Do We Care What Andy Stanley Says?

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.

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The Wheelchair Square Dance And Listening To God’s Word

The church I attended in California often had square dances — mostly to give singles something to do on Valentine’s Day. Singles, married couples and children all joined the fun, and I enjoyed watching and chatting with other spectators. Over the years, I learned that square dancing isn’t really that difficult if dancers simply listen to the caller. Callers always explain the calls before each set so that everyone understands how to respond to each call. Thus, even though I didn’t dance myself, I knew that the trick to square dancing comes from paying attention to the caller.

About that time (I’m guessing over 30 years ago) a friend of mine from another church had started a ministry to disabled children using equestrian therapy (she was herself a wheelchair user who had benefited from horseback riding). She always invited me to her fundraising events. When she called to invite me to a wheelchair square dance, I couldn’t resist!

Like every other square dance I’d attended, this one began with the caller carefully teaching us how to respond to each call. Because we all used wheelchairs, he also taught us how to adapt the calls to dancing in chairs. It really wasn’t rocket science, even with the added condition of wheelchairs, and everyone caught on pretty quickly.

Everyone except the partner they gave me.

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When Scripture Dismantles My Blog Post

I pretty much knew what I wanted to say, so I started writing the introduction to my latest post on Titus 2:3-5 Monday. My back hurt from having to spend the weekend in bed due to a lack of Personal Care Attendant coverage, so typing was slow and painful. I knew I needed to check the Greek for the word translated as “love” in verse 4, although I’ve always assumed it was “agape.” I promised myself I’d look it up Tuesday, when my back would feel better.

Tuesday my PCA didn’t feel well, and didn’t want to come in case she had COVID. (Thankfully, it’s just a very mild cold, so she came back Wednesday.) My backup PCA had car troubles, so I spent Tuesday in bed, mentally revising part of my introduction. Of course, Wednesday I had pain from spending another day in bed, and unexpected company ate an hour that I’d planned to use for blogging. When I finally got to my blog, I chose to rewrite my second paragraph before looking up the Greek. Again, the pain slowed my typing, and consequently I was simply too exhausted to do research.

Thursday, I actually did look up the Greek word rendered “love” in Titus 2:4. To my surprise, Paul used two Greek words — one for loving husbands and one for loving children. That’s very interesting, and I will restructure my article according to the correct definitions of those words. But of course I’ll need to first think through the proper application of the verse in light of those definitions.

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Why Should We Care About Something That Happened 505 Years Ago?

Here in the United States of America, our collective attention centers on the midterm elections. Inflation and abortion dominate as the two major issues, causing this election cycle to be a referendum on (respectively) the Biden administration and the Supreme Court. It’s quite appropriate that Christians, in our desire to be salt and light to a culture that thumbs its nose at God’s laws, would be deeply concerned about what happens on November 8.

As critical as the midterm elections are, it troubles me that very few Christians have any concern about what happened in Germany on October 31, 1517. Actually, most Christians think of October 31 as a reason to debate whether or not to participate in Halloween. When you mention the Protestant Reformation, they give you a quizzical look and hasten to change the subject.

I admit to once being indifferent to the topic, even as for a Christian. During my Freshman year of college, my Political Science professor covered it briefly, pretty much attributing it to Martin Luther’s chronic bouts of constipation. For decades, I knew little about Luther beyond his digestive problems. Furthermore, I didn’t really think the Protestant Reformation had much to do with me. I believe most Christians share that indifference.

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The Confusing Aspects Of Contending For The Faith

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. ~~Jude 3-4 (NASB95)

Have you noticed an increase in articles and podcasts lately discussing if, why and how Christians should address false teachers and doctrinal error? There seems to be a growing angst within Reformed circles regarding the topic, and not a great deal of consensus.

Regular readers of my blog know that I’ve struggled with this matter for years. I don’t know if that puts me ahead of the curve or what. And it doesn’t really matter if I was onto something before it was popular or not, does it? I guess I just find it reassuring that more and more people now question certain tactics and motives of some discernment ministries.

A recent episode of Apologetics Live from Striving For Eternity made an interesting point about how good discernment ministries can take a wrong turn. Host Andrew Rappaport explained that the vast majority of discernment bloggers start out with right intentions. They see false teachers or erroneous practices among professing Christians, and they write articles correctly addressing those problems. But when those articles get lots of clicks, likes and shares, many bloggers realize that calling out the bad guys enhances the popularity of their website. So they produce more articles, sometimes cutting corners on research and ignoring context in order to convince their followers of their position. In the end, they forfeit whatever discernment they have for the sake of notoriety.

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Flashback Friday: How Could Adding To God’s Word Subtract From Its Authority?

Originally published April 30, 2019:

God's Megaphone

Despite having an accountant for a father, I am utterly hopeless with numbers. Actually, growing old seems to make it worse; even the simplest calculations throw me into fits of confusion. Nevertheless, I still know the difference between addition and subtraction.

I also know that spiritual principles shouldn’t be reduced to mathematical formulas. Consequently, I understand that adding to God’s Word (whether with extrabiblical teaching, spiritual practices or personal experiences) ends up taking away Scripture’s authority.

As a young Christian, I learned that Scripture has power precisely because it’s God’s Word rather than a book written by fallible human beings. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the writer of Hebrews wrote:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~~Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

Back then,  we applied this verse to Scripture’s effectiveness in evangelism. That’s definitely a proper application, and I firmly believe that we must rely on the Bible whenever we present the Gospel. Sure, non-Christians will reject it unless the Holy Spirit does His work of regeneration. That’s okay. We’ve still demonstrated the integrity of trusting our Master’s Word.

Trusting Scripture goes beyond our evangelism, however. The Lord gives His Word — first and foremost — to believers. Contrary to what many popular teachers say, God has completed the canon of Scripture, revealing everything He wants us to know until He comes again.

Certainly, Scripture does seem limited sometimes. When we face major decisions or suffer heart rending tragedy, we want God to whip out His megaphone and speak directly to us. After all, He spoke personally to people in the Bible. But such reasoning actually demonstrates our unwillingness to believe that God’s Word is enough.

We don’t acknowledge our disdain for the Bible (even to ourselves) when we accept revelation beyond its pages, but think seriously about it for a moment. Aren’t we in fact taking away authority from the Bible in order to invest it in an alternate authority? In so doing, don’t we therefore subtract our faith in God’s Word by transferring that faith to something else?

Rather than augmenting God’s Word, we actually diminish it whenever we add outside sources of revelation. For all intents and purposes, our additions to His Word declare that we view the Bible as being inadequate to speak to us. Shouldn’t we return to a proper estimation of Scripture?

Should Christians Argue Over Whether Or Not David Raped Bathsheba?

Most people know about King David’s sinful actions with Bathsheba, as well as his murder of her husband (2 Samuel 11:1-12:25). In the past few years, people from the #MeToo and #ChurchToo crowd on Twitter have been posting their belief that David didn’t merely commit adultery with Bathsheba. They contend that he used his position of power (as king of Israel) to force himself on her. This allegation resurfaced again recently fueling several heated discussions. Some conservatives countered that, by bathing in sight of David’s palace, Bathsheba intentionally seduced the king. People on both sides of the debate have been arguing passionately, largely from what Scripture doesn’t say.

Early last week, temptation got the better of me, and I threw myself into the melee. Of course, I received an attack on my education — or lack thereof — by someone who subsequently admitted to not accepting Christian scholarship on the matter. The idiocy of that attack only encouraged me to keep arguing. So I continued making my case, determined to prove that, as despicable as David’s actions were, he did not rape Bathsheba.

As I plotted strategies to further my case, however, a verse from 2 Timothy came to mind.

 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. ~~2 Timothy 2:23 (NASB95)

The arguments on Twitter, you see, depend on speculation rather than on actual Scripture. Although both sides made intelligent arguments based on what the Bible account seems to suggest, in the end all of us relied on our speculations instead of allowing the Bible to speak for itself.

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Peter Wrote An Entire Letter Refuting False Teachers Without Naming Any

My pastor used to frustrate me! I knew, from my personal interactions with him, that he was well aware of the celebrity evangelical teachers who taught false doctrine. I don’t doubt that he knew that some women in the church practiced evangelical fads that contradicted solid teaching. I used to pray that he would find ways to call out false teachers from the pulpit because I thought it was the only hope of convincing those women of the dangers. Once, and only once, he actually named someone briefly. Otherwise, he just preached faithfully through the Bible, trusting the Holy Spirit to correct our wrong thinking through the power of God’s Word.

As I saw it, teaching the Bible never corrected error in the other churches I’d belonged to. Those pastors also preached through books, and home Bible Study leaders taught through books. So they took verses in isolation much of the time, emphasizing application over interpretation, and their interpretation often ignored context. They still used the Bible, didn’t they? And they encouraged us to read our Bibles daily, looking for things to jump out at us. Like my current pastor, they assured us that familiarity with Scripture would protect us against false teaching. But we still wandered into all sorts of error, including a few errors that our pastors endorsed.

This past Wednesday night, our pastor gave an overview of 2 Peter, a letter written in response to false teachers who had infiltrated First Century churches. Chapter 2 presents a blistering description of false teachers, showing no pity. Winsome, Peter was not!

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Protecting Yourself Against False Teachers

Although I will rarely identity false teachers by name anymore, I believe in the importance of training my readers to guard against such people. Every New Testament book except for Philemon deals at some level with the subject, and many Old Testament books address the problem. From that we can surmise God’s deep concern that His people not turn aside to deception.

Most of us believe that Christ’s return, and thus the end of this world, is imminent. Since I’m not as well-schooled on eschatology as I ought to be, I’ll refrain from making dogmatic remarks based on the evening news. But Scripture indeed draws a connection between the last days and the increased proliferation of false teaching. Notice, for instance, Paul’s warning to Timothy:

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. ~~1 Timothy 4:1-5 (NASB95)

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Playing Whack A Mole Was Fun, But I Don’t Want To Do It As Often

Let me begin by assuring you that I have nothing against discernment ministries and blogs that call out false teachers. Especially when those discernment ministries and blogs balance their critiques with clear Biblical teaching. Elizabeth Prata serves as one of the best examples of Biblical discernment ministry precisely because she emphasizes Scripture and doesn’t write about false teachers unless she has reason. Justin Peters, though famous for exposing false teachers, always maintains his purpose of proclaiming the true Gospel. Other trustworthy discernment leaders include Chris Rosebrough, Steve Kozar, Amy Spreeman and Michelle Lesley.

When people call out false teachers for the purpose of leading others to sound doctrine and therefore pure devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s a good work they do. So much of the evangelical world falls for deception because they don’t receive solid instruction in the Word of God. Consequently, the need for discernment ministries has mushroomed in recent decades. Young and poorly taught Christians often need to hear the truth about popular teachers on the evangelical landscape.

The Bible commands us to be aware of false teachers to the point of calling them out.

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