Monday, October 3, 2016

"The Bible Says So" Is Enough: a Response to Andy Stanley


"First, the elephant in the room," says Andy Stanley, beginning a 7,500 word apologetic argument published by Outreach Magazine on Friday. "I believe the Bible is without error in everything it affirms. I believe what the Bible says is true, is true."

So there you have it. Stanley believes the Bible is inerrant. Only, not really.

The article follows recent scrutiny incurred by Stanley when he said at a conference last month that if he were the evangelical pope, he would tell pastors to take the spotlight off the Bible and put it on the resurrection. The silly thing is: you don't know about the resurrection without the Bible. In that same conversation with Dr. Russell Moore, Stanley openly and proudly admitted that sometimes he preaches entire sermons without ever quoting Scripture.

Stanley doubled-down on his statements when, in a sermon the following Sunday, he said that the old Sunday school song, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so" is fraught with problems. This is a fine approach to teaching the Bible to children, he said, but we need a different approach to reaching grown-ups -- one that doesn't begin with the Bible, or, judging by his preaching, includes much of the Bible at all.

This is despite the fact that the Bible says faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Of God's own will, He brought us forth by the word of truth (James 1:18). Jesus said that the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live (John 5:25). His sheep hear His voice and they follow Him (John 10:27). Where else do we hear these words but the Bible? One cannot know God without it. But Stanley wants pastors to introduce people to God without it.

Sound criticisms have abounded, not the least of which were two stellar articles written by Drs. David Prince and Albert Mohler. Stanley thinks his approach is cutting-edge. He thinks it's the way millennials today need to be reached. Prince and Mohler pointed out Stanley's ideas aren't new at all. They're just repackaged liberalism. But Stanley has ignored all these warnings. He thinks the problem is we're all stick-in-the-muds who want old and busted instead of the new hotness.

Now he's tripled-down on his messed-up apologetics with a written article entitled Why 'The Bible Tells Me So' Is No Longer Enough. He began by assuring everyone that he believes the Bible is inerrant. He even attempted to add weight to his statement by name-dropping his dad, Charles Stanley, and his seminary professor, Dr. Norman Geisler, who participated in drafting the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. It felt a bit like saying, "My last name is Ford, therefore I know a lot about cars."

In practice, Stanley doesn't really believe the Bible is inerrant. He says it, but doesn't follow it. If the Bible is without error, it is ultimate. No other word can be higher. No other word is more authoritative. Just like the law that applies to every citizen, the Bible has authority over every person whether they believe it does or not. But Stanley doesn't follow that. He believes his word must come before the Bible. It's as if he's saying, "Yeah, I believe that. Now put that Bible away, pastor, and listen to me."
"To recap, yes, I believe the Bible is without error in everything it affirms. Yes, my approach to preaching is not traditional. Yes, my approach at times leaves those outside our local congregations wondering if I’m still an evangelical. So in light of all that, along with the fact that here I am once again having to explain myself, shouldn’t I consider changing my approach? No. Actually, I would like you to consider changing yours."
If Stanley was presenting these things as merely his opinion, perhaps it wouldn't bother me so much. It would still be problematic and needing to be addressed given how influential he is, but it wouldn't be nearly as concerning if he was just talking about his own approach to preaching. Unfortunately, he's telling other pastors to do things his way. And there are going to be men who will follow him because they like the idea that their words are more impacting upon millennials than that silly old book I have to lean over every Sunday.

"Eight years ago I shifted my approach," Stanley says. "I didn’t announce it. I just did it. The results have been remarkable." And that's what's going to draw these unstable ministers his way -- Stanley's numbers. The reason why they need to change, Stanley says, is because the world has changed. We're not merely a non-Christian society. We are a post-Christian culture.
"In a non-Christian society, people may have never heard anything about Christianity and, therefore, have few to no preconceived notions. A post-Christian society is the opposite. In a post-Christian society, people have been exposed to Christianity (in our case, for generations) but are opting out for a different worldview, a different narrative through which to make sense of the world. In a post-Christian society, people know the stories; they just don’t believe ‘em. Or in many cases, they don’t believe ‘em anymore."
Here's the thing -- No, they don't. More than likely, they never knew the stories in the first place. This is a common American evangelical myth: the false idea that everyone has heard the Bible and therefore we don't need to preach it. Everyone knows the Easter and the Christmas stories. They're dates on the calendar, so that makes everyone an expert. Everyone has heard all about global floods and burning bushes and talking donkeys and boys slaying giants and Psalm 23. They've heard all that, and they don't believe it.

Except they don't know the stories. They don't just disbelieve the stories, they don't even know them. For crying out loud, there are people who say they believe the stories who don't know them! We are not a Post-Christian culture -- we are a biblically illiterate culture. Saying things like "'The Bible tells me so' is not enough" will do far more to advance that illiteracy than solve it.

Stanley says he wants to teach "educated, dechurched millennials" that even if a global flood or a Hebrew migration from Egypt never happened, "it does nothing to undermine the evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus and thus the claims he made about himself." Actually, yeah, it would. (Rob Bell made this same claim over a decade ago. It's not new.)

In this way, dechurched millennials know more than Stanley: they know that if Noah and the Ark or Moses and manna from heaven or Jonah in the belly of a big fish are myths, the rest of the Bible is myth, too. After all, Jesus used all three of those Old Testament examples as references to himself. So if they're myths, what reason do we have to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead? In their skepticism, they at least know that much. That doesn't mean they know what the Bible really says.

I do street evangelism on an occasional basis and through another ministry witness to over 100 high school students weekly, only half of whom will say they attend church or any kind of youth group. Most people I encounter -- I'm talking 8 or 9 out of 10 -- claim to have grown up in church, and they can't even say John 3:16 with me or list half of the Ten Commandments (watch this 2-minute video where people can't name the 10 commandments but can rattle off 10 beers with ease).

I use the Bible when I do evangelism. I might end up saying "The Bible says" a good 20 times per encounter. I've got no leg to stand on without it. The Bible has the authority, not me. Occasionally someone might get testy and say, "Oh, so I just have to do what you say because you're the preacher, is that it?" I'll calmly reply, "These aren't my words. It's what the Bible says."

I encounter people who think they know the Bible until I start quoting it, then they're completely lost. It is by hearing the word of God that every mouth is stopped (Romans 3:19) and they become knowledgeable of their sin (Romans 3:20) so they might repent of it and worship Christ as Savior. People don't know the Bible. They suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).

Contrary to what Stanley wants you to believe, the problem in American evangelicalism is not that preachers are saying "The Bible tells me so" too much. What's more the problem is that preachers are not saying that.

Several years ago, I was participating in a community-wide prayer event with several other pastors. We had decided which pastor was going to lead prayer at different points in the service. What had not yet been decided was who was going to lead the congregation in the Lord's Prayer at the end.

One of the more seasoned pastors, a Baptist minister, arrived late, so he was volunteered. He immediately declined. "I won't do anything without a script," he said rather sharply. Another pastor was asked to do it. "No, I can't do it from memory," he said unashamed. The pastor who was doing the opening and closing was asked to go ahead and do it. "I don't know which words to use. Trespasses? Debts and debtors?" All the other pastors laughed.

It's no wonder the American Christian layperson can't dispense Bible-basics when our pastors can't even do it!

There's some element of truth to the understanding that we live in a post-Christian America. At the presidential debate last week between Trump and Hillary, neither one of them mentioned anything remotely religious. It was the first presidential debate in my lifetime where neither candidate made at least some kind of reference to their faith. I can still remember the debate between Bush and Kerry where Kerry, the Democrat, went after Bush's faith by quoting the Bible, saying, "Faith without works is a dead faith" (James 1:17).

Civic religion is all but gone from the public discourse. So, yeah, in that sense, we are a post-Christian nation. But guess what? Our approach to the gospel is exactly the same as it was when we were calling ourselves a "Christian nation." Faith still comes by hearing the word of Christ. And how are they to hear without someone preaching (Romans 10:14)?

Stanley has always tried to distance himself from having to preach the word. Despite his "post-Christian" arguments, this recent controversy is nothing new. Way back in 2009, Stanley told Ed Stetzer that expository preaching was "cheating."
"As part of my shift, I stopped leveraging the authority of Scripture and began leveraging the authority and stories of the people behind the Scripture. To be clear, I don’t believe 'the Bible says,' 'Scripture teaches,' and 'the Word of God commands' are incorrect approaches. But they are ineffective approaches for post-Christian people. I don’t regret teaching my children that the Bible is God’s Word. But my grown-up kids understand their confidence in the Bible is rooted in their confidence in who Jesus is based on the testimonies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James and the apostle Paul."
Pardon me for being blunt, but that's just a really ignorant statement. His grown-up children understand that their confidence in the Bible is rooted in their confidence in who Jesus is based on the testimonies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James, and the Apostle Paul? The writers of the New Testament? In other words, their confidence in the Bible is because the Bible says so!

In keeping with his paradoxical apologetics, Stanley spends the last half of the article giving biblical reasons why we don't have to use the Bible when we preach to unbelievers. We can preach without the Bible because Jesus did it and the apostles did it. There's a very simple rebuttal to that approach to preaching, and it is this: The words of Jesus and the apostles were Scripture; your sermon, pastor, is not. Argument over. But that would be too easy.

Because Stanley's novella of an article is 7,500 words, and I'm at 2,000 words, I will address that in a part 2 entry to come later this week. Let me close with this. Stanley says the following.
"If someone is first convinced the Bible is God’s Word, you can leverage 'The Bible says' language. But let’s be honest. What do you call people who first accept the Bible as God’s Word before they’ve read the Bible? What do you call someone who takes someone’s word for something as significant as 'This book is the infallible Word of God?' What kind of person would go for that? 
A child."
That's the most sensible thing he says in the whole article. Unfortunately, when Stanley says it, he's being disparaging. Jesus says "a child" is exactly what we're supposed to be like.

In Matthew 18:3-4, Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." In Mark 10:15, he says, "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."

Praise God for a child-like faith. As the Apostle John said, if we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater (1 John 5:9). "The Bible says so" is enough.

"Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." John 8:47