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: