This is a guest post. Chris King serves as the Senior Pastor of Bayou View Baptist Church in Gulfport, Mississippi. He is an Adjunct Professor of Christian Preaching for Boyce College Online. Dr. King earned his M. Div. and Ph. D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.
I have a friend who tells a funny story about a prank his Mom pulled on him. She cooked him a plate of brownies (one of his favorite deserts). As he was excitedly reaching for one, his mom asked, “Is it OK if I put just a little dog poop in the brownies?” His face filled with disgust as he replied, “Of course not!” She gave him a serious look and said, “Do you see now why it’s not OK for you to commit what you think is just a little bit of sin in your life?” The point hit home with my friend. He had been justifying some of his sinful behavior by claiming it was just a small area of his life. His Mom’s point demonstrates how a little bit of something foul can corrupt something very good.
This helps to illustrate one of the main problems with Andy Stanley’s teaching. He claims that Christians should focus on the resurrection and not rely on the Bible. Stanley rightly emphasizes the resurrection as a core truth for the Christian life. But his rejection of the foundational place of God’s written Word corrupts his view of the Christian faith.
Stanley recently preached a sermon series entitled, “Aftermath.” His church’s website describes it as follows: “If you were raised on a version of Christianity that relied on the Bible as the foundation of faith, a version that was eventually dismantled by academia or the realities of life, maybe it’s time for you to change your mind about Jesus. Maybe it’s time for you to consider the version of Christianity that relies on the event of the resurrection of Jesus as its foundation. If you gave up your faith because of something about or in the Bible, maybe you gave up unnecessarily. (emphasis mine)” http://northpoint.org/messages/aftermath/stand-alone/
In this series, Stanley discredits what he labels, “a version of Christianity that relied on the Bible as the foundation of faith.” He appears to be arguing that Christians should not hold to the Bible, but to the resurrection of Jesus. Any Christian leader who questions the reliability and usefulness of God’s Word is either terribly confused or a false teacher. Either way, such a teacher is a dangerous influence. A “version of Christianity” that does not rely on the Bible is not Christianity.
Stanley’s expanding influence prompted the writing of this article. I will attempt to show how the examples, beliefs, and practices of Jesus and Paul contradict his assertions. This will expose his “version” of Christianity as polluted and dangerous. I’ll do this by: 1. showing the high regard Jesus Christ held for God’s Word; and 2. demonstrating the essential place of God’s Word in Paul’s ministry.
First, Jesus Christ continually referred to God’s written Word. Jesus clearly relied on the Scripture (in His case the Old Testament) as the foundation of his life, ministry, and work. Three times Jesus replies to the devil’s temptations by declaring, “It is written…” (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10) In rebuking the Pharisees, Jesus consistently points them to the Scripture (Matt. 21:42). He exposes their hypocrisy by quoting Moses in Mark 7:10 (and affirms Mosaic authorship). Our Lord refutes the Sadducees by stating, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matt. 22:29). Thus, Jesus highlights their ignorance of the Scriptures as the reason for their error. In the same discussion, He quotes the Old Testament to further correct their wrong thinking (Matt. 22:31-32). Jesus tells His disciples, “…the Scripture will be fulfilled…” to explain Judas’s betrayal (John 13:18). Our Lord uses God’s Word to explain why He teaches in parables (Matt. 13:14-15). In John 17:17, Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in the truth, your Word is truth.” Finally, He quotes Scriptures while dying on the cross.
Stanley asserts that the Scripture has been, “dismantled…by the realities of life.” Jesus’ experience on the cross shows us that God’s Word will help one endure the gravest realities of life and death. To follow the example of Jesus is to recognize, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4). Any teacher who claims to represent Jesus Christ, and yet shies away from relying on the Scripture, misunderstands the ministry of our Lord.
Second, Paul’s example and methodology contradicts Stanley’s philosophy of ministry. In Romans 1-11, the Apostle lays out a detailed description of salvation. To explain this essential doctrine, Paul regularly cites the Old Testament. For example, in Romans 3:10-18, he cites the Psalms to explain the universal sinfulness of man (and thus our need for salvation). Paul relies heavily on the Scripture to describe and defend salvation through Jesus Christ. One simply cannot understand the Gospel or salvation apart from the Word of God. The inspired Apostle was certainly willing to repeatedly declare, “it is written” (Paul says this no less than 16 times in Romans).
In his letters, Paul consistently references God’s Word as the authority for the church and the Christian life. In writing to the confused Corinthian church, Paul bases his commands for Christians on the Old Testament (1 Cor. 10:1-22; 2 Cor. 6:16-7:1). To settle their disputes about worship, Paul appeals to his letter as the highest source of authority for the church (1 Cor. 14:37-38). Any claim to be “spiritual” must submit to the written command of the Lord.
In 2 Corinthians 4:2, Paul sets himself apart from the false teachers by affirming, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” This verse provides insights into Paul’s methodology as a missionary. The word, “tamper” only appears here in the New Testament. This word was used in the Greek world to describe “diluting” or watering-down wine. Rather than altering God’s Word, Paul seeks to clearly declare it. He doesn’t commend himself to people by being like them or altering his message to fit their desires. Rather, he commends his ministry by a clear declaration of the truth.
When Paul says goodbye to the elders of the Ephesian church, he says, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified..” (Acts 20:32). Notice it’s the “Word of his grace” which would build them up. In his absence, the Apostle trusts God’s Word to continue edifying the church. To these leaders, Paul also upheld his determination to proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
Paul wrote the letter of Colossians from prison. He asks the church to pray for God to, “open a door for the word” (Col. 4:3). Thus, for his evangelistic work in prison, Paul desires to proclaim, “the word.” Again, we see the centrality of the Word in the Apostle’s ministry (including his evangelistic efforts).
For Paul, relying on the Scripture is essential for Christian ministry. He fills his letters to Timothy with commands and exhortations about the centrality of God’s Word for the life of the church. Take time to carefully read through these examples:
1 Timothy 4:6 – If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.
1 Timothy 6:3-4 – If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing…”
1 Timothy 6:13-14 – I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ
2 Timothy 1:13 – Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:15 – Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
One of the key passages about the origin, profitability, purposes, and sufficiency of Scripture is found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. To encourage Timothy, Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work..” The scope of this article does not permit a detailed examination of this vastly important text. Simply note how Paul points to the Scripture as the means of fully equipping the man of God. It’s God’s Word that makes us competent for ministry.
Stanley’s methodology undermines using the Word of God in Christian ministry. The examples of Jesus and Paul starkly contrast Stanley’s counsel to “unhitch” ourselves from God’s Word. Any ministry methodology or philosophy that refrains from pointing to God’s Word cannot be classified as Christian.
Whose counsel will you value more highly—Andy Stanley’s leadership tips or Paul’s inspired commands to Timothy? Will your philosophy of ministry be influenced by a popular guy in Georgia, or by the greatest missionary who has ever lived? What will you rely on in Christian ministry—I hope it will be the firm foundation of God’s inspired Word.
This past week, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention held their national conference in Nashville, Tennessee. One evening during the conference, Russell Moore, the president of the ERLC (my former professor at SBTS), sat down with Andy Stanley for a conversation about church, culture, and leadership. Andy Stanley serves as the pastor of Atlanta’s North Point Community Church. Within that conversation, Russell Moore asked the following question:
If you were, for real, the evangelical pope and you really had the authority to say ‘”this is how it’s gonna be within American evangelical Christianity,” what would you do?
Stanley responded by saying, “I would ask preachers and pastors and student pastors in their communications to get the spotlight off the Bible and back on the resurrection.” That statement may not seem earth shaking to many, but it deserves attention. In fact, it demands attention. As I begin, I should be clear that I’m not intending this article to be a personal attack upon Andy Stanley, but his public remarks deserve a public response.
Is It Possible to Arrive at the Empty Tomb Without a Bible?
In the conversation, Moore and Stanley did not agree on everything. In fact, they didn’t agree on many important things. When explaining his approach, Stanley said:
To have a discussion around the Resurrection is a much easier discussion than trying to defend the whole Bible. That’s my point. It’s not a lack of confidence in the Scripture, it’s an approach, again, based on culture and some cultural assumptions.
It became apparent that Andy Stanley, although serving as a pastor, spends much of his time formulating his message to unbelievers. What about the church? How must those who are already saved be discipled each week during the preaching and teaching of the Bible?
In a day where theological liberalism is celebrated, there must be a way to give an answer for the faith. If we must provide an answer for our faith to skeptics, what direction should we move if the Bible is insufficient? Is it possible to prove the resurrection of Christ without going to the Bible? Is there a video on YouTube that’s sufficient? Is there an mp3 of Paul thundering away in a sermon about the resurrected Jesus who changed him on the Damascus road? The fact is, no other valid evidence exists apart from the testimony of Scripture. In fact, Andy Stanley and all other Jesus followers had to come to the knowledge of the resurrection of Christ through the pages of the Bible.
We Must Spotlight the Bible
Just before Christmas in 2014, an article by Kurt Eichenwald was published in Newsweek magazine that stated the following:
No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times. 
No person can be saved by placing their faith in the Bible. However, it must be emphasized that no person will ever experience genuine faith in Jesus Christ apart from the knowledge of God that comes from the Bible. The Bible is God’s intended means of revelation to fallen sinners. All of the latest technological gadgets, websites, blogs, smart phones, tablets, and more can only serve as tools to communicate the good news of Jesus to broken sinners. The good news of Jesus is revealed to us in a book —the Bible.
There is no such thing as Bible-less Christianity. The earliest picture we have of the church immediately after the resurrection of Jesus is found in Acts. At the end of the second chapter, we see the early church gathered together under the apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42). What were they teaching? Was it the resurrection of Jesus every sermon? The point is, the resurrection is essential and it’s the centerpiece of the entire Word of God, but every sermon can’t be about the resurrection of Jesus unless we want to build superficial churches.
When healthy emphasis is placed on the Bible, theological fruit emerges in the form of Christian intellectualism, missions, church planting, Christian education, and a proper response to a dying culture. A deemphasis of the Bible will lead to superficial churches, theological liberalism, cultural chaos, post-post modernism, and a host of other tributaries that feed off of that main stream. The false idea that we must focus on the resurrection apart from the Bible simply doesn’t work.
When leaving Ephesus, Paul didn’t gather the elders together to say, “Men, remain steadfast in the faith. The wolves will come in and attack, but I want you all to remember that I’ve been faithful to teach you the resurrection of Christ.” No, he said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). When Paul was preparing Timothy to pastor the church in Ephesus (a very dark city), he said, “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:1). If the Word of God was sufficient to reach unbelievers in Paul’s day, can we have that same confidence for ministry today?
When we survey church history, we see the Reformers emerging from the shadows with the Bible in their hands. They placed a bright light upon the Word of God. The battlecry of the Reformation was sola Scriptura. That era of Christian history was marked by an unwavering commitment to the veracity, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. What if William Tyndale could join Andy Stanley for a roundtable discussion about the Bible? What would emerge from that conversation? How would Tyndale respond to Stanley? That conversation will have to wait, but we must have a conversation about the Bible in our present day. We need to go far beyond what Michael Green once called “the age of the sermonette,” because the sermonette, as Green stated, “makes Christianettes.” 
When our children leave our church campuses and find themselves sitting in a college classroom listening to their college professor relentlessly attack the reliability of the Bible, they must be able to give an answer. When people who have been discipled in the community of our churches face attacks from men like Kurt Eichenwald or Bart Ehrman, they need more than a Bible verse about the resurrection of Jesus to stand upon. What happens when a theological liberal challenges them on Paul’s teaching about human sexuality? Will a robust message about the resurrection of Christ be sufficient in that hour?
We are guilty of creating functional atheism when we distance ourselves from the authority and reliability of God’s Word. The church needs tools that have been well established from the full counsel of God’s Word. A deemphasis of the Bible is the wrong direction for the evangelical church. A deemphasis of the Bible is a dangerous method of ministry. Mark Dever, in his excellent book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church provides a helpful reminder:
God’s Holy Spirit creates His people by His Word. We can create a people by other means, and this is the great temptation of churches. We can create a people around a certain ethnicity. We can create a people around a fully-graded choir program. We can find people who will get excited about a building project or a denominational identity. We can create a people around a series of care groups, where each feels loved and cared for. We can create a people around a community service project. We can create a people around social opportunities for young mothers or Caribbean cruises for singles. We can create a people around men’s groups. We can even create a people around the personality of a preacher. And God can surely use all of these things. But in the final analysis the people of God, the church of God, can only be created around the Word of God. 
- Kurt Eichenwald, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” Newsweek, December 23, 2014.
- Taken from the editor’s preface to John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds (Eerdmans, 1982), 7.
- Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, (Crossway, 2000), 36.
Andy Stanley knows the Bible. As the son of the popular Baptist pastor, Dr. Charles Stanley, he has grown up under Bible teaching and preaching. As a pastor of a very large megachurch, North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, Andy Stanley has spent much time reading and studying the Bible. So, why does it seem that Andy Stanley has a problem with the Bible on so many different levels?
Over the past few years, Andy Stanley has managed to stay in the light of controversy regarding his positions on key issues of the faith. Is Andy Stanley operating by the old adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”? While Stanley may not be seeking bad publicity, the fact is, he has managed to keep controversy stirred up around him in recent years. Exactly where did Andy Stanley go off course? As we examine the controversial statements made by Andy Stanley, there seems to be an undeniable connection between his errors and the manner in which he approaches the Bible.
Is Verse-by-Verse Preaching Cheating?
Andy Stanley is not an expository preacher. In an interview with Ed Stetzer in 2009 regarding his book titled, Communicating for a Change, Stetzer asked Stanley about preaching. The question was, “What do you think about preaching verse-by-verse messages through books of the Bible?” Andy Stanley responded, “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.” It’s quite clear that Stanley isn’t a fan of verse-by-verse preaching, but what does that communicate regarding his overall approach to the Bible?
Is the Bible Sufficient for Church Growth?
In 2010, at the pastors’ conference for the Southern Baptist Convention, Andy Stanley appealed to big corporations such as Chick-fil-A and Intel in order to drive home his church growth message to thousands of pastors in attendance. He repeated this phrase, “If you make your church better, they will come and make your church bigger.” His entire sermon was positioned squarely on pragmatism rather than the Word of God. In his sermon, Andy Stanley said, “We’ve created church for church people.” He then scolded church leaders for an unwillingness to make it easier for unchurched people to feel comfortable in our churches.
Is the Bible Clear on Homosexuality?
Andy Stanley’s seeker sensitive approach to church growth is perhaps the lightest problem in recent years. In 2012, Stanley was the center of controversy once again with statements (and a lack of statements) regarding the sin of homosexuality. In a sermon he preached titled “When Gracie Met Truthy,” he described a couple in his church that had to be asked to step down from leadership. Two men were engaged in a homosexual relationship, but the reason they were asked to step down was what Stanley called “just good old fashioned adultery.” Stanley explained, “You’re in a sexual relationship with someone else’s husband.” Stanley capitulated on the whole issue calling out the sin of adultery while refusing to call out the sin of homosexuality. Albert Mohler writes:
The most puzzling and shocking part of the message was the illustration and the account of the homosexual couple, however. The inescapable impression left by the account was that the sin of concern was adultery, but not homosexuality. 
Although Andy Stanley wasn’t clear on the subject of homosexuality, we can be sure that the Bible is abundantly clear. So why does Andy Stanley continue to feel the need to distance himself from a clear and historically orthodox interpretative method of reading and applying the Bible?
Is the Bible Authoritative?
In 2014, Andy Stanley stood on a stage at Exponential, a church-planting conference and communicated to 5,000+ people that they should stop using the phrase “the Bible says” in their sermons. Andy Stanley said, “Don’t say the Bible says. Say the author’s name who wrote the book. Paul said… (by the way he hated Christians, but then wrote this) Give 2-3 sentences about who the author is.” Andy Stanley made his point in print through his book titled, Deep & Wide suggesting that his goal is evangelism and it keeps skeptics engaged.  With a goal of keeping skeptics engaged, we must ask an honest question, has he cast a shadow of doubt upon the authority of the Bible?
Is the Bible True?
In early 2015, Zondervan released a series of Bible study lessons by Andy Stanley titled Starting Point. You can see the first session on YouTube where Andy Stanley casts doubt upon the trustworthiness and reliability of the Bible in his opening statements. In fact, Andy Stanley went as far as to say, “We went off to college and discovered that even though it [the Bible] was sacred, it wasn’t scientific. Even though it was something to appreciate, it wasn’t necessarily something that was factual. Even though there were stories in here [the Bible] that were inspirational, they weren’t necessarily true.” Sure, it seems that Andy Stanley is playing along with the thought process of what the skeptics actually believe, but he spends more than 50% of his time dealing with such issues leaving him very little time to explain the text of Scripture from Acts. Why must Andy Stanley consistently cast doubt upon the inerrancy of the Bible? Isn’t he a Bible preacher?
Are Small Churches (like the ones in the Bible) Bad?
Recently, Andy Stanley hit the news again with statements about small churches. He called out parents who refuse to take their children to megachurches by saying, “If you don’t go to a large church, you are so stinking selfish…and don’t care about your kids.” Keep in mind, many of the churches in the cities that we see appearing in the New Testament are relatively small. Sure, some of these churches experienced great growth, but many of them remained small.
Andy Stanley sought to explain his point as he retracted the perceived meaning in a subsequent interview with Christianity Today. However, if you listen to the rant in the original sermon, it’s hard to imagine how a preacher could make such statements with profound conviction and not really mean it. What exactly does Andy Stanley think about small churches today? What about the small churches in the Bible?
Is the Bible a Poor Starting Point?
On Easter Sunday, Andy Stanley opened his sermon with a statement that was aimed mostly at the unbeliever. He said, “If you said to me one-on-one, ‘Andy, I’m not a Christian, I’m not a Jesus follower, but I’m going to let you take your best shot at convincing me to follow Jesus’ – Here’s what I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t try to defend the history of the church, because the church has done some really goofy things and there’s some really embarrassing (not just weekends of church history) seasons of church history. And, I wouldn’t try to defend a lot of things that Christians have said or the ways that Christians have treated you….and I wouldn’t try to convince you with the Bible.”
Stanley went on to explain, he said, “There were thousands and thousands and thousands of Christians before there was a Bible.” He then went on to say, “I would start with the resurrection of Jesus.” Why is it that Andy Stanley seems to distance himself from the Bible? Is it possible to present the resurrection of Jesus without the Bible? Could it be that some other historic account of Jesus’ resurrection carries more authority than the Bible? How would Andy Stanley pull from the evidence of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection without using the Bible?
Paul, a man who had seen the risen Jesus, wrote 1 Corinthians 15. Before Paul went to the eyewitnesses and other supporting evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, he started with the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul said the following:
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.
Notice that Paul’s starting point is the Bible (as Paul said – the Scriptures). Apparently Andy Stanley and the apostle Paul have very different starting points when it comes to defending the Christian religion. Before appealing to evidence, point to the authority of the written record that was prophesied (Psalm 16) and validated (1 Corinthians 15) in the sacred account of the Scriptures.
Immediately after stating that he would start with the resurrection of Jesus rather than the Bible in order to convince people of Christianity, Andy Stanley said, “There were tens of thousands of people who believed in the resurrection of Jesus before there was a Bible.” Exactly what does that statement mean? Is that a true statement? Was Psalm 16 considered to be part of Scripture before the resurrection of Christ? What exactly was Paul referencing in 1 Corinthians 15 when he appealed to “the Scriptures”?
Andy Stanley is a gifted communicator and apparently a good leader. He has a stunning résumé when it comes to church growth and leadership. However, Andy Stanley has positioned himself to the far left in recent days regarding his approach to Scripture and his position on other key Christian doctrines. His method of preaching the Bible has led to his capitulation on biblical doctrines. We can all learn a great lesson from Andy Stanley. As a pastor and leader in the evangelical world, Andy Stanley has been gifted with a platform and a voice, but sadly he has consistently pointed people off course. For that reason, we must beware of Andy Stanley and his ministry. He has demonstrated an inappropriate care for God’s Word and God’s sheep. The person who casts a shadow of doubt upon the Word of God likewise casts a shadow of doubt upon himself.
Dr. Albert Mohler writes, “A shot now reverberating around the evangelical world was fired by Atlanta megachurch pastor Andy Stanley in recent days. Preaching in a sermon series at North Point Community Church known as “Christian,” Stanley preached a message titled “When Gracie Met Truthy” on April 15, 2012.” Click here for the full article addressing Andy Stanley and the megachurch movement.
- R. Albert Mohler, “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” (AlbertMohler.com – 5-1-12)
- Kevin P. Emmert, “Should Pastors Stop Saying, ‘the Bible Says’?” (Christianity Today Magazine, July-August, 2014).
The annual Southern Baptist Convention is always preceded by the Pastors’ Conference on Sunday night and Monday. This year’s Pastors’ Conference was very helpful for pastors on many different levels. Several different types of messages were preached that addressed struggles in ministry, doctrinal issues, and Great Commission efforts.
Overall, the Pastors’ Conference was profitable, but there was one sermon that distinctly stands out from the others. The sermon on Monday night by Andy Stanley was not exactly what the pastors at the Convention needed to hear. While there may be a place for leadership models and corporate business plans – it certainly isn’t from the pulpit that is addressing thousands of SBC pastors. Andy Stanley was given the pulpit after a tribute to his father, Charles Stanley, the pastor of FBC Atlanta. Although Andy Stanley is a gifted speaker and has good oratory manners, his message lacked sufficient meat from God’s Word. It was like he was the chef at a large steak house standing there serving up cotton candy and lemonade to men who desperately needed a thick juicy steak. Many men were seated in the Convention hall listening to Stanley speak who desired to hear a message from God’s Word, but they didn’t receive it. They instead received a message full of leadership quotes, business plans, and stories from corporate America.
One of the most troubling parts of Andy Stanley’s message was his main objective that was quoted multiple times throughout his sermon. He continuously stated, “If you make your church better, they (the unchurched) will come and make it bigger.” In other words, Stanley was emphasizing numbers, growth, and catering to the unchurched in the local community. He stated that one of the main reasons that the unchurched do not come to our church is due to the fact that we have made it uncomfortable and unattractive to them. As he made these statements that were sandwiched between stories from corporate America, his points were lacking biblical evidence. He was given a great opportunity to minister to thousands of pastors, and he served up stories from the business world rather than preaching a text of Scripture and allowing the Holy Spirit to minister to the people’s lives from God’s Word.
After considering the implications of Andy Stanley’s message for one week, I would like to address his main points from Scripture.
1. The unchurched should be extremely uncomfortable in a gospel preaching church.
The term, church, in the New Testament is the Greek word, “ekklesia” (ἐκκλησία) which means literally, a called out assembly. Therefore, from the beginning, we should note that the church is a term that always means a group of born again Christians. These individuals who have been called out of darkness into the marvelous light of life by the sovereign hand of God are transformed into a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). They have different views regarding life and a worldview that is gospel centered. Therefore, any person who comes into that context and is surrounded by a group of gospel saturated people while hearing a gospel centered message will naturally be uncomfortable. In fact, they should be miserable in their sinful condition. However, Andy Stanley continued to press the point that we as pastors need to strive to make our church “better” so that we can become more attractive to the unchurched who will in return come and make it “bigger.” That idea does not seem to square with the truth of what the church is according to the Scriptures.
2. The “better to get bigger” model does not make sense in the context of the New Testament church. It may work in corporate America, but God’s Word does not instruct us to get “better” in order to get “bigger.”
Our central efforts in ministry should not be to grow our “church” but to evangelize the lost in order to see perishing sinners rescued by the Grace of God. According to Romans 3:10-11 and 2 Cor. 4:4, lost people do not desire to come to God apart from a sovereign work of Grace in their hearts by the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we design our church to be “better” in the sense of attracting “seekers” to come and make our church “bigger” we have missed the point of missions. The Great Commission is not about making our church “bigger.” The Great Commission is about fulfilling the calling of God upon our lives in order to see guilty sinners reconciled to a Holy God, worshiping, praising, and serving Him until He calls us all home. We must not design our church after business models or movie slogans such as, “If you build it, they will come.” That model may attract a crowd, but many of the people in that crowd may be unregenerate.
3. God’s Word is sufficient and is what the men in the Convention hall needed to hear.
The primary objective for any man who stands in the pulpit is to preach the Word of God. Andy Stanley did not do that at the Pastors’ Convention. The only time he used Scripture was once or twice during his message when he used the Word of God as a proof text to back up his points. The preacher’s job is to stand before people and tell them what God said. Anytime a man stands up before people and elevates any literature, plan, program, or book above God’s Word, he has undermined the very authority and sufficiency of Holy Scripture.
Sprinkled out through the Convention hall were pastors who were hurting from troubles in their ministry. Some were struggling with depression. Others were experiencing the weight of a failing marriage due to the demands of ministry life. Undoubtedly, some pastors were sitting in that hall listening to Andy Stanley who were ready to quit the ministry. Today, many of them have already submitted their letters of resignation. Andy Stanley had an opportunity to proclaim the truth of Holy Scripture and allow the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to minister to the people, but instead he spoke about Chick-fil-A and Intel.
During the era known today as the “Conservative Resurgence” of the 80’s and 90’s, the SBC fought a battle over the inerrancy of Scripture, and by God’s Grace won the battle. Today, the SBC (and the evangelical church at large) is facing the challenges regarding the sufficiency of Scripture. Andy Stanley did not help the cause by modeling a non-Bible based delivery method before the thousands of pastors who were in attendance on Monday night. Rather than elevating the Word of God as the sufficient and powerful single tool for a minister of God – he led men toward a corporate America solution that will ultimately fail.
What the church needs today is a return to solid expository preaching that elevates to the people a strong understanding of the inerrancy and sufficiency of Holy Scripture. The models and methods that Andy Stanley delivered to the Southern Baptist Convention’s preachers will not work. Sure, we have the liberty to add new methods and ministry options to our churches, but we must not forget what the church is along the journey. We must also remember that lost people should be uncomfortable within our church – until the gospel of Christ transforms their lives. We must also remember that evangelism and gospel missions is the answer to reaching the lost rather than making our church appealing to the unchurched.
May God lead the SBC to greater things than corporate America can provide – all for His glory and praise!
Pastor Josh Buice