I do not follow popular, megachurch pastors that much. But when a fellow Veracity reader tipped me off regarding a recent controversy with Atlanta-based Andy Stanley, I was puzzled.
Andy Stanley, the pastor of NorthPoint Community Church, and son of another popular Atlanta preacher, Charles Stanley, has been preaching a sermon series on “Who Needs God.” The basic concern Andy Stanley has is that there is a startling trend of people who grow up in conservative, evangelical, Bible-believing churches, who later end up “deconverting” to some form of agnosticism by the time they become adults.
In the third message of the series, entitled “The Bible Told Me So,” Stanley talks about people who grow up believing Christianity is true because “the Bible told me so.” But when they go off to college, or watch a PBS Nova special, or simply surf the Internet, they are surprised to learn that there is little to no concrete, archaeological evidence that supports the idea that an army of some 600,000+ Israelites conquered the town of Jericho, near the start of the Canaanite conquest, as recorded in the Book of Joshua. As a result of hearing things like this, the fragile “Bible-told-me-so” faith of such a person collapses, kind of like a car tire that just got a flat, with the air hissing out.
As Stanley puts it, “If the Bible is the foundation of our faith, here is the problem, it is all or nothing. . . Christianity becomes a fragile house of cards that comes tumbling down when we discover that perhaps the walls of Jericho didn’t.” As a result, Christians need to learn that we are to base our faith, first and foremost, on Jesus and the Resurrection, and stop relying on an “all or nothing” approach to the Bible.
There are problems with Stanley’s sermon, as Reformed Theological Seminary’s Michael Kruger tells us. I went and listened to Andy Stanley’s sermon, and I would agree that Stanley said a few things that could easily be misunderstood the wrong way. For example, Stanley makes the rather overstated claim that the early Christians, for the first few centuries of the church, had a belief in Christianity, without the Bible!
Well, that is not quite, right. It would be more accurate to say that the early church did indeed possess “the Bible.” But they did not possess that “Bible” in the same form as we have it today. The early church surely embraced the Old Testament, though it did take a few hundred years to sort out the details regarding the particularity of the New Testament canon. These critiques aside, professor Kruger still felt that pastor Stanley’s motives were good, even if the proposed solution advanced by Stanley was slightly off-kilter.
But what astounded me was reading the comments left on professor Kruger’s blog. Quite a number of readers did not believe that Kruger’s criticisms went far enough. Various readers described Andy Stanley as “repeatedly [denying] the authority of Scripture”, “deceitful,” “decidedly non-biblical,” and “a false teacher.”
What further astounded me is that Stanley’s church, NorthPoint Community Church, clearly states that the church believes “the Bible is without error.”
Andy Stanley is far from perfect, but I think British pastor and blogger, Andrew Wilson, has written an excellent defense of Andy Stanley. In a nutshell, Wilson argues that, “I don’t trust in Jesus because I trust the Bible; I trust the Bible because I trust in Jesus.” I would be curious to know what some of our Veracity readers think of all of this.
My take pretty much follows from what something my late pastor emeritus, Dick Woodward, taught a number of years ago: The Bible is true, not simply because the Bible says it is true. Rather, the Bible is true, because it is true.
Something to think about.
For some answers as to how one might think about archaeology and Jericho, you might want to start here and here. For a 13-minute interview that Southern Baptist leader, Russell Moore, has with Andy Stanley, give this a listen:
September 24th, 2016 at 7:03 am
I watched Andy Stanley’s sermon live, and thought his argumentation was misleading. I have appreciated his work for a long time, so it was a reminder of the importance of critical thinking. We have a tendency to award celebrity status to our favorite pastors and teachers, so we really need to guard against a lack of discernment on our part.
I think Kruger nailed it.
I appreciate where Stanley is coming from. He’s been there many times on many issues. He wants to remove barriers. But, in this case, if someone is hung up on the Bible he just says our faith doesn’t depend on the Bible; and first, second, third and most of the fourth century Christians didn’t have the Bible anyway. To my way of thinking it’s misleading and over-accommodating to a fault.
Why not make your apologetic argument based on history? Early Christians did have the Bible, albeit not in codex form. I hate poorly-founded biblicism as much as the next guy. But I also believe, after much careful study, that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God, and that it can withstand critical scrutiny. I don’t feel the liberty (or need) to frame or justify my faith outside of the Bible.
We could all get more people to come to Christ if we let them have more of what they want and stay away from things that might create barriers for them. Our culture is built on that shortchange principle. Does that open the door to accomodationist apologetics? I vote no.
September 24th, 2016 at 8:17 am
John: Obviously, you know more about Andy Stanley than I do. All I can add to that is to say that none of us get our apologetics message right every time. I know that I do not!
What bothers me about the folks who think that Dr. Kruger did not go far enough in his critique of Andy Stanley, is that these folks appear to be over-correcting. I briefly read Frank Turek’s response to the whole debacle, and it is quite thoughtful (Turek’s book is recommended by Stanley in the sermon in question). I went through the first message in Andy’s series, and after all of that, and Andrew Wilson’s blog, I came to two conclusions:
(1) Within the church, there is a deep dispute over apologetic method. Do you go the route of the presuppositionalist, and insist on starting with the Bible first? Or do you go the route of the classic evidentialist, and begin with can be affirmed by both believer and non-believer alike through scientific and historical inquiry? I aim more towards a hybrid approach between the two, as a I believe there are pitfalls in both camps. For example, Andy Stanley’s fiercest critics are presuppositionalists, whom I believe are rapidly moving themselves out of the American cultural conversation when it comes to evangelism.
(2) What should be the focus of the Sunday morning worship service? Should it be oriented towards training believers to go out into the world to share the Gospel? Or should the service be more towards reaching lost people, as Andy Stanley appears to be doing?
These seem like the deeper issues at stake here, rather than claims of whether or not a particular megachurch pastor has denied biblical inerrancy.
September 24th, 2016 at 12:24 pm
Or maybe the focus of the Sunday morning worship service should be worship.
September 24th, 2016 at 1:00 pm
Excellent point, Dave.
Sometimes, in evangelicalism, we get so focused on the content of the sermon message that we forget the purpose of the message, which is to give praise and honor to the Lord. But that’s an even more profound issue, that interestingly, is not even addressed in the discussions that I have read.
September 25th, 2016 at 8:39 am
For those not familiar with the controversy concerning Jericho and archaeology, here is a good summary by another Christian blogger, who does not hold to the inerrancy of Scripture:
I am not sure if Andy Stanley’s critics have this in mind, or not. It is not clear to me how Andy Stanley understands the fall of Jericho, though he does advertise his belief in biblical inerrancy, even if his critics do not believe him. But it does demonstrate the kind of problem that Andy Stanley is trying to address, even if he does not get it right all of the time.
My answer to the Jericho question is simply this:
Absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.