The Concerning Doctrinal Ambiguity of Andy Stanley
Yesterday on my personal twitter account, I reposted an article by Baptist Global News which was written by Bob Allen. I likened the article to the third verse of the same song regarding the doctrinal ambiguity of Andy Stanley. Let me quickly say from the onset that I have benefited from some of Andy Stanley's books, sermons, and leadership lessons. Andy Stanley has been on the cutting edge of ministry in the twenty-first century, he is a thinker, author, fantastic communicator, and innovator. Again, I have personally benefited from several of the resources that he has produced. I am not angry with Andy Stanley but I am concerned about the direction he is pointing others to not just in his congregation(s) but also in other congregations including my own. I have wanted to believe and still do want to believe, that Andy Stanley is orthodox in his theology but he has become very ambiguous over the years in several areas.
I have quietly watched as his preaching has become less and less Bible saturated and more philosophical and culturally driven. In fact, in an interview with Ed Stetzer from Lifeway, Andy made the following statement about expositional, verse by verse preaching: "Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that." Although there are a myriad of problems with that one statement, there is a fundamental problem: The Bible Is Not Sufficient. In other words: I must help God by adding my interpretation and spin to the subject matter in order for people to grow. Although preaching must have application and good communication, preaching must start by correct interpretation and dealing first and foremost with what God has spoken. This means hard work must be put in by the expositor to dig out the meaning of the text in context, faithfully teach and preach it, then allow the Spirit of God to lead to application in the lives of the listener. Stories, illustrations, and real life examples are all fine in their place but they cannot be the driving force of the message, the Text Must Drive The Sermon not the preacher and his "take" on the text.
Admittedly, my first concern about Andy's trashing of expositional preaching is not as doctrinal as it is philosophical. But after understanding his take on preaching, it was no great shock to me when Andy was ambiguous in his position on biblical authority and infallibility.
Albert Mohler writes the following:
"Let’s be clear — Andy Stanley does not mean to deny the central truth claims of Christianity. In his message, “Who Needs God? The Bible Told Me So,” he affirms the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. But he does so while undercutting our only means of knowing of Christ and his resurrection from the dead — the Bible.And he does so directly and without risk of misunderstanding. In his message he stated: “So I need you to listen really carefully and the reason is this — perhaps you were taught, as I was taught, ‘Jesus love me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ That is where our trouble began.”That is where our trouble began? What trouble?Stanley’s apologetic concern is clear from the beginning of this message. He identifies the crisis of “de-conversion” as adults leave the church because they have outgrown their child-like faith and no longer believe. He traces their de-conversion to the fact that their adult, “fact-based” questions were met with only childish, “faith-based” answers.He goes on to say that the “the Bible told me so” is “one of the threads we hear in de-conversion stories all the time, and I have a feeling for many, many, many of you who are losing faith or have lost faith, especially in the Christian faith, this is a bit of the part of your story.”Later, he follows by dismissing a “the Bible says it, that settles it” approach to Christianity. “The problem with that is this: if the Bible goes, so goes our faith.”At this point, Stanley goes on to amplify his concern with a Bible-based Christianity. “If the Bible is the foundation of your faith, here’s the problem: it is all or nothing. Christianity becomes a fragile, house of cards religion.”And, as he states boldly, “it is next to impossible to defend the entire Bible.”In short order, Stanley argues that claiming infallibility for the entire Bible is a losing project."
After reading Mohler's article I went back and listened to Stanley's entire message giving him the benefit of the doubt, but there is no doubt after listening, Andy genuinely believes the Bible is not completely accurate. You lost me there Andy. I went down that road while studying theology in a Christian Bible college and philosophy at night classes in the University of Tennessee. I have seen where that road leads. If God's Word cannot be trusted in the most minute and obscure texts, it cannot be trusted in the most glorious and profound texts that affect and shape our lives. The Bible is not a Golden Corral Buffet where you choose what you like and leave the rest off. You must accept it all or reject it all. There is no gray area of ambiguity allowed here.
After posting the Baptist Global News Article yesterday I was encouraged to listen to the entire message that Andy Stanley preached on December 3 at Northpoint. Unbeknownst to the people encouraging me to listen to the entire message, I already had listened to the message over a week before. My concern with Andy's statements about the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ was not that Andy denied the Virgin Birth, he simply marginalized the Virgin Birth. Literally, he stated: "Christianity does not hinge on the truth, or even the stories around the birth of Jesus." Again, I believe that Andy believes in the Virgin Birth, but he minimizes the importance of this truth by stating the resurrection is more important. Although the Resurrection is important, so is the Virgin Birth. In fact, the Resurrection would have been impossible without the Virgin Birth! And yes, Christianity does hinge on the truth of the birth of Jesus Christ. If He were born in any other way than the supernatural virgin birth, we would not have the Christian faith at all because our Bible would be inaccurate. Without an accurate Bible you can kiss Christianity goodbye. Andy disagrees.
Why write this? Don't you have better things to do? This seems knit picky. You are coming across as judgmental.
I write this because I am concerned with doctrinal clarity. As a preacher of the gospel, I do not get the luxury of ambiguity. I am commanded by our Lord to speak God's Word clearly and let the chips fall where they may. My responsibility is not to give my take or spin on what God has spoken, it is simply to declare what God has spoken clearly. I also am a pastor of a local New Testament Church. One of the not so glamorous sides of shepherding people is to warn them when doctrinal error or ambiguity is on the horizon. My heart in this matter is not to trash Andy Stanley or to minimize the good that he has done. My heart is to clearly express my full belief in the Scriptures, encourage the members of the church that I pastor that they can believe their Bible completely and that it ok to still be amazed and enamored with the miraculous in the Scripture, and that their child like faith is not childish in fact it is very mature! The Apostle Paul states that the miraculous life and ministry of Jesus Christ does not need my explanation, only my belief when he reminds us: "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." - 1 Timothy 3:16