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.