Sufficient Fire Fallout: Session #1 (Phil Johnson)

In the next several posts, I’m going to “recap” the general sessions from the Sufficient Fire conference. I’m not going to completely reprint my notes or try to give you everything that was shared, point by point. For one thing, I’m sure I didn’t catch everything; more importantly, I want to give you just enough to make you interested in listening to the full conference audio yourself, when it’s available. So what follows over the next several posts are a mix of summary and reaction. My hope is that this will encourage you and pique your interest in studying these things further. Thanks.

UPDATE: Here’s the audio/video. Enjoy!

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I took six pages of notes during Session #1. Six pages. So suffice it to say, Phil Johnson’s talk was full of pithy statements and interesting arguments.

His main text was II Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

Johnson argued that every doctrinal problem in evangelicalism stems ultimately from a departure from the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture: the concept that Scripture furnishes us with everything we need for salvation and godliness. This issue, Johnson said, was the formal issue of the Reformation, and is still a battleground issue today.

The doctrine of Scriptural sufficiency does not mean that Scripture is exhaustive in addressing every subject, or that all knowledge from all areas and disciplines of study can be found within its pages. Rather, when it comes to the issues the Bible speaks to, it speaks with complete and absolute authority. It gives us what we need.

Johnson offered 4 key principles of discussing the sufficiency of Scripture:

1) The Doctrine of the Canon:  “All Scripture”–Johnson described how the canon of Scripture came to be, and clarified some of the misconceptions about how and when it was first acknowledged by the church. He declared that “the Church was the discoverer, not the assembler, of the canon”; that the early church in the first three centuries already saw that the writings of the apostles were divinely-inspired Scriptures, well before any church council confirmed them as such. The Old Testament canon was already complete and in common use, pretty much as we have it today (with a few differences in the ordering of the books), and was affirmed as Scripture by Jesus and the apostles. He closed this section by stating that we can have confidence that we have the full canon because God promised to protect and sustain His word.

2) The Inspiration of Scripture–Here, Johnson addressed the issue of how Scripture was “God-breathed.” He described the process of the writing of Scripture as the “perfect blend of divine sovereignty and human responsibility”–that each author wrote exactly the words God wanted, but using his own voice, vocabulary, personality, and temperament. The Holy Spirit did not make the writers of the Scriptures comatose or robotic; but on the other hand, you cannot deny that God is absolutely sovereign in superintending this process. Johnson quoted II Peter 1:21, in which the apostle Peter describes the writers of Scripture as being “carried along” by the Holy Spirit.  In Matthew 5:18, Jesus claimed that even the tiny meticulous pen strokes of the Law of God were inspired and authoritative.

3) The Authority of Scripture–Here, Johnson argued that, per II Timothy 3, Scripture is not merely helpful or interesting but rather authoritative and binding on mankind. Scripture teaches and corrects, with the authority of God Himself. From cover to cover, Johnson argues, Scripture demands that we obey its commands.

4) The Sufficiency of Scripture–Finally, Johnson spoke of the sufficiency of Scripture. Verse 17 in the Timothy passage makes it plain: the Word of God is all we need to be prepared for every good work. We don’t need additional revelations, fresh words of prophecy, or any such thing. If Scripture is sufficient in and of itself, you don’t need any man to “unlock its secrets” for you by adding their own traditions.  The Word of God is good, perfect, righteous altogether.

This is the big issue that Johnson argued during this first session: Christians will formally affirm the doctrine that Scripture is sufficient for Christian life, but in a practical sense they (we) deny this truth when we seek extra revelations, in the form of “nudges,” “impressions,” “signs,” “fleeces,” or new “experiences.”  We don’t experience God by waiting for a murky mumble in our head that we then have to test thoroughly to make sure it’s actually from God. Either the Scriptures are enough for us, or they aren’t.  (But more on that in the next session.)

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This first session kicked off Sufficient Fire with a clarion call to all professing Christians: either you believe that the Scripture is enough, or you don’t. It’s time to start being honest about which side you’re on. If you believe Scripture is all you need to live a complete and God-honoring Christian life, then it’s time we got about the business of doing just that.

There was a lot more from Phil’s talk that I haven’t included. You’ll need to hear the rest yourself!

Next up: Dan Phillips, in Session #2….

Your Turn: Have you thought about how the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture impacts your perspective on it? Do your words sometimes reveal, either explicitly or implicitly, that you may not believe Scripture is enough? Let’s talk about that in the comments!

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