In this edition of “Theology & Culture” (T&C), and in some subsequent ones spread over time, we are going to tackle the theology and teachings of Andy Stanley, one of the most well-known pastors in America. I do so with fear and trembling, knowing that some people may run to his defense. I mean, after all, he has a huge church, so they must be doing something right. He is a gifted speaker, and so that has to be good for something, right?
I also know when we name people whom we disagree with, there is always the reality that as a pastor some folks will disagree with you so strongly that they will leave your church. I am not worried about that happening at our church. But the fact is, as a Christian, whatever anyone says must be compared to the teachings of the Word of God and if someone is aberrant in what they are saying, we cannot overlook it because of the fear of fallout or what others may think or say.
The goal of any T&C blog is to inform, encourage, and challenge us to learn more about a subject, come to our own conclusions (as long as they are Biblical) and that includes dealing with some tough and controversial topics, at times, that we face as churches.
I will begin with a confession. At one time we used some of Andy’s videos for teaching our adult Bible classes. But over the last several years, and I am not the only one who has noticed this, for much has been written on it, Andy has made some statements regarding the Bible and what is in it that in my opinion shows a very liberal Christian theological bent, and that is not meant as a positive endorsement of his teaching ministry.
In this blog, we will deal with some of Stanley’s teachings that should raise red flags. In a (now deleted) tweet, he made the following statement regarding the Bible, “The Christian faith doesn’t rise and fall on the accuracy of 66 ancient documents. It rises and falls on the identity of a single individual: Jesus of Nazareth.”
Before responding, let me also share something from a series that he taught several years ago at his church. The series was titled “Aftermath” and here was the description of the series, which you cannot currently find on the website of Stanley’s church. But this was what was stated,
“If you were raised on a version of Christianity that relied on the Bible as the foundation of faith, a version that was eventually dismantled by academia or the realities of life, maybe it’s time for you to change your mind about Jesus. Maybe it’s time for you to consider the version of Christianity that relies on the event of the resurrection of Jesus as its foundation. If you gave up your faith because of something about or in the Bible, maybe you gave up unnecessarily.”
Let me get right to the point. The more you read Andy Stanley’s sermons, the more you discover his drift from historic Christianity. As far as the identity of Jesus of Nazareth, it is important to keep in mind a few things. First, though historians of the first and second century do mention Jesus and/or His followers, our understanding of Who Christ is comes from the Scriptures, God’s “66 ancient documents” as Stanley calls them.
The resurrection of Christ is a centerpiece, if not the foundation, of the Christian faith. But where do we learn about His death and resurrection? In the Word of God. The four Gospels tell us the details surrounding His death, His burial and His resurrection.
The problem comes with the questioning of the reliability of the Bible. Scholars have more than stood up and answered the questions regarding the trustworthiness of Scripture, or as was noted earlier, “a version of Christianity that relied on the Bible as the foundation of faith, a version that was eventually dismantled by academia or the realities of life…”
The Bible is the foundation of our faith. How can I trust it to be right about the resurrection if it is wrong about other things? We cannot pick and choose what we like or don’t like about God’s Word.
In fact, Paul tells us that the Scriptures are “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) and that they are “profitable” for us in that they show us where we need to change, for teaching us how to live, and matures and equips us to serve God. That includes knowing what the Bible teaches and recognizing it as God’s inerrant Word.
Second, Academia has not dismantled the Scriptures. The Bart Ehrmans of the world have been more than responded to by scholarship. And let us not forget Jesus and His high regard for Scripture. When tempted by our spiritual enemy in the desert, Jesus responded by quoting the Word of God as found in Deuteronomy. And He prefaced His remarks with, “It is written” (see Matt. 4:4,6,10).
Jesus rebuked the Sadducees in Matt. 22:29 by telling them they did not know the Scriptures. He spoke of the story of Jonah as a historical event (Matt. 12:40). If our Lord, the One Who rose from the dead, saw the Scriptures as God’s Word that could be trusted, who are we to say otherwise?
In Luke 24:36-49, Jesus, when He appeared to the disciples, told them everything about Himself that was written about Him in the Old Testament. If He did not accept the reliability of what was within its pages, He never mentioned it.
Plus, as noted, the evidence for the reliability of the Bible has been answered over and over again. It is the foundation of the Christian faith for it is from there that we learn about Who God is and what we should believe as His followers. Stanley is wrong about downplaying the Scriptures for as we have already mentioned, it is the Word of God that fills in all the blanks about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and what impact that has on us.
In another message, Stanley tipped his hand regarding the Genesis account of the beginning of the universe. He claims that Genesis is not about “how God did it” but that “He did it.” Really? Both thoughts are actually the truth. Genesis is clear that God spoke everything into existence (Gen. 1:3,6,9,11, etc.). Psalm 33:6 tells us that by the “word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” Heb. 11:3 states that God created the universe by His word, creation “ex-nihilo.” Nothing existed until God spoke it into existence.
He also argues in that message that God accommodated His message to the mental capacity of the ancient Hebrews, meaning they could not have necessarily understood how God made everything, just that He did. This is a dangerous approach on the part of Stanley. God did not accommodate anything when it came to the beginning of everything. It tells us how He did it.
The Genesis account was also not written just to counter the pagan myths of the day regarding how everything came into existence. That is a fallacy on anyone’s part to teach this. In our next T&C we will look at a few more of the wrong things coming from the teachings of Andy Stanley, but I would encourage you to steer away from him as he drifts, as we shall see, into nothing more than early twentieth-century liberalism, repackaged for today though he wouldn’t admit to that.