“Sufficient for What? Calvin, Scripture, and Soul Care”

The Reformation raised the question of Scripture’s sufficiency in relation to church authority: the Reformers affirmatively answered the question, “Is Scripture sufficient for salvation apart from tradition?” Modern evangelicals consider a different question: “Is Scripture sufficient for soul care apart from modern psychology?” The relationship of Scripture and psychology in soul care is often discussed in terms of sufficiency and connected with John Calvin’s view of Scripture, general revelation, and common grace. Biblical counseling and integration are contrasting positions on soul care that are both concerned with sufficiency; both identify with Calvin, citing support from The Institutes.

In this paper, I will argue that Calvin’s thought in The Institutes best supports a nuanced biblical counseling perspective. In this paper, I will define the term soul care from Eric Johnson and terms of sufficiency from John Frame, Scott Swain, and Kevin Vanhoozer: Scripture is (1) materially sufficient for salvation and doctrine and (2) formally sufficient to interpret extrabiblical knowledge. To advance the thesis, I will first present Calvin’s view of salvation’s scope as all-encompassing, including matters at the core of soul care. Second, I will evaluate Calvin’s references to the philosophers, demonstrating his wariness toward their worldview as well as the dissimilarity between his contemporary philosophers and modern secular psychology. Third, I will summarize key points from The Institutes on general revelation and common grace. This evidence will lead to the conclusion that quotes from Calvin’s Institutes should not be used out of their context (as they are by Stanton Jones and Lydia Kim-van Daalen) to support the moral obligation of Christians to include content from secular psychology as essential to construct models of soul care—a distinguishing tenet of the integrationist position.