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How Scripture is Insufficient

ScriptureTuesday I linked to an important article by Carl Trueman about the sufficiency of Scripture. I believe this article is so important that I’d like to highlight a few of his points here.

Trueman makes an intriguing statement in his article:

There is a sense in which we might say that Protestants believe in the insufficiency of Scripture.

A statement like that made on this site would be charged with heresy! What did Trueman mean by the insufficiency of Scripture? (By the way, this reminds me of an article by T. David Gordon, “The Insufficiency of Scripture.” John Piper has also made similar statements.)

What he meant was a point that we’ve tried to make here for a long time: the sufficiency of Scripture does not mean (a) that the Bible speaks to every issue or (b) that if the Bible doesn’t talk about something, then God doesn’t care what we do in that area.

What it means is that the Bible is our supreme authority in all matters. Trueman says it this way:

In other words, to speak of scriptural sufficiency is one way of speaking about the unique authority of Scripture in the life of the church and the believer as the authoritative and sufficient source for the principles of faith and practice.

Trueman further makes the point that even though the Bible does not speak to every issue explicitly, the sufficiency and authority of Scripture imply that it does, in fact, have authority over every issue, no matter what it is. He presents one example:

For example, the Bible may not reference stem cell research, but it contains principles that should shape our attitudes to such.

And, I would guess, he would extend this to music as well.

Finally, Trueman makes a strong case for the regulative principle of worship rooted in the sufficiency and authority of Scripture as well. In other words, although the Bible does not speak explicitly in many areas of Christian living, and therefore it is the Christian’s responsibility to actively apply biblical principles to those areas, what the Bible does explicitly are areas of worship and church practice.

Fourth, in terms of public worship, Scripture is sufficient for establishing its elements: singing of praise, prayer, the reading and preaching of God’s Word, the giving of tithes and offerings for the work of the church, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. As with creeds, Scripture is also sufficient to regulate the agenda and content of sermons, worship songs, prayers, what the money is spent on, who is baptized, and who receives the Lord’s Supper.

A church may not do anything not explicitly sanctioned.

The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is so abused today. It is often used as a trump card in discussions of Christian practice; if the Bible does not explicitly address a matter of debate, we are told, then we may not hold dogmatic positions.

Trueman’s statements (ones we have made for a long time) are a refreshing corrective to this error.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is on faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He has written two books, dozens of articles, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and two children.

15 Responses to How Scripture is Insufficient

  1. Brad says:

    "And, I would guess, he would extend this to music as well."

    I take it you do not know much about Dr. Trueman's musical inclinations.

  2. Brenda says:

    Brad, what are you trying to get at?

    Trueman has an inclination toward the use of Psalm-singing in church. It seems his thoughts expressed in his article would extend to music in the church, meaning he would use the text of the Psalms, but has to inform his use of tunes to accompany those texts with principles from the Bible.

  3. Brad says:

    Brenda,

    You are right. I was thinking of "outside" the church. Since Trueman's quote in question was discussing stem cell research, something pretty much don outside the church, I think it is a fair analogy/question. Especially as the quote is used here.

    It just strikes me as surprising that Dr. Trueman would be used as an example for music here. As you drew out, though, it is primarily his extra-ecclesiastical music I had in mind.

  4. Scott Aniol Scott Aniol says:

    Yes, Brad, I am aware of Trueman's musical preferences. inside worship they make sense with this post (which is what I was referring to). Outside worship Trueman is quite puzzling to me, especially in light of what he wrote here. I'd love to have a conversation with him about this some day!

  5. Brenda says:

    Thanks Brad. I thought that might be what you were trying to get at, but didn't want to assume. And, I agree with Scott — it is puzzling.

  6. David Oestreich says:

    I wouldn't be surprised if Trueman viewed various musical works on a spectrum similar to the following scale of ingestibles: wine and bread>Beef Wellington>fish and chips>crisps and cola>arsenic.

  7. Brad says:

    Scott,

    I agree. It is a curious dichotomy. It seems like two-kingdom thinking: the church has her music and the world has its music and the two are to be enjoyed in their respective settings. That is why I thought it was a little strange that you would apply his argument to music: because it doesn't seem you two would have the same thinking on the matter.

    You should write him, I think he would respond.

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