Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Aftermath: Andy Stanley Unhitched


Last week, Andy Stanley said something controversial about the Bible that would drop him into the category of a theological liberal. This week, he's doing interviews to clarify his statement, tell pastors why they need to listen to him, and throw academics under the bus for taking him out of context and not giving him a call. This has been Stanley's pattern for over a decade.

Less than two years ago, Stanley taught that in order to reach today's Millennials with the Bible, we shouldn't use much Bible. His argument was so rough, he had to write 7,500 words to clarify it (almost the length of two sermons) and reminded everyone whose son he was in order to distill the accusation that he had eschewed the inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture.

In the next refrain of his ongoing movement to diminish the importance of Scripture, Stanley has told Christians that they need to "unhitch" the Old Testament from their faith. Owen Strachen at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary responded, "There's only one hitching you should contemplate: The unhitching of Stanley's unbiblical teaching from your ministry."

Stanley's "unhitched" comment is receiving most of the criticism, and justifiably so. But there were other troubling statements in Stanley's sermon, and in fact the whole series, that are contrary to sound teaching. The Apostle Paul wrote, "If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing" (1 Timothy 6:3-4).

The truth produces godliness (Titus 1:1). Teaching anything other than the truth produces godlessness. This isn't just a difference of opinion. This is serious. I offer this critique in love and with deep affection for you, the church of Jesus Christ, His body.

Theological Decay

Stanley taught through a three-part series in April entitled Aftermath. The purpose of the series was to confront the "Achilles heel of our modern version of faith" which Stanley claimed "is a misapplication of a very important reformation concept." There's a weak spot in the church today that will cost us future generations of Christians, and Stanley believes that weak spot is the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

"In the 16th century, there was a reformation," Stanley said, in which the reformation leaders "rescued Christianity from a tradition-driven, word-of-the-church version of Christianity." (For a more accurate summation of the protestant reformation and how it relates to today, click here.) The reformers, according to Stanley, said, "No, the Pope isn't the final authority, tradition isn't the final authority, Scripture is the final authority. Scripture alone will be the final authority for the church."

Stanley continued, "But over time, the idea of sola Scriptura, which is Scripture alone is the authority, has been taken to mean that the Scripture -- or in our case we would say the Bible -- is actually the foundation of our faith." The problem with that, Stanley said, is it turns Christianity into a house of cards: "As the Bible goes, so goes our faith."

He's preached on this before.

If you are convinced that any part of the Bible is not true, none of it can be trusted, and your faith will come crashing down, Stanley warned. To prevent this from happening, we need to help the next generation "step back on a more solid foundation as it relates to faith."

Yes, according to Andy Stanley, the Bible is not a solid foundation.

That is a foundational argument (ironically) for theological liberalism. Stanley exposed himself as a theological liberal a long time ago. I don't think he's descending into theological liberalism -- he already is a theological liberal.

Theological liberalism is a movement that started out of 19th century German enlightenment, influenced by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and fathered by the religious views of Friedrich Schleiermacher (one doesn't have to know this to be a theological liberal). It incorporates modern thinking and developments into the Christian faith while also being critical of the Bible.

After saying the Bible is not a solid enough foundation, Stanley went on to praise the intelligence of the four leading atheists of the new atheism movement and said they "have attacked persuasively and effectively the credibility and the morality of our Bibles." In the opening 10 minutes of this series, Stanley confessed that a bunch of disgruntled atheists changed his mind regarding how the church is supposed to consider and teach the Bible. He wants everyone to follow his lead, or it will cost us future generations.

But lest someone think Stanley is about to take his cues from a bunch of atheists and not the Bible, Stanley said, "We should take our cues about the foundation of faith [and our] approach to the Old Testament from the men and the women who were closest to the action: the first century first followers of Jesus."

This is the same conflicting error Stanley made with his "The Bible Tells Me So is Not Enough" series. The Bible is not a solid foundation for our faith. So what is a solid foundation for our faith? It's in the Bible. Head, meet desk.

The Apostle Peter -- who, by the way, was one of those figures "closest to the action" -- said that the foundation for our faith is the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ, and the written prophetic revelation of God in Scripture (see 2 Peter 1:16-21). In other words, the foundation of our faith is the Bible. How do we even know God's Son, Jesus Christ, or His gospel without it? The Bible tells us the good news that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins and rose bodily from the grave so that all who believe in Him will not perish under the wrath of God but will have everlasting life.

The gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Yet Stanley's teaching ministry seems to want to unhitch Christians from the Bible which is our source for the gospel. Following Andy Stanley's liberal and reckless teaching will lead a person away from biblical fidelity and toward more and more ungodliness.

Theological Decay Leads to Moral Decay

Aftermath: Part 3 was the sermon that got the most attention -- the one where Stanley suggested that you need to "unhitch" your faith from the Old Testament as he insisted the New Testament writers did. To make his point, Stanley taught from Acts 15 and the story of the Jerusalem council.

Some Judaizers were telling Gentile Christians that they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved according to the law of Moses. A conference was held at the church in Jerusalem to discuss conditions for Gentile membership and how to respond to the disruption being caused. This council included Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James, the half-brother of Jesus, among others.

Peter stood up and confessed that with his own eyes, he witnessed the giving of the Holy Spirit to uncircumcised Gentiles. They have heard the word of the gospel and believed. He pleaded with the council, "Why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" referring to the Mosaic Law. "But we believed that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will" (Acts 15:10-11).

Likewise, Paul and Barnabas shared with the council what they had witnessed -- the gospel has been preached to the Gentiles, "and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48). Then James, leader of the Jerusalem church, stood up and referred back to the prophets and the Old Testament texts to defend the inclusion of Gentiles into the church by the grace of God.

With these arguments made, James said, "Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues" (Acts 15:19-21). The church agreed that's what should be done, and a letter was sent with Paul and his missionary brethren to Antioch.

How do I know the apostles were baptists? They knew how to have meetings.

When Stanley explained this conclusion, he said the four Old Testament-sounding commands -- abstain from the things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from what has been strangled, and from blood -- were derived from the dietary laws of Moses, and they were given by the council to keep the peace in the church between Jews and Gentiles. But that clearly can't be the reason. What does sexual immorality have to do with dietary laws?

This was not about keeping the peace. It was about being holy. These four commands had to do with idolatry, expressly forbidden by the law of God read every Sabbath in the synagogues. What is the first commandment? "I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me." What is the second commandment? "You shall not make for yourself graven images and bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God." The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians that to even flirt with anything having to do with idols was to provoke God to jealousy (1 Corinthians 10:22). This was all in keeping with God's moral law.

Idol worship was a cultural norm in these first century Greco-Roman cities. It was everywhere. Food sold in the market had previously been offered to false gods. Temples to such gods were often filled with rampant sex and orgies as part of their rituals. People drank the blood of animals believing they could absorb the creature's life force. All of these things were idolatrous.

The Jerusalem council assured the Gentile Christians that by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, they were forgiven their sins and received membership in the church of God. In view of God's mercy given through the gospel (Romans 12:1), in order to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2:12), they were to keep themselves from idols (1 John 5:21). This was the moral law the Gentiles needed to follow in their current context as their spiritual act of worshiping the one true and living God.

But Stanley taught that the conclusion of the Jerusalem council was this: "The Old Testament, or the Law and the Prophets as they called it, was not going to be the go-to source for any behavior in the church." Here is how Stanley summarized it:
"To make this point, because this is so important, originally in my notes, I was going to put a screen up here that said, 'In other words, that means, "Thou shalt not obey the Ten Commandments."' But I knew someone would take a picture of that, and it would define me for the rest of my life. So I'm not going to put it up there, but I want you to hear me say it. Here's what the Jerusalem council was saying to the Gentiles: You are not accountable to the Ten Commandments."
Astonishing. In Andy Stanley's paradigm, you don't need to obey the Ten Commandments, even though Jesus said you do. Those who are in Christ will keep His commands. It is our delight to obey God and keep His commandments! But Stanley recommends you unhitch from the Old Testament and even God's moral law. As he said at the beginning of the series, he believes the authority of Scripture is not a solid foundation for faith.

I say to you, my brothers and sisters in the faith -- in reverence for Christ and His word by which the church is justified and sanctified -- Andy Stanley is opposed to the truth and disqualified regarding the faith (2 Timothy 3:8). I am not saying the man isn't a believer, but I am saying he's not a qualified teacher.

I want to give you an alternative to Stanley's method for reaching future generations. But before I do that, I want to make one more point. This has to do with how bad theology leads to bad behavior. If Stanley said the conclusion of the Jerusalem council pertained to Mosaic dietary laws, how did he explain the command to abstain from sexual immorality? Not well.

Moral Decay

Stanley said, "If I were to hand everybody a 3x5 card, and I were to say, 'Tell me what you think this [sexual immorality] means or what this means to you, how many different answers would I get? About as many answers as there are cards, right?"

I hope not. There's only one answer to that question. Sexual immorality is any kind of sex or eroticism outside of the covenant of marriage between a man and his wife. (Here's a :90 video with Scripture references.) God intended this intimate gift to be enjoyed in marriage only. Stanley left the understanding of a biblical sexual ethic much more open. You could conclude that any kind of sex is acceptable as long as you "love" the other person.

"To send a bunch of Gentiles this, to abstain from sexual immorality, what does this even mean?" Stanley said, "This was a general call to avoid immoral behavior but not immoral behavior as defined by the Old Testament." By what standard is sexuality defined for the church? Stanley went on to explain that it is, "defined by the Apostle Paul who had been teaching in Antioch for two or more years."

Okay, so given that the Apostle Paul spoke the words of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:17), you might suppose Stanley would tell his audience that sex is meant exclusively for marriage (1 Corinthians 7:2), that sex between two men is damnable (1 Corinthians 6:9), and Paul taught from the Old Testament that sexual immorality will result in judgment (1 Corinthians 10:8). Surely that's where Stanley went next, right? No, his explanation was much more ambiguous.

"Do you know what the Apostle Paul consistently tied sexual behavior to?" Stanley asked. "Not the Old Covenant. Not the Ten Commandments. The one commandment that Jesus gave us: that you are to treat others as God through Christ has treated you." That's certainly not wrong, but neither was it given any clarity. What does "treat others as God through Christ has treated you" have to do with a godly sexual ethic?

Are the specifics not important? Not in the church that Andy Stanley built. At North Point Community Church in Atlanta, they allow men in a homosexual romantic relationship to serve in the ministry. Stanley confessed this years ago in a sermon entitled When Gracie Met Truthy, which received criticism from Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In this illustration of a family at North Point, the men on the left are a couple.

Stanley's solution is, "Love one another." Considering he wants to detach from Scripture, he's taken a very specific command and made it generic and subjective, whether or not that's his intention. Without an objective, moral standard, "love" is whatever you want it to be, not how God has defined it. Stanley's message was basically this: "You don't need God's word. You have a better one: love!"

This is the same theological liberalism that Rev. Michael Curry espoused in his sermon at the royal wedding this past weekend, and it has the same immoral outcome. "All you need is love," Curry said, but his idea of love is contrary to Scripture. Rather than trusting in God's word, the way of theological liberalism is to trust your feelings. Yet Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."

Conclusion: An Alternative Method

I agree that we need to consider how we teach the Bible with our children and future posterity. I don't agree with Stanley that the Bible is an insufficient foundation. We need more Bible, not less. Specifically, we need more Bible rightly taught and applied. How can you lead your family in a right understanding of Scripture? Through catechism.

Catechism is a summary of biblical principles in the form of questions and answers to help Christians understand why God's truth is so important and how it is rightly applied. If you teach catechism, you and your children will be less likely to be duped by an "unhitched" sermon or snookered by atheist arguments as Stanley was.

Being a Baptist preacher, of course I'm going to recommend Baptist catechism. Keach's catechism is great and easy to find. I would also recommend going to Founders.org and picking up one of their Truth and Grace memory books. Not only filled with catechism, there are Bible passages for kids to memorize and work sheets for them to fill out.

Encourage one another to love the word of God, not be ashamed of it. Jesus said, "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels" (Luke 9:26). Ultimately, that is the day we are being prepared for -- the day of the Lord -- and only the word of the Lord can make you ready to stand before God.

A few edits have been made for grammar and for clarity. Parts of this blog were taken from the teaching I did on the podcast this week. Listen here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.