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.