Thinking Through the Sufficiency of Scripture for Counseling

When it comes to helping persons in the counseling room, Christians who want to provide care must make several important choices about what care looks like before they can help someone. Their answers to these ever-important questions will help shape not only their care of the persons that are coming in for help but will put their entire lives on a unique trajectory. Some of the most important questions that a Biblical counselor must answer are: What is the role of the Scriptures? What does the sufficiency of Scripture really mean? What is the role of the Spirit in the counseling process? What is the role and shaper of progressive sanctification?  Finally, (although there are many more questions) what is the goal of counseling? In this series of posts, I would like for us to consider how Biblical Counseling answers this important question and where it may differ from other forms of care that is practiced in the Christian community.

For the Biblical counselor, everything centers on the question of the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. David Powlison, in his essay, “Cure of Souls (and Modern Psychotherapies)” laid out a helpful way of thinking about the all-important question of the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. He posited that we could divide everyone by asking Are the scriptures comprehensive internally for the care of souls, or is there something that is vital that is external to the scriptures that is required for care? [1] By asking this question he was attempting to cut down on all the noise that is created in the Christian community around the authority of Scripture. Does a person believe that there is something that exists outside of the scriptures that is vital (i.e. that is you MUST have it in order to do care)? If the answer to that is yes, then what care looks like, what the goals of care are, and so on will be dramatically different than the opposite.

Building on that idea, Heath Lambert in his Theology of Biblical Counseling[2] helps us think through four important categories for the sufficiency of Scripture that I would like us to consider. What follows is a condensed summary of the argument that Lambert lays out for the sufficiency of Scripture. As you investigate and consider what it means for the Bible to be sufficient, I would encourage you to pick up his book and read this chapter.

Progressive Sufficiency

Lambert defines this first facet of sufficiency as, “the amount of revelation that God’s covenant people have at any point in redemption history is sufficient for them at that particular time.” Meaning, no matter what point in history you look at God’s people, those people had enough information to live lives that are righteous and pleasing to God. The good news for the church today is that we have the completed word of God! But that does not mean that those who lived in the days of Moses or Elijah would have been sad about what they had.  They rejoiced in God’s word and what was revealed to them. They had all they needed to be pleasing to God.

Completed Sufficiency

In Defining Completed Sufficiency, Lambert says, “Completed sufficiency teaches us that though God was adding to the Bible over millennia, the text of Scripture that we now recognize is completely sufficient.” There will be no more additions to God’s word and the text of God’s word that we have is enough. While God’s children at different times did not have the completed canon (and still it was sufficient for them) now that the Scriptures are complete, we can say that we have all we need.

Formal Sufficiency

Formal sufficiency is a crucial aspect when we consider what does it mean that God’s word is sufficient. Lambert defines this as, “Scripture contains everything essential for its own interpretation.” There can be a belief by some (most notably the Roman Catholic tradition) that argues that you need something more than the Bible and the Holy Spirit for interpretation of the Scripture. A right understanding of sufficiency teaches otherwise. That is not to say, however, that students of God’s word should not pursue training, reading, learning from those who have gone before, and so on. The point is, that Scripture contains all that it needs for its own interpretation. You do not need to bring in other tools to interpret the Bible. For example, a right understanding of formal sufficiency would say, “We don’t need to do archaeology in Israel to know the Biblical meaning of the text.” Can modern digs help us know the story of the Bible better, perhaps more richly? Yes. But the Bible contains all that we need for its right interpretation.

Material Sufficiency

Lastly, sufficiency means that the Bible, “tells us everything we need to know from God about any topic.” It is clear that the Bible is not a book about bridge building, dentistry, or even an exhaustive encyclopedia about what God has done. But what it does tell us is all that we need for life and godliness. John Frame in his book, Doctrine of the Word of God[3] gives us two ways to understand this: the particular and general sense.

First, in the general sense, we have enough knowledge of God’s word and will that dentists, bridge builders, artists, sports coaches and more know how to live a life that is pleasing to God. This is particularly true when it comes to persons trying to provide soul care. The Bible is not a textbook on how to provide compassionate care the way we think about a car having a user manual that will teach you what each button and nob does. However, the Bible has all that is needed in this sense to provide care.

Second, in the particular sense, Frame and Lambert argue that the Bible gives us enough, “precise information for us to actually know God as He wants to be known.” Meaning, there are some things that God gives us a lot more information on, say the Gospel, and what He has told us and shared with us is sufficient.

Why It Matters

Each aspect of sufficiency is essential for the Biblical Counselor to know and understand as they seek to answer the question, “Is the Bible sufficient for counseling?” Some will argue that you need to use extra-Biblical resources to help persons live in a manner that is pleasing to God. But a right understanding (and the ability to articulate sufficiency) will enable you to care for those that God places in your path!

[1] David Powlison, “Cure of Souls (and the Modern Psychotherapies),” The Journal of Biblical Counseling 25, no. 2 (2007): 5–36.

[2] Heath Lambert, A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2016), 44–52.

[3] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg, N.J: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, 1987).

Joshua M. Greiner
Josh has been on staff with Faith since 2010. He graduated from Purdue University with a BA in Political Science (2008) and from Faith Bible Seminary with a MDiv (2013), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with a ThM in Biblical Counseling (2017) and is pursuing a PhD in Counseling from SBTS as well. He serves as the Pastor of Faith West Ministries, the Chaplin of the West Lafayette Fire Department, an instructor with Faith Bible Seminary, and a Fellow with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). He is married to his wife Shana, and they have four children together.