Spring Convocation with Dr. Jason Allen

Posted January 21, 2020 by Matthew Hines


Amen. Thank you so much Dr. Swain. I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles this morning to the book of 2 Timothy. We will be looking at chapter three verses 15 through 17, 2 Timothy chapter 3 verses 15 through 17. We shall get there eventually, but it shall take a while to get there. But you can be turning there nonetheless. This morning we are thinking together about the sufficiency of Scripture. I began, during December commencement, a series entitled “Truths Worth Contending For” and in that setting we considered biblical inerrancy together. The inerrancy of Scripture. This morning we consider the sufficiency of Scripture and it’s good that we do so this day. Convocation, like commencement, is a major day for any institution- for any seminary. It’s an occasion for us to come together and to recommit ourselves to first things, to our convictions, to our callings and to one another in this confessional community.

And in this context we are considering this series: “Truths Worth Contending For.” We shall see topics as we have seen—inerrancy and sufficiency—and in coming occasions: topics like the exclusivity of the gospel and the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ and many other similar topics. And these are truths, I believe, that are worth contending for. I’m not arguing that these are the ten most consequential truths or even 10 of the most consequential truths, but that they are important and particularly timely given our ministry moment. The idea of contending for the faith, or contending for truth, we find in that little New Testament epistle, Jude, where Jude writes, admonishing us to contend earnestly for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. I remind us this morning that to contend is a word of activity, a word of struggle, at times a word of conflict.

It conveys ongoing action, to contend continually. When we transliterate that underlying Greek word into the English word, it comes to us as “agonize” or “agonizing.” And it’s a sign of what it means to be a faithful Christian minister. Throughout the years and over the decades we will find ourselves in different contexts, contending for the faith. It is a good work. It is a noble work. It is an essential work. It is the work people like us in places like this are to be about doing. That is who we are. That is what we are to be about. We are to contend from the Scripture and on days like today, we contend for the Scripture. Now as I’ve been reflecting on our time together this week in the commencement sermon I preach, in the sermon that bringing to you today, my mind just went back to a little book that made a big splash in the 1980s in Southern Baptist life. A little book by a man named Clayton Sullivan entitled “Called to Preach, Condemned to Survive.” To think about biblical inerrancy, and to think about these topics like the sufficiency of Scripture, one has to go back. One typically goes back in a Southern Baptist context to the 1980s and 1990s and the great struggle this convention of churches had over the Bible; “The Battle for the Bible” as it was known. Clayton Sullivan’s book showed up in the Southern Baptist Convention in 1985 when it was originally released, and the book was, unwittingly, a boon to the conservative cause because it clarified and evidenced just what the denominational controversy was all about, yet reflected on by one of the liberal’s own. The book is something of a personal memoir by Clayton Sullivan. He reflects on his departing orthodox Christianity and how it happened. As a young man, in 1950s Mississippi, he feels called to preach and he sets out doing just that. He did so something as a young firebrand preaching the gospel and pounding away from the Scriptures arguing for the fundamentals of the faith. Feeling the need to be trained, he moved to Louisville, Kentucky to attend Southern Seminary, and of course then Southern Seminary was marked by Theological Liberalism. Faithfully, Sullivan writes of his final conversation he had with his father before he went to seminary. He says this, “I remember the last words my father said to me. That morning we were standing by the driveway waving goodbye as I was pulling away from the house into the morning light. He said, ‘Son, whatever happens, don’t let them change you.'” This parting word of admonition would prove ominous for Sullivan in short order he would be changed and certainly not for the better. Tellingly Sullivan recounted the crumbling of his faith in this memoir. And he writes this: “As a seminarian still in my mid twenties I found myself baffled. I was more certain of what I did not believe than I was of what I did believe. Southern Seminary had destroyed my biblical fundamentalism, but had not given me anything viable to take its place.

“That’s the weakness of the historical critical method,” he reflected. “Its power to destroy exceeds its power to construct.” You see, to deny biblical inerrancy takes something out of students that nothing else can replace. To deny biblical inerrancy takes something out of men and women of the faith that nothing else can replace. But I thought today was about sufficiency and December was about inerrancy? It is. But I believe, and I would argue this morning, that if to deny inerrancy takes something out of students, to deny sufficiency fails to put something in them. If to deny inerrancy takes something out of Christians and out of ministers, to overlook sufficiency fails to put something in them. Denying inerrancy removes one’s confidence in the Bible. Under-emphasizing sufficiency fails to put something in you: a fuller, more robust, more perennial confidence in the Bible.

And if I were Satan and wanted to do harm to people like you and places like this, here’s how I would go about it. I would observe that inerrancy is so deeply entrenched in Southern Baptist life, and so commonly held, and is so universally agreed upon, that to tackle inerrancy head on might be a losing proposition. But to undermine scripture subtly by distracting from the sufficiency of Scripture, by undermining the sufficiency of Scripture, might have the same effect; yet be far more likely to pull off. To give up inerrancy is perhaps a bridge too far. To deny Scripture a bridge too far, but to selectively ignore it, selectively neglect it, selectively undermine its sufficiency? That could do similar havoc, indeed does do similar damage in the body of Christ. A subtle undermining of sufficiency questions the relevance of Scripture, the completeness of Scripture, the adequacy of Scripture, the power of Scripture.

So this morning our task is to consider sufficiency and what it is and why it matters and how we may apply it. So what do we mean by the sufficiency of Scripture? Well, if you read the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 you will hear sufficiency in the article under Scripture, but it’s frankly more overheard than heard because the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is written most especially to tidy up and to tighten up our definition of inerrancy. Nonetheless, sufficiency is reflected there in that article; but, perhaps more specifically we can look to the Second London Baptist Confession, which helpfully states this under sufficiency: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation, or the traditions of men.”

Let me read that again. Reflect on it with me. “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation or the traditions of men.” Perhaps most helpfully we can look to the apostle Paul’s description of sufficiency, which I believe is what verse 17 of 2nd Timothy chapter three is. After documenting the malaise that is the church in chapter three, and the malaise that is the world in chapter three, and what fallenness looks like, what moral decadence looks like, Paul moves to the power of Scripture and he reminds Timothy in verse 14 of the things that he had learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom he had learned them. That is the Scriptures that he learned from his mother and his grandmother, then of course from the apostle himself. Then in verse 15 of chapter three he reminds him that from childhood he knew the sacred writings, the Old Testament we can place there. Timothy knew these things and they were able to give him the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus. The Scripture is sufficient to save. Then in verse 16 Paul writes, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” now verse 17, “So that in light of the Scriptures with the Scriptures, the man of God,” here referencing the minister, “May be adequate, equipped for every good work.” So we can describe sufficiency this way- that the Word of God, the inspired, inerrant Word of God is given to us and with it the man of God, the woman of God is adequate, equipped for every good work.

The Scriptures convey all truths necessary for Christian living and Christian ministry. Now to be clear, sufficiency does not mean Scripture teaches everything we can or need to know about every topic of life. Of course not. You can search the Scriptures until Jesus comes back and not find much on modern medicine, instructions on how to fix your car’s transmission. You can look day and night and never find instructions on how to sync your iPod, or prepare a gluten free meal, or anything else like these things. So the point is not that it is inappropriate or unwise to look beyond Scripture. The point is that the Scriptures bring to us the essential realities, the essential truths for Christian life and Christian ministry. Sufficiency does not negate general revelation, but it right-sizes it. Nor does sufficiency deny supra-biblical knowledge, but it does put it in its place.

Moreover, this morning I want us to be reminded not only of this in an abstract sense, but to behold the beauty of the Sufficiency of scripture. Sufficiency is a doctrine ministers can rest in. It’s simplifying, it is emboldening, and it is beautiful. Sufficiency is built upon inerrancy. Notice what we see taking place in chapter three; and I won’t rehash the commencement sermon, but again, we should meditate for a moment on chapter three and verse 16 in particular- this great declaration on the truthfulness of Scripture, on the power of Scripture. Verse 16, “All Scripture is inspired by God. All Scripture comes to us by way of God. Scripture comes to us literally from God’s breath. It’s given to us by God and we believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture; that the words themselves in Scripture are inspired. Not merely the authors or not merely the thoughts behind the author but the words themselves are inspired; and not merely some of the words but but all the words.

Verse 16, “All Scripture.” Of course here this is an immediate reference on the text that was, but we look at this with a sense of anticipation as the New Testament canon and the biblical canon is coming together in complete form. So it is given to us by God and we have seen and we argued in December of the inerrancy of Scripture that it is true. It is inspired by God. God is true. God does not speak error. God does not speak falsehood. God is a God of truth. God’s Word is true and it is given to us and preserved for us in truthfulness.

It is inerrant. It does not err. Moreover, it is infallible: it is incapable of erring. This we believe. Then notice verse 16 the profitability we see here. It’s profitable for teaching, for teaching us Christian belief: doctrine, the truths of Scripture, how to live the Christian life, what Christians are to believe. And for reproof: to correct our errant thinking, to correct our errant belief. And then for correction and training in righteousness: how we are to live the Christian life, how we are to glorify God in our bodies, how we are to honor Christ in our lives, and correcting us when we don’t.

Then rolls up in verse 17 with this promise, “In order that, so that we may be adequately equipped for every good work.” You see, brothers and sisters, an errant Bible is an insufficient one. A Bible that is not without error is a Bible that is not sufficient for Christian ministry. Inerrancy gives us a sufficient Bible because inerrancy created a sufficient Bible for us. And sufficiency built upon inerrancy. Sufficiency rooted in the Reformation, the doctrine of sola scriptura comes to us with this sense of the sufficiency of Scripture in tandem with it. Sola Scriptura meaning that Scripture alone is our final authority for our lives and for the church. Not our only authority, but our final authority. Since God’s Word is inspired and true, it comes to us as our sufficient authority. Our authority over tradition or Popes or councils or, in our day, over personal experience or preference or pragmatic expediencies. Scripture is the norma normans, the determining norm, the standard, the benchmark, the plumb-line for us, and since it is true and it is our only final authority, it comes to us as sufficient as well. But if you reflect on this passage and these words by Paul, in light of where Timothy is it, seems simpleminded. It almost seems oddly, no pun intended, insufficient. Think about what is the malaise that Timothy is experiencing. Think about what is Paul’s circumstance: in prison, awaiting execution. He has lived a long and faithful life and a fruitful ministry and he knows the end is near. Timothy is weak, vacillating in the faith. He is unsettled personally. Defections are taking place around him. People are apostatizing, truth is being slurred, false accusations abound. And what does Paul tell Timothy to do in light of this? What is Paul’s counsel to a son in the faith who is so pivotal to second generation Christianity? He points him to the Scriptures? To the truthfulness of Scriptures? To the sufficiency of scripture? Paul, is that all you got to give us? Is that all you have to give Timothy? That the Scriptures are God’s Word? That they are sufficient and that you are therefore to bring them to bear on God’s people–chapter four verse one and following?

Paul, you’re the apostle. You wrote thirteen New Testament letters. You’re a man of much ministry, accomplishment, much ministry experience. Surely you got more to give Timothy than that.

There is nothing more to give because he does not need to give anything more. He points Timothy to the gospel, to the truthfulness of Scripture and to the sufficiency of Scripture. For us in ministry moment and for every generation of Christian ministers, is it not good and fitting and right to again and again reassert and re-prioritize the sufficiency of Scripture? Our churches may need much, but what they need most of all is the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Our children may need much, but what they need most of all is the teaching of God’s Word. Our communities may need much, but what they need most of all is the preaching of God’s Word. The sufficiency of Scripture. Now, is this just like an isolated passage here or is this a theme, a topic that shows up in different places in Scripture? The latter is definitely the case.

Time will not permit us to go to all these passages, but if you read places like Deuteronomy 8:1-20 as God’s faithfulness to his children is being reiterated and review there he comes back again and again and says, “But you don’t live by bread alone, but by the Word of God.” We look to places like Psalm 19 which I read, but here again a few of the verses from Psalm 19, “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring 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. The judgments of the Lord are true, they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold. Yes than much fine gold, sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. By them, your servant is warned and in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Equip me of hidden faults? Also keep back your servant from presumptuous sins? Let them not rule over me, then I will be blameless.” In Romans 15:4 Paul tells us, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us,” referring to Scripture, “So that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide, we have hope.” 1 Peter chapter one we read that we have been “purified, we are being purified by obedience to the truth, which teaches us a sincere love for each other to love one another deeply from the heart for after all, we have been born again not of perishable seed, which is imperishable [sic], but through the living and enduring Word of God.” The sufficiency of Scripture. Now having reflected on sufficiency from a biblical standpoint, let’s reflect together on some common substitutes. Substitute number one for sufficiency: tradition. Most especially in church history of course we have seen these excesses in the Roman Catholic Church, but our own evangelical traditions certainly pop up. How many poor pastors have been about to engineer some helpful change in the church to be told, “But that’s how we’ve always done it”? Sufficiency leaves room for tradition, but it prioritizes it. It puts it in its place. After all, there are worst justifications then “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” but it could just mean you have been persistently in error, right? So tradition often crowds out sufficiency. Secondly, personal preference often crowds out sufficiency. I have heard a time or two in local church ministry, something like this said, “Pastor, I know that’s what the Bible says, but..” And in that moment, I always want someone to sneak up behind me and quietly put a bullet in my head because it pains me so greatly to hear someone say, “I know that’s what the Bible says, but…” But personal preferences do run a muck. Personal preferences so very often shove and push and pull the church in directions. Personal preference. Substitute number three, more commonly: mysticism or personal spiritual experiences. “God told me to do this; God said this to me; God spoke this to me.” We would do better to use phrases like, “I believe God is leading me.” The more we are in Scripture, yes, the more our intuition, our subjective inclinations, and our spiritual senses are shaped by Scripture and thus more likely to be in accordance with Scripture. But if you hear someone say something like, “Well God told me we should do this,” and it doesn’t line up with Scripture, shoot off warning flares in the sky. That is not good. Fourth: modern therapy often crowds out the sufficiency of Scripture. We live in the therapeutic age. For matters of soul care we look to Scripture. Here we must be careful and we must be humble for there are medical issues obviously that arise and when those, do medical care and prescriptive care are certainly appropriate. For spiritual issues, issues of soul care, we look to the ministry of the Word and the Spirit and our ministers and our church family. And we certainly admit that those two categories are not always tidy ones are they? And at times it’s not always clear what exactly is going on in the mind or heart of a person, and the complexities of sin and fallenness and all the different ways that shows up. So we speak carefully, we walk humbly, but we don’t apologize for believing that we can’t medicate our way to spiritual health, much less spiritual maturity. Fifth common substitute: modern science. Science doesn’t validate Scripture. Scripture validates science. Again, the Bible primarily is not a science book, so we’re not looking here to reflect on the theory of relativity or quantum physics or the fourth law of hydrodynamics or anything else. But the Bible is true and when it speaks to issues, it speaks with truthfulness and sufficiency. So we are not, as Christians, frantically waiting for a telescopic observation to confirm Scripture for us.

We are not desperately waiting for the archeologist spade to turn over one more artifact corroborating Scripture. We believe Scripture is true and sufficient and we come to it giving it muscularity to push, to pull, to inform, to instruct us. Finally, vain philosophies are substitutes. They show up in our lives and in our churches. Culture presses in on us. Ideas shape us in profound, yet often imperceptible ways. Whether we realize it or not, we are operating downstream from culture, downstream from media, downstream from ideologies. And thus we challenge every ideology, every vain thought we seek to bring captive to the Word of God. Now wait a minute. At this point, I can hear the strawmen arising, taking up arms, marching in my direction. I can hear the red herrings mobilizing, presenting the rare, “but what about” instances. I also hear, faithful Christian brothers and Christian sisters of goodwill, Bible-believing and gospel-loving individuals who like me are trying to work through often complex and urgent issues at what seems to be the speed of light in a way that’s biblically faithful. And in moments like this, you may be asking, “But why?” or “How?” or “What about?” I say this not to suggest spiritual superiority or necessarily even a higher view of scripture, but if I err I want to err in trusting too much in God’s word, not too little. I want my defense of the faith and the sufficiency of Scripture to err in being too active, not too passive, too vigorous, not too impotent.

As for me, I’m willing to stand before the Lord having in this life, taking his Word too literally, too seriously, too authoritatively, too sufficiently. I aim not to stand from the opposite vantage point. So seeking to pull this together and by way of ministry application, reflect with me quickly here; exactly ten ways Scripture is sufficient. Number one, to know God and his Son, Jesus Christ. That’s our story, our conversion. We were born again through the preaching of the gospel, the teaching of God’s Word, the Word of truth, the Word of life. Both in our own personal experience but also as we seek to win disciples, to make disciples, to win converts for Christ we bring the Scriptures to bear. Secondly, to call and to confirm us in ministry. We look for the scriptural standards and we look to the local church to assess how we measure up to those standards. Our call and confirmation of ministry are not something that we derive in and of ourselves. Number three, to grow us in Christ, our sanctification, maturity, to make us complete. The Scriptures are sufficient for that. Number four, for ministry service and ministry faithfulness. This is our tool. This is our weapon. This is our instrument that we use. And the quicker that we resolve and we settle that God has given us his Word, the quicker we can rest in that and ministry won’t just be about a never ending quest to come up with the next great idea to give us a little more momentum in our church or ministry. Scripture is sufficient to help us engage cultural pressures, vain philosophies, issues that come at us. We judge those things by the Scriptures. Six, the Scriptures are sufficient for ministry initiatives and strategies. How we do what we do, we look to Scripture to inform that. Seventh, as I already intimated, the Scriptures are sufficient to inform our counseling and our soul care, our spiritual formation. Number eight, to direct our worship. We look to Scripture and what it tells us that we are to do in public worship, to pray and to sing songs and hymns and spiritual songs and to read God’s Word and to preach God’s Word. Ninth, we look to Scripture as our sufficient guide for ethical and moral norms. We don’t look to culture to tell us what is biblically appropriate or morally appropriate, sexually or in any other category. We look to God’s Word. And tenth, Scripture is sufficient for us to know and follow God’s will.

And I say to you this morning knowing that some of you, perhaps many of you agonize daily over what you ought to be doing with your life. And if we were to read the Bible more carefully, we would see the big issues of life the Bible tells us quite plainly what we are to be doing in our lives, how we are to live, how we are to seek his will, how we are to be growing in Christ, how we are to be winning others to Jesus, the big issues of life that we should be wrestling with the Bible speaks plainly to. As I have been reflecting on this sermon and these verses in this passage, I recently was reflecting anew on the story of Charles Templeton and Billy Graham. And some of you know that story, but it’s a compelling and instructive story. Charles Templeton was born in 1915. He professed faith in Jesus in 1936 and became an evangelist the same year. Well, 1945 he met Billy Graham and the two became friends, close friends, and they often roomed and ministered together in ministry contexts. And many people who knew the two looked at Charles Templeton and thought his ceiling was higher. Seemed to have more charisma, seemed to be brighter, more persuasive preacher, and many thought that Charles Templeton is the one who would emerge as the great evangelist of the 20th century above and beyond Billy Graham.

Well, by 1948 Templeton’s life and worldview were beginning to track a different course than Billy Graham’s. He began to have doubts about the Christian faith and he planned to enter Princeton Theological Seminary to work through some of these issues. Needless to say, that did not go so well. Less than a decade later, 1957, he would publicly declare that he had become an agnostic. In 1996 he released his own memoir entitled, “Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.” He recounts a little story with Billy Graham that is instructive. He says, “All of our differences, Templeton writing here, “All of our differences came to a head in a discussion which, better than anything, I know explains Billy Graham and his phenomenal success as an evangelist. In the course of our conversation, I said, ‘But Billy it is simply not possible any longer to believe, for instance, the biblical account of creation. The world was not created over a period of days or a few thousand years ago. It has evolved over millions and millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation. It’s it’s a fact of science.’ ‘I don’t accept that,’ Billy said, ‘And there are reputable scholars who don’t accept it either.’ ‘Who are these scholars?’ I asked. ‘Men in conservative Christian colleges?’ ‘Most of them, yes,’ Billy said, ‘But that is not the point. I believe the Genesis account of creation because it’s in the Bible. I’ve discovered something in my ministry. When I take the Bible literally, when I proclaim it as the Word of God, my preaching has power. When I stand on the platform and say, ‘God says,’ or ‘the Bible says,’ the Holy Spirit uses me. There are results. Wiser men than you or I have been arguing questions like these for centuries. I don’t have the time or the intellect to examine all sides of these theological disputes, so I’ve decided once and for all to stop questioning and to accept the Bible as God’s Word.’ ‘But Billy,’ Templeton protested. ‘You cannot do that. You don’t dare stop thinking about the most important question in life. Do it and you begin to die. It’s intellectual suicide.’ ‘I don’t know about anyone else,’ Billy Graham said, ‘But as for me, I decided that’s the path for me. I believe the Bible is the Word of God.'” For each one of us, there comes a point in time where we must believe the Bible is the Word of God. I trust for all of us in the room today, we have come to that point, but as we answer, “yes,” there’s a second deliberation we must have and that is this: Is the Bible sufficient? I believe it is and I trust you do as well. Let us pray. Our Father, we come to you this morning and we pray this morning that you would give us a renewed sense of confidence, of trust in your Word. Help us, Father, not only to believe in its inerrancy, but also its sufficiency and not only to believe in its sufficiency, but to be willing by faith to rest in that. Permit that to simplify our lives, to liberate our ministries. Father, we pray for ourselves at the beginning of a new semester that we would be men and women of faith, men and women of your Word, who day to day, week to week, we practitioners of the sufficiency of Scripture. Pray this in Jesus name. Amen.

 


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