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Back in May I posted a link on my Facebook page to an article on the Pulpit & Pen blog entitled Andy Stanley Trashes Expository Preaching; Calls it “Easy” and “Cheating”. I also posted a comment which accompanied the link in which I said:
This article does a pretty good job of demonstrating why Andy Stanley just doesn’t get it. He apparently doesn’t understand what the job of a pastor-teacher really is, and he certainly doesn’t understand what the difference between the job of the inspired authors of Scripture and the job of Scripture teachers really is. The article also shows that he doesn’t understand how the Scripture applies to pastors as their guide, not only for their content in teaching but also for their method.
The comments that followed that Facebook post included statements by one man supporting Andy Stanley’s ability to teach the Bible and describing his sermons as “biblically sound and relevant” as well as “effective at explaining scripture and challenging people to live godly.” He also implied that the only real difference between Andy’s method of teaching versus expository teaching is one of “style.”
Well, as the readers of this blog can imagine, I pretty strongly disagree with such an assessment of Andy’s teaching ministry, which I recall having viewed on TV some time back while recovering from a major surgery. Anyway, given the comments of the aforementioned man, I thought it would be good to listen to a few of Andy’s more recent sermons and offer my brief assessment of what I heard. As I recall, I chose the first sermon at random and the other two were suggested to me by the aforementioned man. I listened to the sermons and took notes, which I then posted to the Facebook thread.
After I offered some of my thoughts concerning the sermons, it was suggested to me that I turn them into a post here on the blog. I then asked my blog partner, Jeff Johnson, what he thought of the idea, and he agreed that I should do it. So, what follows is a collection of my comments in the previously mentioned Facebook thread. I will not include all of my comments, and I will leave out any names or comments made by anyone else. However, those involved in that discussion are more than welcome to comment here if they wish. I should also let you know that I have added some explanatory content in brackets, and I have added italics here and there for emphasis as well (something I could not do in the original Facebook posts).
Here are some comments I posted based on the content of the article linked above:
I’ll stay away from speaking about the family issues [which had been raised by someone else in the thread], since I really don’t know anything about them. As for the matter of preaching, however, I’ll just say that Andy and I seem to be pretty far apart, and the divide goes much deeper than the issue of whether or not we should apply the text. For example, he was very pleased that, three years after teaching on the healing of Naaman in 2 Kings 5, a young man could remember his catchy phrase, “To understand why, submit and apply.” I find this very sad indeed! That this young man could have listened to a sermon on that passage and come away with such a trite phrase! What the young man should have said is something like, “I remember when you taught on the grace of God in bringing an undeserving idolater and enemy of His people to salvation, and how He will be merciful to us as well, if we will trust in Him rather than in ourselves.” Or perhaps, “I remember when you taught about how people often think God’s ways and commands are foolishness because they do not understand the wisdom of God, and how people today think the Gospel is foolishness as well, but we who have trusted in it know that it is the wisdom and power of God unto salvation.” There are clear ways in which we can see in the healing and salvation of Naaman a picture of God’s grace and mercy in saving sinners, and yet Andy is glad that the young man could remember, “To understand why, submit and apply.” I’ll bet the young man couldn’t even really explain what this phrase meant in any meaningful way, but if that is all that was found in that precious passage, then the most important points to be found there were completely missed. Andy was happy that the young man remembered his catchy phrase rather than the goodness or greatness of God. I say again, Andy just doesn’t get it.
Here are some comments I made as I prepared to watch videos of several of Andy’s sermons:
… listening again to Andy directly is what I had in mind. As I said before, I have watched some of his messages on TV in the past, and I haven’t found him to be a very able exegete …
I think one thing that must be kept in mind, however, is consistency. Does Andy manage a solid sermon here and there, or does he preach sound sermons week in and week out. I have seen guys in the past who do an excellent job handling Scripture from time to time (usually when they have depended on a solid source for their exposition), but who have no consistency at all.
Another thing that must be kept in mind is that one doesn’t disparage expositional teaching the way that Andy has done without revealing a deeper theological and methodological issue. In other words, the issue isn’t merely one of style but of the nature and role of Scripture in one’s teaching and ministry. For example, does one view Scripture as a source for his teaching, or does he view Scripture as the source for his teaching? Does he see his job as thinking of things people need to hear and then trying to fit Scripture into his message, or does he see his job first and foremost as faithfully communicating what Scripture really says?
With such crucial questions in mind, I will now post the comments made in reaction to three of Andy’s messages that I watched on video. I apologize in advance for the length of these comments, which may make it necessary to come back and read this post a bit at a time or, perhaps, a sermon critique at a time. I guess I let myself get a bit a carried away. Here are some notes I wrote as I listened to Andy Stanley’s sermon entitled Nobody’s That Stupid:
I must say that I was disturbed by his suggestion that people who don’t like the message might want to listen to it again even if they do so just because they want to make fun of it. I guess that is fine if you have just thrown out a bunch of your own ideas, but if you have faithfully presented what God’s Word says, then it is tantamount to encouraging people to make fun of what He Himself says (which is a kind of blasphemy). At the very least it doesn’t show a deep reverence for the Word of God.
His opening question – “What do you do when your body wants what your heart knows is wrong?” – is problematic, as ____ has already pointed out. It apparently assumes that your body can want something of itself in isolation from what your heart wants, but this badly misunderstands Scriptural teaching about how the heart is the source of sinful desires. It only gets worse when he suggests examples that make it seem like your body can make you do things your heart doesn’t want to do. He also goes on to speak of “living from the outside in versus the inside out” as though how we live – the decisions we make – sometimes originates elsewhere than from within our own hearts. It seems to reveal an underlying kind of quasi-Gnostic dualism.
I can’t say that I enjoyed the way he retold the birth narrative of Samson. It was sort of flippant, such as when he described the Nazirite vow and spoke of how silly it seemed to not touch a dead thing and spoke of the whole point of a Nazirite vow as “trying to get God’s attention.” Numbers 6 speaks of such a vow as a special consecration of the person to God for a period of time. It is more like an act of worship and a special kind of fast in which one seeks to grow closer to God. But the notion that God would institute it so that a person could “get His attention” is foreign both to the stated intention of the vow and to the kind of God who instituted it in the first place. It isn’t about how we can get His attention but how we can more faithfully give Him ours. At any rate, it provides an example of the way Andy just casually says things, seemingly off the top of his head, which distort the Scriptures he cites or to which he alludes.
When Andy described the two ways in which he says that Samson serves as a “microcosm of the entire nation of Israel,” he didn’t ground them in the text in any way. Why, then, should we think that his assessment is correct?
Also, there is nothing necessarily wrong with speculating, so long as he made it clear that he was speculating (which he did), that Samson was probably a guy with an average build, but he shouldn’t then go on to stress the point later in the sermon as though it is an unavoidable conclusion.
I don’t get his description of Samson as “having a border guard job” at all. Where is such an idea in the text? And where does the text indicate that his problem was failing to “stay in his own border”? In fact, the text clearly asserts of Israel that “the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years” (Judges 13:1) and that Samson would “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (13:5). So the text indicates that the Israelites were then under Philistine rule and thus were essentially within Philistine territory at the time (see also 14:4 and 15:11). The text thus does not indicate a problem with Samson’s having gone to Timnah but with his having desired a foreign wife that he saw there. This explains why his godly parents were not disturbed by his having gone to Timnah but instead by his desire for a Philistine wife (14:1-3). Yet Andy even presents Samson’s parents as having tried to get him to see that he was failing to be a good “border guard” by going “outside the border.” He also repeatedly asserts that Israel was “at war with the Philistines,” although the text indicates that they were not really at war with the Philistines. Indeed, this was part of the problem, since they had actually accepted Philistine rule at the time as the status quo (again see, e.g., 15:11). I am beginning to wonder if Andy has really paid close attention to the text he purports to be summarizing.
Andy says that Samson is an example here of “living from the outside in rather than the inside out,” as though Samson’s desire to marry a Philistine woman really had nothing to do with his heart. Again, such thinking cannot be squared with Scriptural teaching about sin and the human heart.
I’ll skip over the deep discussion that would entail from getting into whether or not we should view Samson’s actions at Gaza as an instance of his “using God’s power for his own ends” rather than God using Samson for His own ends despite his sinful behavior. I will just observe that it is an important theme and that, if one wishes to make a point about the matter in passing, he could easily have made it about the actual hero of the story rather than about Samson himself. After all, the whole account is really about the way that God graciously worked in the life of Samson, and through him in the lives of the people of Israel, for His own sovereign purposes. In other words, the hero of the story (as in every story in the Bible) is God, not Samson. It is sad to me that most of what Andy says fails even to consider this point. Does he really not get who the Bible is ultimately about?
As Andy approaches the account of Samson and Delilah, he presents the situation as though it was all about how stupid Samson had become due to being “sexually inflamed.” Again, however, this misses the way the text has dealt with Samson throughout and revealed that his real problem wasn’t of a sexual nature but was due to a lack of reverence for God and His laws, despite the fact that he had been a Nazirite from birth. After all, Samson did not previously violate his Nazirite vow by eating something unclean – taken from the carcass of a dead lion – and by touching a dead thing (compare Num. 6:6 and Judges 13:4 with Judges 14:8-9) because he was “sexually inflamed.” But, since Andy wants to talk about sex, and about how stupid we can be when we allow our bodies to control us rather than our hearts (as problematic as that point is in and of itself), apparently he feels he has to present the story of Samson as though it is about almost nothing but that. To be sure, Samson did struggle with sexual sin, but this was not the root of the problem, and the text does not present it as the root of the problem.
The whole section about men needing only “food, sex, and a pat on the head,” together with his description of the nature of women in relation to men and the bad choices that women make, had absolutely nothing to do with the text. In fact, despite the fact that it almost made Delilah the center of the story, most of this section had little to do with Scripture at all. This kind of talk just contributes to the sense that Scripture is simply a source for Andy’s teaching rather than the source. Not only has he failed to present the overall account in a way that is faithful to the text, but he hasn’t had any problem throwing in various ideas of his own along the way as though they are as important as anything the text itself has to say. He even says to the women, “Oprah has been off of television since, like, 2011, and you’ve all forgotten everything she taught you for all those years.” Good grief! Then he goes into a whole discussion about women picking better men, a discussion that also had nothing to do with the text he is ostensibly seeking to teach. We get lot’s of what he apparently thinks is good advice for women, but none of it has anything to do with teaching Scripture, let alone the text that he is supposed to be teaching, and it probably takes up a good 8-10 minutes of the 43 minutes of the message.
When Andy gets back to the text, he again sometimes speaks so flippantly that it gets to be annoying. For example, he says of Samson’s thinking, “It’s like, OK, OK, that other stuff, you know I’m so sorry about the fire and everything …,” which is apparently hearkening back to his having set the Philistines’ fields on fire, as though it were a light thing or, perhaps worse, something he ought to have been be sorry for when in reality it was not something for which he ought to have been the slightest bit sorry. Little comments like this that are apparently intended to be funny, folksy, and personable really just show a flippant attitude toward the text and a lack of desire to present the text accurately. Where is there any sense of reverence for God and His Word in all this?
When Andy gets to Judges 16:7, he shows that he hasn’t really looked at the Hebrew text or even at another solid translation other than the NIV (such as the ESV, NASB, or NKJV), since he misses the fact that Samson says, “If they bind me ….” Such an observation might have led him to ask, “Who does he mean by they?” Of course, Samson probably didn’t know that the lords of the Philistines had come in person to enlist Delilah’s help against him (vs. 5), but he probably did suspect that – like his former bride – she was working in behalf of the Philistines (see 14:12-18). Thus he lied to her, apparently toying with her and those with whom he must have known that she was working. But even if he didn’t suspect her at this point, he certainly knew soon after, so that each of the other times he knew full well that she was working for his enemies. Samson’s lies sound so incredible to us that we may have a hard time understanding how either Delilah or her Philistine masters could ever have believed them. But when we remember the pagan culture in which they lived, filled as it was with beliefs about spells and talismans, it isn’t so hard to understand how they might think that such procedures could break whatever spell they thought Samson might be utilizing in order to gain such strength. At any rate, if Andy had done even a marginal amount of homework, or payed very close attention to the text at all, he would have been alerted to the fact that there may be more going on here than at first appears. He may have caught on to the fact that Samson wasn’t really just being stupid due to being “sexually inflamed” but rather that he was being arrogant and playing with fire by flouting God’s commands and by toying with his enemies in this manner.
Again, Samson certainly had a problem with sexual sin, but it wasn’t the root problem, and the text never presents it as though it was the root problem. Samson wasn’t stupid at all, even if he was foolish, and there is a difference between the two. He wasn’t intellectually challenged or so gullible that he never caught on to what was really going on … and this due to sexual desire. Rather he acted unwisely and sinfully because he had so taken the presence of the LORD for granted that he had not considered that revealing the secret of his Nazirite consecration might affect his standing before the LORD and thus his experience of the LORD’s empowering presence. But we must not think that we are any better than he was, for we are just as capable of betraying our Lord through compromise due to pride and due to taking His grace and strength for granted. And we too may have to suffer the consequences of such betrayal. To be sure, we need not fear that the Lord will depart from us as He departed from Samson, for we have been given the Holy Spirit and assured of His permanent presence as our guarantee (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13-14). Yet we know that we may grieve the Holy Spirit who dwells within us (Eph. 4:30), and we know that the Lord may discipline us when we sin against Him and fail to trust in Him as we should (see, e.g. 1 Cor. 11:27-32; Heb. 12:3-11). We must also remember that God will forgive even such betrayals when we repent, just as He forgave Samson when He repented, a fact that can be seen in His having answered Samson’s final prayer and His having given him the strength to obtain his greatest victory over his enemies in his death (16:28-30). Sadly, however, all of this is missed by Andy, who is so focused on using the passage for his own ends that he cannot see the ends that God may have had in mind or the real lessons that He would have us learn.
I don’t know why Andy says that Delilah tied Samson with new ropes after “he gets drunk and passes out,” because the text doesn’t say anywhere that he got drunk and passed out. It is just more of Andy playing fast and loose with the text, showing no reverence for the text or any real interest in presenting it accurately. There is thus not the kind of attention to detail that he seems to want to portray to his hearers, the kind of attention to detail that is part and parcel of an interest in the sound exegesis of the text as the basis for one’s teaching. Andy has portrayed expositional teaching – and thus the focus on sound exegesis that underlies it – as “easy,” but such basic exegetical skill certainly seems to be too difficult for him.
Andy again says that Samson was “drunk” when Delilah had his hair cut, but once again the text doesn’t say this. We don’t know how she got him to sleep so soundly. Maybe she got him drunk, or maybe she drugged him with something. Or maybe God caused him to sleep so deeply as a judgment on him. The text simply doesn’t say, so Andy should not have presented his opinion as though it were cut and dried and beyond dispute. In doing so, he continues to subtly undermine the authority of Scripture. This is further exacerbated by the series of “maybes” Andy lists, which turn out not to be just “maybes” but the way he intends to apply the text, as though these “maybes” are really what happened.
It is really sad that Andy leaves the story with Samson having died in shackles and doesn’t get to the point God wanted us to get to, namely to how Samson repented and died trusting in Him, for this is how we see God’s victory in Samson’s life and our hope of victory as well. In fact, this must be the reason why Samson gets listed in that great “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 (vs. 32).
By the time Andy brings in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, it becomes apparent that his intention never really was to teach what the text actually meant to teach us about God’s work in the life of Samson anyway. This no doubt accounts for some of his bad handling of the passages in Judges. What he apparently intended, rather, was to find in Samson a poignant illustration of the theme he really wanted to teach about, namely the importance of sexual self-restraint because our bodies belong to God. Thus he apparently just didn’t bother with the kind of solid exegesis of the text of Judges that it warrants. Yet he had introduced the sermon as part of a series in Judges, so I would have expected him to actually try to teach what this portion of Judges was really all about. What ended up happening, though, was that Andy got so interested in one possible area of application of the text that he missed altogether the deeper lessons to be found there, and he ended up distorting the text in the process. Again, for something he claims to be so “easy,” it has certainly proved too difficult for him.
So, did Andy have some good things to say? Yes, he did. Did Andy faithfully teach the text that he set out to teach. Not really. In fact, he made a bit of a mess of it, and he actually did more eisegesis than exegesis. He was too focused on what he wanted to get across to pay close enough attention to what God actually intended to get across in the text he was supposed to be teaching. In other words, the text was there to serve Andy’s purposes, and it was forced into that role. To be sure, Andy had some good intentions in mind for his people, but demonstrating how to rightly handle God’s Word and derive from it what God actually intends to say was apparently not among them. Apparently that would have been “cheating.” It would have been too “easy.” In reality, Andy was cheating by failing to do the basic exegetical work he ought to have done, apparently because he didn’t think it necessary, or apparently because what he dismisses as “easy” was just too hard for him.
Later I added these further comments on the sermon linked above:
I just thought I would also add that, even though Andy spoke about how stupid you can become when “sexually inflamed” or how bad your decisions are when made “from the outside in” based on “what your body wants,” as I think about the message now I don’t recall him ever making it clear how such behavior is actually evil because it goes against the will of God. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul, for example, failing to point this out?
I would also add that, as I think about it now in the light of an exchange with another brother earlier today, I am beginning to wonder if Andy isn’t actually a bit ashamed of the Bible. I mean, he seems to think that he has to dress it up in order to present it to people, as though it isn’t good enough on its own. He seems to treat the Bible like a backward cousin that he doesn’t really want to introduce to his high class friends until he dresses him up and teaches him some manners. And this impression only grows as one considers some of the other things Andy goes on to say in the next two sermons. With this in mind, here are some notes I wrote as I listened to Andy Stanley’s sermon entitled Unhitched, the introductory sermon to a series entitled “The N Commandments”:
As with my earlier critique of one of Andy’s sermons, I apologize in advance for the length … I assure you, however, that there were even more problems that could have been pointed out.
In his introduction Andy said that, “I love to read blogs by people who have abandoned the Christian faith,” and he added that he has even read a couple of books by such people. I can’t imagine why anyone would enjoy reading the words of apostate people who describe why they no longer profess faith in Christ. On what level would this be enjoyable such that a Christian could possibly “love” doing it? Andy went on to say that he always finds reading such things “so fascinating” because he can find out why people would stop being a Christian, “because following Jesus makes your life better, and because following Jesus makes you better at life. And everybody wants their life to be better, and everybody wants to be better at life, so I don’t quite get this.” I find this disturbing in a couple of ways. First, it sounds like something Oprah might say about “The Secret,” rather than something a preacher ought to say about Christianity in a culture that has a very different definition of what makes for a “better life” than what our Lord Jesus would teach. Second, when Andy says something like this, he makes it sound as though choosing whether or not to follow Jesus is like the choice between whether or not to join a country club. It isn’t the kind of thing one would say who understands the true nature of sin, of conversion, or of spiritual warfare. It is no doubt a more appealing way to talk to people who don’t want to hear hard things, but it doesn’t sound like anything Jesus or the Apostles would say, at least not to me. They never spoke of apostates as those who simply made a bad choice and missed out on a “better life.” Frankly, this introduction makes me want to quit listening, because it seems so focused on saying things in a palatable way to people who would rather not hear hard things that I can’t imagine anything worthwhile following it. It just reminds me of why I didn’t like listening to this guy in the past, but I said I would listen, so I will try to keep going.
Andy goes on to list a couple of reasons given by former Christians who have abandoned the Christian faith. He says the first is that they don’t like Christians because they have met some bad ones. He says the second is that they don’t like the Bible. His intention is to show that they give straw men reasons for leaving the faith, and there is certainly truth in that, but what he says about the Bible in particular is greatly disturbing to me. For example, he says that “the Bible is another terrible reason to give up on Christianity,” after which he lists some reasons why these apostates (my word, not his) don’t like the Bible. He includes such things as the teaching of a six day creation, “sanctioned genocide in the Old Testament,” no historical evidence that the Israelites ever left Egypt, or that “there’s this date in the New Testament that doesn’t line up with other historical documents.” He then says that these are terrible reasons to leave Christianity. He says “all those things may be true” (apparently referring to the aforementioned problems with the Bible) but the real problem is that Christians have done a terrible job of communicating the foundation of our faith because – taking his words in context – the aforementioned issues aren’t even essential to our faith. “The Bible is not the foundation of our faith” anyway, Andy says, rather the resurrection is the foundation of our faith. However, he fails to observe that all we know about the resurrection comes from the Bible in the first place!
In the following discussion he leaves the impression that it doesn’t matter if there are actually problems or errors in the Bible anyway. To illustrate his point he says this would be like saying a person doesn’t exist because there is an error in his birth certificate. The implication is that it doesn’t matter if the Bible similarly has errors, because we don’t really believe in God – and, in the context, in Christianity – based on the Bible anyway. He points out that a birth certificate doesn’t determine your existence; it simply documents your existence. In the same way, he argues, the New Testament simply documents what happened; it doesn’t determine what happened. So if people have problems with the Bible, it is no reason to walk away from Christianity any more than an incorrect birth certificate is a reason to doubt a person’s existence.
What a terrible analogy! No wonder Andy treats the Bible so casually and distorts it to suit his purposes so easily. He doesn’t seem to view it very highly it the first place. He even appeals to the unbeliever by saying that, “Jesus might have risen from the dead, and if He did, who cares what the Bible says!?” He also repeatedly says or implies that people think Christianity is too fragile when they think it has to be based on what the Bible says or that things in the Bible have to be accurate. To be fair, Andy does say in passing that he personally thinks the Bible “does line up,” but the very fact that he could speak this way about the connection between the Bible and the Christian faith betrays a very different view of the nature of the Bible and Biblical authority than most Christians have held throughout the centuries or than is revealed in the Bible itself. However, I’ll resist the temptation to go into a long discussion of these matters – since those of you who read my Facebook threads don’t need this anyway – and move on to the rest of Andy’s “sermon.”
Andy says that the resurrection happened (I’m glad he still believes this truth!) and then describes different “groups” in the early Church. “One group,” he says, went back into the Old Testament Scriptures and saw how they pointed to Jesus and His resurrection, but “another group” focused on telling others about Jesus, specifically telling the Gentiles. Where on earth does he get the idea that there were two “groups” such as he imagines? Where does he get the idea that those interested in explaining Jesus in light of the Old Testament stayed in Jerusalem and that those who wanted to share Jesus with the Gentiles weren’t so concerned about this? Does he think that the Apostles who went to the Gentiles never quoted the Old Testament in explaining Jesus? That they never showed how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies? Has he never read any of Paul’s writings!?
When Andy continues his rather warped summary of the early history of the Church, he goes on to say that the Gentiles had no knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures and that they didn’t care (again, apparently missing the fact that the Apostle Paul, for example, obviously spent a great deal of time teaching them from the Old Testament as well as giving them additional revelation in light of this Old Testament background). He also says that:
[Quote of Andy:]“Not a single Gentile became a Christian because someone showed them a verse and said, ‘Here’s what the Bible says.’ Nobody became a Christian because the Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says, because there was no New Testament. There was no Christian Bible. There was just the Old Testament that most Gentiles didn’t take seriously because that was a Jewish book. But, if you’re tellin’ me that a guy rose from the dead, and you’re tellin’ me that we can go to Jerusalem, and you could introduce me to people who saw a living, you know, man who rose from the dead, and he claims to be from God, then I want to know more about that.”
He then says that all the Gentiles had in the first century was the eyewitness accounts. In all of this he is apparently attempting to show why we don’t really need the Bible so much after all. But, not only does he badly misrepresent the actual role the Old Testament Scriptures clearly played in the preaching of the Gospel in the first century (just see Paul’s explanation of His Gospel teaching to the Romans!), he also misses the fact that the Apostles who oversaw and assured the true teaching of the Gospel in the first century were the very ones who wrote the New Testament so that what they were teaching as God’s inspired and infallible teachers would not be lost after they were gone. What we have in the New Testament, then, is essentially what they were teaching from the beginning, before they wrote the New Testament and as they wrote the New Testament. So, as it turns out, we desperately need both the Old and New Testaments as God’s inspired testimony for us.
Andy also goes on to present what he says was actually taught in the first century without any mention of confronting the Gentiles with their sins, and he goes on to describe the aforementioned “first group” of Jewish thinkers who remained in Jerusalem as though they were all the same as the Judaizers with whom the early Church had to deal. I don’t know where he is getting his take on these things, but he has very little idea what he is talking about.
Wow! After almost 24 minutes of bad attempts at apologetics, along with some bad Church history, during which Andy briefly cited and misused 1 Cor. 15 in his silly attempt to show that there really was no Bible then, he finally gets around to reading Scripture from Acts 15. Maybe I will hear something worth hearing now.
Nope! Andy misrepresents the text as indicating that some of the Pharisees who believed were among “the leaders of the church” in Jerusalem, but the text doesn’t actually say that. It says that, “when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses’” (vss. 4-5). Thus the whole church was gathered together, not just the leaders of the church, as the following context makes clear when it speaks of the Apostles and elders as a separate group from the aforementioned Pharisees (vs. 6). In fact, the context goes on to indicate that the Apostles and elders discussed the matter before the whole church (vs. 12, 22). Andy also speaks in general of the believing Pharisees as those who thought that the Gentiles had to become Jews to be saved, but the text says that it was only “some” of them (vs. 5, recall also vs. 1, which says that “certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’”). At any rate, this shows the persistent lack of attention to the details of the text on Andy’s part.
Andy makes a very big deal of James’ statement as rendered in the NIV that “we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (vs. 19), and he uses it to justify his church’s approach to making it “as easy as possible” for people to come to Christ, over against the criticisms they receive for making it “so easy.” But, of course, what James was talking about has nothing to do with the kinds of things such seeker driven churches are being criticized for doing today. For example, Andy apparently thinks that stressing the truth and inerrancy of Scripture – especially in certain matters that make people uncomfortable these days – makes it too difficult for people to come to Christ, and therefore he treats it as though it just doesn’t matter. In fact, the whole first part of the message does this! However, I defy anyone to show me that James would have thought such a thing!
Andy’s use of vss. 28-29 is equally troubling, especially since he sets it up by saying that in these verses James is going to tell Gentiles how they should view the law of Moses, whereas the text does not indicate anywhere that he intended so monumental a task in these few words. In fact, the letter was from the church at Jerusalem anyway, not just James. Although I agree with Andy’s assessment that the dietary restrictions mentioned in vs. 29 are given due to the needed sensitivity for the Gentiles toward their Jewish brethren, I don’t know where he gets the idea that James goes on to make that clear in the context. It is something that is perhaps hinted at in the preceding context, however, and it is made clear in the overall context of the New Testament treatment of the issue.
When Andy explains the command in vs. 29 to abstain from “sexual immorality,” he says that James meant to say that, “I don’t want you to sleep with their wives, and I don’t want you to let them sleep with your wives.” Really? James and the believers in Jerusalem were just worried about adultery or wife swapping? This is all Andy gets from the command to abstain from “sexual immorality”? Surely he must know that the term is much broader than that! Surely he knows that the Greek word is porneía, which refers to “Fornication, lewdness, or any sexual sin” (Complete Word Study Dictionary, e-Sword), and that it would include, for example, such sexual sin as premarital sex and even homosexuality.
What’s worse is that Andy then goes on to say that the letter means to indicate to the Gentiles that we don’t really even need the ten commandments any more (and this despite the fact that nine of the ten commandments, excluding the commandment to observe the Sabbath, are cited as applicable to Christians elsewhere in the New Testament). And even worse than that, Andy says that the letter indicates to the Gentiles that:
[Quote of Andy:] “You don’t need the Old Testament. You don’t need to do all that stuff. OK. It’s fascinating [the same way he described the blogs and books of the apostates he “loves” to read]. It’s interesting. It tells us about Jesus. You may enjoy the stories, you know the flannel-graphs. It’s all exciting. But that is not your approach to God, because you have been saved by grace.”
Oh my! Where does one even begin to respond to such a shallow and distorted assessment regarding the Old Testament!? We don’t really need the Old Testament because we have been saved by grace!? As though there is no grace in the Old Testament!? Good grief! This man shows so little apparent concern for the way he speaks of such deep and complicated issues! In his attempt to simplify things, he has actually distorted them to the point where they deny a proper Scriptural understanding of the importance and authority of all of God’s Word. At best he is just speaking in a careless and cavalier manner in which no pastor-teacher should ever speak. I am certain, for example, that the Apostle Paul – the Apostle to the Gentiles – who spoke of “all Scripture,” including the Old Testament, as “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NKJ), would never have come close to making such a statement as Andy has made here!
I think Andy’s whole point, especially as he has so badly argued for it, that Christianity is “unhitched from ancient Judaism,” is wrong. A better — and more Biblical — way of stating it would be to say that Christianity is “the fulfillment of ancient Judaism and the promises contained within it.” Such an approach would also lead to a much more Biblically nuanced way of speaking about the relationship of the New Testament to the Old Testament and of Christians to the Old Testament. But Andy doesn’t appear to understand such things very well — if at all — and he badly misrepresents the issues. Perhaps the saddest part of it is that there are so many unknowledgeable people listening to him who will come away thinking that their problems with the Bible are just fine since we don’t really need the Bible that much anyway.
Andy then tries to get us to put ourselves back into the shoes of the Christians in the first century who, he says, didn’t need the Old Testament and didn’t have the New Testament, but only had the Gospel and Jesus’ commands shared by the Apostles. It doesn’t seem to dawn on him that what we have in the New Testament is what the Apostles had actually been teaching from the beginning! I am truthfully left wondering how this man was ever deemed qualified by anyone to be a pastor, given his complete misunderstanding of such basic issues!
As I said above, this is actually an introductory sermon to a series entitled “The N Commandments.” Needless to say, perhaps, I have no intention of listening to the rest of the series, since I could barely stand to listen even to the first one. When I can find time, however, I will listen at least to the second sermon linked by ____, since I said I would. I would not recommend that anyone else listen to anything by Andy though. He doesn’t understand the Bible very well, and he is a lousy exegete, to put it mildly.
And here I would also ask the question, “Is Andy Stanley Ashamed of the Bible?” He certainly seems to be at some level, since he is trying to excuse it away and make it more acceptable to people who think it has errors and who feel that it says things that they simply cannot accept. Andy’s response is simply to assure them that the Bible they find so unappealing doesn’t really matter so much anyway. At any rate, later in the Facebook thread I added these these further comments on the sermon linked above:
So far, I have found no reason not to agree with the assessment of the article at the beginning of this thread. In fact, not only is Andy Stanley’s teaching every bit as bad as I remembered it, it is even worse! I honestly cannot understand how anyone who has been well grounded in the faith at all could possibly sit under his teaching or listen to it on a regular basis. It is so full of distortions that it is both heartbreaking and infuriating to sit through.
Here are some notes I wrote as I listened to Andy Stanley’s Easter 2015 sermon entitled Unbelievably Believable (as it turns out, this message is actually the one preceding the previous sermon I critiqued, which was entitled “Unhitched”):
As Andy begins to introduce the theme of the sermon, he gets off on the wrong foot immediately when he speaks of how many of us “miss the extraordinary complexity, the details and, in some cases, even the inconsistency of the Easter story.” Really? The “Easter story” is “inconsistent”? I’m already beginning to be annoyed given what I’ve heard from Andy in the sermon that followed this one.
Well, I am not surprised to see that the very first point Andy wants his visitors to understand is that his church “does not believe that Jesus rose from the dead because the Bible tells us so. It is much, much, much better than that.” As I saw in the “Unhitched” sermon, Andy wants to distance belief in Jesus’ resurrection – and therefore in Jesus Himself as God and Savior – from belief in the authority and reliability of the Bible. Apparently he had already embarked on this agenda the preceding week (if not earlier). Andy goes on to make the point that:
[Quote of Andy:] “… the Jesus loves me because the Bible tells me so, that’s an extraordinary version of Jesus if you are a child. It is not an extraordinary version of Jesus if you are an adult. And the great news, the great news is this: There is an adult version of Jesus that has the potential to change your life, but you’ve gotta let go of what you left off with at childhood. And that’s why I say, we don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead simply [at least he has the word ‘simply’ here this time] because the Bible tells us so. And let me tell you why we believe Jesus literally, physically rose from the dead. We believe the Easter narrative because Matthew, who was an eyewitness, saw it and wrote about it, and he believed. Mark, who got his information probably from Peter; he believed it. Luke, who begins his Gospel with ‘I thoroughly explai… explored and navigated through what I was told by other people and wrote an account’; he believed it. John, who was an eyewitness, believed it. James, who was the brother of Jesus, believed his brother was the Son of God and rose from the dead ….”
Andy then goes on to add the Apostle Paul, who had formerly tried to destroy the church, to the list. But, of course, I am wondering how Andy knows that all these men believed that Jesus rose from the dead. Could it be because the Bible tells him so!? Could it be that the Holy Spirit used the Bible in order to create faith in Andy in the resurrection of Jesus? Absolutely this is why he really believes – if indeed he really believes as he says he does. Why, then, does he want to try to hang on to this belief while distancing it from the Bible? Well, as the sermon the following week demonstrates, it is because he knows that people have “problems” with the Bible, and Andy wants to make it “easier” for them to believe, so he wants to get rid of what he thinks is the childish notion that our faith is so inextricably linked to the Bible as the Bible itself indicates that it really is. (Recall my previous critique of the “Unhitched” sermon in this thread.)
Andy goes on to talk about how these men wrote down their beliefs, and we ended up with the New Testament, which was then added to the Old Testament in order to give us our Bible. But Andy is quick to say in the very next breath:
[Quote of Andy:] “But we don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead because the Bible tells us so. That’s Sunday school. We believe Jesus rose from the dead because eyewitnesses and people who knew the eyewitnesses tell us so, told us so, wrote about it, and in most cases gave their life – not because of what they believed; that happens all the time – they gave their lives for what they believed they saw, a resurrected Savior.”
I find this really confused and incoherent, to say the least. Andy wants to say that we believe that Jesus rose from the dead based on the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles, but he does not want to say that we believe in the resurrection of Jesus based on the Bible. Yet the Bible is their eyewitness testimony which has been inspired for our benefit by the Holy Spirit. Thus, at best Andy is hopelessly confused, but at worst he is giving the impression that we can somehow believe the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles without having to believe so much in the Bible that they wrote. How on earth did this guy ever get ordained to preach the Gospel!?
At any rate, after this lengthy, muddled, nonsensical introduction, Andy says that he wants to tell us “the Easter story.” I can hardly wait (and, yes, I am being sarcastic).
Good grief. He has John the Baptist saying he isn’t worthy to tie the “tennis shoes” of the Messiah. Does he really think people are so daft that they don’t know what sandals are? Is he really trying so hard to make the account seem so “relevant” today that he has to say something that stupid? With that, I’ll skip over the other oddities in the way he restates the basic history of Jesus’ ministry. I’m just getting tired of it.
I don’t know where Andy gets the idea when speaking of John 11:48 that the Jews were worried that, if they didn’t kill Jesus, the Romans “may side with Jesus of Nazareth” against them. Where is this notion to be found in the text? What would lead anyone to think this? It is just one more way in which Andy seems to like saying novel sounding things that have no clear basis in the text at all. Maybe he thinks it makes him sound smarter or more perceptive. Who knows why he so consistently does this, except that he doesn’t seem all that concerned with accurately handling the Scriptures anyway.
Not surprisingly, Andy holds that the Gospels were written no earlier than 30-40 years after the events they recorded, but that is something many scholars agree to disagree about, even within more conservative circles.
Andy actually makes a couple of good points about why we can trust the Gospel accounts as eyewitness testimony, and I am very glad to hear it, even if he has already spent so much time trying to disconnect these accounts from “the Bible.” But I can’t imagine why Andy would say, “If you’re from a Roman Catholic background, you understand way better than us Protestants do the importance of Peter.” Really? Just what do they teach about the importance of Peter that we have missed and need to know? That he was the first pope, perhaps? Well, Andy goes on to talk about how, if you’re a Roman Catholic, you believe that the pope is connected to Peter somehow, and he doesn’t present this in a negative light at all. He says it as if it is no big deal. So he’s at it again! He just loves to say things that sound complimentary to various people in his audience, apparently with little or no concern about how wrong — or even how heretical — such things may be. So, even when Andy starts to get onto something good, he has already undercut the force of it at the beginning, and then he goes on to say yet another silly, pandering, unbiblical thing. This is just what happens when a guy is so focused on saying the kinds of things he thinks his hearers want to hear that he isn’t being driven by faithfulness to Scripture in the end. This has been a common problem in the sermons I’ve heard from him thus far.
Andy spends some time talking about how the Gospels are written as unvarnished history that doesn’t try to give any spin and that can therefore be trusted. He has some good things to say here, but one wonders why he is going to all the trouble if our faith in the resurrection isn’t really based so firmly on the Bible anyway, as he tried to argue at the beginning of the message. Again, the overall sermon has been very confused and muddled in this regard.
Where does Andy get the idea that Joseph of Arimathea paid Pilate for the body of Jesus? Where is this in any of the Gospel accounts? I suppose I could have missed it, but I went back and looked and didn’t see it in any of the four Gospels. So, again, why does he seem to think he needs to throw in such details from his own imagination? Why isn’t a straightforward presentation of the Bible sufficient for him. It again appears that it is because the Bible itself is insufficient for him. He simply doesn’t treat the Bible as though it is the very Word of God. It is a source for him, not the source.
Andy also presents Nicodemus as though he was simply an unbelieving Pharisee and does not take into account the indications in John’s Gospel that he might have been a believer at this time, as was Joseph of Arimathea. I guess this would require having spent some time reading and studying the Gospel and being concerned about presenting the overall teaching of it accurately, but, again, this never really seems to be a primary concern for a man who doesn’t think our faith is based primarily on what the Bible says anyway. I hope the readers of my critiques of his sermons up to this point have picked up on this trend.
With that, I’m done. I can’t bring myself to listen to any more of this man’s preaching. I can’t even bring myself to listen to the rest of this sermon. I think I have responded to enough of his preaching up to this point in this thread, however, to demonstrate that the article linked at the beginning was correct in its basic assessment of Andy Stanley’s teaching. And I hope you can all see that the differences between Andy and those who are committed to expository Bible teaching go way deeper than simply a matter of “style.” They are rooted in a different view of Scripture. As I said in an earlier post in this thread, one doesn’t disparage expositional teaching the way that Andy has done without revealing a deeper theological and methodological issue. Andy clearly doesn’t understand how the Scriptures apply to pastors as their guide, not only for their content in teaching but also for their method.

I really do hope these brief critiques of Andy Stanley’s teaching have been helpful to the blog’s readers in highlighting not only the problems with his teaching but also of the many others who teach the same way. I also hope you can all see more clearly that the differences between men like Andy Stanley and those who advocate expository Bible teaching go much deeper than a mere matter of style. They are rooted, rather, in a different view of the authority and role of Scripture in one’s teaching ministry. And, frankly, I am left wondering, is Andy Stanley actually ashamed of the Bible? It certainly seems to me to be an unavoidable conclusion. As always, your responses are welcome.

Update 31 August 2016

Andy’s at it again, and he’s perhaps even more emphatic in his denunciation of the credibility of scripture, as Bud Ahlheim demonstrates in an article entitled Superstar Mega-church Son of A (Hopefully Ashamed) Preacher Man Andy Stanley: Scripture Can’t Be Defended.

6 thoughts on “Is Andy Stanley Ashamed of the Bible?

  1. LOL! I thank God for examples/teachers like Doc Belcher as well. I'm currently “cheating” my way through John (on Sunday mornings) and Joel (on Sunday afternoons).

  2. Wow that was long! How long did it take you to put all that together? I think you are well within your rights to disagree with the way Andy Stanley preaches, or anyone for that matter, but I would question whether or not spending so much time and effort just to let “everyone” know why someone else “just doesn't get it” is the wisest way to spend your time, (and the time of those that read your post for that matter). As Paul say’s, we are supposed to make “the most of every opportunity” (it would be good to read that whole passage). But hey, that’s just my humble opinion. We don’t get the freedom to choose our purpose in life, that has been determined by our creator, but we do all have the freedom to choose how we are to go about investing our time as we try to fulfill our God given purpose, and hey, perhaps for you maybe that involves spending a bunch of time criticizing others ministries and/or methods. Although… didn’t Paul also say something to his critics about faith being better seen though actions instead of words…?

  3. Jeremy, there are several points that I think are worth making is response to your comments.

    First, I would agree that the post was long. I said so in the body of the post itself. I would even agree that it took more time than I would rather spend on such an endeavor. However, as I made clear in the post, the reason I had for taking the time to do this had to do with a friend on Facebook who had believed that Andy is a solid Bible teacher. He was therefore likely to be led astray by Andy, not to mention the many others who are being led astray by him as he teaches in such a way as to undermine the inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture. Given this concern, I think the time spent was well worth it, since I think helping God's people to learn to be more discerning and to avoid false teaching is always time well spent. This is why I then agreed to post the information on my blog as well. I thus cannot understand why you said, “I would question whether or not spending so much time and effort just to let 'everyone' know why someone else 'just doesn't get it' is the wisest way to spend your time, (and the time of those that read your post for that matter).” For starters, I never thought I was letting “everyone” know, and I never said I thought I was doing that. But I also have to wonder if really you understood much of what I wrote if you can characterize my intent in writing these things as merely trying to help people see that Andy “'just doesn't get it.” This makes it sounds like I was simply nit-picking or simply criticizing Andy's style of teaching, but my criticisms went far beyond that. I wasn't intent on warning others about Andy's teaching simply because I think he doesn't teach well or has a bad style of teaching. I was dealing with false teaching about which God's people need to be warned. And this is an important part of an elder's job and therefore what he should be willing to spend some time doing. Here are just a couple of passages that make this aspect of the elders' responsibility very clear:

    Act 20:28-31 “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.”

    Paul clearly clearly commands the elders to watch out for the flock as they shepherd them, especially against the false teachers that will arise, even from among their own ranks. He clearly sees this as one of the reasons the Holy Spirit had appointed them as overseers. And he himself was willing to spend time doing this “day and night,” so he must have thought it was time well spent.

    Also, in Titus 1:7-9, Paul lists some of the requirements for elders, and among these requirements he says that an elder must hold fast “the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” And some of the reasons for this requirement are given in the following verses: “For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (vss. 10-11).

    Again it is clear that the elders are responsible for guarding the churches against false doctrine.

  4. Second, when you criticize me for spending the time I have spent on critiquing three of Andy's sermons, not only do you seem to completely miss the real reason why I took the time to do it, you also aren't apparently very familiar with the Reformed Baptist Blog as a whole. If you were, you would have a better idea of how little time I have actually spent doing such things in writing here. In fact, I should probably be doing more of this! I certainly will take the time to write such things in the future if the need arises. I can tell you, for example, that in my pastoral ministry I have listened to far more bad teaching over the years than I would have liked, and I have done so as people have come to me with concerns and asked for pastoral advice. In such situations I believe I am obligated to take the time to listen to such teaching enough to be able to develop a valid and informed opinion in order to help those whom I serve. You may think taking such time is not worth it, but I happen to love the people I serve, so taking time to help them learn to be more discerning — and thus taking time to listen to and offer critiques of such bad teaching — is well worth it if it continues to help them.

    Third, I would also point out that, although I have focused my attention here on Andy's teaching ministry, I do not see my critique as limited simply to dealing with his “ministries and/or methods,” since he has been very influential on the ministry of others and since so many other prominent “pastors” are guilty of the same kinds of false teaching. In other words, this is a huge problem that goes well beyond the ministry of Andy Stanley, so dealing with him is a helpful example concerning many others as well. This too means that it was time well spent.

    Fourth, I agree that our faith should be seen through action as well as words, which is why I have spent so much of my time over the years teaching the truth of God's Word — even on this blog — and developing relationships with people in which they trust me to give them advice, advice that is informed and fair. But, as I have already indicated, this involves my taking time to do these things. Taking such time out of concern for the truth of God's Word and for the people I love and serve is in itself action rather than just words. And taking time to help the people you love is always worth it.

    Fifth, and finally, you must at least agree that taking time to critique someone's teaching is not altogether time misspent, since you claim to have taken the time to read my post and then you took some time to comment on it. But, of course, you may not have actually read the whole post before giving your comment, which seems to be the case, since you managed to miss the whole point of it. If so, then I would suggest that you don't offer criticism yourself without taking time to actually read/listen to the one you are criticizing, something which I took the time to do regarding Andy's teaching so that my criticisms would be fair and something I have taken the time to do regarding your comments as well.

  5. Gosh, Batman! Russell Moore and Andy Stanley should both know that Billy Graham is the evangelical pope! As Bud pointed out in his post, preachers such as Stanley are focused on goats because the sheep would revolt at the tripe he speaks.

    No apologies needed for the long post here – nobody is forced to read every word. Good work to make clear the dangers of what Andy Stanley teaches.

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