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.