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).

Smilingly Leading You to Hell

Today Pastor Tim Challies has an eye opening post on his blog about the fruit of the Spirit, and the false shepherds of this age.  Here is the link for the original post, and below is the text…worth taking a few minutes to read.  Again, I can’t stress how important it is to be aware, and careful Christians who have discernment in all things.

Smilingly Leading You to Hell

One of these is unlike the others: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, niceness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. According to Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, all but one of these is what he refers to as the fruit of the Spirit, which is to say, visible evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. If you are a Christian, your life will necessarily be marked by this kind of character. But which one is foreign to the list? Niceness.

Humans seem to be naturally drawn to niceness. Niceness is comfortable. To be nice is to be pleasant in manner, to be agreeable, to adhere to social conventions. We like to be around people who are nice at least in large part because we are comforted by their pleasant words or deeds and by their adherence to whatever social custom dictates. It is an attractive quality, but it can also be a deceptive one. It is, after all, an external trait, and one that has no necessary correlation with what is going on at an internal, spiritual level. Christians can be nice, but so too can unbelievers. The Holy Spirit may help us be nice, but niceness is not necessarily proof that we are living in the Spirit and by the Spirit. Some of the most evil people are also the nicest people.

Brian McLaren may well be the nicest guy around. He recently faced a good bit of criticism for leading a commitment ceremony following his son’s same-sex wedding—a ceremony that included “traditional Christian elements.” In the aftermath, McLaren was as nice as he has ever been. On his blog he answered a former fan who now understood that he could no longer see McLaren as a mentor. This person was reeling, trying to figure out who could now help guide him in his understanding of the Christian faith. McLaren’s answer was nice; it had the appearance of humility and genuinely sorrowful affection. Yet it was radically opposed to the Bible. He rashly changed the way we interpret Scripture, denying what the Bible makes so clear. If you allow him to, Brian McLaren will “nice” you straight to hell.

And he is far from the only one. Both the history of the church and contemporary Evangelical church are replete with nice people who are in complete rebellion against God. Is there anyone nicer than Joel Osteen? Yet is there anyone whose message has less of the gospel and more anti-biblical nonsense? You can watch him in this video, sitting with Oprah, receiving accolades, nicely, smilingly leading an eager crowd farther and farther from the cross. He is nice, but he, too, will nice you straight to the gates of hell, flashing that brilliant smile all the while.

Christians are called by God to stand firm on what the Bible says is true, no matter how counter-cultural, and no matter how odious to the spirit of the age. When Christians do this we are so often portrayed as being unpleasant or disagreeable, the very opposite of nice. We need to allow ourselves to be portrayed as not nice. We cannot afford to allow niceness to be a fruit of the Spirit along with the rest. It may be impossible to be nice when we stand with firm conviction on what the Bible says about marriage, about the value of unborn children, or any other area where culture conflicts with Scripture. We need to be okay with that, as long as the fruit of the Spirit is present in its place. If we are to be nice at all, we must first be full of love, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and the other character qualities that are genuinely reflective of the Spirit.

Niceness is not a bad trait. It is not wrong or sinful to be nice. But we vastly overestimate it and at the same time confuse it with those traits that matter so much more. It may be good to be nice, but it is so much better to be holy.