The biblical counseling movement, while a “big tent” ministry (evidenced by the different associations and educational institutions that use the term “biblical counseling”) unites under the conviction that the Scriptures are authoritative and sufficient. The movement unites under the belief that our “[Triune God’s] divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him…” (2 Peter 1:3). However, this has often been misunderstood by critics of the biblical counseling movement and unfortunately misapplied by those within the movement.
While it is true that Scripture is our ultimate authority (for it is God-breathed and preserved), it is not true that sufficiency means we use only our Bible for the ailments of man. The sufficiency of Scripture can only be applied to those areas God intends. For example, it would be wrong for me to look in the Scripture to learn about the American Civil War. That is a silly and low-hanging example certainly, but the Scriptures are not sufficient to give me the history and the key players in the War Between the States—they were never intended to.
The Scriptures would be sufficient however, to tell me of the “passions at war” that cause “fights and quarrels” (James 4:1-3), which could give me insight into the many unseen intentions in the hearts of man. Again, I use this example to demonstrate that sufficiency is defined by God’s intention behind the Holy Writ. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) is not “Solo Scripture” (Scripture all by itself). Scriptural sufficiency means that Scripture is the only infallible rule of saving faith, knowledge, and obedience, but it does not mean that Scriptures speak about everything. The 1689 London Confession of Faith says it this way:
“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and His will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in diversified manners to reveal Himself, and to declare (that) His will unto His church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now completed.”i
Notice in the confession the statement, “the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God.” That is an interesting statement and one that deserves further investigation. Theologians call this “natural revelation”, and it is limited in that it is not sufficient to give the knowledge necessary for salvation, but it is sufficient in other capacities.
Furthermore, in the Reformed tradition, it is understood that the Scriptures are the “rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience”. The Scriptures preserve and propagate the truth, they establish the Church, comfort the Church, fight against “corruption of the flesh and malice of Satan, and of the world”. So, an intent is laid down regarding the use and sufficiency of Scripture and another revelation, a natural one, is communicated as well.
These revelations have been called by some as God’s “two books” of revelation—the “Book of Scripture” and the “Book of Nature”. Now, a wise biblical counselor should read (and thus counsel) from both books. In fact, in the care of someone created in the Image of God, it is our duty as counselors to read from both books. It is also Protestant and Reformed to read and counsel from both books.
I think of men like Richard Baxter (1615-1691) who was a pastor, and by necessity, a lay physician, who sometimes treated people that he described as having “physiological disturbances, physical diseases, and general weaknesses.”ii There were instances in which Baxter would have needed to look to the “Book of Nature” to address and alleviate the physical sufferings of those entrusted to his care; and at other times he would need the infallible rule of faith—Holy Scripture.
This is but one example from Church history, but think about Scripture’s own testimony for more evidence as well. Consider for a moment this command by God’s Word to be wise. Many people go to counseling to gain wisdom. What are some of the various ways we receive wisdom? Should we picture an isolated Christian in a closet somewhere with his/her Bible as the only means by which wisdom is attained? Certainly time alone in God’s Word is of supreme importance, but Scripture’s own testimony speaks of other places we get wisdom. This is God’s world after all, and so it is only natural that we could search it out for His wisdom. In addition to God’s Word being a place where we acquire wisdom, we get it from the advice of others (Proverbs 11:14; 12:15; 13:1; 18:17; 19:20; 24:6;), and we get it by paying attention to the animals and insects—God’s order of things (Proverbs 6:6; 30:24-28).
In God’s common grace, there is wisdom and truth to be found in places other than Scripture. So, I want to conclude this brief article by encouraging pastors and counselors to read from both “books”—the “Book of Scripture” and the “Book of Nature”; both are revelatory, and wisdom can be found when the “books” are rightly stewarded—righty read and rightly applied. When we grasp this—and by God’s grace, grow in this—we will simultaneously grow in our abilities to truly help other image bearers.
ii Richard Baxter, Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter, ed. Michael S. Lundy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 114.
Joey Tomlinson (DMin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a husband, father, and pastor at a local church in Newport News, Virginia. He blogs regularly on broadoakpiety.org and hosts a weekly podcast called The Broad Oak Piety Podcast with another local pastor in the community.