Just last week I felt a prompting to present my views on the sufficiency of the Bible, and once again that topic is at the forefront of my conscience and spirit. In that article, I admitted that I don't focus on the viewpoints of the pastors and theologians who seek the spotlight. That's not to say that I don't seek out commentaries or teachers who have proven to me that they regard the Bible as infallible and sufficient, and who seek only to understand what God desires to be revealed about Himself. I understand that not everyone is going to agree on an interpretation, and I can respect the opinions of those who differ with me --- as long as they don't dishonor the Word of God.
So, I guess it's my turn to wade into the floodwaters created by a recent series of sermons by Andy Stanley, titled "The Bible Says So". First, let me say, that I have avoided forming my own opinion based on the opinions of others. I wanted to read and hear for myself, exactly what Andy Stanley said about the adequacy of the Bible as the foundation of our faith. I wanted to see if I agreed with his premises, and then I would consider what the most prominent and influential of our modern theologians had to say.
Based on the Stanley transcripts I have read, I am sadly disappointed -- once again -- in the modern Church's willingness to compromise, rather than possibly offend, fellow believers. I will, first, let Andy Stanley defend himself over the controversy he has caused. He says he wants to "address the elephant in the room ... I believe the Bible is without error in everything it affirms. I believe what the Bible says is true, is true ... During “The Bible Told Me So,” I wanted educated, dechurched millennials to know [that I knew] that those who supposedly know everything are convinced there was no worldwide flood or Hebrew migration from Egypt. While addressing them directly, I gave them the benefit of the doubt to make the following point: Even if those events never occurred, it does nothing to undermine the evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus and thus the claims he made about himself...".
Perhaps you were taught, as I was taught, Jesus loves me, this I know – and let’s all finish it together – for the Bible tells me so. Yes. This is where our trouble began.
What can he possibly mean by "trouble"? He went on to explain that the canonization process of the Bible was utilized by early Christian Fathers to weed out manuscripts that had not been penned by the Apostles, or by someone who had worked closely with an apostle (such as Mark or Luke). Stanley remarks that the Bible, as a single book, wasn’t really assembled until near the end of 4th Century A.D. That is true, but the point he derives from that fact is flawed as his sermon shows...
Before the Old Testament and New Testament were combined and titled the Bible – this is unbelievable – Christianity had already, before there was a Bible, replaced the pantheon of Roman, barbarian, and most Egyptian gods, and was the state religion of the Roman Empire. And no one had ever held in their hand a Bible! The first, second, and third century Christians who faced tremendous hardship – don’t miss this – believed Jesus loved them before the Bible told them so. Peter believed Jesus loved him, James did, John, Luke, Paul, they – listen, this is huge – Peter, James, Paul the apostle, they did not choose to follow Jesus because of an infallible Old Testament or a non-contradicting New Testament.
So, what he seems to be saying is that who Jesus was, what Jesus said, and what He did are, rightfully, of the utmost importance; and perhaps we are putting too much emphasis on the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. And there is the implication that we no longer need to believe that the Bible is all we need to equip us for a life of faith and service. He seems to be saying the Early Church didn't even have the finished Bible until the 4th Century, so it obviously wasn't of primary importance to the promulgation of the Faith.
But that is more than a little misleading. As Don and Joy Veinot point out in their insightful article, Andy Stanley and the Bible, "For example, it is true that the binding of scriptures into a single volume occurred a few centuries into Church history, but all of the content of the Bible was [in existence]in the First Century. Therefore, the scriptures, though not yet bound together, were all held in the hands of Christians in the First, Second and Third centuries, as separate documents. In fact, the Ante-Nicene Fathers (church leaders before the Council of Nicaea) quoted from the written documents prolifically. The Fathers [of the Church] quoted from the scriptures in order to underpin and validate their own arguments, to prove what they were saying by the revealed and written Word of God! This practice was certainly not new to them – they were carrying on the noble tradition which the Bereans followed with the Apostle Paul and the Old Testament: Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)."
Sadly, Stanley goes on to undermine the sufficiency and necessity of regarding the Bible as the foundation of our faith with unsettling suggestions that the Bible, as a support for our faith, is both "unreliable and fragile". During his sermon, he made statements like this: "In other words, imagine this conversation. You know somebody with all this information, comes to the apostle Peter ... and says, ‘Hey before you [get] all geeked out on this following Jesus thing, do you realize there is no evidence for a worldwide flood? Before you get all crazy about the Jesus thing, do you know there’s no archaeological evidence for the exodus? Hey Paul, before you all, and Peter, before you get all crazy by the Jesus thing, you realize the earth is more than 6000 years old, that whole genealogy in Genesis?’ ".
Stanley went on ... "Peter would’ve looked at you like, ‘I’m not really sure what you’re talking about, but, but, but, I followed a man for three years.... The reason I’m following Jesus is because I saw him die and I saw him alive and I went to the streets of Jerusalem to say God has done something among us’."
And then, this is where I discern that he stated his real doctrine of belief. He said, "For the first 300 years, the debate centered on an event – not a book. For the first 300 years of the existence of Christianity, the debate was about an event – not a book. The question was not, is the Bible true, is the Bible true, is the Bible true? The question was – did Jesus rise from the dead? Christianity, don’t miss this. Christianity does not hang by the thread of ‘the Bible tells me so.’ And if your church sent you off to college with that house of cards, I apologize. And if your entire life, your whole thing has been, ‘I gotta defend the Bible, I gotta defend the Bible,’ uh oh, there’s information that looks like it contradicts the Bible. ‘I can’t look over there. Honey don’t look over there.’ I’m so sorry you are left with that fragile version of our faith." You're kidding me, right? He's not really saying that the Bible is "a fragile version of our faith, is he?"
So, here's what Andy Stanley fails to comprehend, if I may ... Yes, Peter could say that he saw Jesus crucified and resurrected. And, yes, Peter heard, first hand, the teachings of the Son of God and knew and understood that the Kingdom of God was among them in the person, Jesus Christ. But as the Venoits express so eloquently in their article, "Unfortunately, we, as people who were not eyewitnesses to the resurrection, cannot say the same! It is primarily the Bible which makes the case, and we cannot possibly base our faith upon the resurrection without it! How would any of us know the truth of the resurrection without [the Bible's] testimony?"
It makes me extremely sad -- and yes, somewhat angry -- that the modern Church seems hell-bent on making the message of God appealing to the world. What is it afraid of? If, as Andy Stanley asserts, the Bible isn't reliable -- or it's just a fragile version of the truth -- then how can the message of Jesus be reliable ... since the Bible is our only reference for His Gospel?!? How can the Resurrection be believed, since the Bible is our only source of that supernatural event?
It is my further understanding that Mr. Stanley is now back-peddling somewhat regarding his remarks, although from somewhat of an unrepentant stance, saying, " My approach to preaching is not traditional... The world has changed. The approach most of us inherited doesn’t work anymore. Actually, it’s never worked all that well. In a culture that had high regard for the Bible, the traditional approach held its own... [But] Eight years ago I shifted my approach. I didn’t announce it. I just did it. The results have been remarkable. You may not like my approach. That’s fine. I just hope you don’t stick with an approach you inherited because it’s comfortable." Am I understanding him correctly ... "a culture that had high regard for the Bible" seems to indicate he no longer shares that regard. And I guess I'm supposed to let that statement go unchallenged, because he's comfortable with making it.
And to be honest, I'm disappointed to find that very few pastors or theologians have publicly challenged Stanley on his disturbing contentions. And if they did, they more closely resembled John Piper's lukewarm exegesis on Stanley's sermon. Piper seems more interested in defending Stanley's preaching style, than he does in defending the sufficiency of the Bible. And is there anyone in the "celebrity pastor" sphere who still believes there is no substitute for Scripture? (I suggest reading a powerful exposé on both Stanley and Piper by writer Bud Ahlheim at the Pulpit & Pen website).
I hope that this blog post doesn't seem as if I have overblown the controversy that swirls around Andy Stanley's sermon. But, frankly, I am tired of the "New Age apologetics" being promoted by popular pastors. I get it ... I know what they are shying away from, namely the "fire and brimstone" sermons of yesteryear. They are concerned about reaching the young people, and they don't want to "turn off" an already-alienated culture to the Church. But, let's be honest --- it is precisely because the Church has abandoned preaching the reality of hell in favor of a softened and more mellow Jesus who only wants to "love you" that our culture and the world is in the mess it is in. It is time that we hold pastors and teachers responsible for what they preach ... because whether or not they believe the Word of God is infallible and insufficient, it tells them they will certainly be accountable to Jesus for how they presented His Word.
Hebrews 4:12 "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."