In this edition of “Theology & Culture” (T&C), we are going to continue looking at the theology and teachings of Andy Stanley, one of the most well-known pastors in America. Andy has quite a following, including a large church, so some may question why I feel the need to even write about some of what he teaches.
As a pastor, and more so as a Christian, we are called to stand up for the faith (Jude 3), to “contend” for it as Jude wrote. It is not about someone’s popularity or size of their church or ministry, it is about comparing what they are saying with the Word of God.
Though they may come across as authoritative in their speaking, and Andy Stanley is very good at explaining his views, that does not mean that what is being said is right. I also mentioned in part 1 of this look at Andy Stanley that 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. We cannot worry about that. Truth is truth and we must speak it regardless of the outcome.
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 at times, includes dealing with some tough and controversial topics.
Let us continue on in our look at a couple of other things that Stanley has said that if they did not, should have raised red flags. We begin a couple of statements that Stanley used on a podcast with Jonathan Merritt. He noted outgrowing his childhood view of the Bible and coming to understand it as being more complex. He said the following, and read this closely,
"So the early church, no one ever said in the early church, 'the Bible says, the Bible teaches, the Bible says the Bible teaches,' because there was no 'The Bible.' But the point of your question, there was Scripture but every time we see the phrase 'the Scripture' or 'Scripture' in the New Testament, as you know we have to stop and ask the question, what was this particular group of people referring to because there was no 'The Bible' and there was no book that contained all the Jewish Scripture because it was contained in synagogues and as you know virtually no one could read and write."
Hate to tell Andy this, but he is wrong for a few reasons. One, in passages such as Luke 16:16 and Luke 16:29 Jesus refers to “The Law and the Prophets” and “Moses and the Prophets.” Though it is true that there was no bound edition of the Old and New Testament at the time of Christ does not mean that there was not Scripture around. And if that is not enough, in Luke 4:17-21, we read that Jesus unrolled the scroll and read from Isaiah 61:1-2 and then stated, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Scripture is what Jesus called this portion of Isaiah.
Part of Stanley’s argument also is that the Old Testament (OT) should not be the “go-to resource regarding any behavior in the church.” He believes that the first century church "unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish Scriptures."
Though it is true that the Old Testament has certain statements that apply directly to the nation of Israel, to say that we should ignore it is really an updated but not exact version of the ancient heresy of Marcion, who believed the church should not use the Old Testament and that the God found within its pages differs than the God found in the New Testament (NT). Stanley, as far as I know, has not gone that far in his view of God but his view of the first thirty-nine books of the Bible is, well, to say the least, concerning. Let us continue.
The fact is, the OT is quoted within the pages of the NT many times and is seen as authoritative. When Jesus was confronted by one of the teachers of the law in Matthew 22:34-40, where we learn of the Great Commandment, with the question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, known to the Jews as the “Shema,” which means “to hear”, that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength.
Jesus added the word “mind” in place of “strength” and in some copies of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT) the word “mind” is found here in Deuteronomy. Now it is true that parts of the law given to Moses and the Jewish people we are not bound to live by today, but to say that the OT should not be used to discuss behavior or help us with our value system is a stretch.
It is also true that the law was not designed to save anyone, but when you look at, for example, the Ten Commandments given in Exodus 20, all but the Sabbath are repeated in the NT as helps in guiding our moral bearings. The only commandment not repeated for the church was the Sabbath, for as Exodus 31:12 tells us, this was a “sign” between God and Israel.
We need to use wisdom when interpreting and applying the OT, but Stanley has gone way beyond that by basically downplaying what we can learn from the ancient Jewish Scriptures.
Moving on, back several years, and I do not believe he has ever changed his stance on this, Andy Stanley downplayed the Virgin Birth of Christ. Note the following from a message he gave, “If somebody can predict their own death and their own resurrection, I’m not at all that concerned about how they got into the world, because the whole resurrection thing is so amazing...Christianity doesn’t hinge on the truth or even the stories around the birth of Jesus. It really hinges on the resurrection of Jesus.”
There is no doubt that the Christian faith is built around the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 6, to mention just two passages. But the Virgin Birth is also crucial. Jesus was sinless because of the uniqueness of His birth. To die for our sins required our Savior to be holy. Every church creed worth its weight mentions the Virgin Birth as a point of belief. Those would include the Apostle’s, Nicene, Chalcedonian, and the Athanasian.
Some would argue that since Matthew and Luke mention this miracle, but Mark and John do not, that somehow that may lower its significance, if we can use that phrase. How Christ came into the world is crucial and Stanley’s attempts to downplay it are disconcerting. Matthew 1:21 tells us that the angel sent by God to speak to Joseph regarding the Child to be born to Mary said, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew 1:23 is clear. The baby born to Mary would be named Immanuel, which means “God with us.” The birth of Christ had to be unique. In fact, the Virgin Birth was one of the key battleground doctrines of the early twentieth-century debate that took place in churches, Bible colleges, and Seminaries. In part 3 of our look at Andy Stanley we will dissect from a Biblical perspective some other statements that he has made that are far adrift from Christianity and its historic roots.