ceremonial law, the symbolic law, all of that’s well filled in Jesus Christ. And of course, it’s symbolic. That’s why we don’t have sacrifices anymore. So that is my approach to it.

I understand their concerns. I know they care about the country, but that is not the way to go about it. I won’t take time for it, but St. Augustine would lay out what I believe is the right way. It’s the doctrine of the two cities. There’s a City of God and there’s a City of Man. The city of man has its own destiny and the City of God has its destiny. As Christians, we live in both worlds. We want to impact the secular world in every good way that we can by being there as salt and light and all of that, but nevertheless, the secular world is never going to become the equivalent of the church.

I appreciate your emphasis on scripture. We certainly need this today, and I’m challenged by it. I do have a question that I’d like you to answer from Scripture. First of all, your emphasis on preaching is right, and I understand that, but what then was the role of signs and wonders in Jesus’s ministry? Then the second part of that question is, where does it say in the Bible that role shouldn’t continue today in our ministry? Is that passed on to us in any way?

John especially makes that clear. He says at the end (John 20:30–31) that there were a lot of things that Jesus did, but he picks out these seven major wonders because they’re tied in every case to Jesus’s teaching and they show who he is. The multiplying of the loaves and the fish is because he’s the bread of life and the raising of Lazarus is because he’s the resurrection and the life. Now we don’t do that today because what would a miracle teach today? We don’t have Jesus there to give the discourse to explain what it was all about. So that’s why we’re not supposed to pursue that sort of thing. Now it’s different to say, does God ever do miracles? Do you ever see anything that’s really miraculous? Some of our reformed guys say absolutely not. They say the age of signs and wonders has passed forever. I don’t find myself arguing that.

I mean every time somebody’s converted, that’s a miracle, and we know stories of people that have been healed. People have prayed and God has intervened. But generally, that’s not really miraculous. People get healed. I mean, God is in control of everything and so forth, but the healing processes are usually normal though they may be unexpected. It may be against the prognosis of the doctors and that sort of thing. So I don’t find myself saying that miracles never happen or that you can’t pray that God will heal somebody who is sick and so forth, but my point is that that’s not the way you do the gospel. There’s nothing in the Bible to tell us that the way we do evangelism is by impressing people with miracles. For one thing, it doesn’t work, because Jesus said in the parable with Abraham that even if somebody comes back from the dead they won’t believe. He says that they have Moses, so let them believe because of Moses (Luke 16:29–31). That’s our Lord’s own teaching. That’s the guidance we ought to have.

You mentioned Calvin’s Academy and training pastors and it brought to mind the matter that the sufficiency of Scripture one way or another often begins in our training. Could you comment on some institutions that you think are doing a good job in encouraging the sufficiency of Scripture?

It’s not quite fair for any one person to answer that because your own experience is limited. You’re just asking about seminaries that are doing a good job. I mean I know more about the reformed and Presbyterian seminaries just because those are the people I work with. We have the two Westminster seminaries, east and west. In the South, we have Trinity, which is not reformed. It’s evangelical, but it’s doing a good job. I think they’re good. Undoubtedly there are other good schools that I just don’t have personal contact with. So I don’t say this is the one to go to. When people come to me and say, “What’s the best seminary I should go to?” I say, “Get into a good church. Learn from a guy like John Piper.” That’s more important, I think than the seminary teaching, although I believe the seminary is important. I think academics are important. I did everything academically I could do as quickly as I could, but the great influences in my life were not the seminary professors.

You alluded to entertainment early in your message, and I was wondering if you could possibly define that a little clearer and how it is that you identify that when you see it in a church.

I mean, don’t want to be on a crusade against fun. I’d say if you’re working with a bunch of high school kids, fun is the thing. That’s what you get them together for. They do crazy games and things, and they can even sing crazy music and whatever. But then you settle down and you know you want to teach the Bible. That’s really what matters. You’re building relationships and all that matters. But the spiritual work is done in the teaching.

I think that’s true in churches. Churches are very different, and communities are very different. People are very different. One thing you do is start where people are. Suppose you’re called to a church where they’re used to having a lot of wild good times in church and everything. You don’t start off by abolishing all of that. But you ask, “Is that really the best way to use our time here? I mean, how many hours a week do we actually get together to worship God? And is this really worshiping God or could we do it better even if it is?” Those are the kinds of questions you begin to answer. I think we just live in a culture that is so entertainment-oriented that people think that’s all that matters. We just want to be entertained all the time. And that is not worship. It’s not that entertainment isn’t part of life, and certainly, that fun isn’t part of life, but we’re dealing with life and death. We’re dealing with spiritual matters. I would rather have more than less. At some point, there ought to be some real gravity in what we do.

When we come to church on Sunday morning, we’re meeting with Almighty God. We have to have a sense of the holiness of God. You don’t just come skipping into the presence of God having a good time. You’re there to acknowledge who he is, bow before him, and confess your sin, and so forth. And if that doesn’t happen on a Sunday morning, when is it going to happen? So my thinking is that we need to work in that direction. What I said about the children the other day is that I need to counter that tendency to bring the adults down to the level of the children. What we want to do is bring those children up to the level of the adults. We want to mature a congregation, and it takes some time, but a congregation can be taught to love the word of God and come to meet with God and really worship. We need a great deal more on that.

In your main text today, I’m just wondering why you think Paul made an understatement and said that all Scripture is useful instead of saying that it’s sufficient.

There are lots of things he doesn’t say Scripture is. He doesn’t say it’s authoritative or inerrant either. He’s assuming that, but the point of the usefulness is that it does what needs to be done. That’s really what he’s saying there. An equivalent of that would be sufficient.

If it’s just useful, then couldn’t you employ other techniques?

His whole point is a contrast them, instead of hunting for some new methodology. What he’s saying is to continue with what you have. You have the Scriptures and the Scriptures do what needs to be done because they’re from God. Now he doesn’t use the word “sufficient,” but that’s what that means.

Could you give me other verses that implicitly or explicitly say that Scripture is sufficient?

If I understand your question right, the scope of sufficiency is what you’re asking about. I think that’s a valid question because when we say “sufficient,” we mean sufficient for spiritual things. You don’t mean, “Is the Bible sufficient for finding out scientific answers to the origins of the universe?” I would say no. That’s not what it’s given for, and you could say lots of other things like that. It doesn’t help you build a building. It doesn’t teach you physics, and that type of thing. But we’re talking about spiritual things and it’s not only sufficient for that is the only thing that works.

Those who don’t believe in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura sometimes point to the irony of defending it by appealing to history and reason. I’m wondering if you can defend the Sola Scriptura from only Scripture.

The doctrine of Scripture really comes from the teaching of Jesus Christ. It’s not that there aren’t other supports for it. Sometimes, you hear those and those are valid, and I present them sometimes because that’s the way people are thinking. Prophecy also supports it and it’s reasonable. There are a number of things like that, but the doctrine of Scripture really comes from the teaching of Jesus. That’s where we get all our doctrine. How did Jesus think about the word of God? If anybody is interested in pursuing that, there’s a reissue of a book with an edition by John Wenham who has written a lot in this area called Christ and the Bible. I think he argues that very forcefully and well.

In speaking of the sufficiency of Scripture, how would you reconcile with the fact that we have so many different translations of the English Bible? Also, what will be the practical implication of Scripture when there are only copies of it? We don’t have any original documents.

You have several questions there. I don’t think they relate to the sufficiency matter, but they are valid questions. One is about the multiplicity of translations. Let me reply this way. Suppose we did not have a multiplicity of translations. Let’s say all we had was the King James Version or something. Would that be sufficient? The answer is yes. We don’t have to have them. Now, is there any value in new translations? Yes, there’s some value because we’re trying to stay abreast of the language which changes and so forth. Do we need as many as we actually have? Not in my judgment. I think we have the kind of rights we do because the publishers make money off of them, especially the special little editions. I don’t even want to mention them. They’re doing them for money.

Your other question had to do with the text and the lack of original autographs. That’s the sort of thing we ought to talk about at some length, but we don’t have the original autographs. We would sometimes ask the question, “Well, why not? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had them?” My guess would be that if we had them, we would tend to give them an exalted, worshipful status, which would be detrimental. I think of an Old Testament example of the brass serpent that Moses raised up that continued on in Israel for 500 years. Eventually, people worshiped it and one of the kings ground it up and destroyed it. I think that’s what would happen if we had the original manuscripts. I mean, think of the page of the Gutenberg Bible, how we think of that. What if we had something that the apostle Paul actually wrote what would happen? That’s my opinion of why God has not seemed to do it that way. But I don’t know the mind of God, whatever the reason would be.

The real question is, do we have from the manuscripts a reliable text? Can we say what the autograph text would’ve been? And really the answer to that is, yes, we can do that. It’s a science. It involves variations of where they came from, which are original, and so on. But without any question like the percentage, there’s no reason to question anything. The kinds of things that are sometimes questionable are of negligible import in almost every case. It would be like in a text whether it says “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus” or maybe the spelling of a word. There are a few places where there are some problems, but the answer is that they’re well-known to scholars. So you don’t base a whole theology on something that you’re not absolutely certain about, but it’s minor, and at any rate, it’s well known. If there’s a difficulty, we know where it is, but there are very few.

Since we have three or four more minutes, I asked for the privilege of posing a question myself. One of the issues with regard to Scripture that you didn’t take up was the whole issue of counseling. I’m speaking of the phone call where there are real people who frustrate the daylights out of us and break our hearts. Let’s say a woman comes to you. She’s anorexic and she’s the daughter of one of the men in your church, and you tell her, “You’re a Christian, act like it.” Do you say any more and do you get counseling at Tenth Presbyterian Church? Just orient me with the really hard cases and how much more you can do.

That’s worth asking and I’m glad you did because what I said may very well have given a wrong impression. If somebody comes with a medical problem like they’ve broken their leg, you don’t counsel them from Scripture. They need a doctor to fix their leg. And if people have psychotic or neurotic problems, they need to be dealt with on that level. Now some of them are spiritual, and that’s where the difficulty comes in. Knowing how to counsel well is important, and where you have somebody who is gifted at that or trained in it or both, I greatly value that kind of help. We have some in the church generally like that. The kind of problems we get of that nature we’re not sure we ourselves on the staff are competent to handle them. Then we have Christian counselors that we send them to. So when I said the Scriptures are sufficient, I don’t mean necessarily to deal with that kind of problem.