Abuse and Scripture: Paul Washer and the Doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture
I have written about the sufficiency of Scripture before, but it is a vital topic that we need to keep in front of us. Distortions of this doctrine are regularly used to keep the church blind to abuse and to prevent victims from getting the help they need.
Listen to this statement by Paul Washer, a well-known missionary-pastor. This quote is taken from his sermon series entitled Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church. He begins his first sermon under the heading The First Indictment: A Denial of the Sufficiency of Scripture.
“When you come to believe as a people that the Bible is inspired, you have only fought half the battle, because the question is not merely, ‘is the Bible inspired?’ i.e., is it inerrant? The major question following that, which must be answered, is this: Is the Bible sufficient, or do we have to bring in every so-called social science and cultural study in order to know how to run a church? That is the major question! Social sciences, in my opinion, have taken precedent over the Word of God in such a way that most of us can’t even see it. It has so crept into our church, our evangelism, and our missiology that you barely can call what we are doing ‘Christian’ anymore. Psychology, anthropology, and sociology have become primary influences in the churches…. We have come to believe that a man of God can deal in certain tiny areas in the life of the Church; but when it really gets tough, we need to go to the social experts. That is an absolute lie! It says here that the Scriptures are given ‘that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works’ (2 Tim 3:17).
What does Jerusalem have to do with Rome? And what do we have to do with all these modern day social sciences that were actually created as a protest against the Word of God? And why is it that evangelism, missions, and so-called ‘church growth’ is more shaped by the anthropologist, the sociologist, and the Wall Street student who are up on every cultural trend? All the activity in our churches must be based upon the Word of God. All the activity in missions must be based upon the word of God. Our missionary activity, our church activity, and everything we do ought to flow from the theologian and the exegete — the man who opens up his Bible and has only one question: What is Thy will, Oh God?”
Now, I do not disagree with Washer at every point. I concur fully that we are not to let the world dictate to us how to do God’s work. I have very little use at all for the “seeker-sensitive” church growth philosophies. The gospel is never attractive to fallen man. In fact, there really are no seekers (see Romans 3:10ff). If God does not seek the sinner out, there is no hope for sinners! And we surely do have to be on guard against bringing unbiblical psychological ideas into our theology — ideas that deny the image of God in man or deny the very existence of sin. On these points Mr. Washer is at least partially right on! (However, even in regard to how we do ministry, we can indeed still learn things from other sources. They must not contradict Scripture, but they can be true and helpful).
And yet Washer’s language here is troublesome. I think it will be troublesome to our readers who are quite familiar with the nature of abuse, with their own personal experiences as victims and survivors of abuse, and with what factors the Lord used to finally open their eyes to what was happening to them and set them free. Here at ACFJ, we often speak of Lundy Bancroft and his book, Why Does He do That? We talk about a lot of other books that were written by authors who, like Bancroft, are not Christians. And yet those very books were instrumental in turning on the lights for us in respect to the deceitful monster called abuse.
When pastors and Christian teachers and theologians say things like Washer said in the quote above, it sounds a whole lot like we as Christians are NOT to read books like Bancroft’s. We are only to look to our Bibles. And this “me and my Bible” philosophy generally translates into something much more harmful: “Me and my pastor/church leaders only.” What they say. What they tell me. Because, after all, they got it from the Bible. Right?
The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture does NOT preclude us from observing what orthodox Christianity calls general revelation. And if I am not mistaken, back in the old days, the U-niversity was truly a universe where theology and the other disciplines were all included. Theology was once queen of the sciences I am told and provided harmony to the other areas of study. Today however, with theology de-throned, we conservative Christians seem to be reacting with a baby out with the bathwater approach. The Bible alone! is the cry we hear.
The Bible is indeed sufficient – for salvation and for the Christian to become the man or woman God calls us to be. It is sufficient in the realm of redemption and for life in the New Covenant. And the Bible even has a huge amount more wisdom in it that we even begin to see. One day we are going to learn that the Bible has a vast amount of information to equip us to recognize abuse, abusers, and to help victims. But we need help seeing these things, and some of that help is going to come from general revelation. From the study of astronomy, biology, anatomy, and yes…. even psychology. Just think how helpful it was for many of you to read Martha Stout’s book, The Sociopath Next Door. Or George Simon Jr.’s two books, In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance. Or Judith Herman’s wonderful book on trauma. Man, what common sense and insight these people have to teach us. It’s great.
But when we hear statements like Washer’s, especially when they are given in a sermon that is supposed to be teaching us what God’s Word says, then it sounds very much like the preacher is telling us that we are doing wrong, that we are sinning, by reading these other books besides the Bible. And that is very bad. Very bad indeed.
It would not surprise me if Washer is a no-divorce-for-abuser teacher, and maybe even more strict than that. If someone knows, feel free to comment. I have listened to some of his preaching and it is troublesome to me that so much of what he says in at least some of his messages is simply his own philosophy wrapped in the package of biblical preaching.