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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