Do We Need More than the Bible for Biblical Counseling?

This question lies at the heart of one of the debates surrounding the sufficiency of Scripture in the Biblical Counseling movement.

This is a tricky question because it’s so easy to caricature any answer other than a straightforward “No” as sinful Bible-undermining compromise. “See, he says the Bible is not enough. He says the Bible is not sufficient, etc.” So let me try to take some of the heat out of the debate by asking another similar question about a related and (hopefully) less controversial domain: “Do we need more than the Bible for biblical preaching?”

 

“Do we need more than the Bible for biblical counseling?” This question lies at the heart of one of the debates surrounding the sufficiency of Scripture in the Biblical Counseling movement.

Every Biblical Counselor I know of accepts that non-biblical sources of knowledge can be helpful in counseling. Even Jay Adams admitted this at points. The debate is not about whether sources of knowledge such as science, sociology, etc., can be helpful. The debate is usually about whether they are necessary. The pressing question then is: “Do we need more than the Bible for biblical counseling?”

This is a tricky question because it’s so easy to caricature any answer other than a straightforward “No” as sinful Bible-undermining compromise. “See, he says the Bible is not enough. He says the Bible is not sufficient, etc.”

So let me try to take some of the heat out of the debate by asking another similar question about a related and (hopefully) less controversial domain: “Do we need more than the Bible for biblical preaching?”

Is the Bible enough?
The simple and instinctive answer most of us would offer is “No.” But let me ask you to pause and think a bit deeper and longer about it and see if the simple answer is perhaps a simplistic answer.

Yes, some have preached excellent sermons and all they have used is the Bible. Church historians could probably provide some examples of men whose library constituted one book: the Bible. They preached the Word, God blessed it, people were saved, and saints were edified. “Do we need more than the Bible for preaching?” Examples such as this would suggest no.

So, why is it that when we go into pastors’ studies today, their shelves are packed with books from every area of knowledge: theology books, Greek and Hebrew grammars and lexicons, biographies (sacred and secular), Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, church history, maps, fiction, social studies, modern ethics, critiques of the cults and false religion, analysis of modern trends and issues, politics, business, leadership, psychology, pedagogy, and so on. We also find their computers packed with software of various kinds that are central to their sermon preparation.

Let’s enter a study and ask one of them: “Do you need more than the Bible for preaching?”

He pauses, thinks, then answers, “No and yes.”

Confused, I press for clarification: “What do you mean?”

No and Yes
He replies: “No, I don’t need more than the Bible for preaching, in the sense that I could preach a sermon using only my Bible from start to finish and look to the Holy Spirit for help and blessing. However, I would probably have to stick to really simple texts and my sermon would probably be quite basic.”

“But yes, I do need more than the Bible for preaching, in that I could miss some crucial insights if I don’t know the background and culture of both the biblical text and of the people I’m preaching to. I could misinterpret Scripture if I don’t know how to do Greek and Hebrew word studies or if I don’t know the fundamentals of Greek and Hebrew syntax. I could confuse people if I didn’t follow the rules of logic and rhetoric in my presentation of my sermon. If I didn’t read outside of the Bible, I wouldn’t know the philosophies, errors, and heresies of the day that I should be counteracting and I wouldn’t know the problem areas of modern living that I should be applying the Word to. I wouldn’t have access to the sermon illustrations that I’m always picking up from reading books on the social sciences, popular biographies, cultural problems, etc. But I still need to look to the Holy Spirit for help and blessing, just as much (if not more) as if I only had a Bible.

“In summary, no, I don’t need more than the Bible for basic preaching of basic texts at a basic level. But yes, I do need more than the Bible if I really want my sermons to have maximal effectiveness, especially in long-term ministry, especially when preaching difficult passages and books, especially when addressing modern problems, and especially when it concerns issues that impact not only the soul but the body and the way the mind works.”

A compromiser who needs to repent?
This pastor insists that non-biblical sources of knowledge are more than just helpful for preaching; they are necessary. They are necessary if he wants to do maximum good to broken people in a broken world.

Is he undermining the sufficiency of Scripture? Has he abandoned the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura? Is he unfaithful? Is he a compromising integrationist? Has he contradicted what the Bible claims for itself? Does he need to repent? If the Bible alone was good enough for pastors in the past, why is it not good enough for us today?

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart Hand, and is used with permission.