Yes, the Bible is Sufficient for Dealing with (even) Grievous Sins
A recent Christianity Today article describes the efforts to promote racial diversity in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The article is informative and worth reading in its entirety. But one quote in it jumped off the page (I know that phrase dates me but “leapt out of its pixels” just falls flat). The quote is attributed to Marshal Ausberry, who recently completed terms as vice president of the SBC as well as president of its National African American Fellowship.
The author, Kate Shellnutt, writes, “Ausberry said there are places where critical race theory goes too far and that it cannot be a Christian’s worldview or ideology, but it can still be helpful.” Then she quotes him as saying,
“Some will tout that the Bible is the only answer we need. If that were completely true, we would not have had slavery and racism in America! If that were true, we would not have sexual abuse in America or in churches! Because many of the perpetrators of slavery, racism, and sexual abuse have the Bible,” he said. “Therefore, we need tools that give us insight to identify systems of racism, prejudice, and sexual abuse. Yes, we know ultimately it is sin, but we need tools that help us to identify those detrimental and systemic behaviors that the Bible does not directly address.”
This is an excellent example of one perspective on the role of the Bible in addressing many of the challenges that Christians are facing in the world today. It is a perspective that I find dangerous, untenable, and ultimately undermining to the Christian faith itself. But, it is a view that has gained a strong foothold not only in the Southern Baptist Convention, but in the broader evangelical community.
Ausberry evidently was correctly quoted since he highlighted these very words when promoting the article on Twitter.
This statement betrays a lack of confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture by denying that the Bible is the “only answer we need” when it comes to complex problems like racism and sex abuse. As such, Ausberry’s comments provide an opportunity to identify a great divide that exists among both Southern Baptists and evangelicals more generally considered.
That divide centers on the sufficiency of Scripture. On one side you have those who agree with the historic, orthodox, and Protestant view as expressed in the time-tested Second London Baptist Confession, which says, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture” (1.6).
Of course, this is precisely what Paul teaches in 2 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.” Unless we are prepared to say that dealing with sins like racism and sexual abuse are excluded from the good work to which the Lord calls men of God like Timothy, we must conclude that the Bible is sufficient for dealing with them.
This is God’s world and He gets to set the rules—including the rules of what constitutes justice and injustice, right and wrong, good and bad, and commandments and prohibitions.
Let me state that another way. If dealing with racism and sexual abuse are included in the good works to which pastors and churches are called, then the Bible is “the only answer we need.” At least, that is what the inerrant Word that we all profess to believe says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
But Marshal Ausberry says that cannot be “completely” true. If it were, then “we would not have had slavery and racism in America!” He elaborates, “If that were true, we would not have sexual abuse in America or in churches!” So, the presence of slavery and racism in America and of sexual abuse in churches “proves” that we need “tools that help us to identify those detrimental and systemic behaviors that the Bible does not directly address.”
What makes a behavior “detrimental” if the Bible doesn’t address it? It is at just this point that one of the major problems with the Critical Social Justice movement is revealed. Adherents manufacture sins and injustices and then claim that we need authorities and standards outside of, or as some have claimed, “higher than” the Bible in order to redress these new sins and injustices appropriately.
This is God’s world and He gets to set the rules—including the rules of what constitutes justice and injustice, right and wrong, good and bad, and commandments and prohibitions. So, does God’s Word provide “the answer we need” to the sins of racism and sexual abuse? Certainly it does. James 2:1-13 thoroughly addresses sinful partiality—treating people unjustly and justifying it on your own preferences or what might advantage you the most. What is “the answer that we need” in such situations? “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (see James 2:8-13).
Christ has given the sword of the Spirit to churches to deal with sin through church discipline. He has given the physical sword to the state to deal with crimes through punishment.
What about sexual abuse? The “answer we need” for this sin and crime is found in the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” and in Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17, which teach us that civil authorities are God’s servants to punish criminals. They are servants to which we should appeal when crimes have been committed.
Does this mean that churches in which the Bible is known, loved, proclaimed, and practiced will be immune to racism or sexual abuse? Of course not, just as they will not be immune to any other sin. Why? Because even the best churches are comprised of sinners—redeemed and forgiven sinners, to be sure, but sinners nonetheless who are not yet fully sanctified.
This does not mean, however, that racism or sexual abuse can be tolerated by churches. When that is the case the problem is not with the Bible but with those who profess to believe it and yet refuse to follow its clear instructions on dealing with sin in a congregation (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5). Christ has given the sword of the Spirit to churches to deal with sin through church discipline. He has given the physical sword to the state to deal with crimes through punishment.
Granted, many—far too many—churches in our day fail to practice biblical church discipline. As has been made known, some have consequently failed to deal with sexual sins and sexual abuse as the Bible prescribes. The problem in such cases, however, is not that the Bible is insufficient. It is that the Bible has been disobeyed by those who profess to believe it.
I recognize that Ausberry specifically speaks of “systems” of sin and “systemic behaviors” that the Bible simply cannot adequately identify. As he puts it, “we need tools that give us insight to identify systems of racism, prejudice, and sexual abuse.” Before accepting this conclusion we must ask, how do we know that those things being classified as “systems” of sin are actually sinful? Or another way to put it is this, “By what standard are you making the judgment that these practices, systems, or values are unjust?”
That is a conversation that is worth having. Any attempt to demand the acceptance of nebulous constructs like “systemic racism” or “systems of sexual abuse” before the conversation can begin is futile with thinking people. If you insist that I believe your gratuitous constructs then I will insist that you accept the existence of an invisible leprechaun who whispers eternal truths in my ear.
For those who desire to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8), yes, the Bible is the answer.
If you want to cite data to prove the legitimacy of your constructs then you must be willing to let me examine the nature of the data, how it was gathered, all of the variables, etc. One helpful hint on this point—before simply parroting the standard narratives and statistics that are commonly used to demonstrate systemic racism in our nation, you should read Thomas Sowell’s The Quest for Cosmic Justice and, more importantly, Institute of Public Theology Founding Faculty member, Voddie Baucham’s Fault Lines (which every Christian should read this week!). Important conversations are needed on this subject and Christians should want to have them based on truth, honesty, and evidence.
So, for those who desire to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8), yes, the Bible is the answer. The God who commands us to do these things is the One who defines what they are and the One who provides instructions for us in His Word and power through His Spirit. By that Word and Spirit, He leads us to Jesus Christ, the living Word, who is justice, kindness, and humility personified. He is our sufficient provision and His holy Word is our sufficient guide for what we are to believe and how we are to live.
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