The Bible Tells Me So?

stanley

I was recently alerted to a blog post about Andy Stanley, a well-known pastor and one whom I have a great deal of respect for. The blog implied that Pastor Stanley is turning to liberalism, and suggested that he has begun to cast doubts on the reliability of the Bible.  The blog pointed in particular to a sermon entitled “The Bible Told Me So” (available here). I decided to reserve judgement about the matter until I had listened to the sermon for myself. What follows is my response.

After a short introduction, Stanley launches into a message (which he cautions his audience to listen to very carefully so as not to misconstrue his words), and he begins with an admittedly provocative statement (“our problems began with the Jesus Loves Me song”). What follows were some words that will surely raise your eyebrows if you are a conservative Christian as I am. I hesitate to summarize his message for fear of mis-quoting him (and I invite you to listen for yourself), but essentially what I understood him to say is essentially this: A lot of Christians have left the faith (“de-converted”) not because somebody proved to them that God wasn’t real, but because somebody unsettled them with “evidence” that some of the verses in the Bible have mistakes. And because these Christians had been taught to “rely on the Bible because it is inspired”, the possiblity of a mistake in the Bible undermined its authority in their life, and therefore undermined their belief in God. The introduction of a doubt in Inerrancy became, for these Christians, as consequential as a crack in the foundation of mighty dam — everything crumbled.

Now I will admit that I found some of Andy’s words slightly unsettling. A few of his points seemed to be intentionally provocative, and perhaps overly so. A casual listener might led astray (which, of coure, was why he warned his audience from the outset NOT to listen casually). Perhaps an argument could be made that he should have been a little more careful in what he was saying. But the assertion in the critic’s blog post was that Stanley was using age-old arguments right out of the liberal’s playbook. Is that accurate?

I don’t think so.

The careful listener will notice that Stanley spends the second half of his sermon powerfully arguing for the reliability and historicity of the Bible (and favorably recommending a book by an extremely conservative apologist). He also asserts that the scribal copyists of the original manuscripts were “username-and-password careful”, and that the modern editors of Scripture keep no secrets about the uncertainty of certain fragments of the manuscripts.

And then Stanley lays down one of the central principles of his argument. He asserts that the early Christian scribes treasured the manuscripts that they were copying NOT because they believed them to be “inspired”, but because they believed them to be TRUE.

If I understand him correctly, the point that Stanley is making is this: our evangelistic apologetics must not rest on the presumed inspiration of the Bible (“the Bible says it and that settles it”). That is backwards and it won’t be effective. How do I know the Bible is inspired? Because it claims to be? (That’s circular logic, and unpersuasive.) No. Our faith must rest on historical fact FIRST, and then go on to reliability in the Bible.

Now, that might be a troubling statement for some, but let me try to unpack it, because it expresses what I believe too.

I believe the Bible because (and I’m speaking for myself now, not for Stanley, but I think this reflects his message too) … I believe the Bible because I am convinced (for a whole host of reasons) that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical EVENT. It is that EVENT that validates the person of Jesus. And by extension it validates his WORDS. And because his words indicated that he had confidence in the Scriptures, it validates those as well. And therefore, in my evangelism and in my own personal faith, I don’t start with the assumption of inspiration and thereby reach the conclusion that the Bible is true. My faith begins with an empty tomb and a historical death-to-life event, and that event by implication, leads me to the conviction that the Bible is reliable and trustworthy. And because this book that I now consider trustworthy CLAIMS to also be infallible, I am led to the conviction that indeed it is. And now, like a child who slowly transfers faith in his parents to faith in his parents God, I have now transfered my faith from a belief in an Event to a conviction of an inerrant Bible.

What Andy is saying (in his characteristically powerful and compelling way) is this: if we try to reason the other way around, we will lose our children, because once they leave our home and their belief in the accuracy of the Bible is shaken by non-christian professors, their faith in God will be shaken as well. And if we insist on telling non-believers that Jesus loves them because the Bible tells me so, they will walk away un-persuaded, because that is not how the Apostles and original evangelists persuaded people.

Is Andy Stanley going liberal? I can’t tell you. I don’t know him personally. If you have any question about that, I urge you to listen to this sermon yourself. But I can tell you this: when I listen to this sermon, I hear a man who is rock-solid in his belief in Scripture is true and reliable. But more importantly, I hear a message that brings me to tears, because it reminds me that the Bible is precious not because it is “inspired” (though I believe it to be), but because it tells me about Jesus. And because Jesus said, “I love you.” And because what Jesus said is TRUE.

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9 Responses to The Bible Tells Me So?

  1. Jimmy Small says:

    Well said Kevin. Andy certainly could have spent a bit more time explaining things even more carefully than he did, but I think a 3rd and 4th explaining would be too much. It’s a sacred topic but one that needs to be pulled down from the high shelf and have the inch of dust blown off it once in a while. I bet more top shelf sermons are coming too! It’s a dusty world my friend.

  2. Justin says:

    You wrote, “The blog author didn’t bother to include a link.” That is an erroneous statement, we provided a link to the sermon in the second paragraph. You also wrote, “The blog implied that Pastor Stanley is turning to liberalism, and suggested that he has begun to cast doubts on the reliability of the Bible.” What he wrote was, “I am not saying Andy Stanley is a theological liberal but I am saying he is using the same arguments as theological liberals.” Not “turning to liberalism” but turning to liberal arguments. Also, not that he was casting “doubts on the reliability of the Bible” but rather that he was pitting the authority of Christ against the authority of Scripture. All things Machen was critiquing in Christianity and Liberalism.

    • kmote00 says:

      I looked for a link in the blog but didn’t find one. My mistake. (I have edited my statement above.)
      And you’re saying that the blog didn’t call Stanley “liberal” but rather “liberal-ISH”. Okay, well, I’m still not convinced.

  3. Justin says:

    FYI, the blog post does in fact link to Stanley’s sermon. Second paragraph, third line from the bottom. Did you actually read the critique or just going off the title?

    Additionally, the critique is not based solely only the sermon. The public comments at the ERLC conference and the CT article (also linked) provide a broader context for the critique.

    It should be noted that Dr. Prince did not call Stanley a theological liberal, but rather that Stanley was using the arguments of theological liberals in regards to the Bible. If you think using the arguments of liberals as an apologetic technique is a good idea, you’re welcome to saw off the limb your standing on. Just don’t ask the rest of us to follow suit.

  4. kmote00 says:

    Well, to be fair, you may be right: I may have read the blog as casually as the blog author appears to have listened to Pastor Stanley’s sermon. I am not familiar with the “broader context” of the critique. I was only reviewing the sermon in question, and I found nothing that sounded like liberal arguments. But I appreciate your passion for guarding against liberalism. It has certainly proven to be an insidious force in the past century. I agree that the liberals have a flimsy branch and I am as eager to avoid it as you are. I just didn’t find any evidence of it in this sermon. (Although I concede that some of Stanley’s words could have been misconstrued in that manner.)

  5. Karen Wilson says:

    As a “liberal”, I find all of your above statements to be filled with more prejudiced and “name-calling” than Trump statements which I find very disturbing. I am sure Jesus was not that way. “Division” amongst Christians, to me, is not how Jesus saw it. You all can “critique” all you want about “being against “liberalism”, but I think Jesus was far more advanced than any “conservative” Christian ever was. And, I believe it, and so it is so. That is how you all think. If you all were living back in the ages of predjudiced and women as a minority….you missed his point. I pray for you.

    • kmote00 says:

      I’m sorry if I offended you. I think I may have bandied the word “liberal” around a little too loosely (or, too “liberally”, so to speak!). That term has a lot of different connotations in different contexts. I should note that I was not referring to politics in any way. I’m not inclined to discuss politics publically, liberal or conservative, so that’s not what I had in mind at all. (Although I tend to agree with your sentiment that Jesus would not likely approve of conservative politics in our era; or liberal politics either, for that matter.)

      I was referring solely to liberal chrisianity, by which I mean those who call themselves christians and yet do not believe the Bible is true (or at least assert that it is filled with errors and myths). It doesn’t make sense to me at that level. (And that is clearly not what Jesus himself believed; He believed every “jot and tittle” Mt 5:18.)

      Nevertheless, I intended no “name calling”, so I apologize if it came across that way. “Division”, on the other hand, is unavoidable (Mt 10:34)), and always will be as long as there is truth and there is falsehood. I don’t claim to be an arbiter of truth myself. But I believe the Bible to be. My only goal is to understand its truth as well as I can and to let it be reflected in my life.

      • Karen Wilson says:

        I appreciate your comment. I just find when people talk about people being “liberal” they assume them to be non-Christian. I beleve I am a Christian. I do not have to believe everything “conservatives” do to be a Christian. I always think of what Jesus would do. And, conservatives, these days do not seem to walk or talk that way. So sad.

  6. socalkdl says:

    I am a Progressive Pentecostal, yes there are a few of us, and I am pleased with the direction Dr. Stanley has taken of late. I read a piece on it on Patheos if I remember correctly. At core, Progressive Christianity starts with the Biblical witness of Christ’s life and teaching, as has Stanley. I would, however, take issue, as had Karen, with your understanding of “liberal Christianity.” Classic liberalism denied the incarnation of Christ, miracles and basically the interaction of the supernatural in history. Progressive Christianity has moved a long way away from it’s liberal roots. Now I will admit there is a wide gap between how “Truth” is defined in regards to Biblical hermeneutics among Progressives and Evangelicals. To that end, for a better understanding I recommend books by either Derek Flood or Peter Enns. But as a Progressive or Post-Evangelical I find that my understanding of incarnation and the supernatural to be quite similar to Evangelicalism.

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