By Kevin McFadden, Louisiana College
In my last column, I explained the meaning of the doctrine of inspiration by reflecting on the word “God-breathed” in 2 Timothy 3:16.
This verse is not only the classic text for the doctrine of inspiration, it is also the classic text for the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.
“All Scripture,” Paul says, is not only “God-breathed,” but it is also “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
Among Southern Baptists, the doctrine of sufficiency is sometimes overshadowed by the controversy over the inspiration of the Bible.
But if we fail to practice the sufficiency of Scripture, then we will have lost the war for the Bible in the Southern Baptist Convention. With this in mind, my goal in this column is to explain what Paul means when he says that Scripture is “useful.” I will do this by asking three questions.
First of all, why is Scripture useful? It is useful because it is “God-breathed,” because it originates from God.
The doctrine of inspiration is not simply an interesting topic for pastors and academics. It is the foundation of Scripture’s usefulness, and it is an anchor for Timothy as he struggles to preach the gospel in the midst of suffering and false teaching.
If the Bible actually comes from God, then Timothy can be sure that it is not irrelevant but is profoundly useful.
Similarly, as we face the pressures of life, we must not be tempted to think that the Bible is not sufficient to address the questions we are facing. This temptation is often subtle.
We can say, “Well yes I believe the Bible of course, but what we really need in the church today is [fill in the blank].” But you see, this kind of talk actually shows that we do not believe that Scripture is useful.
A caveat: I am not saying that the Bible is sufficient to teach us about medical science, farming, or engineering, of course.
I am speaking in the context of the church, which leads to my second question.
For whom is Scripture useful? It is striking to me that Paul first highlights the usefulness of Scripture for Timothy himself. He says that all Scripture is useful to equip “the man of God,” Timothy, for every good work (2 Tim 3:17).
So the Bible is first useful for the minister of the gospel, equipping him to do what is right.
But Scripture is also useful for all other Christians. This is why Paul goes on to charge Timothy to preach the Bible to others: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim 4:2).
But what specifically is Scripture useful for? First, Paul says, it is useful for teaching. The Bible is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15).
In other words, Scripture teaches us the gospel. It teaches us that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah, who died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and now calls everyone to repent and believe in Him to be saved from God’s judgment.
Someone may think, “I already know this gospel.” But Paul was aware that in a world where so many ideas are floating around, we, like Timothy, need to be taught the gospel again. We need to be reminded of the truth we already know and to be informed about aspects of the truth we do not yet fully understand. Scripture is useful for this kind of teaching.
Second, Paul says, Scripture is useful for rebuking.
Although this word may sound harsh to us, we must remember that Paul is writing to Timothy in a context in which false teaching had arisen in the church.
And teaching that arises against the gospel of God, whether in Timothy’s day or ours, needs to be rebuked. Moreover, our own thinking sometimes needs to be rebuked, for false thinking can arise in our own minds.
Here we see that Scripture is especially useful – it rebukes our thinking when it is wrong, and it rebukes false teaching in the church and in the world.
Third, Scripture is useful for correcting. This idea sounds very similar to rebuking, but Paul probably speaks here of the correction of sinful living. In our struggle with sin, we have a means of correction.
And in a world that often calls good “evil,” and evil “good,” we have an arbiter of moral truth: Scripture.
Fourth, Scripture is useful for training in righteousness. How should we live in this world? This is often a difficult question to answer. But Scripture answers this very question – it instructs us and trains us in how to live.
If Scripture really comes from God and is useful to the people of God in so many ways, why would we want to rely on anything else for ministry?
Next question: how can we as Southern Baptists put this doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture into practice?
Let me give three practical suggestions.
First, those of us who are pastors must be committed to preaching the Bible. Our sermons must not be topical, using a verse in the Bible as a springboard to talk about issues we want to address.
Our sermons must explain the meaning of the Bible. Let’s trust that Scripture is useful, that God will use His word in the lives of His people, even if we don’t yet see how. And remember that Paul says all Scripture is useful – both the Old and New Testaments.
Second, we as church members must free up our pastors to study and preach the Bible. What should a pastor be doing with his time? The biblical answer is that he should be devoted to prayer and the word of God (Acts 6:4).
Pastors are not primarily counselors or managers. They are ministers of the gospel. As members of the church, we need to recognize this and free up our pastors to have the time to study and preach it accurately, for our own good!
Third, those of us involved in ministerial education, whether in a college or seminary, must center our teaching upon Scripture. This means that the focus of our curriculum and our faculty should be the Bible and its doctrines.
The need in our churches is for pastors who have understood and been helped by the word of God, and who in turn are able to teach it to others.
Kevin McFadden, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of New Testament and Greek at the College of Christian Studies at Louisiana College.