Andy Stanley and the Bible

Bible close up

There has lately been a considerable amount of buzz over some controversial statements that Andy Stanley has made. For those who are unaware, Andy Stanley, son and ministry “heir” of Charles Stanley, is the pastor of Northpoint Church in Atlanta, Georgia. John Haller, of Fellowship Bible Chapel, in his Prophecy Update YouTube titled, “The Foolishness of God”, addresses some very serious concerns about things which Stanley has himself stated, and groups/movements he is associated with. For example, the Catalyst Conference, which Stanley put together and Northpoint hosts, at least in 2014 promoted the New Age practice of “Centering Prayer.”

What is raising concern now is a recent Stanley series, “The Bible Tells me so.” Some of the things Stanley says in this series call into question whether he truly believes in the inerrancy of Scripture. Does Andy Stanley believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God – or is simply “inspiring?” John Haller presents video excerpts of Stanley’s talk, which are greatly helpful. Stanley begins with:

Perhaps you were taught, as I was taught, Jesus loves me, this I know – and let’s all finish it together – for the Bible tells me so. Yes. This is where our trouble began.

John Haller first compliments Stanley for the time he took laying out how the Bible was canonized, noting it was fairly well done. Church history should be taught in an understandable way from the pulpit. The canonization process was utilized by early Christian Fathers to weed out manuscripts that had not been penned by the Apostles, or by someone who had worked closely with an apostle (such as Mark or Luke). Stanley remarks that the Bible, as a single book, wasn’t really assembled until near the end of 4th Century A.D. He then begins to go off the rails a bit:

Before the Old Testament and New Testament were combined and titled the Bible – this is unbelievable – Christianity had already, before there was a Bible, replaced the pantheon of Roman, barbarian, and most Egyptian gods, and was the state religion of the Roman Empire. And no one had ever held in their hand a Bible! The first, second, and third century Christians who faced tremendous hardship – don’t miss this – believed Jesus loved them before the Bible told them so. Peter believed Jesus loved him, James did, John, Luke, Paul, they – listen, this is huge – Peter, James, Paul the apostle, they did not choose to follow Jesus because of an infallible Old Testament or a non-contradicting New Testament.

If Stanley’s intent was to teach that we are saved by faith in the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, as opposed to belief in “an infallible Old Testament,” that is true. Stanley though, goes much further than this. He begins with some truisms, statements that are generally true but may or may not be true in specific cases, but his conclusions are, we feel, misleading. For example, it is true that the binding of scriptures into a single volume occurred a few centuries into Church history, but all of the content of the Bible was extant in the First Century. Therefore, the scriptures, though not yet bound together, were all held in the hands of Christians in the First, Second and Third centuries, as separate documents. In fact, the Ante-Nicene Fathers (church leaders before the Council of Nicaea) quoted from the written documents prolifically. The Fathers quoted from the scriptures in order to underpin and validate their own arguments, to prove what they were saying by the revealed and written Word of God! This practice was certainly not new to them – they were carrying on the noble tradition which the Bereans followed with the Apostle Paul and the Old Testament:

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

Not only did the Bereans go to the Scriptures to find support and confirmation of Paul’s claims, but Paul and the other apostles did likewise – and Jesus himself appealed to the Scriptures to make His case:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)

The Apostle Paul makes the Scriptures foundational to the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

The Apostles indeed, as Stanley claims, “believed Jesus loved them before the Bible told them so,” in large part because Jesus told them so face to face! No one alive since the first century has had that luxury, and have relied on the Bible to tell them so since those days! The New Testament was written to communicate the stories of the eyewitnesses, to explain and prove what the gospel was and is, and to correct false teachers who were making extra-biblical and non-biblical claims. Sadly, Stanley paints the Scriptures as being an unreliable, “fragile” underpinning of the faith:

In other words, imagine this conversation. You know somebody with all this information you know, comes to the apostle Peter, let’s say the apostle Peter. Says to Peter, ‘Hey before you all geeked out on this following Jesus thing, do you realize there is no evidence for a worldwide flood? Before you get all crazy about the Jesus thing, do you know there’s no archaeological evidence for the exodus? Hey Paul, before you all, and Peter, before you get all crazy by the Jesus thing, you realize the earth is more than 6000 years old, that whole genealogy in Genesis?’

Peter would’ve looked at you like, ‘I’m not really sure what you’re talking about, but, but, but, I followed a man for three years…Who spoke like no other man spoke. He was arrested and crucified, and we thought game over. Because he said too much to be a good teacher, he claimed too much about himself to be a good teacher. Game over. We’re all in hiding – a bunch of women come babbling that the tomb is empty the tomb is empty. I looked into an empty tomb and do you know what I concluded? Somebody stole the body. And a few days later, I had breakfast with my risen friend on the beach. So I’m not sure about 6000-year-old earth. I not sure about archaeological evidence. I’m not sure about all that. The reason I’m following Jesus is because I saw him die and I saw him alive and I went to the streets of Jerusalem to say God has done something among us’.

For the first 300 years, the debate centered on an event – not a book. For the first 300 years of the existence of Christianity, the debate was about an event – not a book. The question was not, is the Bible true, is the Bible true, is the Bible true? The question was – did Jesus rise from the dead? Christianity, don’t miss this. Christianity does not hang by the thread of ‘the Bible tells me so.’ And if your church sent you off to college with that house of cards, I apologize. And if your entire life, your whole thing has been, ‘I gotta defend the Bible, I gotta defend the Bible,’ uh oh, there’s information that looks like it contradicts the Bible. ‘I can’t look over there. Honey don’t look over there.’ I’m so sorry you are left with that fragile version of our faith.

The big blue elephant in the room, which Stanley seems to overlook, is that the resurrection cannot underpin our faith, apart from the Bible. Peter could say that he personally witnessed a man being crucified and raised from the dead. Yes, he certainly could! Unfortunately, we, as people who were not eyewitnesses to the resurrection, cannot say the same! It is primarily the Bible which makes the case, and cannot possibly base our faith upon the resurrection without it! How would any of us know the truth of the resurrection without its testimony?

Laying that fundamental problem aside, the events he cites as indefensible are recorded in the Old Testament, and faithful Jews in the First Century believed these stories to be accurate and inerrant as the word of God. Even more importantly, Jesus Himself confirmed each of these as being true. He affirmed Noah and the flood (Matthew 24:27-38; Luke 17:27). Jesus references Moses and events which were recorded in the Exodus account several times. In Mark 12:26, Jesus referenced the burning bush. In Luke 24:44, he speaks of the Law of Moses, which was given to Moses in the Exodus account. In fact, Moses and the Law are repeatedly referenced, which demonstrates Jesus’ belief that the accounts as recorded are true – factual, i.e. really happened, just as laid out in the Old Testament scriptures. Could Jesus have been mistaken? Was He, as fully God, uninformed? Could the “somebody with all this information” have rocked Jesus’ faith, maybe?

Second, if we cannot today appeal to the scripture to verify our faith, why are the scriptures the very thing that Jesus and the apostles appealed to? When Jesus and the Apostles were challenged, they often appealed to Scripture as authoritative and reliable. For example, when Jesus was tempted His response was to quote Deuteronomy 8:3:

But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4; cf. Luke 4:4)

Peter openly equates Paul’s writings to Scripture in 2 Peter 3:15-16 which reads:

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

The battles over biblical claims, from the First through the Fourth Century, are recorded in Scripture and in the writings of the early church Fathers (the Ante-Nicene Fathers). These battles weren’t over the flood or the Exodus, because those were completely settled issues, written in Scripture and confirmed by Jesus.

There was little debate or discussion about the Deity of Christ in the first few centuries because, again, the fact of Jesus’ deity was universally believed by the early church. What did come under fire was the question of God taking on human nature, and we find a great deal of apologetic written in defense of that proposition. Similarly, Paul had to address the question of the physical resurrection very early on (1 Corinthians 15), and this battle continued with Justin Martyr and others in the Second Century. As the Church approached the Fourth Century, the humanity of Christ had been settled, but new false teachers arose denying the deity of Christ and doctrine of the Trinity (a term that was already in use in the late Second Century.)

To try to divorce the faith from Scripture is a fool’s errand. We do not have the eyewitnesses alive today to tell the story. We have their testimony recorded in the very documents Andy Stanley is suggesting are “fragile.” Yes, the Resurrection of Jesus is, as Stanley points out, the linchpin of the faith. But how would anyone believe in the resurrection if they did not have the Bible or had it but could not trust it? We are not saved by the Scriptures but we know the gospel and God’s will for us by, you guessed it, the Bible. An excellent resource to better understand how we received the Bible is From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible.

We realize this is a bit longer than our usual blog, but the issue seemed to warrant a more in-depth response. If the Bible isn’t reliable, then Jesus isn’t reliable – for He affirmed the very Scriptures which Stanley seems to disparage. If the Bible isn’t reliable, the very resurrection has to be held as suspect, since it is the Bible which teaches it. This is how essential the Bible and its reliability is to our faith. We hope that Andy Stanley believes in the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture – and he may, but that isn’t apparent in this talk.Ω

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