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The Sufficiency of Scripture

Truth In Love 425

A Primer on Sufficiency

Jul 31, 2023

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I am delighted to have with me my friend, Dr. Abner Chou. In 2022, he was elected to president of The Master’s University, serving there as interim president for a year. Prior to that, Dr. Chou also serves as a professor of biblical exposition and languages at The Master’s University. He’s a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and Society of Biblical Literature. He’s written a book on a biblical theology of vision, a commentary on Lamentations and Deuteronomy and a book on hermeneutics. He was the head translator for the Legacy Standard Bible and is currently involved in writing a commentary series on the Old Testament. He serves at Grace Community Church as an elder over Sojourners, a fellowship group that focuses upon the Old Testament, and he enjoys reading, hiking, traveling, drawing stick figures and spending time with students, and of course his family, and the Lord has blessed Abner with an incredible wife and ministry partner, Johanna, and four children: Nehemiah, Naomi, Meital and Hannah. Brother, I’m so grateful for you and the work that you’re doing here at TMU and you spending some time with me here on the podcast today.

Abner Chou: The honor is all mine. Thank you for all the ministry you do.

Dale Johnson: Well, brother, and the partnership historically between TMU and ACBC, I’m so grateful for that. I’m so grateful for the work that you guys continue to do. And I think I can honestly say, as a school, I mean, I teach at a different school, Midwestern Seminary, but as a school, The Master’s University historically has supported ACBC and taught faithfully the Scriptures and biblical counseling for years. And I’m so grateful for that. And so grateful for your vision to see that continue here. So, it’s always a joy to be with you. 

Abner Chou: Yeah, the feeling is truly mutual because it is driven by a foundational conviction. We stand together, bound together by our understanding and total determination that the Scripture is absolutely sufficient. And we will die on that hill because we believe with all of our heart that the Bible is the truth, the Word of God that frames everything and founds everything in life. And so, I’ve just so enjoyed the partnership with ACBC and with you personally, because we are so like-minded and a kin and every time were together whether it be on podcast, or before the podcast interacting afterwards, the interactions are just so sweet because of our unity in Christ and Scripture. 

Dale Johnson: Amen, and I agree. And before we get off talking on tons of things, you reminded me we’re supposed to be talking about sufficiency of Scripture. So what I want to do for our listeners is I want to make sure that they know you appropriately and so Abner, I want you to just give a few minutes for those who don’t know you, I want you to share a little bit about your story, your testimony and how that testimony has shaped your view of sufficiency of Scripture. 

Abner Chou: Yeah, gladly. I grew up in a Christian home in the providence and mercy of God, accepted Christ at a young age because of the consistent witness and gospel proclamation of my mother to me. Though I had accepted Christ, I grew arrogant because I began to memorize a lot of the Bible for all the wrong reasons. I was involved, probably a lot of your listeners will know, in AWANA, which is a good ministry to help young people memorize the Bible, I guess and I did it for all the wrong reasons. And I wanted to get AWANA shares and get a sparky doll, which still sits in my parents home and my kids pointed out and just say, hey, you are foolish. And this is the symbol of your folly. And I said, yeah. That’s right kids. And I memorized the Bible the wrong way because of bad motives because of greedy motives, frankly, and I memorized it as if it was a formula, I never knew what it meant. And in fact, growing up I even said to somebody one time, who asked me, would you ever want to teach theology growing up? And I think the question is hilarious. Now knowing what I do, but back then, I said, well, biology is the study of Iife, sociology studies society, theology is the study of God. I don’t know anything about life or society, but I know everything there is to know about God. So why bother read the Bible or study? I know everything, but it illustrated, you know, a bad heart and what ended up happening is in the providence of God, I went to a public school where the teachers knew the Bible better than I did and they convicted me because I couldn’t defend it. They were deconstructing it all in front of my face, but I couldn’t fight back because I didn’t actually know the Bible. It exposed my faulty understanding of Scripture. So, I went back home and I asked my mom how do I study the Bible? And she had been praying for me for years every single day that I ask that question and upon doing so, she said you’d get a book of the Bible, read it every day for a month. And then, let’s talk.

So I started with James five chapters, started reading through, started thinking about the whole faith and works thing. And I started realizing this is complicated, this is rich. I thought the Bible is boring. I thought the God of the Bible was pretty shallow, and I knew everything, and all of a sudden, I realized Christianity, the revelation of God was sophisticated, it made sense, it dealt with everything and that the God of the Bible, He’s not just a nice guy. He is God, transcendent, and on high, acts as God because He is God, totally sovereign, totally autonomous, totally the Creator with all of authority and sovereignty in the entire universe. And He demonstrates that on so many levels. And this story that we read in Scripture, all the stories are not about us. They’re about Him driving everything and all these things started to come together, as I started to read the Bible, And in my heart I said never again, I will never let anybody under my watch think of the Bible’s boring. I will never let anyone under my watch. Think that the God of the Bible is just this trifling being, He is God, He is Triune, transcendent, holy, and I want everyone to understand that and how all this shapes sufficiency is I had a perception growing up that the Bible was absolutely insufficient. It was the most shallow, weak, limited thing which also was my view of God. But then when I actually read His Word seriously, I realize the polar opposite is the truth that this book is the foundation, the ground, the determination of all reality because our God is transcendent above all reality. He’s the Creator over it, and therefore, He dictates with His autonomous completely sovereign will all things in this world and when I understood that, then there’s worship and there’s love for Him and true fear of Him. And that’s what I want to instill in my students. And that’s the view of sufficiency, not gained by experience, but gained by the Word of God. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah. It’s speaking into a point of crisis in your life, right? Where you’re hearing and this is not an uncommon experience. I think especially with our college students who are going off to different places and they’re hearing their faith deconstructed. They’re hearing the Bible that they say, they trust in deconstructed and not many of them are maybe as fortunate in their point of crisis in dealing with this, and maybe they don’t see the beauty of the sufficiency of Scripture and they start, you know, chasing after other ideas and that sort of thing. And that sort of leads me to ask a question, maybe about some of the challenges that young people face. I mean you teach a Christian University, I teach at a seminary that has a college as well. Abner, how do you see some of the challenges that young people face today and then we’ll tether that into the sufficiency of Scripture as well?

Abner Chou: Yeah, it’s such a good question, and you’re absolutely right that the Lord in His mercy, allowed me to be in a home when I was in middle school and high school. And people were asking me these questions that pushed me back into the word of God, which is all-sufficient and that’s not always afforded to every individual. We recognize that, and in a college situation, on one hand, life seems so complicated. There are all kinds of struggles, temptations, ideologies, applications and reactions that college students have that are far different than when any of us were in school of how people handle pain and stress, social media. And we could talk about all of those differences. But here’s what I’ve also discovered on the other hand, that the underlying issues are always the same, that the fundamental fights that have to be, one for people to live godly are always the same, it always goes back to, and I teach a class on this issue, the called Essentials of Christian Thought, which grounds bibliology as the first topic, it always goes back to what do you believe is the truth? And what is truth? And do you really acknowledge that you know you don’t know, and that someone else has to tell you otherwise you can never figure it out on your own?

The book of Job illustrates this. Job and his friends were trying to figure out for so many chapters. But what happened in his life and none of them ever got close to ever saying, well, I think this is because in heaven God challenged Satan and wanted to use you for His glory in this way job. So just hang in there and this is all going to be good and God’s going to use you never was that said by Job or his friends because the only way you would know that is if you were in heaven. And the only way truth can be known is if heaven reveals and that’s why Job in Job 28 says, where can wisdom be found ultimately only one place. The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom Job 28:28, why? Because God alone knows. So you have to go to the one who actually knows and when you fear Him, and listen to Him with total submission and surrender, then you actually become wise because you actually start listening to the one who knows what he’s talking about. And that’s the humility we need. And that’s the struggle of every college student is to embrace that kind of submissiveness and understanding and awareness of self and Scripture. And when that happens, then all the other issues start to come together, whether that be broken homes, whether that be wrongful sinful habits, whether that be challenges in personal life, in social media, whatever you list out, the Word of God then works itself out there, because they have an anchor and a starting point to deal with everything.

And so, on one hand, the challenges they’re much different than they were before, on the other hand, while that externally and superficially is true, on the other hand, they’re really the same and that universality where you bring people back to God and the Scripture and they start to see how that works out in their life attests that the Scripture is sufficient. Because it tells you eternal truth, which is both truth that never changes and it lasts forever. And these are not just the issues of sometime. There are the issues of all time. 

Dale Johnson: I love the way that you put that because it really is a consistent question that was asked from the very beginning, did God really say? And it’s often asked the question, did God really speak to that complexity that we experience today or did God speak to this complexity? And it becomes a question did God really say. So, we are looking for His truth, it just depends on where we’re looking. We believe the Bible is sufficient to answer those particular questions as you demonstrated, as it relates to life, starting with the fear of the Lord.

Now, as we get into sufficiency, that’s not new to us, ACBC. We talked about this idea of, you know, all the time. However, sometimes defining terms, I think, is critical for us to do that and make sure that we define it appropriately. So, I want to, you know, want you to sort of flesh out how you see and understand the sufficiency of Scripture. I mean, this is an important doctrine not just for ACBC but for the church, really as a whole. Do we believe the Word is sufficient to answer the problems of living and the problems of life? And how it’s not just how we think about God, but how we think about ourselves and how we think about others and so that doctrine can frequently be compromised in a theological way. And so, I want you to talk through this. How do you frame the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture? 

Abner Chou: Yeah that’s great. I think often and rightly, so I’m not trying to denigrate anybody else’s approach or presentation of sufficiency. We often articulate sufficiency in terms of what we do with truth and where truth can apply to that the Bible has jurisdiction and has say and can speak to issues of all that acclaims to, of life and godliness of everything in existence and we also put it negatively in what it cannot be restrained in its application, that it cannot be limited by human categories and limited by our own logic. Rather the Scripture stands authoritative over all, and that kind of frames our definition of sufficiency. We put it in terms of activity, which is good, and I appreciate that and the practicality of it is necessary.

Let me take a step back and approach sufficiency with a single word. The word “truth.” What is truth? And is the Bible true? So what is truth? That’s Pilate’s question and truth, I would contend from the Bible is what corresponds with reality, it is God says let there be light and what happens? There’s light. The Word claimed and asserted matches what it is. That’s the nature of true that corresponds with reality. And what we have in Scripture is truth unleashed and truth revealed in such a powerful way, often people try to articulate, well, of course the Bible is true, but it can’t speak to certain things. And what they’ve just done is they’ve begun to silo Scripture and often, I don’t know why people do this. They say, well the Bible doesn’t give you instructions on an oil change. So clearly, it’s not you know, meant to be used for everything in life. Okay, fine. Yes, I agree, doesn’t give you instructions on oil change, but the truthfulness of Scripture is far more transcendent than that. And that’s what we have to understand, the truthfulness of Scripture is in more breath than what we give it credit for.

In worldview, we talked about four categories. We talked about epistemology. How do you know what you know? Etiology. How do we get to where we are? Eschatology, where is everything going? And ethics. What do we do in light of all that? Those four categories. Well, the Bible has all four categories. In bibliology, as it presents itself, is epistemology. It tells you all those stories of the Old Testament and the New Testament because it’s telling you how things came to be the way they are. It tells you eschatology, it certainly gives us moral imperatives, how do we live now, that’s ethics. And so, all of those things are found in the whole Bible, piece by piece by piece. You need the whole Bible, and it’s telling you not just how to do an oil change, it’s telling you the entire fabric of reality, the breadth of it, the extent of it is not just about, well, you can compartmentalize it into just spiritual life. No, this is about everything, past, present and future. This is everything about existence in this world. That’s a whole worldview so to speak if you like to use that term, I get that people don’t always like to use that term. That’s fine. I think we understand what we’re talking about a perspective on the universe. In addition to that, the Bible is far deeper than we give it credit for, it undergirds why things are the way they are. Proverbs 8 reminds us that wisdom is possessed by God and utilized and embedded in the depths of the Earth, the heights of the mountains, the way things operate in even transcendent over the dust by which man is created from. So, what does that tell us? That tells us that to make sense of anything in life and to rightly view everything in life. You must have the Scripture. The Scripture is presuppositionally and foundationally required. And that also speaks to the danger of sometimes when we look at a view like well, that seems fine, I buy that. And we don’t recognize that with every view you get a worldview free, you get presuppositions free, and we don’t even realize sometimes that we’re imbibing in presuppositions, in assumptions that may be completely counter to what we believe. We’ve just assumed and taken them in unawares, but the Bible’s deep and we have to be deliberate about that.

So you got greater breath, you got greater depth, you got greater height, sometimes people say, oh well, we do this action like an oil change and they don’t stop to think. Why are you doing the oil change? What are you doing the oil change for? And ultimately, it’s for worship. It’s for the glory of God and that dictates how the action is done. And the Bible has something to say about all those things. The Bible has something to say about every single activity because it talks about the height and sometimes we forget and we just buy the world’s definition of why you do it. Well, I have to get an oil change, so my car doesn’t break, true, but there’s something more to it than that. And there’s a reason why your car breaks without an oil change and that’s something biblically intersected as well. And we don’t understand all that that all that the Scripture has to say on an issue because we don’t understand its breath that is the Scripture’s breath, its depth, its height, or its extent. The world offers us ideas that come and go. The Bible gives us ultimately ideas because of its breadth and its depth and its height that go forever, they are eternal truth. And so, when now we see the Bible as not just the siloed book that speaks on just certain issues in a nice way, but really can’t handle everything else. And we look actually that the Bible is the breath that encompasses the totality of human knowledge, undergirds it all, has the height of every single activity and every single piece of fact and data and it transcends it all because it is forever. It may not be the only word on a matter, but it’s the last word on the matter and the first word on the matter. Then, yes, that’s what we mean by sufficiency and which means that this. Yes, the Bible of course speaks to everything because it’s in around, beneath, above, and transcending everything. And that’s the nature of the Scripture when we think about sufficiency.

Dale Johnson: Well, that’s right. And it’s tethered to authority of the Bible. And when you start saying as you mention relative to epistemology, when you start saying the Bible doesn’t speak to a certain issue. Number one, you’re saying that that issue is essential or necessary to who we are as human beings in what we’re supposed to accomplish. And then secondly, you’re saying that there’s another authority that has spoken a better word on how we’re to do that as human beings. And so, we get the aim of what we’re supposed to be doing as human beings wrong, and therefore, we get the source of how we’re supposed to be doing that given thing. And that’s how a sufficiency and authority become undermined as really two sides of the same coin. And so, I love the way that you’re framing this. You’re talking about, not just we have this old antiquated doctrine that we have to cling to, you’re demonstrating that the Bible itself in what God has revealed to us. Yes, it is practical, but it reveals who God is and it reveals truth in such a way that it’s dynamic in its breadth, in its depth of explaining who we are. And the purpose for which we exist and how we fear the Lord so that we can see and understand the things that are around us in a way that corresponds with reality. I think that’s brilliant and so helpful.

Now, the reason that we’re here that I’m here this week, we’re here recording at The Master’s University, and I get to hang out with you a little bit is because of Shepherds Conference this week and you’re going to be speaking at least a couple of times, I think. And so, I want you to talk a little bit about some of the things that you’re going to describe even in some of your messages this week, and maybe ways that that can be useful for us and biblical counseling. 

Abner Chou: Yeah, happy to, these things are on my heart, as especially I’m preaching this week and appreciate people’s prayers on this. One of the sessions I have which is on Friday is concerning truth and education and my goal in is to encourage pastors to actually reclaim the sufficiency of Scripture. It is to understand that this isn’t just saying hey, you can apply the Bible into certain areas of your life and that’s okay. It is to say no, do you really understand the nature of the Bible? And that the question is not and can never be, well could we apply the Bible there? The question must be the Bible must be applied there. How does it apply? What are all the ways that it applies? because it does. Because it is the all-encompassing reality. And for pastors as we are at Shepherd’s Conference, this is the most encouraging truth to our hearts because it shows us that every time we open our Bible, it’s not irrelevant. Whatever passage you’re in, it formulates our perspective of reality, it shapes and cultivates and refines our mind and our heart, and it is absolutely pivotal because it embraces and determines and is the framework and grounding of everything in our lives, and we just have to keep reiterating that and allowing the Word to do its amazing work by the power of the spirit, and of course, that affects education, it affects education because we start to realize, hey, wait a minute. If you start to teach this kind of all-encompassing framework, and that’s a religion, then all education is religious. You don’t just have a Christian school, you have other schools that are deliberately other religions and it could be yes, a Muslim school, Hindu school, a Jewish school Yeshiva, whatever, yes. But even the so-called secular schools that claim that they’re just objective and a third party and remove. No, they are promoting actively and indoctrinating actively a religion. It is inevitable when you engage in education once you understand what the truth is. And so, we just need to be aware and encouraging our parents among our people to do exactly what the Scripture says, the solution is not hey, do it this way or do it that way, or you have to have this mode of operation. No, it’s to tell parents do what the Bible tells you to do, be parents and it’s important and it matters and it’s part of grounding the church as a pillar and ground of the truth and upholding the next generation. What you do is so vital. It’s not just this afterthought next to all these other showy things in the church. No, it is absolutely crucial. That’s why the first instruction after the ultimate command of loving God with all your heart is what to teach these things, to make sharp. That’s what it means in Hebrew to make sharp the word of God, the law of God upon the hearts of children. It matters. And so, that’s part of what we’re talking about at Shepherds Conference.

But my main session is about how God preserves the remnant. The theme of shepherds conference is shepherding the remnant and my session and my task has been to discuss the doctrine of preservation and the text is 1 Kings 19:18 that God has left seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal nor kissed the baals either, and the doctrine of preservation is so necessary, that God preserves a remnant against all the odds that no matter what we survive, and we will endure and be brought through His wrath sometimes physically, always eternally, and that he preserves us in sufficient numbers. You know, 7,000, it’s small. So we should never feel like we should be the majority, but at the same time, we don’t need to act as if we’re by ourselves. That was Elijah’s problem. Well, I just said, I’m the one alone and God said, no, there’s 7,000. And so we need to act that way, act humble, God preserves us in our service to Him, bowing before Baal is an act of total worship and devotion, but God had preserved some to total devotion to Him. We need to remind our people and ourselves we can finish well, that God guards our affections. When we think our heart is prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, nevertheless God can hold us fast. God can hold us fast, not only in our service but in our submission. They didn’t kiss the baals either, kissing is often an act of allegiance, like kiss the Son in Psalm chapter 2. God can hold us fast but it’s always by His sovereign grace. I love this. And this is the punchline of the whole message and what we need to remember, Elijah the whole time have been saying “I alone am left,” but God responds in 1 Kings, 19:18 and says, “I have left a remnant.” The whole point is Elijah you thought you were doing it the whole time. You had it completely backwards, I’m the one who’s been driving it, Yahweh is the one who’s been securing the remnant the entire time. It was never by man’s act. It was never by man’s effort. Elijah was nothing special. He was nothing. God and His sovereign grace was everything. And the way we persist and the way we encourage our counselees and the reason we don’t give up on them either is because God preserves a remnant, there’s a remnant preserved by grace and God hasn’t given up and He will never give up. So we don’t either.

Dale Johnson: This is such a work of God. I mean and as you’re talking about that, I’m applying that language not just to us personally. But as we think about counseling, is that, this is a story. This person in front of you is a story of the Lord’s grace and faithfulness and that the Lord will do this thing that works so against the therapeutic culture that we live in, it works completely opposite of that is that counseling even in a religious setting, that’s really all for me when this flips the narrative, it flips the narrative to see the beauty of God’s sustaining grace and sustaining power through difficulty, when it seems difficult and it sounds like, as you prepare to preach this message, this will be one that we need to hang on to, especially in the culture in a way that is going right now to see the Lord’s grace and faithfulness, even when it gets difficult and that this is His story, we are made by Him, for Him to be used for His sake here, and we’ll see how the Lord continues to preserve us as well.

Brother, this has been great. Thank you so much for the time that we have together talking about this issue of sufficiency, which is so critical. I really appreciate it. 

Abner Chou: It’s my honor. Thank you for the ministry you do, the stands you take, and so many lives helped, truly, not just a change that’s superficial but a change that pleases God and that is what our ministries are all about, to please the Lord and that can only be done through His Word.

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