Do you “fact check” what you read on social media, or any other source of news and information, particularly when it involves a controversial matter of grave concern?
I had just come back from a Christmas trip to visit family, when I ran across a Patheos blog article with the alarming title, “Andy Stanley: Please Relent or Step Down from Pastoral Ministry.” Mmmm…. Yet another scandal among God’s people? A megachurch pastor gone astray? What embarrassment for the Christian faith is it this time?
In this article, the author compares Andy Stanley, a megachurch pastor in Atlanta, and son of popular Bible-teacher Charles Stanley, with the mid-20th century liberal minister, Henry Emerson Fosdick, and a modern-day prosperity doctrine guru, Joel Osteen. Wow! If you know anything about evangelical theology, these are serious charges to lay against any evangelical pastor.
Andy Stanley’s preaching faux pas, per the Patheos blogger, was taken from an early December 2016 sermon delivered by Andy Stanley, regarding Christmas and the difficulty that many people in our secularized culture today have believing in the Virgin Birth of Jesus. Our scientific world has tested the credibility of such miracles, and so, many wonder if the Virgin Birth is not some type of man-made fiction. In responding to the doubts of many, Stanley was partially quoted in a Washington Post article as saying, “If somebody can predict their own death and resurrection, I’m not all that concerned about how they got into the world.”
What does that mean?
The Patheos blogger I was reading, along with a wide variety of other Internet bloggers and Christian media outlets, since early December, took this to mean that Stanley believes that the Virgin Birth is not an essential matter of Christian faith. Others interpret this by saying that Stanley was “questioning the significance of the virgin birth.” Even the venerable president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Al Mohler, took exception to Stanley’s statement as quoted by the Washington Post, on a recent “The Briefing” podcast (though it should be noted to Dr. Mohler’s credit that he did not name Stanley directly):
“If Jesus was not born of the virgin then the Bible cannot be trusted when it comes to telling us the story of Jesus, and that mistrust cannot be limited to how he came to us in terms of the incarnation. The fact is that biblical Christianity and ultimately the Gospel of Christ cannot survive the denial of the virgin birth. Because without the virgin birth, you end up with a very different Jesus than the fully human, fully divine savior revealed in scripture.”
Now, I agree with folks like Al Mohler that the Virgin Birth is an essential doctrine to Christian faith. It is one of the historic, fundamental beliefs of Christianity, not to mention the entire foundation for the Christmas story. But is it accurate to say or imply that pastor Andy Stanley is now denying the essential doctrine of the Virgin Birth?
Upon reading and hearing these things, I harkened back to another controversy that pastor Andy Stanley had earlier in 2016, a story covered here at Veracity (part #1 and part #2). In that controversy, Stanley was accused of denying Biblical inerrancy. Yet strangely enough, Stanley made his own defense by appealing to one of Stanley’s teachers and mentors, Norman Geisler, who was glad to offer support for Stanley. Norman Geisler was one of the primary architects behind the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, articulated in the 1970s. So, it really is strange to imagine that Andy Stanley, an enthusiastic student of Geisler’s, would find himself accused of denying Biblical inerrancy, then defended by Norman Geisler, and then still be accused by some of his fellow evangelical leaders as being “dangerous.”
Strange. Very strange indeed.
It reminds me of something Yogi Berra might have said: It is like “deja vu all over again.” Continue reading