Wednesday, September 28, 2016

For Andy Stanley Tells Us So

My daughter was recently speaking with another millennial about their faith in Jesus. While both women profess to be Christians, my daughter’s friend expressed that she does not feel like she needs to read the Bible. Her main reason is because she finds some of the things in the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) to be offensive. Her conclusion, “After all, wherever two or more are gathered in God’s name, God is there. So, all I need is God, not the Bible.” My wise daughter was quick to ask, “But, where did you read the notion that wherever two or more are gathered in God’s name, God is there?” That is what we call a proverbial checkmate. Needless to say, I am proud to call this woman of God “daughter.” And, God is likewise, if not more, proud. What are we witnessing today among “Christian” circles regarding God’s word? There is a falling away from God and a falling away from the Bible, His word. But, are the two related? The answer is undoubtedly yes.

A high profile example of this is the recent sermon by Andy Stanley, “Who Needs God? The Bible Tells Me So.” Stanley is the Senior Pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the famous son of another high profile pastor, Charles Stanley. In this recent sermon, Stanley attempted to address the problem of what he refers to as high numbers of people “de-converting” from Christianity. He credits the primary reason for this de-conversion to our over-reliance on the Bible. Stanley proclaims that the Bible can’t be defended against the truth claims of science, among other things. Further, as an example of how unnecessary such reliance is, Stanley twisted early church history to claim that the early church thrived for hundreds of years without the Bible. In other words, Christians don’t need the Bible. And, our over-reliance on a flawed book is unnecessarily driving people away from Christianity. We will address Stanley’s foolish statements. But, if you think I am misquoting him, you can hear the entire sermon on his website by clicking HERE.

In the sermon, Stanley begins with, “'Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.' That is where our trouble began.” He later contends, “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.” Let’s address these quotes one by one.

Stanley claims that “our trouble began” with “for the Bible tells me so.” So, instead of the Bible tells us so, he attempts to rather persuade us that Andy Stanley tells us so? Do you see the blinded flaw? If not, allow me to expose it further through a series of questions. Apart from this sermon, which of Stanley’s sermons were not based upon the Bible as authority? If it is "all or nothing" then why is Stanley basing his sermons on the Bible? Stanley’s quotes are as bad as the millennial’s that my daughter easily dismissed. Stanley claims our trouble began with “the Bible tells me so.” To which we say, what trouble? We know that Stanley is referring to people supposedly de-converting from Christianity. But, according to whom is that a problem? Is it a problem for God? If not, it is not a problem for us. By the way, the church is not declining globally but advancing and by record numbers with reliance upon the entirety of the Bible. Did Stanley stop and think that maybe the de-converted that he is referring to were never converted to begin with? After all, you can’t lose your salvation. The truth is that if they left the faith, they were never converted to begin with. In other words, “de-conversion” is fiction. And, maybe the church is better off without "members" who can't tolerate God’s word?

To properly address Stanley's claims, we need look no further than the words of Jesus in the Parable of the Sower. And, since Stanley has preached several times on the Parable of the Sower, using its contents and their authority to respond to his claims is fair game. The Parable of the Sower can be found in Matthew 13. And, in Matthew 13:18-23, Jesus explains the parable: “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

The Parable is explained by Jesus to prophetically refer to four types of people who receive the word represented by seed sown on (1) the path, (2) rocky soil, (3) among thorns and on (4) good soil. All four people receive the word of the Kingdom, but three of the four fall away. While Stanley might characterize these three as de-conversions, in truth these three were false positives. These are people who seemed to believe but never committed their lives to God. Someone who leaves the church because of the Bible was never in the church truly. They were never part of the Bride who unconditionally loves Jesus, the Word became flesh. They never committed their lives to Jesus Christ. Said another way, if you leave Jesus, you thereby prove that you never committed your life to Him. You only committed a portion of your life prior to falling away. Post-falling away, your life is not committed at all. That is not life commitment. That is not conversion. True conversion is God's to judge, but it will be manifested by endurance.

Also, notice the use of the “word” in the Parable. This is the Greek word, logos, which is used to refer to all scripture, and even Jesus Himself as God in John 1:1. Secondly, notice that the words of Jesus here are prophetic, even referring to the days in which we are now living - of which Stanley presently preaches. And, to that point, notice what happens to the person who is represented by the rocky ground: “when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” Is this not precisely what Stanley should have been referring to when he refers to the de-converted? So, these "rocky ground" people later face persecution over the word, they can’t seem to defend it, and they choose to fall away. The Holy Spirit response is to take this example as reason to stand firm on the word, not justify those who fall away as Stanley attempts to do. After all, the parable is pointing us to be like the fourth soil who never departs from the word regardless of persecution, tribulation, riches, etc. If you fall away on account of the word, it is not the word that has the problem, but he that falls away from it. The Sower and His seed are flawless. It is the soil that is flawed. It is not the word of God that we should therefore run away from. Rather, God's word is the very bread of life that we need to survive every day. In fact, it was Jesus Himself when tempted to turn stones to bread who responded to Lucifer in Matthew 4:4 (thereby reciting Deuteronomy 8:3), “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Where else do we have such word to consume but in the Bible? Need we say more?

With regards to the veracity of the Bible which Stanley attempted to denounce, I will here repeat what I posted a couple weeks ago regarding the progressive church movement: “The sad irony is that if we measure ourselves against the veracity of the Bible, it is we who are intellectually lacking, not the Bible. It is we who are obscure, wavering and lacking in integrity, not the Bible. The Bible is far more intellectually superior than we are. The scientific discoveries revealed on its pages prior to their credited discovery by man speak to its humanity-surpassing truth. And, the Bible’s thousands of prophecies fulfilled hundreds of years after being spoken prove its supernatural spirituality. Any man who puts his intellect in judgment of the Bible’s content so declares himself a fool before both God and man.” Stanley does not measure up. Even 1,000 Andy Stanleys combined are nowhere near the Bible's level of veracity. You can add to that all of the world’s scholars and the Bible’s veracity far exceeds their combination. Stanley’s sermon is a bold and liberal attempt to transfer authority to something other than the Bible. But, there is no such authority physically available to man that transcends it, including Stanley's flawed opinions.

As Dr. Al Mohler eloquently responded to Stanley, “And what is our alternative? Are we to believe that those who are ‘de-converting’ from Christianity can be weaned off of the Bible and on to some other sufficient authority? … an attempt to rescue Christianity from its dependence upon Scripture is doomed to disaster…If Scripture cannot be trusted, then we are doomed.” A religion that is loosely based upon scripture will not convert anyone to the God of scripture. In John 5:39 Jesus even said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” Isn’t Jesus practically saying, believe in me because the Bible tells you so?

In conclusion, de-conversion is not "our trouble". Further, none of our troubles begin with reliance on scripture for that is what our spiritual life depends upon. In fact, falling away from scripture and justifying such falling away is where our troubles do in fact begin. The irony is that Stanley’s sermon represents precisely the origin of all troubles – disrespect of God’s word. That was proven in Eden and echoed throughout history including today, even from the mouths of so called pastors. Here is a wiser teaching: Any pastor who addresses the Bible's veracity by in any way repeating the words of Lucifer, “Did God actually say…?” – his sermon should be completely dismissed.

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