Sufficient Fire Fallout: Session #6 by Phil Johnson

UPDATE: Here’s the audio. Enjoy!

=====

Phil (may I call you Phil?) was planning on preaching a sermon on Psalm 19 that he gave a few weeks earlier at GraceLife, but decided instead to finish the general sessions by following Frank’s lead (always a risky proposition) and sharing some of his own story. I won’t recount it all here except to say that Phil was doing in the 70’s what many in the evangelical church are doing today: paying lip-service to the Gospel but seeking social salvation in political action.

Phil began with the idea that the sufficiency of Scripture is vital because the Gospel and the Gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation. The Gospel message does not need to be added to, propped up, or laid on any foundation of works or relationship or social action. 

The text for Phil’s sermon is the text that was instrumental in his own conversion: I Corinthians 1:21.

Phil notes that there were lots of problems with the motley crew in Corinth, but rather than abandoning them as a lost cause, Paul points them back to the Gospel. What Paul preached was simply the Gospel of Christ crucified.

The Gospel is the only thing that will address the moral decay of any culture.

We should notice in verses 18-21 the absolute contempt that God has for the wisdom of the world. In fact, the great thinkers of the age are in trouble, because their human wisdom is ultimately foolishness (I Cor. 3:18-21).

A great quote at this point: “I’ve never seen a political ideology really change anyone’s life for good.”  SELAH.

The only effective answer to the evils of this age is the undiluted Gospel.

Notice 3 things in I Corinthians 1:21 and following:

1) There is a worldly wisdom that can never save. The world did not know God through its own wisdom; it’s only through the Gospel that we can know god. The political programs of the world cannot change the hearts of people. If righteousness could be brought about by legislation, the Gospel would be superfluous.

2) There is a heavenly “foolishness” that does save. The most potent weapon against the sins of society is the message of the Gospel. Paul is teaching against the dominant philosophy of American evangelicalism here, by dismissing the idea of shaping church to meet the desires of the culture.  Is that effective in transforming lives? No! And the Bible says not to do this!

In verses 22-23, Phil notes that if Paul were following our contemporary church growth experts, he would have given a sign to the Jews and wisdom to the Greeks, because that’s what they were looking for (it was their “felt need,” if you will). Instead, we must give them all the Gospel–the opposite of what they are demanding.

3) There is a divine strategy to keep the two distinct (v. 28). The reason evangelicalism is such a mess right now is that the churches are full of false converts responding to bad strategies instead of believing the undiluted Gospel. For the Church in America to be effective in transforming lives, we need to get back to the thing that the apostles were teaching–the good news of our crucified and risen Lord.

=====

This was a great way to end the general sessions, and a great message to come away from the weekend with.

For things in the American church to change, we have to get back to the core of our message: the idea that the Word of God is the true and trustworthy revelation of God, which gives it full authority over our lives and our message. In it, we have the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

I’m deeply grateful to Phil, Dan, and Frank for their time and sacrifices to make Sufficient Fire a reality, and I know that many lives have been blessed and strengthened as a result. 

Thank you for reading, and I hope these posts have been a blessing to you as well.

When the conference audio is available, I will update all of these posts with the link, so stay tuned.  It’s up! See the link at the top of the post!

Sufficient Fire Fallout: Session #5, “This Word and No Other–Tell Me How” by Dan Phillips

UPDATE: Here’s the audio. Enjoy!

=====

Pastor Dan Phillips’ second session began by repeating the statement that hit home from Session #2: “Scripture only knows 2 categories: Word of God, and not-Word-of-God. There is no middle category.”

From there, Dan (may I call you Dan?) began working through the Scriptures to answer the question, “HOW do we experience God?”

First, in the Garden of Eden, man’s first experience with God (aside from perhaps his first conscious moments) was through God speaking to Adam. God gave him a name, gave him a job, and related to him through words.

In Genesis 3:8, after the man and woman had sinned, they hid from God when they “sensed” His presence.  It took God’s words to reestablish the relationship.

In Genesis 15, “the word of the Lord came to Abram.” God is being quoted 2 times in this chapter.  (A few notes about this: Dan comments that in verse 3, after God tells Abram to count the stars, if he can, there seems to be a narrative pause, as if God is giving Abram a moment to actually try counting. That’s why we learn Biblical languages, folks; for cool stuff like that. Well, that and proper exegesis and handling of God’s word, of course.)

In verse 6 of Genesis 15, the text shows an example of Abram’s faith—God spoke and Abram believed. The verb for “believe” has the same root as our word “Amen.” So, Dan continued, what we have is Abram “amen-ing” God’s declaration and believed God, God Himself.

Throughout the Bible, Dan continued, we are shown that we must take God’s Word and believe it, in order to be saved.

In John 1:1, Jesus the Word makes the Father known; He mediates our relationship to the Father.

In John 5:24, Jesus says he makes the Father known when we believe His words.

In John 20:30-31, John writes that these words of his gospel have been written so that we, the readers, may believe. In essence, John’s gospel is essential to come to saving faith!

Then Dan moved into the book of Acts, which he has already argued could rightly be called the Acts of the Word of God going forth and being believed.

[At this point, regrettably, I had to step out of the room, so I missed some of the notes here. That’s why you should definitely check out the conference audio when it’s available! I’ll post a link here in the future.]

In the story of Lydia in Acts 16, God opened Lydia’s heart to hear Paul’s words. God spoke to her through the apostle.

In Romans 10:13-17, the Scriptures teach that a person must believe what they have heard of God’s word being preached in order to call on Jesus and be saved.

In I Corinthians 15:1-11, Paul preached the Good news that was handed down, and if the people continue in his teaching, they will be saved.

In Galatians 1, Paul talks about preaching an explicit and exclusive Gospel.

Throughout the New Testament, it becomes clear that the miracle of regeneration is considered a greater miracle than even the healings, and it is done through God’s Word.

Dan then went on to discuss how we walk with God, by taking us to Deuteronomy 6:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV)

First, we receive objective truth: God is one.  Then, we have a subjective response: we love God. How do we love the one God? We fill our lives with His Word!  In fact, the Old Testament does not give example of anyone who loves God but does not love His Word!

Psalm 19 and 119 demonstrates that people who love the Word of God are full of life and joy.

In John 8:31-32, Jesus says that everyone wants to be set free from the power of sin but no one can be set free without being a disciple of Jesus. How can we be Jesus’ disciples? By abiding in His Word!  Discipleship is ultimately about continuing in Jesus’ Word. In John 14:15, Jesus says plainly that if you love Him, you will obey His commandments. In verses 21-24, He goes on to say that intimacy with God comes from obedience.  The form that love for God takes in our lives must be obedience to the commands of God.

In John 1:1-3, the apostle writes that the way you have fellowship with God is by the teaching of the apostles (which has been conveyed to us in the New Testament).

In Colossians 1:27-29, Paul says “we preach Christ,” as if Christ Himself is reaching out personally through the teaching. Notice also that Paul confronts as he teaches, because he wants to present his hearers to God as complete and mature.  How do we mature our hearers? By preaching Christ and by teaching and admonishing everyone.

In Colossians 2:6 and following, Paul says that as you received Christ, continue to grow in Him. We received Christ by grace through faith that comes from hearing the word of God, and so we grow in it just as we were taught!

There is no need for a “new word”! What we have is all we need!

What is the scope of Scripture, according to Scripture?

It describes itself as:

  • God-breathed (II Timothy 3:16), by the Holy Spirit
  • Spirit and Life (John 6:63)
  • Living and active (Hebrews 4:12), which means it’s blasphemous to say the Bible is a dead book
  • Firmly fixed in heaven (Psalm 119:89)
  • Truth (John 17:17)
  • Righteous forever (Ps 119:44)

Whom does Scripture address?

  • Men and women
  • Husbands and wives
  • Singles, divorced, and widows
  • Slaves and masters
  • Pastors and churchgoers
  • Many others

Which means that any reader fits in at least one of those categories.

What does the Bible say it does?

  • Leads me to saving faith in Christ (John 20:31)
  • Gives life (Psalm 119:50)
  • Gives light (Psalm 119:30)
  • Actively works in the lives of believers (I Thessalonians 2:13)
  • Reveals the path before us (Psalm 119:105)
  • Gives us council (Psalm 119:24)
  • Warns and rewards (Psalm 19:11)
  • Builds us up
  • Makes us holy
  • is the Joy of our hearts
  • Gives understanding
  • Keeps us pure
  • Teaches us what and how to think, shows us where we’re wrong, puts us back together, and trains us (II Timothy 3:16-17)

What does the Bible talk about? 

I can’t tell you, because at this point, my hand cramped up so bad I had to stop for two minutes.

How do the Saints of God regard Scripture? They delight in it, love it, treasure it, meditate on it, and tremble before it.

No exemplary saint of God in Scripture is shown to be dissatisfied with Scripture and seeking after “more.”

And if that weren’t enough, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, treated Scripture with the utmost reverence, and we should do no less.

Everything I need, the Bible says it does.

If God is my greatest good, Scripture provides everything I need to know God, love Him, and live for Him.

If the Word of God is not enough for you, Phillips concluded, then the solution for you is not to look for a new or additional word—it is to repent and believe that Scripture is what it says it is: fully sufficient for godly life.

=====

And I say amen and amen.

Sufficient Fire Fallout: Session 4 — “The Normal Christian” (Frank Turk)

UPDATE: Here’s the audio. Enjoy!

=====

Day 2 of Sufficient Fire was a crisp gorgeous Saturday morning. After a delicious Chick-fil-a biscuit for breakfast (what better way to start another day of Bible teaching, than with blessed chicken?), I made my way into Copperfield Bible Church for Session 4…during which, Frank Turk made me cry.

Frank’s second session of the conference was entitled “The Normal Christian.” Following the theme of his first talk, Frank focused on what the Scriptures show to be the expectation for a normal Christian life.

Frank’s sermon was punctuated with elements of his own testimony, including the ministry of a pastor who drove an hour or so to see Frank and mentor him through the very early stages of his faith.  Frank recounted, through tears, the faithfulness of that man of God and his love for Frank, his wife, and their future children, as this minister poured into them and discipled them. As I listened, I found myself touched emotionally too—partly for Frank’s sake, and partly because I started to realize that I have missed opportunities to be that person to someone else.

Like that minister who cared for Frank and his family, the Apostle Paul lived to make sure that his people lived as if the Gospel was true—because it was and is true!  Paul’s goal wasn’t just to make sure his flock could answer all the theological questions properly.

Our goal, Frank said, is to live as if the Gospel is true, because it is. This is not theoretical or academic theology. It’s practical. Unless you live the way it should cause you to live, you do not believe the actual Gospel. You certainly don’t believe the same Gospel that Paul gave his life to proclaim.

The book of Titus gives us Paul’s secret sauce for how to explicitly live as a Christian. (I loved this line.)

Paul could have rounded up a “gospel coalition” of Top Men from Thessalonika to bring them back to Crete and straighten things out. Instead, his instructions to Titus were to find men of character and teach them to have good character. He didn’t just say “teach good doctrine”; he said, teach what accords with (or corresponds to) sound doctrine—meaning, how they live.

Paul tells Titus that a “normal” Christian life will involve the following elements:

1) A Heavenly Vision (Titus 2:11-14)  He’s talking about the Gospel here. If the Church doesn’t have the Gospel, then who does?  The Gospel is the only difference between the church and the world, and the only motive we have for being different from the world. Without the Gospel, you are just someone doing what’s right in your own eyes. The book of Judges lets us know how that approach to life turns out.

2) A Human Purpose (Titus 2:1-11)  These are all things you must do with other people who have the Gospel. You can’t do the “one anothers” of the New Testament by yourself. We demonstrate with your lives what it means to be saved by Jesus, and we demonstrate it in community. Obedience is not just obeying the rules; that’s mere compliance. True obedience is wanting to please God.

3) The Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-7)  The Holy Spirit is poured out on us, just like John the Baptist said, just like Luke describes in Acts 2. Paul shows that when this happens, it produces justification, regeneration, and renewal. In regeneration, something completely ruined has been made completely new, returned to its original perfect state, and is once again fit for use.  Renewal is not just an update, or Version 2.0—it’s total restoration and maturity. It’s a transition between what we once were and what we’re meant to be.

4) Humble Effort (Titus 3:8)  Paul says that the people must be careful to devote themselves to good works.  There were people profiting from the Gospel  during this time, and Paul warned Titus and the church to beware of such men. Even in our day, we are in danger of equating success, money, and fame as being evidence of “fruitfulness” and good works.  But it was the scribes and Pharisees who loved the fame and position of teacher, but they did not live out the Law in their lives, foregoing the “weightier matters” of justice and mercy, as Jesus said.

5) Hated by the World (II Timothy 3:10-13)  This element of the “normal Christian life” isn’t explicitly stated in the book of Titus, but Frank rightly thought he should add it to the list.  Paul’s instruction to Timothy is that the “normal” Christian life will be opposed by the world. The persecution Paul’s describing here in Timothy is actually listed out in Acts 13 and 14.  Paul tells Timothy that it will always be normal to suffer for obeying and following Jesus. It is unusual (and even dangerous) for a Christian life to be free from worldly opposition.

Frank closed out his sermon by stating that people who have been reborn of God are able to love others because Jesus loves those others.  If we cannot love others for the sake of the Gospel, we do not have the Gospel.

===

This session just killed me. I’ll tell you why.

I teach a Sunday School class of about 30-50 singles in their 20’s and 30’s.  I say 30-50 because the number of people who show up week-to-week fluctuates greatly.  Rather than becoming more invested in the individual lives of the people under my care, I’ve focused on teaching and hoped that other people in “leadership” in the group would work on building relationships. I just got married last year, so I told myself that I just don’t have the type to really pour into the people around me. My goal was to teach sound doctrine and be welcoming and winsome toward everyone who visited, but I haven’t had much skin in the game for the last year or so.

Paul’s example here shames me, and his instructions convict me. I am in the middle of teaching a series on having sound doctrine, but I have to be honest: I don’t know how well I’m teaching the people around me to live a day-to-day life that accords with sound doctrine. I haven’t been pouring myself out enough to serve them well or love them well. There are still people who have visited my class several times and I barely know their names.

Another goal, moving forward, is to love people because Christ loves them and died to redeem them. I should care about them enough to get to know them, so that I know how to care better for their souls. This is my ministry. I’m not their head pastor, but I have a chance to know them much, much better than their head pastor can. My role is one of a shepherd, and my job is to love the sheep that have been entrusted to me, not just give them wise guidelines about what grass is safe. That’s part of it, but that’s not all of it.

So, thanks, Frank. God’s used you to point out how much I need to grow as a Sunday School teacher. And I really, really appreciate that.

Sufficient Fire Fallout: Session 3–“The Normal Church” (Frank Turk)

UPDATE: Here’s the audio. Enjoy!

=====

If Phil and Dan knocked my mind out with a one-two punch of knowledge, Frank Turk hit my square in the solar plexus. He didn’t use mere emotionalism or guilt-based manipulation. He just proclaimed the truth: if you believe the Gospel, you will love the people in your church. If you don’t love the messy, frustrating people of your church, you don’t have the Gospel.

I need to start, though, by saying that Frank Turk reads the Bible in public the way I think that Paul intended when he told Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture. Turk read the text with passion and urgency, as a herald instead of a scholar or teacher. He commanded your attention with the words he was proclaiming. That’s the first lesson I’m taking away from this experience.

Turk preached from I Thessalonians 2:3-13, a passage in which Paul was commending the church at Thessalonika for their faithfulness, love for each other, and devotion to the truth. Paul describes in this passage the way a church ought to work, based on the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. A healthy church has four things:

1) Proclamation of the Gospel–The normal church has been entrusted by God with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sharing this Gospel creates a family under God.

A great (and convicting) line from this point: “You can’t just use historical Latin phrases to improve lousy theology.” (In other words, just because you claim Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean you live it out.) Turk argues that we must love the people we evangelize enough to disciple, mature, and train them. Like Paul, we are called to toil with and over the people we bring to Jesus. Which leads to…

2) Pastoral Care–A picture of this is in Proverbs, as Solomon seeks to train his children. Paul also reflects this here in his first letter to the Thessalonians, when he refers to himself and his fellow laborers as having both paternal and maternal feelings toward this flock of believers. Pastoral ministry is not a career move or a money-making scheme; it’s about forming the people you’ve been entrusted with by giving them yourself and investing yourself in them. As Paul demonstrated practically that what he was saying was true, the people of the churches started living as though they believed it was true too.

3) Personal affection and concern–In the normal life of the local church, we ought to be part of each others’ lives. We ought to love and share ourselves with the people of our church in a Gospel-driven way; that is to say, our love and self-sharing is born out of a brotherly affection that recognizes fellow sinners who have been saved by grace and are being remade into the image of Jesus.

4) “Perfecting” the Gospel–There are necessary consequences of the work of the Gospel in our lives. We make what is there “perfect” or complete by adorning the message with behavior that confirms that it’s really true. We also “perfect” the Gospel through corporate worship, collectively affirming what is true and beautiful about our God.

In this passage, Turk says, Paul pulls the cover off the ordinary to reveal the extraordinary. He argues that the Gospel compels us to a “normal” life that is worthy of Christ. The Thessalonian Christians “turned the world upside-down” by “normal” Christian lives of love, good works, and Gospel truth. (Great line from Turk,  at this point: “Huh. Someone should write a book about about that.”)

The “normal” church is not a social club, trade school, or book club.  Our churches must be places where people suddenly “get” what the Gospel is about, in the lives of the people of God, who are living out the reality of Jesus and that He is ALIVE and at work in the lives of His people.

===

And, as they say, “boom goes the dynamite.”

This message hit me hard. I’m a Sunday School teacher, and have been for almost a decade. And I have to be honest, folks: I’m tired. I’m ready to step back for a bit. As I said previously, there was part of me that questioned whether or not I should even pursue ministry as a full-time vocation.

Frank Turk’s message about a “normal” church family hit me hard because I realized that I have not consistently or properly exemplified what a “normal” church member looks like. I haven’t loved my people well. I’ve tried, but I fear that in recent years, ministry fatigue has made my love grow a bit cold, turning pastoral care (even at the Sunday School level) into duty. In my effort to maintain right balance and good boundaries since getting married, I wonder if I’ve perhaps pushed people a bit too far away, becoming a bit too jealous of my time. In the last year, I don’t know if I’ve taken enough time to invest in the lives of the people in my care. I know my time and energy is limited, but I wonder if I could have been doing more. It’s hard for me to know where the line is. I want to take care of my wife and meet her time-needs first, but it may be that I’ve used her as an excuse not to connect to others more. I don’t know the answer. But I need to ask the question.

So my takeaway from this message is: I want my love for the Lord and my gratitude for what He’s done in me and for me fuel my love, compassion, and willingness to give of myself for the good of my church family. I want to be a “normal” church member, one who truly shares their life with their brothers and sisters.

After this message, I tweeted out that my heart felt like a rung bell.  I didn’t realize it would get rung again the next morning…

=====

Your Turn: How has your church family shown characteristics of a “normal” church? How have you? Comment below!

Sufficent Fire Fallout: Session 2 (Dan Phillips)

UPDATE: Here’s the audio. Enjoy!

=====

This session was entitled, “This Word and No Other–Tell Me Why.” Like Phil Johnson before him, Dan Phillips argued that the sufficiency of Scripture is the central issue of our day. He proceeded to cite 3 really well-known evangelical pastors/authors, who have recently talked about the need for “getting a word from the Lord.”  One of these is the duo of Henry and Richard Blackaby, most well known as the authors of the mega-hit devotional study series, “Experiencing God.” Phillips reported that the Blackaby’s have argued (in his contribution to a book called How Then Should We Choose? **) that hearing the “still small voice” of “God” in your heart, and then testing to make sure that word was from God, is a normal and necessary part of mature Christian life.

Phillips flipped the table on this assumption by making a counter-claim: The whole Bible should tell us if we need anything outside of the Bible, in order to have a normal Christian life. He then began a tour-de-force through the Scriptures, starting from page one, and argued that every time God spoke to and revealed Himself to men, it was verbal and it was unmistakable.

I can’t even begin to hit all the high points here, but it was masterful. Highlights:

  • In regard to the Ten Plagues of Egypt: “The experience of Joe Egyptian [living miles down the Nile from the palace] makes no sense if he didn’t hear the words of God.”
  • Are the miracles the most important part of the Exodus from Egypt? No, because they aren’t reenacted every year. Rather, during the Passover celebration, the faith is transmitted every year through words.
  • Never once does anyone have a relationship with God by impressions, feelings, or misty ideas that need to be tested.
  • The prophets prosecute Israel by holding up the revealed word of God and declaring what the people are doing wrong.
  • Notice the prophets always say, “Thus says the Lord.” [As opposed to, “I think this is what God put on my heart, maybe…”]
  • In Joshua 1:8-9 and Psalm 1:2, the blessing of God is upon the one who meditates on His words
  • Why did the Sermon on the Mount impress the listeners? Because of the authority of the teaching Jesus delivered verbally.
  • The book of Acts can rightly be called the Book of the Spread of God’s Word, because over and over it says that the word of the Gospel of Jesus spread and was received. It wasn’t the miracles that changed people’s lives, but the word of God proclaimed.

In summary, Phillips said that the entirety of Scripture divides specific “revelation” into two categories: God’s Word, and Not-God’s-Word. God’s Word is powerful, inerrant, and carries the full authority of God, demanding our belief and obedience.  The canon of Scripture, he says, is either open or it’s closed. If it’s open, then God’s still giving inerrant, universally binding words; if closed, He is no longer giving them. The very idea of an “errant, non-binding word from the Lord” is a completely foreign concept to Scripture (and can be rightly called anti-Scriptural). The tenuous, subjective impressions that many Christians try to assign as “the leading of the Spirit” have no authority in Scripture and are never described in Scripture as being legitimate.

The New Testament, Phillips concluded, is manifestly final. Scripture is fully sufficient for us to have a relationship with God. And when people elevate their subjective feelings and experiences, and canonize them with “God told me,” they elevate the meaningless while cheapening the true revelation of God.

=====

Both Phillips’ and Johnson’s sessions really gave me a lot to think about. Though I haven’t done so lately, I know there have definitely been times in the past where I’ve assigned divine origin to my thoughts/feelings/impressions, or times when I’ve looked for “signs” to get God’s stamp of approval before making decisions. But I find Phillips’ exhaustive survey of God’s revelation in Scripture to be compelling. There is no record of God mumbling his revelation in which the human receiver of this “impression” needed to decipher it. It’s just not there.

So. Two sessions in, and I was feeling mentally exhausted already. There was so much to consider from just those two talks. So I wasn’t prepared for the punch to the chest in Session #3…

Your Turn: What do you think about Phillips’ argument that the Bible gives no credibility to anything outside of God’s clear revealed Word? What counter-arguments would you mount to this assertion? Is there something you think he’s missing? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

**Correction: This post noted previously that Phillips was referring to an argument the Blackaby’s made in “Experiencing God.” This was a misunderstanding on my part that has been corrected above. Thanks.

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!

=====

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.)

=====

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!

Sufficient Fire Fallout: Initial Thoughts/Reactions

I attended the Sufficient Fire conference on Friday and Saturday of last week, and truth be told, I’m still reeling a bit. So much information. So much good teaching. I didn’t attend all of it (just the 6 general sessions), but I took about 30 pages of notes and my mind and heart were sufficiently overwhelmed by the end of it.

I’ll post some choice quotes/paraphrases from the sessions this week, but I wanted to start with a bit of an overview and some feedback.

The conference consisted of sessions taught by Phil Johnson, Dan Phillips, and Frank Turk, who blog(ged) collectively at Pyromaniacs. (Phil has retired from blogging, but his posts are often reposted for the benefit of current readers.) This blog has been an incalculable benefit to my growth as a Christian, and as a Christian thinker.  Dan is a pastor here in town, so by God’s providence, they decided to host their very first conference here, for free, about 30 minutes from where I live.

The subject of the conference was the sufficiency of Scripture: how the canon of Scripture is complete and fully sufficient for Christian life, and how extrabiblical “revelations” or “prophecies” or “experiences” are not only unnecessary but downright dangerous and even damning. Throughout the six general sessions, the speakers demonstrated what the Bible consistently teaches that God interacts with mankind through His Word(s), and that these communications require the proper response. The truthfulness and trustworthiness of Scripture has ramifications and repercussions on the conduct of our lives and the content of our message.

So what did I get out of Sufficient Fire? First and foremost, it gave me a renewed and refreshed love for God’s word. Hearing the Word read publicly and preached so passionately filled my heart with joy. Secondly, the conference challenged me to love people more, especially in the Church and double-especially those who I’ve been given the responsibility to serve. Most importantly, I think this conference served to remind me of what’s really important, how the message of the Gospel of Jesus is more important than any other endeavor I could pursue with my life.

I’m still working out the implications of this, but: for the last few months, I’d been starting to doubt my desire and commitment for the ministry. I’ve been reading and listening to the work of several types of creatives, writers and entrepreneurs and artists. The draw of a writing career grew more and more attractive. Meanwhile, I found myself growing weary of the idea of lifelong church-work.

The two days I spent listening to and interacting with faithful ministers and churchmen reminded me why the work of a pastor is so vital, and why the message of the Gospel is worth spending my life and energy to proclaim. This is not to say that writing won’t be a part of that; God made me a writer, and words are my gift and my tools for doing what He has made me to do. But if my words only serve to build my platform and advance my name and reputation, they would be worth nothing and would benefit no one. If my hope is to write blogs and books that change lives, my words must be in service of a greater message than the fancies of my imagination. There is only one message that will change the heart, the life, the world: Jesus died to save sinners.

My hope is that I’ll never grow tired of proclaiming it.

=====

I’ll post notes from the individual sessions this week. As soon as the audio/video from the conference has been posted, I’ll link it here.