When I saw Andy Stanley’s name trending on Twitter early last week, I resisted the urge to find out what his latest gaffe was. There were better ways to invest my time, I assured myself. In one sense, that was true. While Christians sometimes really do need to name those who propagate falsehood in the name of Christ, discernment ministries gone bad have shown us the danger of devolving into spiritual gossips. I’ve learned that naming names should be done sparingly, and always with the goal of building up believers rather than tearing down false teachers.
Alas, Andy Stanley’s recent blunder caught up to me through two podcasts I listened to this past weekend. Neither podcast brought him up for the purpose of gossip, but rather out of genuine concern that he is conditioning evangelicals to minimize the authority of the Bible. After listening to both podcasts, I determined that I have something to contribute to the conversation that is less about Andy Stanley himself (though I pray for his repentance), and more about upholding the Scripture as having authority even over people who refuse to believe it and have no intention of submitting to its teachings.
In the introduction to his new sermon series, Stanley declared that appealing to Scripture fails to reach people for Christ. In both evangelism and ministering to those who have become disenchanted with the church, he says, we should not use the Bible as ground zero in our attempts to bring them to the Lord. He explains that neither audience accepts God’s Word as being relevant or compelling, and for that reason we must avoid prefacing any statement with “the Bible says…”
I understand his intent in shying away from the Bible. I think he sincerely feels compassion towards people who question the Bible’s right to give direction to their lives, and consequently he wants a more palatable way to reconcile them to God. As understandable as his approach is, however, its ultimate result is to replace the Word of God with human reasoning.
As Christians, we dare not treat God’s Word as being disposable. If we treat it as a hindrance to effective evangelism, and therefore reason for embarrassment, we may want to evaluate whether or not we really believe it’s the actual Word of God. If we believe it is anything less than sufficient, even in winning people to Christ, I question how we can determine anything about Who God is or how He wants His followers to live. And I in turn wonder why we would even care about winning anyone to Christ in the first place. Filling seats and offering plates doesn’t strike me as a valid reason for evangelism.
If, however, we believe that Jesus Christ provides the only means of salvation, and that those who don’t believe in Him will spend eternity in hell, shouldn’t we also believe that His Word has the power to bring sinners to saving faith (1 Peter 1:23, James 1:18)? Indeed, God’s Word has the power to convict sinners of their need for Christ.
But Andy Stanley’s main concern is with young people who have walked away from their Christian upbringing. According to him, they have seen that the Bible doesn’t keep up with modern science — stories of a six day creation, a worldwide flood and a prophet surviving for three days in the stomach of a fish just seem too outlandish for anyone to believe. He further argues that, because Biblical stories assault the intellect, young people immediately tune out when more conservative Christians try to win them back to the faith by appealing to Scripture. As he sees it, we must find other means of making a case for Christianity.
But is Andy Stanley correct in supposing that we can make a case for Christianity without using the Bible? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe God’s Word is the most powerful tool God has given us in making Him known. Early in my walk with the Lord, I learned to use Scripture regardless of whether or not my audience accepted its authority.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~~Hebrews 4:12 (NASB95)
Even someone who scoffs at the Bible, claiming that it’s nothing but fairytales and outdated morality, can’t really escape its truth. That person may convince herself that she needn’t take it seriously, but her unbelief can’t negate its authority. Their belief or unbelief can’t determine the validity of the Bible because the Bible is God’s Word. Therefore God alone determines whether or not His Word is true.
A person can reject the Bible. People reject it all the time. But their denial is as meaningless as denials that the earth is round. Pandering to someone’s disbelief in Scripture only shows them that we really don’t take it seriously, either. And if we apparently don’t genuinely believe what we profess to believe, we end up confirming their assertion that Christians are nothing more than hypocrites. On the other hand, if we continue taking them to the Bible despite their skepticism, we demonstrate our unwavering commitment to it. If nothing else, they walk away knowing that we honestly believe our Gospel.
Frankly, who cares if Andy Stanley says we can unhitch from the Bible? I care what God says in His Word. And I’m going to proclaim His Word regardless of what anyone thinks because I believe it comes from Him.