How My Mind Has Changed

T. David Gordon
Wednesday, January 2nd 2002
Jan/Feb 2002

If someone had asked me a decade ago about the sufficiency of Scripture, I would have given a zealous defense of the historic Reformed position. I will do the same today; I still affirm the historic Reformed view without any variation from its expression in the Westminster Confession's first chapter:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge … that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed. (WCF 1:6)

I clarify, however, that "faith and life" must be taken in its religious sense. I also clarify that the entire matter would have been better expressed had the divines articulated a more manifestly covenantal statement, indicating that the Scriptures are a sufficient guide to the various covenants God has made with his various covenant people through the centuries, and that the entire canon, taken in its entirety, is sufficient, therefore, to govern the members of the new covenant made in Christ. By "faith and life" the divines intended what one is to believe and do as a member of the new covenant community.

To demonstrate that such is a correct reading of the Assembly's intent, I call attention to the qualification near the end, regarding "circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church," which are to be governed not by Scripture, but by the light of nature and Christian prudence. Why would the divines have added this qualification regarding the life of the covenant community ("worship … government of the church"), if Scriptures were an otherwise complete guide for all of life? Are "circumstances" about automobile mechanics governed by Scripture, but circumstances regarding worship and church government not so governed? Of course not. Rather, this latter clause qualifies the intent of the previous, that "faith and life" are shorthand references for the beliefs of the covenant community and the duties of the covenant community.

Now, the covenant community consists of humans, and it is true that the Scriptures also contain information about the created purpose/mandate of the human race in its entirety; so I am not denying that the Scriptures contain some general instruction to the human race. I am merely denying that "faith and life" is intended to suggest that Scriptures are an adequate guide to the various particulars of our lives and callings as humans. The Bible is sufficient to guide the human-as-covenanter, but not sufficient to guide the human-as-mechanic, the human-as-physician, the human-as-businessman, the human-as-parent, the human-as-husband, the human-as-wife, or the human-as-legislator.

Where the big change has occurred in my own thinking has been to the disastrous consequences that follow the common misunderstanding of the sufficiency of Scripture. We appear to have lost the historic Protestant understanding of the importance of natural revelation, and have tended to function as though such revelation were not necessary. If anything has changed, then, it is that I would now argue with equal zeal for the insufficiency of Scripture in other than religious or covenantal areas. As such, Scripture is not a sufficient guide to many aspects of life, other than in the sense of providing religious direction and motivation to all of life. This change has occurred as a result of three considerations: two theological and one practical.

1. Wisdom

Ours is a profoundly unwise generation. The intrusion of many electronic media have virtually driven contemplation and conversation from most homes. Dr. Samuel Johnson, if alive today, could surely say daily what he said only rarely in the eighteenth century: "There was talk enough, but no conversation." Surprisingly, however, the evangelical and Reformed communities have appeared not to have resisted these changes, and most of their critical analyses of media are more concerned with their content than on their influence on the social and home environment.

Whatever the complex reasons that have caused this to be such an unwise generation, I would submit that our erroneous assumptions about the sufficiency of Scripture are among them. The biblical literature commends wisdom in the strongest terms:

  • Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding (Prov. 23:23).
  • To get wisdom is better than gold; to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver (Prov. 16:16 ).
  • The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight (Prov. 4:7 ).
  • Say to wisdom, "You are my sister," and call insight your intimate friend (Prov. 7:4 ).

Yet, according to the biblical testimony, how does one acquire wisdom? Well, in part, by heeding God's commands in Holy Scripture (Prov. 10:8; Eccl. 12:13). But more commonly, wisdom comes from listening to advice (Prov. 12:15; 19:20), from entertaining the opinion of a variety of people (Prov. 11:14; 18:17; 24:6), by listening to older people (Prov. 13:1), and by observing the natural order itself (Prov. 6:6). Wisdom does not come easily or quickly, but through a lengthy, prolonged effort. Most importantly, it does not come exclusively, or perhaps even primarily, through Bible study. Solomon promotes listening to parents, elders, a variety of counselors, and even a consideration of ants, badgers, locusts, and lizards (Prov. 30:24-28). Nor will we concur with a pietistic interpretation of James's counsel that those who lack wisdom should pray for it (James 1:5), as though such prayer would be answered by some sort of special revelation. Jesus also counsels us to pray for our daily bread, which we do, but we also then labor to acquire bread by ordinary means, and, when successful, we offer prayers of thanks. Similarly, we should pray for wisdom, but then labor for it by the ordinary means by which it is found. We will not acquire wisdom without consulting a variety of points of view, without thinking long and hard about life, without being perceptive. Most importantly, we will not acquire it by simply reading the Bible.

2. Theonomy

Theonomy is not merely an error, though it has manifestly been regarded as erroneous by the Reformed tradition. It is the error du jour, the characteristic error of an unwise generation. It is the error of a generation that has abandoned the biblically mandated quest for wisdom on the assumption that the Bible itself contains all that we need to know about life's various enterprises. It is the proof-textual, Bible-thumping, literalist, error par excellence. It is not merely the view of the unwise, but the view of the never-to-be-wise, because it is the view of those who wrongly believe that Scripture sufficiently governs this arena, and who, for this reason, will never discover in the natural constitution of the human nature or the particular circumstances of given peoples what must be discovered to govern well and wisely.

3. Evangelical Divorce

The large practical matter that has influenced my thinking about the matter of the sufficiency of Scripture has been the publication of findings that the evangelical divorce rate is roughly the same as that of non-evangelicals. If we ask why evangelicals divorce at the same rate as those who do not necessarily recognize the Bible as a source of authoritative guidance, the answer must be something like this: that whereas Scripture teaches us that marriage is a lifelong commitment, Scripture is manifestly not sufficient to teach people how to attain that end. Oh yes, Scripture contains some broad principles, such as those encountered in Ephesians 5 or in Proverbs 29. But for all the evangelical talk about roles of men and women, such talk has obviously not produced happy or successful marriages. We divorce as frequently as those who do not recognize these divinely established principles regarding male/female roles, despite the fact that we believe divorce is sinful under most circumstances.

It is quite possible that because of our mistaken sense that the Bible is more sufficient than it is, we may falsely assume that men and women who are committed to Scripture will have successful marriages on that ground alone; and we do not expend the time, energy, reflection, and discussion necessary to discovering how to make such relationships work. Solomon may well have felt the same way: "Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden" (Prov. 30:18, 19). It is possible that the proverb merely means that these are all wonderful things, but it is more likely that part of the wonder is due to the mysterious nature of these realities: How does the eagle soar so effortlessly? How does a legless serpent move along the rock as he does? How does a frail vessel remain afloat on the seas? And how does a man relate to a woman?

I would suggest that part of the reason our unbelieving friends succeed as often in marriage as we do is that they are never hoodwinked by any misunderstanding of the sufficiency of Scripture. They are never counseled to "read two verses and call me in the morning." They know that if a marriage is to work, it will require patience, conversation, reflection, and understanding. It will require that men attempt to understand how and why women function as they do; that women attempt to understand how and why men function as they do; and that individual men and women attempt to understand how and why their particular spouses function as they do. And the Bible will answer none of those questions with sufficient directives.

Response from T. David Gordon

Editors' Introduction:
Some of our readers were concerned by Dr. T. David Gordon's article, "The Insufficiency of Scripture," which appeared in our January/February 2002 issue, "Modern Reformation Turns Ten." We have printed a selection of their responses in the May/June 2002 issue's "Letters" section. In order to address some of their concerns, we asked Dr. Gordon to respond briefly to a few questions. We hope this will clarify his position on Scripture's sufficiency and purpose.

Dr. T. David Gordon's Reply:
TDG: I am grateful to the editors of MR for the opportunity to clarify my earlier comments and to reply briefly to those who found the article troubling. The response to my article has confirmed my judgment that the article was timely.

MR: Your article was very provocative. Have you really "changed your mind" about the sufficiency of Scripture? Is it accurate to say that you believe you have now adopted the view of Scripture that the reformers and their followers have always confessed?
TDG: I have not changed my mind about Westminster Confession of Faith's (WCF) doctrine of Scripture's sufficiency. But I have changed my mind about how crucial Westminster's qualification of the doctrine is. As it does concerning Scripture's clarity, the Confession teaches a qualified, not an unqualified, doctrine of Scripture's sufficiency. Indeed, I have come to cherish how nuanced, sophisticated, and qualified many of Westminster's affirmations are. Yet even as I've come to appreciate that, I have observed the Reformed and evangelical communities occasionally affirming the same doctrines in unnuanced ways. I still agree with Westminster; I disagree with those who think they agree with Westminster but who do not accept Westminster's qualifications of Scripture's sufficiency and clarity.

MR: Some of our readers thought you were redefining what the Westminster Confession intended concerning the sufficiency of Scripture by limiting the scope of "faith and life" to its religious and covenantal senses. How do you respond to this?
TDG: This is the crux of the matter. So let me describe why I read the Confession as I do. The Confession's historical background. The Confession's first chapter, on Scripture, was framed in a historical context that involved two controversies. Against the papists, the Westminster divines affirmed that Scripture itself, without any papal additions, sufficiently governs the Church. Against the enthusiasts, they affirmed that Scripture itself, without any additions from private revelation, sufficiently governs the Church. WCF 1:6 alludes to this historical context: "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men" (my emphasis). The issue expressly addressed was not whether Scripture was sufficient to govern creatures in every creaturely task, apart from the light of nature or wisdom; the issue was whether there was any "counsel of God" regarding "faith and life" that would be found other than in Scripture.

What the Assembly meant by "faith and life" in WCF 1:6. Did they mean that everything the creature needs to fulfill his created calling and mandate would be found in Scripture? Did they mean that we could exercise dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and the creeping things merely by reading Scripture? Would they have discouraged biologists peering through microscopes, or ornithologists inspecting hawks' nests, on the ground that everything necessary to fulfill the mandate to exercise dominion could be found in Scripture? To raise these questions is to answer them. The divines did not mean by "life" everything needed to sustain, improve, or nourish human existence, whether in its biological or social senses. They meant what their Shorter Catechism says about Scripture's teaching-that it principally teaches "what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man." God's revelation regarding what we are to believe about him ("faith") and about what duty he requires of us ("life") is to be found in Scripture alone, apart from any additions of tradition or private revelation.

Many other matters, useful in our quest to exercise dominion over the created order and to frame productive societies, will only be discovered by what the divines called "the light of nature." The letters resist what our earlier Protestant tradition would have called "natural revelation" or "the light of nature" more strongly than I would have initially expected. The expression "light of nature" appears in the very passage of the Westminster Confession that I am citing (1:6) and it appears eight more times elsewhere (WCF 10:4, 20:4, 21:1 and WLC Questions 2, 60 [twice], 121, and 151). Confessionally, we affirm both the existence of such natural light and its necessity for properly ordering our lives. We affirm that the Creator has given us "light" not merely, not exclusively, and not sufficiently for all tasks in Scripture; he has also given us "light" in the natural order he created.

Many other matters, useful in our quest to sustain and nourish human life and existence, will only be discovered from the natural order or by the additional sources of a multitude of counselors, the counsel of older/wiser people, etc. We will not cure cancer (the cure to which is necessary for biological "life") by reading Scripture; we will cure it by investigating molecular biology, organic chemistry, and other related disciplines.

The Confession's own qualification regarding Scripture's sufficiency. "Nevertheless, we acknowledge … that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed" (WCF 1:6). What is most surprising in some of my respondents' communications is their apparent concern about any qualification of scriptural sufficiency. This is odd because the very text where the Confession teaches the doctrine also qualifies it. Thus before investigating whether my qualification is identical to that of the Westminster divines (as I believe it is), let us concede that qualifying the doctrine should not be a cause for alarm. If the confessional standards qualify the doctrine, ministers ordained within communions that embrace those standards may also qualify the doctrine; indeed, their ordination vows require them to do so.

My reading of the Confession consists of an a fortiori argument: if Scripture does not even address every circumstance of the government and worship of the Church, then-all the more strongly-it does not address every circumstance of life outside of the visible covenant community. I find it virtually unimaginable that the scriptures, which must be supplemented by the light of nature and prudence/wisdom regarding some circumstances concerning the government and worship of the Church, need not be supplemented regarding other circumstances, such as marriage and civil government.

What, then, is the value of the Confession's statement? It teaches us that Scripture sufficiently guides our common faith and life. We do not need papal bulls or private revelations to know what is common to our faith and duty as believers. Church officers, led by Scripture's sufficiency, may learn both what they may require of church members and what they may not require of them. Our well-being and productiveness as creatures requires a good deal more, however. It requires a thorough understanding of the natural order, of human nature, and of ourselves as individuals-which are things that we will not find sufficiently revealed in Scripture. Thus I understand the matter as James Bannerman and Charles Hodge understood it:

And they [the scriptures] are sufficient to bear out the general proposition, that there is enough in the Word of God to be, and which was intended to be, a distinct and complete guide for the Church in the exercise of its powers of action and administration [James Bannerman, The Church of Christ. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1960, vol. I, p. 215]. By the completeness of the Scriptures is meant that they contain all the extant revelations of God designed to be a rule of faith and practice to the Church…. All that Protestants insist upon is, that the Bible contains all the extant revelations of God, which He designed to be the rule of faith and practice for his Church; so that nothing can rightfully be imposed on the consciences of men as truth or duty which is not taught directly or by necessary implication in the Holy Scriptures…. If we would stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, we must adhere to the principle that in matters of religion and morals the Scriptures alone have authority to bind the conscience [Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977, vol. I, pp. 182-3].

MR: You supported your definition of "faith and life" by specifying what it does and does not apply to. For instance, you say that "The Bible is sufficient to guide the human-as-covenanter, but not sufficient to guide the human-as-mechanic, the human-as-physician, the human- as-businessman, the human-as-parent, the human-as-husband, the human-as-wife, or the human-as-legislator." But does classifying what Scripture has to say about the human-as-mechanic or the human-as-physician with what Scripture has to say about the human-as-businessman or the human-as-husband encourage us to slight the specific guidance that Scripture gives to marriage and business roles?
TDG: No. Some of the unrest over my article appears to have been due to some misunderstanding of terms. In retrospect, I might have introduced the article with a definition of "sufficient." The American Heritage Dictionary defines "sufficient" as: "As much as is needed; enough; adequate." If Scripture is sufficient for a task, it is the only thing needed for that task; Scripture alone is "enough." I do not believe Scripture is enough to enable us to fulfill many of our creaturely tasks; for most of them, we need some knowledge of the created order and often the wisdom of those who have more experience. To deny that Scripture is sufficient for a task is not to deny that it is useful or helpful for that task; it is merely to affirm that it needs supplementation. Scripture is true, helpful, and authoritative about everything it addresses; but there are many matters that it is not "enough" for.

For instance, Scripture addresses marriage truly, helpfully, and authoritatively but not sufficiently. It requires a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church. But it does not address the practical question of whether to give one's wife everything she might desire. How do I know when to accede to one of my wife's requests and when not to? When is doing that an act of Christlike love, and when is it merely a cynical way of avoiding a controversy? Does Ephesians 5 answer that question? No; nor could we answer it categorically for every wife. We could not say "It is always sinful to buy a blue sweater for your wife," nor could we say "It is always sinful not to buy a blue sweater for your wife." To answer the day-to-day questions of life, we must be informed by the great comprehensive principles of special revelation, but also by natural revelation (how one's specific wife has responded to previous gifts, whether they appear to have helped or hurt, etc.) and wisdom.

Scripture also addresses the issue of the civil magistrate truly, helpfully, and authoritatively (e.g., Genesis 9 and Romans 13), but not sufficiently. It teaches us truly, authoritatively, and helpfully that the civil magistracy comes from God, that it exists because of human sin, and that the magistrate may employ capital punishment. It does not tell us whether there should be three branches of government, whether the legislature should be separate from the judiciary, or whether any of its houses need be bicameral.

MR: With regard to wisdom for marriage, most of our readers would share your angst about evangelical divorce rates and agree that some of the blame should be placed on inappropriate attempts to make Scripture's general counsels about marriage all-sufficient. The practice of some Christian ministers and counselors amounting to "read two verses and call me in the morning" is a travesty. Yet aren't the causes of evangelical divorce complex? Isn't it likely that many marital troubles arise from unfamiliarity with the scriptures?
TDG: Other evangelical distinctives may also contribute to our divorce rate. For instance, a misplaced belief in miracles may contribute if it leads some people to pray about their marriages without doing what is necessary to strengthen them. This would be analogous to praying for daily bread without going out and learning how to hold down a job. Further, I think we Bible-believers have (and should have) higher ideals for marriage than many of our non-believing friends, and so perhaps we feel the pain of imperfect marriages more acutely and become disillusioned more quickly than they do. So I don't think an exaggerated view of the sufficiency of Scripture is the entire culprit. However, if Scripture is potentially helpful to marriages (and it surely is), then why is the divorce rate of Bible-believers so high? Shouldn't we be extremely concerned that, even armed with the light of Scripture, evangelicals divorce as frequently as those who are not so armed?

"Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church" is profoundly and comprehensively helpful. Every decision a husband makes regarding his wife should be informed by this great command. Yet as helpful and comprehensive as this command is, it is not sufficient for becoming a good husband. A husband must know more. He must know which actions and words communicate love to his particular wife; he must know which behaviors have the intended effect on his particular beloved. Purchasing the same gift for my wife as my father purchased for my mother may not be helpful and encouraging for her as it was for my mother. Making these kinds of decisions involves my learning not merely what is common to women, but also what is specifically true of my wife, with her particular personality, family background, and life experience. I need to learn from older men who have been married longer than I, from younger men whose marriages are better than mine, and from authors and observers of human nature who have insights I lack. I need to learn from attentive conversation with my wife and diligent reflection about which of my efforts to love her in the past have had their intended effect and which have not. I cannot learn these things from the Bible.

MR: Scripture is adequate to guide our lives and callings as humans, but it is not the sole or complete guide regarding the particulars of those lives and callings. Doesn't this mean that, rather than framing this discussion in terms of Scripture's sufficiency, it would be better to ask about Scripture's "primary purpose"? Would this language help avoid some false dichotomies?
TDG: Yes. That is why I take WCF 1:6 as, in many ways, analogous to the Shorter Catechism's "what do the scriptures principally teach," cited above.

MR: In your piece you answer the question, "How does one acquire wisdom?" like this: "Well, in part, by heeding God's commands in Scripture. But more commonly, wisdom comes from listening to advice, from entertaining the opinion of a variety of people, by listening to older people, and by observing the natural order itself…. Most importantly, it does not come exclusively or perhaps even primarily through Bible study." How do you interpret those scriptures which seem to support the claim that wisdom and insight and understanding come primarily through Bible study (see, e.g., Ps. 119:97; 100; 19:7)?
TDG: My "or perhaps even primarily" follows my statement about "more commonly." "Primarily" can be used differently. If it is used to mean actual frequency, I think that many of our day-to-day decisions-and perhaps the majority of them-require the kind of wisdom we get from listening to others. However, if it is used to refer to what is most trustworthy, then the answer is entirely different. Divine wisdom is always infallible; it is incapable of being wrong. Human wisdom, on the other hand, is always capable of being wrong. So we should place entire confidence in divine wisdom and only tentative confidence in human wisdom. But as we actually live, day-by-day and hour-by-hour, many and possibly most of the decisions we make are matters of wisdom that we probably won't find addressed in Scripture. Do I let the same student ask three consecutive questions in class? If three student organizations ask me to be their faculty advisor, then which one do I choose? Vast numbers of these daily decisions are not specifically addressed in Scripture. They must be answered not only with Scripture's great comprehensive principles (the Golden Rule, 1 Corinthians 13, etc.), but also with the additional specific counsel of others who have encountered similar issues and reflected on them.

MR: Some of our readers thought you treated theonomy dismissively. Would you respond to that concern?
TDG: I will let the editors assume partial responsibility for that perception. Due to the demands of space, they omitted some material from my article which made it appear that I was just dismissing theonomy. I had originally included a footnote that said that space did not permit a thorough evaluation of theonomy and that referred readers to a lengthier critique I had already published (Westminster Theological Journal 56 [Spring, 1994]: 23-43). The editors also omitted quotations from Calvin (see Institutes IV.xx.14) and James Henley Thornwell (see his Collected Writings, IV, 449) which corroborated my assertions:

For there are some who deny that a commonwealth is duly framed which neglects the political system of Moses, and is ruled by the common laws of nations. Let other men consider how perilous and seditious this notion is; it will be enough for me to have proved it false and foolish [Calvin, Institutes, IV.xx.14 (Battles translation)].

The Constitution of the Church is a divine revelation; the Constitution of the State must be determined by human reason and the course of providential events. The Church has no right to construct or modify a government for the State, and the State has no right to frame a creed or polity for the Church. They are planets moving in different orbits, and unless each is confined to its own track, the consequences may be as disastrous in the moral world as the collision of different spheres in the world of matter [James Henley Thornwell, Collected Writings, IV.449].

Of course, anyone is entitled to disagree with Calvin and Thornwell (and Cunningham and Dabney, for that matter, whose similar words I might have cited). But my point was that theonomy was considered erroneous by the Reformed tradition. This claim rightly requires justification, the tip of whose iceberg I tried to supply. Theonomy is a serious and significant departure from the Reformed tradition's formal and material principles; as such, it must be carefully evaluated and refuted, not dismissed outright. In my unedited article, I made reference both to acknowledged representatives of the Reformed tradition as well as to my own published effort to evaluate it carefully. Finally, I would note that I am friendlier to theonomy than Calvin was: he thought it was "perilous, seditious, false, and foolish." I think it is perilous, false, and foolish; but I don't consider it seditious.

MR: What do you consider to be the causes of what you consider to be an exaggerated view of the sufficiency of Scripture?
TDG: Fundamentalists have migrated to the Reformed tradition in such numbers as to have significantly reshaped the host culture. A tradition that once believed, with Calvin and Westminster, in the light of nature now appears hesitant to affirm such. A tradition that was once, like Calvin, neither socially nor intellectually separatist (read his references to unbelieving authors in the Institutes) appears to have become somewhat so. A tradition that was once intellectually aristocratic rather than populist (preferring arguments and reasoning that were sound, albeit nuanced or sophisticated, rather than arguments and reasoning that appealed to the common person of common training and intelligence) has apparently become intellectually populist. Fundamentalism, a product of both Pietism and Separatism, has always believed that the safest thing to do is to read and consider only what is written in the Bible and has thus founded Bible colleges rather than true liberal arts colleges. It has recoiled from a candid examination of the thought of uninspired men and has been almost forced, consequently, to exaggerate Scripture's sufficiency. J. Gresham Machen was aware of this tendency and of its potential to injure the historic Reformed tradition and its witness to the world. He thus warned against it in what I still consider to be perhaps the most prescient address he ever gave:

Is it not far easier to be an earnest Christian if you confine your attention to the Bible and do not risk being led astray by the thought of the world? We answer, of course it is easier. Shut yourself up in an intellectual monastery, do not disturb yourself with the thought of unregenerate men, and of course you will find it easier to be a Christian, just as it is easier to be a good soldier in comfortable winter quarters than it is on the field of battle. You save your own soul-but the Lord's enemies remain in possession of the field ["The Scientific Preparation of the Minister," delivered September 20, 1912 at the opening of the 101st session of Princeton Theological Seminary. Reprinted in Education, Christianity, and the State, ed. John W. Robbins, The Trinity Foundation, 1987, p. 53].

Editors' Conclusion:

In some circles, an erroneous view of the Bible's purpose has emerged. It is often overlooked because it seems so pious, but it actually undermines God's revelation by ascribing to it purposes it does not claim for itself. This hyper-sufficient view of Scripture asserts that Scripture is a complete guide for virtually all areas of life-from where to move, to whom to marry, to what career one ought to pursue. Accepting this erroneous view of the Bible's purpose allows a new kind of trivialization of Scripture to take root because the more particular directives discovered by this view are not based on plain readings of the relevant texts. Unfortunately, what some of our readers saw as a caricature in Dr. Gordon's article-"read two verses and call me in the morning"-is a sad reality in some Christian circles.

In addition to the over-emphasis that Rome placed on tradition and church hierarchy in interpreting the scriptures, the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura also set itself against this notion of the Bible as a magical wisdom book. The Reformation reminded the Church that Scripture's primary purpose is to point people to Christ, to tell his story of redemption, and to provide general guidance for Christian life and faith rather than to serve as a sourcebook of proof-texts that can help individual Christians settle the daily details of their lives. As Dr. Gordon points out, the authentic Reformational view of Scripture is presupposed by the Westminster Confession's appeal to the light of nature and Christian prudence for guidance even in the worship and governance of the Church. Reformation views of "common grace" should also come into play here by reminding the Church that there is wisdom outside her confines and encouraging Christians to seek out and appreciate the good work of non-believers.

Modern Reformation erred by allowing Dr. Gordon's article to be more provocative than it should have been. Our choice of title, especially, kept some of our readers from understanding and embracing his central thesis, which we think must be reaffirmed if we are to be faithful to the revealed purpose and intent of the Word of God. We believe that the sufficiency of Scripture is undermined both by making it say more and less than it actually does. We have consistently defended the Protestant Reformation's view of Scripture. Indeed, our insistence on Scripture's sufficiency has characterized our debates with Roman Catholics and evangelicals. We remain committed to sola Scriptura and regret that Dr. Gordon's original article caused some to question his dedication and our dedication to this most central of Reformation doctrines. This is precisely the kind of vigorous discussion we need to encourage in our pages and we thank you for your participation.

Photo of T. David Gordon
T. David Gordon
T. David Gordon (PhD) is a retired professor of Religion and Greek at Grove City College. He has contributed to a number of books and study Bibles, published scholarly reviews and articles in various journals and periodicals, and his books include Promise, Law, Faith: Covenant-Historical Reasoning in Galatians (Hendrickson, 2019).
Wednesday, January 2nd 2002

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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