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May 31, 2013


Jesus Against the Bible?

To say “I believe Jesus but not the bible” is to cut the ground out from under your feet. It’s the definition of a self-defeating argument because our only access to Jesus’ words and deeds is the bible. But that is the position Andy Stanley has taken in his recent defense of the historicity of Adam and Eve. Denny Burk rightly takes him to task here:

“Our only access to what Christ accomplished for us in history is through Scripture! The message of salvation comes to us in the Bible, apart from which there is no salvation. This is why the apostle Paul can speak of the apostles’ message as the “foundation” of the church (Eph. 2:20). Without their testimony which has been inscripturated for us in the Bible, there is no salvation.”

Stanley, the son of popular preacher Charles Stanley, is bad news. His most recent book, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, advises church leaders against trying to proclaim truth because people no longer care about truth and just want to be happy. The church, therefore, must adjust to this new reality and meet people where they are. Here he is in his own words (as quoted by Carl Trueman):

People are far more interested in what works than what’s true. I hate to burst your bubble, but virtually nobody in your church is on a truth quest. Including your spouse. They are on happiness quests. As long as you are dishing out truth with no here’s the difference it will make tacked on the end, you will be perceived as irrelevant by most of the people in your church, student ministry, or home Bible study. You may be spot-on theologically, like the teachers of the law in Jesus’ day, but you will not be perceived as one who teaches with authority. Worse, nobody is going to want to listen to you.

Now, that may be discouraging. Especially the fact that you are one of the few who is actually on a quest for truth. And, yes, it is unfortunate that people aren’t more like you in that regard. But that’s the way it is. It’s pointless to resist. If you try, you will end up with a little congregation of truth seekers who consider themselves superior to all the other Christians in the community. But at the end of the day, you won’t make an iota of difference in this world. And your kids…more than likely your kids, are going to confuse your church with the church and once they are out of your house, they probably won’t visit the church house. Then one day they will show up in a church like mine and want to get baptized again because they won’t be sure the first one took. And I’ll be happy to pastor your kids. But I would rather you face the reality of the world we live in and adjust your sails. Culture is like the wind. You can’t stop it. You shouldn’t spit in it. But, if like a good sailor you will adjust your sails, you can harness the winds of culture to take your audience where they need to go. If people are more interested in being happy, then play to that. Jesus did (Kindle 1216-1234).

To which Carl Trueman responds:

I will concede that Stanley is certainly right in his basic contention: people are not on a search for truth. The Apostle Paul articulated that well in Romans 1. Stanley is also correct that truth is irrelevant to people, or at least they think it is irrelevant to them. Compared to Paul, Stanley’s statement on this issue is rather bland. Paul goes much further, declaring the truth, the message of the cross, to be intellectual foolishness to some and a moral offense to others. It is not, however, Stanley’s blandness which is the real problem; it is the practical conclusion which he draws from this. For Paul, the offensiveness and irrelevance of the message of the cross demonstrate the fact that those who think in such ways are perishing. The problem is with them and with their ‘cultures,’ not with the cross. For Stanley, by way of contrast, it is the ‘culture’ which is to set the agenda and to which the church must thus conform or die. 

Stanley’s pragmatism, in a manner analogous to the soft relativism of certain evangelical postmoderns, looks attractively plausible; yet this is only because it operates within the framework of the likely possibilities determined by the polite pieties and tasteful transgressions of modern middle America. Safe, in other words, because Stanley assumes middle America is pretty much like him and therefore unlikely to confront him or his church with anything too tasteless.

Can you imagine Paul saying, “just do whatever works best”...or for that matter, Jesus? Jesus claims not merely to teach the truth but to be the truth.

And far from overthrowing the Law and the Prophets, Jesus claims to fulfill and embody them. Can you imagine Jesus saying: “Well, you can’t really trust the bible”? Everywhere you look Jesus grounded his teaching in scripture, affirming it’s veracity and authority even to the jots and tittles. His beef with the Pharisees was not, as some have suggesed, that they took the scriptures too seriously, but rather that, being blinded by their own teaching traditions, they failed to understand the scriptures. I’ve no doubt that Stanley wants to be faithful to Jesus but his willingness to feed our culture’s truth-allergy rather than confront and heal it and his seeming denial of the absolute authority and inerrancy of the bible makes faithfulness to Jesus impossible.


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10 comments

The quest people want to be on is irrelevant when compared to the truth of Gospel. If they would rather hear a speaker validate their quest, then a fully Christian church might be the wrong place for them. They’re time would probably be better spent if they stayed home and watched Joel O’Steen on T.V.

However, teaching the Gospel in spite of the desires of the majority of the congregation might assist some of them in learning that the Gospel is the only relevant truth on the Earth

[1] Posted by Another Pilgrim on 5-31-2013 at 09:50 AM · [top]

It looks like Stanley has given up trying to teach those things that will make people truly happy because it seems to upset some of those who don’t or won’t quite get it.

I guess Paul would tear up his letter to those foolish Galatians, and instead suggest to them that if it feels good, do it.

[2] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 5-31-2013 at 10:04 AM · [top]

“But I would rather you face the reality of the world we live in and adjust your sails. Culture is like the wind. You can’t stop it. You shouldn’t spit in it. But, if like a good sailor you will adjust your sails, you can harness the winds of culture to take your audience where they need to go. “

I’ve said this elsewhere online but I’m so insightful I think it bears repeating.  (tongue firmly in cheek):

The church (at least in the U.S.) has been cozy with the culture for a long time; however, at this juncture, the church (liberal, conservative, evangelical) has been unceremoniously dumped by the culture.  So the question is how do we respond?  Pull back and regroup as a separate entity?  More accommodation?  For many, the response is to run as hard as they can after the culture, shouting, “Baby, come back!  I can change!  It’ll be different this time!  I promise!”

So many of the current crop of popular advisers to the church in America, left, right, and center, are simply marketers covered in thin theological veneer.  Rick Warren and Diana Butler Bass are espousing the same thing, just using different verbiage.

[3] Posted by MTDave on 5-31-2013 at 10:11 AM · [top]

Jesus offers happiness in Matthew 5:1-12.  It ain’t what a person unconcerned with truth is going to like.

[4] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 5-31-2013 at 10:37 AM · [top]

In the passage quoted, Andy Stanley does write, “But, if like a good sailor you will adjust your sails, you can harness the winds of culture to take your audience where they need to go.” I haven’t read the book, but “where they need to go” sounds like he wants to lead them to Jesus and the truth.

His point seems to be that he wants to use what they are drawn to, “what works,” to take them “where they need to go.” Is he really saying that is not Jesus, the scriptures and the truth? Because I don’t see that point in the quoted passage.

You also criticize Stanley’s disregard for the Old Testament. Are there passages you can quote for that? Because I don’t see that here either.

Granted, there is a level of challenge and affront bordering on arrogance in his quote which would seem to drive away his audience, pastors. It makes me wonder if he is seeing much fruit in his ministry? And is it fruit that lasts?

[5] Posted by Rob Holman+ on 5-31-2013 at 10:55 AM · [top]

Hi Rob,

What you quote is not the “passage quoted”. It is the last sentence of the passage.

Did you read the articles I linked?

[6] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-31-2013 at 11:25 AM · [top]

“As long as you are dishing out truth with no ‘here’s the difference it will make’ tacked on the end, you will be perceived as irrelevant by most of the people in your church, student ministry, or home Bible study.”

This is hardly “advis[ing] church leaders against trying to proclaim truth.”

One of the best comments I’ve ever heard on my own preaching came from a Baptist pastor friend who heard my sermon.  He said, “What you said is true and good, but you didn’t give any application.  Folks need to know what to do with what they’ve learned.”
That comment completely changed my approach to sermon writing.

I think that is what Stanley is getting at here.

[7] Posted by James Manley on 5-31-2013 at 11:47 AM · [top]

Hi James, yes truth must be applied.

It must first be taught and proclaimed.

Stanley argues in his book and in the passage quoted that we must not lead with the truth but with felt needs. Why? Because people do not care about truth.

Right.

They never have. That’s precisely what Romans 1-3:18 tells us.

So what to do?

Cater. That is Stanley’s answer.

Preach to felt needs.

No doubt that can gather a crowd. And I assume somewhere in there he plans to sneak a bit about Jesus in.

But this is precisely what Jesus and his apostles did not do…in fact they too pains to do the opposite…and it is what they tell us not to do. We are not to scratch itching ears. We are not to preach when the season is ripe. We are to preach the word in season and out.

Why? Because God uses his word, not our persuasion or charm, to turn hearts from stone to flesh.

The tactic Stanley is not only contrary to the NT commands, it belies a lack of trust in the sufficiency of God’s word. Which makes sense given his view of scripture:

“The foundation of our faith is not the Scripture. The foundation of our faith is not the infallibility of the Bible. The foundation of our faith is something that happened in history. And the issue is always – Who is Jesus? That’s always the issue. The Scripture is simply a collection of ancient documents that tells us that story…

Here’s why I believe this actually happened. Not because the Bible says so, but because of the Gospels – Jesus talks about Adam and Eve. And it appears to me that he believed they were actually historical figures. And if he believed they were historical, I believe they were historical because anybody that can predict their own death and resurrection and pull it off – I just believe anything they say.”

This is something akin to an evangelicalized neo-orthodoxy which is, of course, no orthodoxy at all. The word of God is true. The black parts and the red parts are all equally his Word. To suggest one has primacy or more authority or more truthfulness or, as Stanley has done, to suggest that one is less authoritative than the other is to challenge the full inspiration of the whole.

[8] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-31-2013 at 12:08 PM · [top]

May I assume that Stanley is a member in good standing of Trinity Wall Street?  This sounds too much like a continuation of the rant by Her Supreme Holiness several weeks ago.

No wonder the Church is in such a state today!

Kyrie eleison.

[9] Posted by Fr. Chip, SF on 5-31-2013 at 12:29 PM · [top]

The HOLY SPIRIT convicts hearts.  We are to tell and preach the truth, whether folks want to hear it or not.

[10] Posted by B. Hunter on 6-3-2013 at 04:05 PM · [top]

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