House of Cards

Perhaps this is just a sign of the times, but it seems like every week or so there is some well-known pastor jumping off the ship of orthodoxy and scrambling for the shores of easy-believism and worldliness. I used to consider Andy Stanley pretty mainline/mainstream – I certainly didn’t consider him in the category of Joel Olsteen.

So imagine my shock when only a few days ago Stanley clearly denied the inerrancy of scripture, and betrayed a lack of Christian maturity that is stunning for a man entrusted with so much responsibility. Here are the words I’m referring to (thanks to Sola Sisters blog):

“The foundation of our faith is not the Scripture. The foundation of our faith is not the infallibility of the Bible. The foundation of our faith is something that happened in history. And the issue is always, who is Jesus? That’s always the issue. The Scripture is simply a collection of ancient documents that tells us that story. So, when we talk about the Scriptures, and especially the reliability of the Scriptures, I think any time that we can tie, the Old Testament especially, back to Jesus, we have done everybody, Christians and non-Christians alike, an incredible service by letting them know, you know what? You can believe the Adam and Eve story is a creation myth, so what? Who is Jesus? And then to your point, when I deal with Adam and Eve, I’m quick to say hey, this is one of those odd stories. This is that story you heard growing up about two naked people running around in a garden. And who can believe that? And there are many creation myths. But here’s why I believe this actually happened: not because the Bible says so, but because in the gospels, Jesus talks about Adam and Eve. And it appears to me that he believed they were actually historical figures. And if he believed they were historical, I believe they were historical, because anybody that can predict their own death and resurrection, and pull it off, I just believe anything they say……The foundation of my faith is not an infallible Bible. It’s something that happened in history. Jesus came into the world, walked on the earth, represented God, was God, and rose from the dead.” (Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church, Atlanta, GA)

After I had read this, read it again, and then re-read it, I then watched the video interview from which the quote was taken…yup, that’s exactly what he said. Still shocked by the interview, I decided to find out what fellow Southern Baptists thought about this in order to reorient my mind and make sure I wasn’t off my rocker completely in thinking Stanley was denying the inerrancy of Scripture.

Southern Baptist professor Denny Burke responded with the following:

While it is true that Christ’s accomplishment in the cross and resurrection is the basis of our salvation, it is misleading to say that the “foundation of our faith is not the Scripture.” Our only access to what Christ accomplished for us in history is through Scripture! The message of salvation comes to us in the Bible, apart from which there is no salvation. This is why the apostle Paul can speak of the apostles’ message as the “foundation” of the church (Eph. 2:20). Without their testimony which has been inscripturated for us in the Bible, there is no salvation.

Stanley says that his belief in Adam and Eve is not “because the Bible says so,” but because Jesus says so. The first and most obvious problem with this formulation is the fact that our only knowledge of what Jesus says comes to us from the Bible. There can be no bifurcation between “what the Bible says” and “what Jesus says.” The former gives us the latter.

So why even write a post about this if others have so soundly refuted Stanley’s statements? Because there are many people within my own church and circles of influence who, sadly, are not aware of this man’s misinformed teaching. I claim to have been one of those people who simply didn’t know a lot about Stanley, until more recently. Stanley has received the benefit of his father’s name and popularity, and, without delving into Charles Stanley’s teaching, it is important for us to see that man for what he is – a pastor whose teaching is a house of cards (to use his own term re: Scripture).

There are two points that stick out in my mind that I’d like to address. First, it is abundantly clear to me that Andy Stanley is not very bright, and second, he is not teaching true doctrine. Those are two separate points, but both are valid (if not obvious) and I’ll address each separately.

He’s Not Very Bright

If you, as a Bible teacher and Pastor, deny the inspiration and authority of Scripture, then Stanley is right (in a way), you have a house of cards awaiting the inevitable collapse. Stanley basically asks us to consider “how can you believe what Moses wrote if those documents are so old, and the stories are so sensational? etc.” He responds to his own inquiries by stating that the only way we can know with certainty that Moses’s writing (on the Garden of Eden for instance) was accurate is by resting our faith on the words of Jesus. If Jesus said that Moses said it, well, the matter is settled. Stanley then cites the resurrection and other well known apologetics surrounding the person and work of Christ as foundation for the veracity of Christ’s words. “Bravo!” you say.  And you would be right…partially…

The problem is, of course, that Stanley is not using those apologetics to just back up what Jesus said, but what he (Stanley) says about all of Scripture. In one hand he wields the apologetic for the truth claims of Christ, in the other his misguided notions about the veracity and authority of all other Scriptures. Of course, the first part of the problem is that what we know about the person and work of Christ is passed onto us through old writings as well – writings that, to Stanley, must present another problem – namely that the stories surrounding Christ must seem even more fantastic than the Adam and Even story.

You tell me Mr. Stanley, what seems more fantastic to you, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, or two people named Adam and Even roaming around naked in the garden (to paraphrase your iniquitous commentary on the account from Genesis)?  You can see where I’m going with this…

But setting aside the comments on the nature of Old Testament histories, let me get back to the main point, which is that, ironically, if Stanley bases all his teaching simply on what Jesus said, and leaves the door open to question the authenticity of the rest of Scripture, how then can he say with confidence that what Jesus said is accurate? I won’t get into the amazing number of manuscripts, evidence, and the clear self-evidence of Scripture itself here. My point is not to serve up an apologetic for the veracity, historicity, or authenticity of Scripture, but rather to point out that if Stanley says that one area could be “off”, then doesn’t his own logic lead him to further questions regarding the authenticity of all Scripture, including that which was written about Christ?

To have made such illogical statements after thinking through the matter in a serious manner (which was apparent from the interview) leaves one to the obvious conclusion that Stanley simply is not very bright. With so many gifted (and sound) teachers of God’s Word filling pulpits, seminaries, and bookshelves today, why would you waste time listening to this guy?

He’s Not Teaching Sound Doctrine

The reason I started out addressing Stanley’s lack of intellect is not simply because I want to throw a cheap shot his way or tear the man down, but because I don’t want to let that fact distract from the responsibility he owes his congregation and those listening to him around the country. So let us acknowledge up front that the man simply isn’t very bright. But let us also take care not to shrug off his comments on this account alone.

Stanley’s comments would have gone entirely unnoticed if he were a liberal university professor, a skeptic, or a worldly philosopher, but he’s not!  He’s a professing Christian – and a leader in the church! James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1)

Those who are teachers and preachers of God’s Word are held to a higher standard of accuracy, for the sake of the many souls under their care.

So let us let Scripture’s own claims to authority (Old Testament and New) be mentioned now. The most obvious passage comes from the pen of the Apostle Paul, and therefore God’s own mouth, and says this:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

The passage speaks very clearly that all Scripture – not simply the words of Christ – are inspired and from God.

The doctrine of Sola Scriptura does not say that Scripture speaks to every conceivable thing in this world, but what it does say is that where the Bible speaks it is the supreme authority.  Stanley isn’t talking about DNA, age of the earth, evolution or the like.  He’s talking about matters in which Scripture speaks and speaks with great perspicuity. As Christians, we sit under the authority of Scripture. Stanley wants to simply sit under the authority of Jesus, but he forgets that Jesus was the Word made flesh (John 1) and that His apostles considered all of Scripture to be the Word of God and have authority over their lives.

As an aside  let me also remark that Stanley cannot defend himself on account of promoting a New Covenantal approach to hermeneutics, for in his desire to interpret the rest of Scripture through the lens of what Christ said (indeed commendable), he does not take into consideration the words of Paul (cited above). But I am giving him too much credit, he’s not that bright.

Lastly, while listening to Stanley’s mess this week, a passage in Luke came to mind:

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” [19] And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. [20] And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:18-20 ESV)

Zachariah had just heart the wonderful news that his wife Elizabeth was to have a son, but he responded in unbelief. The response of Gabriel is that he just came from the throne room of God – His words were straight from the Holy of Holies! Almost as if to say “how dare you doubt the veracity of my message!” Zechariah’s punishment was that he would be unable to form his own words until his son was born!

The same could be said of Stanley because he seems to doubt the veracity of very Word of God, and undermines its authority in the lives of his congregation and those who listen to his messages around the country. And since he has not (unfortunately) received the same sentence of muteness that afflicted Zechariah, we Christians must be discerning, testing every spirit (1 John 4:1), and diligently searching the Scriptures “to see if these things are so” (Acts 17:11).

Superman – the Ministry

 

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In the coming weeks there will be a new Superman movie released by Warner Bros, and I will be the first to admit up front that because I am a lover of fantasy and sci-fi I was excited to catch the movie when it comes out (although being a father of three kiddos I’ll likely see it in the home theatre and not the iMax).

However, I had actually quite forgotten about the upcoming movie release until this afternoon when I received an interesting (if not disturbing) email from StudyLight.org. I subscribe to StudyLight’s email feed so that I can receive Charles Spurgeon’s ‘Morning and Evening’ devotions sent to my email everyday. But this email was nothing even closely related to Spurgeon, devotionals, or Scripture for that matter. Instead it was an email promoting the upcoming Superman movie.

“What is this?” I wondered. The email subject line was entitled: MAN OF STEEL – Free Pastor Screenings and Resources. Okay, you probably know that by this time I was already in a state of confusion. Were these guys promoting resources to help the church correct any misnomers about Scripture that the movie contains? Has there been some public uproar about the movie and its religious overtones that I have missed?

As I dug deeper, it became obvious that the promotion was not only for the movie itself, but for pastoral resources designed to engage congregants using the themes and plot of the Superman movie. In other words, using the movie as the central text and make parallel inferences from scripture to show how Jesus was a “superman.”

To that point, there are even sermon outlines! “Superman’s mythical origins are rooted in the timeless reality of a spiritual superhero who also lived a modest life until extraordinary times required a supernatural response.”

As if Christ was waiting in the wings until things got so bad that as a grown up man he had to do something about it! Thank you Lord for thinking up a Plan B!

But it doesn’t stop there, there are also free resources! From the website: “Welcome to the Pastor Resource Site for the upcoming film, “Man of Steel”. Here you’ll find everything you need to educate and uplift your congregation: Including Free Videos, Sermon Outlines and Images.”

Pastors are being encouraged to use the movie not simply as an analogy, but as the text and background against which entire sermon series will be based – and of course ‘Ministry Resources’ Inc. is ready to provide pastors with trailers, pictures, and all kinds of cool add ons to attract maximum attendance!

Who is Ministry Resources? I’m glad you asked. Once you dig deeper, you’ll find that they are actually a privately held business that caters to the Catholic Church. But it is their slogan that really best explains who they are and their driving motivation: The Stuff You Use – To Fill the Pews!

These days it seems that many churches will do whatever it takes to “get butts in the seats”- and that often means looking more and more like the world. In fact, evangelical leaders are attending and speaking at so-called Christian-leadership conferences with men like best selling author Malcolm Gladwell who see this same thing…and celebrate it. Listen to what Gladwell said in a recent pannel discussion about intelligent design and the evangelical church:

This is part of an ongoing transformation. We will not continue to have this kind of divide between Evangelicals and the rest of society. I just went to an interesting evangelical conference, and throughout, rock bands were playing. The rock-’n’-roll culture within the evangelical world is indistinguishable in terms of the sound of the music from the rock culture that came out of a very different, irreligious secular tradition, except that the words are about Jesus–love and all that. They’re not resisting outside culture, they’re embracing it and kind of making it their own. I think intelligent design and Christian rock are similar. It’s about taking up form from the outside and trying to Christianize it. Does the debate over evolution matter? Isn’t it really a nondebate?

The church is becoming more and more like the world – and the world sees it and celebrates it! If there ever was a time for a generation of leaders in the church who will fight for Sola Scriptura, now is that time.

Of course this is nothing new. Listen to what Paul said to Timothy in a letter written near the end of his life:

…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:2-4, ESV)

2000 years ago Paul knew there would soon be people who didn’t want to sit under the authority of preaching, or study and submit to scripture. When you sit under the authority of true expository preaching where the Word of God is proclaimed the result will be exposed sin – that’s what these people-pleasing pastors and para-church ministries are afraid of, and its what human beings flee from naturally (John 3:19-21).

Any pastor who thinks using Man of Steel Ministry Resources is a good Sunday morning strategy must have no concept of how high the stakes are, or very little confidence in the power of God’s Word and God’s Spirit. As they entertain their congregants with material pumped out from Hollywood’s sewers, lives are kept in bondage, and people’s souls are neglected. In short, the gospel of Jesus Christ is kept hidden despite the fact that life and death are in the balance. Changed lives, changed hearts, and love for God and others (in short: personal and societal transformation and salvation) only comes through the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

StudyLight.org seems to be neglecting the advice of the man whose devotions they send me every morning:

I would rather speak five words out of this book than 50,000 words of the philosophers. If we want revivals, we must revive our reverence for the Word of God. If we want conversions, we must put more of God’s Word into our sermons. – C.H. Spurgeon

Disaster and Evil in our World

Given the recent events in Oklahoma, I wanted to repost what Dr. Al Mohler posted last night. This is a thoughtful, and biblical response to the horrific events brought on by the tornados this week. I hope you find this helpful…

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The Goodness of God and the Reality of Evil

May 21, 2013
Every thoughtful person must deal with the problem of evil. Evil acts and tragic events come to us all in this vale of tears known as human life. The problem of evil and suffering is undoubtedly the greatest theological challenge we face.

Most persons face this issue only in a time of crisis. A senseless accident, a wasting disease, or an awful crime demands some explanation. Yesterday, evil showed its face again as a giant tornado brought death and destruction to Moore, Oklahoma.

For the atheist, this is no great problem. Life is a cosmic accident, morality is an arbitrary game by which we order our lives, and meaning is non-existent. As Oxford University’s Professor Richard Dawkins explains, human life is nothing more than a way for selfish genes to multiply and reproduce. There is no meaning or dignity to humanity.

For the Christian Scientist, the material world and the experience of suffering and death are illusory. In other religions suffering is part of a great circle of life or recurring incarnations of spirit.

Some Christians simply explain suffering as the consequence of sins, known or unknown. Some suffering can be directly traced to sin. What we sow, so shall we reap, and multiple millions of persons can testify to this reality. Some persons suffer innocently by the sinful acts of others.

But Jesus rejected this as a blanket explanation for suffering, instructing His disciples in John 9 and Luke 13 that they could not always trace suffering back to sin. We should note that the problem of evil and suffering, the theological issue of theodicy, is customarily divided into evil of two kinds, moral and natural. Both are included in these passages. In Luke 13, the murder of the Galileans is clearly moral evil, a premeditated crime–just like the terrorist acts in New York and Washington. In John 9, a man is blind from birth, and Jesus tells the Twelve that this blindness cannot be traced back to this man’s sin, or that of his parents.

Natural evil comes without a moral agent. A tower falls, an earthquake shakes, a tornado destroys, a hurricane ravages, a spider bites, a disease debilitates and kills. The world is filled with wonders mixed with dangers. Gravity can save you or gravity can kill you. When a tower falls, it kills.

People all over the world are demanding an answer to the question of evil. It comes only to those who claim that God is mighty and that God is good. How could a good God allow these things to happen? How can a God of love allow killers to kill, terrorists to terrorize, and the wicked to escape without a trace?

No superficial answer will do. Our quandary is well known, and the atheists think they have our number. As a character in Archibald MacLeish’s play, J.B. asserts, “If God is God He is not good, if God is good He is not God; take the even, take the odd . . . .” As he sees it, God can be good, or He can be powerful, but He cannot be both.

We will either take our stand with God’s self-revelation in the Bible, or we are left to invent a deity of our own imagination. The Bible quickly excludes two false understandings.

First, the Bible reveals that God is omnipotent and omniscient. These are unconditional and categorical attributes. The sovereignty of God is the bedrock affirmation of biblical theism. The Creator rules over all creation. Not even a sparrow falls without His knowledge. He knows the number of hairs upon our heads. God rules and reigns over all nations and principalities. Not one atom or molecule of the universe is outside His active rule.

The sovereignty of God was affirmed by King Nebuchadnezzar, who confessed that God “does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” [Daniel 4:36]. Process theologians have attempted to cut God’s power down to size, rendering the Creator as one power among others. The evangelical revisionists pushing open theism have attempted to cut God’s omniscience down to size, rendering Him as one mind among others.

Rabbi Harold Kushner argues that God is doing the best He can under the circumstances, but He lacks the power to either kill or cure. The openness theists argue that God is always ready with Plan B when Plan A fails. He is infinitely resourceful, they stress, just not really sovereign.

These are roads we dare not take, for the God of the Bible causes the rising and falling of nations and empires, and His rule is active and universal. Limited sovereignty is no sovereignty at all.

The second great error is to ascribe evil to God. But the Bible does not allow this argument. God is absolute righteousness, love, goodness, and justice. Most errors related to this issue occur because of our human tendency to impose an external standard–a human construction of goodness–upon God. But good does not so much define God as God defines good.

How then do we speak of God’s rule and reconcile this with the reality of evil? Between these two errors the Bible points us to the radical affirmation of God’s sovereignty as the ground of our salvation and the assurance of our own good. We cannot explain why God has allowed sin, but we understand that God’s glory is more perfectly demonstrated through the victory of Christ over sin. We cannot understand why God would allow sickness and suffering, but we must affirm that even these realities are rooted in sin and its cosmic effects.

How does God exercise His rule? Does He order all events by decree, or does He allow some evil acts by His mere permission? This much we know–we cannot speak of God’s decree in a way that would imply Him to be the author of evil, and we cannot fall back to speak of His mere permission, as if this allows a denial of His sovereignty and active will.

A venerable confession of faith states it rightly: “God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs, and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not in any way to be the author or approver of sin nor to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures.”

God is God, and God is good. As Paul affirms for the church, God’s sovereignty is the ground of our hope, the assurance of God’s justice as the last word, and God’s loving rule in the very events of our lives: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]

We dare not speak on God’s behalf to explain why He allowed these particular acts of evil to happen at this time to these persons and in this manner. Yet, at the same time, we dare not be silent when we should testify to the God of righteousness and love and justice who rules over all in omnipotence. Humility requires that we affirm all that the Bible teaches, and go no further. There is much we do not understand. As Charles Spurgeon explained, when we cannot trace God’s hand, we must simply trust His heart.

And so, we weep with those who weep, and we reach out with acts of care and compassion. We pray for those who are grieving and have experienced such loss. We cry for the children lost in this storm, even as we are so thankful for brave people who did their best to save lives as the winds raged. And, we pray: Even so, Lord come quickly.

This article was originally published on August 20, 2005. Last night I released a special edition of The Briefing completely dedicated to the challenge of Christian thinking in the wake of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado tragedy. Listen here: http://www.albertmohler.com/2013/05/20/the-briefing-special-edition-moore-oklahoma/