The Sufficiency of Scripture for Counseling

by J. R. Cuevas

I was once approached by a Christian couple who requested for me to do their premarital counseling. They had found my name on the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors website. As they were currently involved in another local church in the area, I proceeded to ask them why they didn’t request for such counseling from their pastor who was going to preside over their wedding. Their response (which I paraphrased below) shocked me:

“We asked our pastor, and he said that he loved us too much, and that the issues we were dealing with as a couple were beyond what he could address as a pastor…so he suggested we get professional psychiatric help for premarital counseling.”

The dilemma that this couple faced is but a microcosm of the current philosophy that has pervaded the Western approach to the broader area of counseling. Many Americans believe that the issues they face in life, ranging from depression to alcohol addiction and everything in between, can only be addressed by professional psychologists and psychiatrists.

Even those in the mainstream evangelical community would rather seek help from professional Christian counselors rather than their pastors. Part of the reason is because many evangelical pastors would themselves claim that they are ill-equipped to address those so-called issues of life. This stems from a faulty view of Scriptures. In particular, it is indicative of a faulty view of the sufficiency of Scripture. 

In a recent Sunday Night Seminar in which I had a chance to teach on the topic of biblical counseling, I shared that one of the most essential convictions for those who desire to counsel in the church is a firm belief in the sufficiency of Scripture. No matter how gifted a man may be in the area of counseling, he will never counsel as God intended unless he is convicted that the Scriptures are sufficient for all matters relating to life and godliness. A man may be compassionate and empathetic. He may be a good listener and a sharp judge of character. But unless he is certain that the Scriptures are sufficient in counseling, he will inevitably fail to counsel as God intended. 

Clarity is necessary before moving forward. To say that the Scriptures are sufficient does not mean that the Bible has explicit instruction for every facet of life under the sun. For instance, when I’m tutoring students in the subject of Calculus, I don’t use the Bible; I use a Calculus textbook. When I need to get my car’s oil changed, I don’t open up the Bible; I bring it to Jiffy Lube.

The Bible itself claims that the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking (cf Rom 14:17), meaning that God did not author Scripture with the intent of making rules or giving practical answers to every single practical facet of life. Rather, it is about righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit. I’ve witnessed people claim that the Bible makes rules in areas that it actually doesn’t. This is the equally dangerous error of over-spiritualization. One must be wary of trying to make the Bible say what it doesn’t.

The Westminster Confession of Faith defines the sufficiency of Scripture in this way: “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (1:6). To say that Scripture is sufficient is to say that Scripture is adequate to address every area related to life, godliness, and righteousness.

The Bible itself claims to be sufficient in these areas. Psalm 19:7-8 states that Scripture restores the soul, gives wisdom to the simple, brings joy to the heart, and enlightens the eyes. Scripture, then, has the power to enable a man to live life to the fullest, live life joyfully, live wisely and knowledgeably, and live life with the proper perspective. Perhaps the most well-known passage on the sufficiency of Scripture is 2 Timothy 3:15-17, which states that Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. In other words, Scripture itself claims to be sufficient to equip the man of God to live in accordance with the will of God. 

The failure to believe this leads to inevitable consequences. If one is not convinced that the Bible is able to address every area of life related to faith, righteousness, and godliness, one will inevitably resort to an insufficient alternative as the authority. One may resort to personal experiences or cultural traditions, or pragmatism or personal preferences. One may resort to human authorities or modern psychological theories. One may resort to a number of things that ultimately are not adequate to fully train a man to righteousness— something that only Scripture can do. When you lean on alternatives rather than Scripture to both interpret and navigate through life you are doomed to failure. This is where the majority of evangelicals are, if they are honest with themselves. Ask any given man or woman in the church where they extract the principles that govern the majority of their decision-making on various areas in life, and they more than likely won’t quote Scripture. It’s sad, but it’s true. 

To hold to the sufficiency of Scripture is not so much, then, about believing the accuracy of what the Bible teaches, but rather believing in the breadth and depth of life topics that the Bible teaches. In Reformed circles, Christians readily acknowledge that the Bible gives instruction regarding major systematic theological topics such as the deity and humanity of Christ, the cessation or continuation of the signs and wonders gifts, the eschatological timeline of events, the election and predestination of man, and so forth.

But even in such circles, Christians don’t always turn to the Bible for perspective and instruction regarding depression, ADHD, the role of parents in the lives of adult offspring, career pursuits, physical intimacy, gender and sexual orientation, the role of physical exercise in life, educational pursuits, financial budgeting, and politics. The Bible, in truth, addresses all—yes all—of these areas either explicitly or implicitly. These are the areas that govern the majority of Christian living. If one desires to live rightly before God in all facets of life, one must first be convinced that God has something to say about all facets of life. 

To hold to the sufficiency of Scripture is also about fully believing that the Bible addresses not only just about every area in life, but also equips the man of God to address every group of people in life. It is Scripture that the pastor must use to counsel senior citizens as well as teenagers. It is Scripture that the pastor must use to exhort both single adults and married couples. It is Scripture that the pastor must employ to address the struggles of life experienced by both men and women, leaders and laymen. It’s something that I know to be true both biblically and experientially. Be well-versed and wise in the Scripture, and you’ll have the wisdom to effectively counsel both the seventeen-year old high school jock as well as his seventy-year old grandmother. 

So whatever happened to that engaged couple I mentioned earlier? Long story short, my wife and I agreed to do their premarital counseling. And it turned out that none of the issues that they were dealing with—that their pastor claimed needed psychiatric intervention—were beyond the reach of Scripture. So we addressed them all…with the Scriptures. The two are happily married now and well-equipped to handle all of the different quagmires in the horizon—not because we were such great counselors, but because Scripture is sufficient to counsel!