The Sufficiency of the Scriptures

How is the sufficiency of the Bible to be understood?

What My Net Don’t Catch Ain’t Fish

Before proceeding to the five propositions listed above, it is necessary to say something more about the sufficiency of the Scriptures, and how they are to be understood. Chapter 8 of Prophets of Psychoheresy I, entitled “Integration,” deals with the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.

A few of the Bobgan’s footnotes refer to Effective Biblical Counselling; but otherwise it is chiefly an interaction with pages 54-70 of Understanding People. It reveals failure on the part of the Bobgans to come to terms with the meaning of the words Crabb has written. The trouble arises I think, because Crabb has used words such as “directly” and “clearly” to describe what many Christians believe is the way that the Bible should deliver up its truth to its students. They believe it should do so easily, without requiring them to think deeply about it. It should yield its counsel in a way that is “direct and clear” as they, the students, define “direct and clear.” Crabb could have chosen to argue with them over their definition (just as I am doing here), but he does not. He lets the wrong definitions stand because they are the terms that such people usually use to describe their own position. He does not mean that he himself believes the Bible is unclear. The Bobgans show that terms of this kind are their own, when they say,

There is no need to go beyond the direct statements of God in order to address such matters [problems of living]. God deals directly with essential matters of life and godliness.1

From the Bobgan’s perspective, then, Crabb is finding fault with the Bible. They say:

In Crabb’s opinion, the Bible does not clearly deal with questions being asked by desperate people. 2

They have missed the point. He is not finding fault with the Bible; he is finding fault with them as students of the Bible. He does not believe that the Bible is unclear; only that it is not clear in the sense that people such as the Bobgans wrongly define clarity. Nor does he believe that it is insufficient for dealing with problems of living. At one place he gives an example of a young pastor who is baffled by many of the pastoral problems he is meeting in his congregation. Crabb says of him,

The point is that if the pastor had thought through his doctrines from a different perspective, he would feel better equipped to handle the problems he is facing. If the Bible really is sufficient to address a counsellor’s concerns, then there should be no need for psychologists, just better prepared pastors. 3

The context makes it plain that when Crabb says, “If the Bible really is sufficient to address a counsellor’s concerns..,” he means us to understand, “and it is!” But note what he believes the problem is: ill-prepared pastors. In effect what he is saying is: “Martin and Deidre Bobgan and Richard Palizay, you are lazy Bible students. You want the Bible to deliver up its answers to you according to certain rules which are not entirely the Bible’s own rules. Then you find fault with others who find in the Bible what you do not, on the grounds that, ‘What my net don’t catch, ain’t fish!’”4

Misrepresentation of Crabb’s Doctrine

The Bobgans accuse Crabb of “…adding unverified psychological theories and techniques to Biblical data…” 5 That is false, both as a statement of what Crabb does and as a statement of what he intends. Crabb’s position is that,

…counselling models must demonstrate more than mere consistency with Scripture; they must in fact emerge from it. 6

…every question a counselor or therapist needs to ask is answered by both the content of Scripture and its implications. 7

In the section of chapter 8 entitled “A Sufficient Bible Without Direct Answers?”, the Bobgans repeatedly misrepresent what Crabb says in Part I of Understanding People. First, they misrepresent his purpose when they say that in the opening chapters of Understanding People he is attempting to “alleviate the problem of integration” [of psychological theories with Scriptural teaching].8 Understanding People is not an apologia for integration, its purpose is to set out a doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture which shows that psychologists are in principle an unnecessary species. Second, they misrepresent the content of what he says, saying Crabb argues,

… that the sufficiency of Scripture means that it is sufficient as a framework. Then he proceeds to supplement that framework with psychological insights. 9

The first sentence is an incomplete paraphrase of something Crabb says on page 21 of Understanding People, and the footnote for the first and second sentences refers to pages 66 and 67 of Understanding People. I will return to the question of what Crabb means by “framework”, but first the reader should note that the Bobgans commit the logical fallacy of “begging the question” when they say that the insights into human behaviour which Crabb includes there are psychological rather than Biblical. (When the Bobgans talk about “psychological insights” they clearly mean theories that are not supported by the Bible itself, and therefore not true insights at all). As we have already seen, Crabb isn’t presenting his insights as requiring to be derived from outside the Bible (quite the opposite), but a casual reader of Prophets of Psychoheresy I would be led to believe that he is. The Bobgans continue in the same vein when in the next sentence they give a quotation from page 63 of Understanding People, followed by the assertion:

Then he argues that psychology can be used to fill in the direct information to unanswered questions that he regards as legitimate. Repeatedly using the terms directly and legitimate, he attempts to build a case for seeking definitive answers outside the Scriptures. 10

They also assert that Crabb teaches that “one must supplement Scripture with creative thoughts gleaned from psychology.” 11 If you read pages 54-70 of Understanding People (the range of pages footnoted by the Bobgans) you will find that he is teaching no such thing. The Bobgans’ claims mislead their readers about what Crabb actually says there, because the Bobgans insert into everything Crabb says their own wrong view of what he means.

The Scriptures as a Framework

When Crabb says,

If properly approached, the Bible is sufficient to provide a framework for thinking through every question a counselor needs to ask, 12

the Bobgans seem to conceive of him as teaching that the Scriptures are a structure with holes in it – God has provided the building’s skeleton, so to speak, but we have to shop a
t a different lumber yard to buy the panels to fill in the walls and make a complete house of it. This is not Crabb’s teaching. He believes that what we need to know is comprehensively contained within the Scriptures, but not always in so many words in a verse somewhere. We have to use our minds if we are to benefit from the full riches of the Bible’s wisdom. Let me draw a parallel. 13 The law of Moses contains the ten commandments, but it also contains about six hundred minor laws which help show us how to apply the ten commandments in the complicated situations of real life. God did not give Israel an exact minor law for every situation that might arise in life. That would have required millions of laws. He gave them enough, though, so that if they thought through what He had given, they would be fully equipped to deal with everything else. 14 In a similar way, the Bible gives us some simple statements about mankind and sin and sanctification, but it also gives us pictures of real sinful people engaged in real, fallen life. If we are to fully understand the propositional truths that the Bible gives us about human affairs, we must also exercise our minds about the supplementary illustrations. It is the Bobgans, not Crabb, who are more likely to bring alien thinking to the scripture. They are in danger of falling into the kind of error that Jesus condemned when he opposed the Jews’ perverted doctrine of the Sabbath – a perversion they had come to because they had isolated the Sabbath law from the wider context of Scripture.

The Pattern Gives You the Answers

In a lecture on the subject “How to Read an Old Testament Narrative,” Dr Noel Weeks has said:

….very seldom do you find the Old Testament historical writers telling you specifically what their purpose is in writing….

We are told that Abraham planted a tree… Why is the planting of a tree a significant piece of information?… That’s the sort of question that is posed to you by the Old Testament, and the author doesn’t help you by saying, “Because so and so, and so and so,” …his planting a tree is an act of faith, but … you get that conclusion only if you ask yourself, “What are the themes being developed? What’s the repetition pattern? What’s important to the author?….

The Biblical text often isn’t explicit [with its judgments]… It’s assuming you’ll get the point that’s being set up by the repetition….

[In] the books of Samuel you get … once more, repetition and contrast… a contrast of people….

…points can be made not just in the big sort of contrasts … but in looking at what sort of people are together….

This is characteristic, that you won’t get ethical comment because the pattern gives you answers. 15

In that lecture the insights that Dr Weeks draws by way of illustration from the O.T. historical narratives have to do with the great themes of faith and of godly kingship. I believe that the Holy Spirit has placed material there in just the same way to enlarge our understanding of the doctrines of man and sin. 16There are lessons to be learned about these doctrines in the contrasts between Saul’s family and David’s, for instance. Similarly, the book of Nehemiah communicates what manly godliness looks like, not by telling you in so many words, but showing you a godly man facing repeated difficulties; and so on. Only when this material is coupled with the propositional truths also found in Scripture can a full-orbed doctrine of pastoral counselling emerge. Trying to develop a doctrine of pastoral counseling from only the propositional statements of the Bible is like trying to apply the Ten Commandments without paying attention to the Pentateuch’s case laws. As the quotations from Dr Week’s lecture demonstrate, the Holy Spirit teaches us that we must take notice of the patterns and contrasts of Scripture, not just its words in themselves. We must learn to ask, “What’s going on here?” Only as we do so do we begin to find all the Bible contains. The Scriptures are sufficient but their practical sufficiency is fully revealed only to those who come to them with this kind of question in mind. 17

The Fallacy of Simplicity

In a commentary on the great doctrinal controversies of the first millennium of the Christian era, the author notes:

An ancient and persistent danger is the fallacy of simplicity… While certain basic doctrines of the Bible are uncomplicated ones, the Bible as a whole is not a simple book, and it gives no warrant for passing over its complexities to dwell on its simplicities, because both aspects are inseparably one…

The first four ecumenical councils faithfully declared the complexity of the Biblical faith with respect to certain doctrines… 18

Those particular doctrines were the Trinity, and the two natures in the one person of Christ (that is, Jesus Christ was truly God and truly man). The Bobgans understand the complexity of Scripture in respect of those doctrines, but they need to learn that it is also more complex than they think in the matter of pastoral counselling.


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1 Bobgan (1989) p. 120

2 Bobgan (1989) p. 115

3 Crabb (1987)p. 67.

4 I am being blunt here, not to be discourteous but because Dr Crabb’s critics have not understood the challenge that was contained in own courteous words.

5 Bobgan (1989) p. 112.

6 Crabb (1987) p. 29.

7 Crabb (1987) p. 62.

8 Bobgan (1989) p. 114.

9 Bobgan (1989) p. 114.

10 Bobgan (1989) p. 114.

11 Bobgan (1989) p. 115.

12 Crabb (1987) p. 21.

13 This is my analogy, not Dr Crabb’s, but I think it appropriately illustrates the kind of use Dr Crabb makes of the Scriptures.

14 There is a useful discussion of the structure of Biblical law in Noel Weeks, The Sufficiency of Scripture, chapter 2.

15 Lecture delivered in Auckland, N.Z. A cassette tape of the lecture is available from Mustard Seed Tapes, P.O. Box 153, Pukekohe, New Zealand

16 I do not know what Dr Weeks himself thinks about Dr Crabb’s material. I am not trying to use him personally
as a witness on Crabb’s side. What I am saying is that the thoroughly orthodox doctrine of the interpretation of the Scripture which Dr Weeks presented in the lecture I have referred to, also extends to and must be applied in the development of our doctrines of harmatiology and poemenics, and this is just the kind of thinking which Dr Crabb does and which his critics fail to discern.

17 When Dr Crabb speaks of “questions” in pages 54-70 of Understanding People, he means questions that life provokes us to bring to the Scriptures. When Dr Weeks talks in his lecture about questions, they are questions that should be provoked in our minds by the structure of the Scriptural passages themselves. Thus the word “question” has a somewhat different application in the two places. However, my argument does not depend on Dr Weeks and Dr Crabb using the word identically: only on the point that Dr Weeks establishes, that a process of questioning is necessary if we are fully to understand the Scripture, since not all its truths are delivered as propositions. Furthermore, the questions that the Scripture provokes us to ask are always questions that our experience of life causes us to expect to have fruitful answers – there is always inherently a conjunction of life and Scripture in those questions that the Scripture stimulates us to ask about itself. What Dr Crabb does, is to allow life to provoke him to bring to the Scripture a wider range of questions than has previously been customary, and to expect fruitful answers, as we see him doing in pages 163-164 (for instance) of Inside Out.

18 Rushdoony (1968) p. 96f.

© 2009, Matt. All rights reserved.