Archive for the ‘Sufficient Standard’ Category

Guest Post: The Insufficiency of T. David Gordon’s Argument Against the Bible as a Sufficient Guide For Faith and Life

January 5, 2012

[A beloved and anonymous family member wrote the following article.  It seems timely in view of Dr. Frame’s recently released book.]

In his provocatively titled article, “The Insufficiency of Scripture,” [Updated link] T. David Gordon argues that the failings of modern evangelicals are essentially due to too high a view of Scripture—a view of Scripture that says that Scripture is relevant for all of life, not just life as “covenant community members” (the latter being Gordon’s position). Without much consideration for logic, Gordon suggests that wisdom should inform practice, and that wisdom most importantly, “does not come exclusively or perhaps even primarily, through Bible study.”

Simply reading the Bible will not bring wisdom, says he, a statement with which none but the most obtuse believer would quibble. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, is needed to bring forth godly behavior, but surely the Bible must be read and apprehended in order to be applied. Yet his emphasis is not on the word, “reading,” but on the words “the Bible”. We are urged to read other things because the Bible cannot inform us for life.

Neglecting to discuss verses like Psalm 19:7-8, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;” and “in Christ in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3) and II Tim. 3:16, Scripture “is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” Gordon advises Christians to seek wisdom outside God’s holy Word, which he repeatedly calls inadequate to the task of teaching anything but how to live as a member of the covenant community (while never explaining what such membership entails).

Taking the Westminster Confession of Faith (1.6) statement that worship has circumstances that may be regulated according to the light of nature, Dr. Gordon ignores the proviso in the same section that even these circumstances are subject to Christian prudence, and the general rules of the Word which are always to be observed [emphasis mine], and generalizes illogically that this section therefore proves the insufficiency of Scripture for life in general. Apparently Gordon does not understand the regulative principle of worship which states that only that which the Bible commands is allowed in worship. The Westminster Divines wisely added there are circumstances which do not fall under this precise regulation. No Reformed theologian defends what might be called “the regulative principle of life” in which only those things commanded by the Word are allowed in life.

Gordon rightly notes that Scripture recommends obtaining wisdom from those older than us, and even from nature. However, since he seeks to divorce these sources from The Source (the Word of God), Gordon is left with a problem: how will he know when he has received wise counsel? Will the wisdom of Socrates do? How about the wisdom of one’s Unitarian grandfather? Or in the created order, shall the industrious man “go to the sloth” and be wise? Or shall the submissive wife look to the black widow spider or praying mantis? This over-the-top silliness is intended to highlight Gordon’s knot: without the Bible as a standard of truth, how can he know when he has received wisdom? The reason why we go to the ant (one of the creatures he mentions) is that the Bible tells us to do so, and it tells us what to look for in the nature of the ant; the way in which we assess what we hear from older people, is whether what they say is in accord with the teaching of Scripture.

Gordon also bashes “theonomy” not merely as the error du jour, but the error par excellence. Reading Dr. Gordon’s article, one would think that the whole Christian world had gone over to theonomic thinking when, in fact, huge tracts of evangelicalism have never heard the word “theonomy,” much less adopted the tenets thereof. The Bible is insufficient, warns Gordon, to instruct and inform the “human-as-legislator” or the “human-as-physician” or the “human-as-mechanic,” as if the most ardent Bible-thumpers (as he calls them) ever tried to discover in Scripture the number of amendments to the U. S. Constitution, or the number of chambers in the human heart, or the number of spark plugs in an engine. He’s tilting at windmills.

Gordon admits that the basis for this article is not Scripture but a Gallup poll revealing high rates of divorce among evangelicals. Dr. Gordon declares “Scripture is manifestly not sufficient” (presumably the Gallup poll has made it manifest to him) “to teach people how to attain” a lifelong marriage. He reasons thus:
1. Evangelicals read the Bible.
2. Evangelicals have a high divorce rate
3. Therefore, the Bible is insufficient for any purpose outside of life as a covenant community member.

This is a leap of logic by any standard. Accordingly, Dr. Gordon’s case against the sufficiency of the Bible has proved itself to be insufficient.

– Anonymous
[Posted by TurretinFan on Anonymous’ behalf]


Sufficient Standard vs. Sufficient Mechanism

January 8, 2010

The Scriptures are a sufficient standard to remove error from the church, but they are not the mechanism by which error is removed from the church. That’s true whether one’s ecclesiology is papal, patriarchal, (some other form of) episcopal, presbyterian, or congregational. I realize that those today with some of those ecclesiologies don’t use the Bible that way, and that is their loss.

The Bible should be the standard of judgment within the church, yet we must distinguish. The Bible is the rule of faith, but it is not the person who applies that standard or rule to the situation. In other words, one of the functions of the church is to serve as a judge of controversies and to apply the teachings of Scripture to the matter at hand. In this way, churches can oppose heresy.

The churches who properly use Scripture do not simply wait for a Bible to zap heretics with lightening bolts, they search the Scriptures to see whether the person is teaching something that is contrary to the Word of God.

This function of Scripture as a sufficient rule of faith is not a new function. It is not something that the Reformers dreamed up. It is not even something that the apostles dreamed up. Even the mighty Ezra was not the originator of this principle of the sufficiency of Scripture as a rule, to which nothing needed to be added.

Deuteronomy 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

Proverbs 30:5-6
Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.

God gave the people of Israel Scriptures. He expected them to use those Scriptures as a rule, and he criticized them for adding human traditions to them:

Matthew 15:3-6

But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? … And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

Mark 7:8-13

For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. … Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

The Sacred Scriptures, even of the Old Testament were, you see, a sufficient standard. That’s why Jesus appealed to them:

John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

And why the Bereans were commended for judging Paul’s teaching by them:

Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

That’s why when the apostles wanted to decide a matter they turned to them and applied them to the matter at hand:

Act 15:13-20

And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

Just because God gave the apostles and after them the elders does not mean that there is any guarantee that the churches will always stick to the rule of faith. After all, there were elders in the Old Testament era, and God ordained not only those rulers but Kings, Prophets, and Priests as well.

And yet Israel, the only visible congregation of God fell over and over again. The Scriptures were sufficient, but humans err. There were folks like Naboth who were wrongly condemned by a sinful application of God’s law, and there have been men like Galileo and Hus who were wrongly censured by people who profess to be Christ’s followers.

We are not free from the risk of human tradition in our churches. Paul wrote to warn us of this:

Colossians 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

And Peter makes the parallel between the Old and New Testaments even more explicit:

2 Peter 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

So then, let us heed that warning and recognize that the sufficiency of Scripture to decide all matters of faith and morals as the standard of judgment is one thing. The application of that standard to life is another. Humans will err, but God’s word remains powerful and infallible:

Isaiah 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

– TurretinFan

N.B. Many thanks to Steve Hays for drawing the sufficient standard / sufficient mechanism concept to my attention.

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