On Andy Stanley and the Bible

For a number of years, Andy Stanley (the pastor of North Point Community Church in the Atlanta area, who is quite influential in Baptist and larger evangelical circles) has been trying to get Christians to “unhitch” from God’s written word in different ways. (For example: see this 2006 article from this blog, which quotes Stanley arguing that we should replace Jesus’ words about pastors being “shepherds” of churches with the language of “CEOs” for today’s culture.) A few months ago, Andy Stanley preached a sermon series called “Aftermath” in which he again spoke of the relationship that Christians should have with the Bible. This led to an article from The Christian Post on May 9, 2018 titled, “Christians Must ‘Unhitch’ Old Testament From Their Faith, Says Andy Stanley.” Responses to that article included one from Dr. David Prince (the pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church) in which Stanley was named a “modern liberal.”

On July 7, 2018, R.C. Kunst, who studied Theology at Moody Bible Institute and currently studies Logical Philosophy at Oxford University, published an interview with Andy Stanley. Kunst, who is committed to the inerrancy of Scripture, wanted to give a sympathetic interview with Stanley, allowing him to clarify his position. You can read the interview at the following link: http://appliedtruth.org/interviews-1/2018/7/7/interview-andy-stanley-pt-1 . Sadly, rather than alleviating concerns with Stanley’s position, that interview highlighted problematic elements of Stanley’s teaching.

The following interaction with Stanley’s words from the interview are given by Keri Folmar, via the Reformed Baptist Fellowship and Theology Forum on Facebook. (She gave me permission to broadcast these.)

“Stanley’s teaching about the Bible is heartbreaking…

“[Stanley says:] ‘The New Atheists crafted their attacks on Christianity assuming what the vast majority of Christians assume. An assumption I want to spend the rest of my life correcting. They assume or assumed that as the Bible goes so goes the Christian faith. That is NOT true. But most Christians think it is. There was no such thing as ta biblia / The Bible until the fourth century. Scripture, yes. But as you know there was no consensus around exactly what constituted Scripture for a looooong time. I argue that Christianity made its greatest strides before there was a The Bible and before there was an officially recognized Canon and way way way before most Christians could read and of course centuries before anyone would own their own personal copy of The Bible. My point? The foundation of our faith is not a text. It is an event. An event that was documented. But the document is secondary to the event.’

“There is so much that is wrong with these statements. First, Stanley rejects the statement that ‘As the Bible goes, so goes the Christian faith.’ But surely history has taught us otherwise. Christianity has never survived jettisoning the Bible. Look at the declining numbers in mainline churches today. Every false teaching starts with twisting or rejecting Scripture.

Second, there was certainly a Bible Christians used in the first centuries. We now call it the Old Testament. There is documentation from the first century that churches read from the OT scrolls (along with writing from the apostles) and pastors explained and applied the texts. Justin Martyr wrote, ‘On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president through a sermon admonishes and urges the imitation of these things.’ No, it wasn’t in book form, but believers, even Gentile believers, in the first centuries knew their OT well. You can tell by how much the apostles used the texts for their arguments in the New Testament.

“The bound book called the Bible came later, but in the first centuries the writings of the apostles were being circulated to the churches, who recognized them as the authoritative word of God. No, individual Christians didn’t have the precious privilege of taking them home, to read them daily because the printing press had not yet been invented. But they were read in one church and then sent on to other churches. See Colossians 4:16.

Third, the argument that Christians made the greatest strides before there was ‘The Bible’ is also false. What did Peter use on the day of Pentecost when three thousand souls were converted? The Old Testament! What did the apostles (and Steven) use throughout Acts to proclaim the gospel? The Old Testament!

Fourth, Stanley rightly says that our faith is founded on an event. Praise God, we proclaim the news that Jesus died for sinners and was raised from the dead. But when Stanley argues that ‘the foundation of our faith is not a text,’ he forgets the power of that text. What sacred writings had Timothy been acquainted with from childhood? The Old Testament. And Paul says, those writings ‘are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim. 3:15). Then he says that ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable…’ (2 Tim. 3:16). All of it!

“When Paul instructs Titus about elder qualification, he says, ‘He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it’ (Titus 1:9). (Notice the word is trustworthy.) Without the Bible, we have no sound doctrine. We cannot know Jesus without its message. We cannot know how to live the Christian life. We cannot grow. Trying to separate the message of Jesus from the Bible is dangerous. Stanley is not only disobeying Titus 1:9, but he is cutting the legs out from under himself when he preaches that Christians don’t need the Bible. The Bible is the foundation of our faith.

Just one more point: Jesus himself used the Old Testament to show who he was and what he had done (Luke 24). Who are we to think we’re wiser than Jesus? (And remember Luke, who recorded the words of Jesus, was a Gentile writing to a Gentile.)”

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