Andy Stanley and the Evidentialist Apologetic

In an interview with Dr. Michael Brown in which he attempted to explain and clarify quotes found in the article, “Christians Must ‘Unhitch’ Old Testament From Their Faith, A StanleySays Andy Stanley” from The Christian Post, Andy Stanley declared: “I’ve stepped away from saying, ‘The Bible says it; therefore, it’s true; the Bible says it; therefore, I believe it’…” And in other venues, Stanley has urged Christians to stop saying “the Bible says…”

Andy Stanley is a mega-church CEO who professes belief that the Bible is without error; why would he refrain (and urge others to refrain) from saying “the Bible says”?

The Road to Emmaus

Stanley’s explicit concern in how he refers to Scripture is driven by his view of apologetics (that is, how Christians are to give a reasoned defense for their faith). In part, Stanley explains the fact of Jesus and the apostles’ use of phrases like “Scripture says” by appealing to the differing context of the earliest church versus where most believers find ourselves today. In some cases, Stanley might be theoretically OK with a direct appeal to the authority of the Bible. Stanley said: “There’s an apologetic for when you’re approaching an orthodox Jew, and there’s an apologetic for those who think that the Bible is just a book of fairy tales.”

But Stanley is inconsistent on this point, because there are times when he indicates that even the earliest believers (those in a Jewish context, who would have been raised to revere the Scriptures) were compelled to faith through the (extra-biblical) evidence set before them, contrasted with the authority of Scripture. In the context of saying, “Years ago, I quit saying, ‘The Bible says’…” Stanley explained that (in his view): “Jewish men and women who had given up hope immediately regained hope not because of something they read, but because of something they saw.

Elsewhere in his interview with Dr. Brown, Stanley expressed frustration that people objecting to his statements about the Bible are always bringing Luke 24:25-32 to his attention. Stanley declared: “of COURSE I know the story of the two men on the Road to Emmaus.”

But Stanley seems to miss the point of WHY people refer to that passage. When the risen Christ encountered two people “who had given up hope,” they did NOT ‘immediately regain hope because of something they saw.’ In their case, God actually kept them from seeing Jesus for who He was (see Luke 24:16). Before allowing them to really perceive His resurrected presence, Jesus prepared their understanding by teaching them through the Old Testament Scriptures.

The Gospel of John

In the interview with Dr. Brown, Stanley defended his earlier statement: “the whole Old Testament house of cards could collapse, and you still have the resurrection of Jesus.” Stanley referenced people who only read the Gospel of John, coming to faith in Jesus just through reading that Gospel, not starting in the Old Testament. But notice the words from the very first chapter of John’s Gospel account; the Apostle John records:

1) John the Baptist quoting Old Testament Scripture in indicating the purpose of his ministry;

2) The religious leadership questioning whether John was Elijah;

3) Questions raised concerning Christ (the Messiah);

4) The identification of Jesus as the Son of God and Son of Man.

All of this makes no sense without the Old Testament. What we take for granted is that, in our culture, people in general do have a kind of residual notion—at least a vague idea—of the biblical categories/terms mentioned in the first chapter of John. Because of this, it may make it easier for people to come to faith in Christ through reading one of the Gospel accounts. For missionaries to truly unreached people groups, however, biblical definitions for who God is and who Christ is must be built upon the Old Testament foundation before a person can come to faith in God through Christ. Even in our context, an authoritative reference to the Old Testament to define our terms is necessary.

Evidentialist Apologetics Taken Too Far

Stanley has repeatedly stated that the Bible comes at the END of our apologetic, and that he is concerned with presenting the gospel to those who doubt the Bible’s authority. Stanley claims that he is engaging in “classical apologetics”. This is a misnomer: Stanley does not engage in presenting the classical proofs for the existence of God (in the sermons and interviews I’ve seen from him, he is not challenging his listeners to think through the ontological argument or the teleological argument, etc.); rather, he is engaging in evidentialist apologetics—pointing people to historical evidences for why we should believe that Jesus rose from the dead, that He made divine claims of Himself, etc.

Is there any place for this kind of apologetic reasoning?

I would say that there may very well be. Especially in some interactions when I was a student at Georgia State University (from which Stanley also holds a degree), I’ve argued in this mode before. (You can see a written-out example of my own use of evidentialist reasoning at the following blogpost: http://alindsey4.blogspot.com/2016/01/the-bible-jesus-view-and-our-view.html .) If a non-Christian is denying that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God or if an immature Christian is having doubts about whether all the books we have in our Bible should be considered the Word of God, then for the sake of the argument, an evidentialist apologetic may be helpful. The Christian witness could explicitly bracket the question of the exact nature concerning the Bible, and look at what the evidence still indicates even if the absolute divine authority is not presupposed.

But notice:

  1. The evidentialist apologetic is (at best) limited and negative in its function. Examination of the evidence can clear away the film of supposedly reasonable-sounding doubts concerning the gospel message. It may be wise to use this on a case-by-case basis. However, to make it the regular apologetic preached from the pulpit, and to teach the children of the church to refrain from singing “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” (as Stanley has recommended) will undermine, rather than bolster, trust in the authority of God’s Word.
  2. The evidentialist apologetic should never lead to a division between the authority of Jesus and the authority of the Bible. As the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (which Stanley claims to believe) rightly declares, “the authority of Christ and that of Scripture are one.” When using evidentialist apologetics, the faithful witness should make it clear that he is only doing so for the sake of the argument, and NOT because we believe that the Bible is a secondary or lesser authority. As people rightly say in church circles: “What you win people with is what you win them to.” In other words: people will continue to live in a manner consistent with the teaching and methods that brought them into the church. If they were brought into the church believing that the Bible is of secondary importance (at best), then they will likely continue to view it in that manner (at least practically). If they were brought into church believing that the Bible is God’s revelation to us, then they will likely come to love and cherish Scripture in a manner that is consistent with Psalm 119, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, etc.
  3. Finally: the evidentialist apologist must realize that no amount of evidence can place faith into a sinner’s heart. Faith comes through an authoritative proclamation of God’s Word (see Romans 10:17). If a person remains obstinate against hearing the Bible as God’s Word, then that person will not be brought to true faith, no matter how much evidence they see. I make this assertion not on my own authority, but on the authority of Christ, who taught us: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
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