Andy Stanley Controversy: Andy Stanley, son of the well-known pastor emeritus of the First Baptist Church in Atlanta, wrote a tweet that has since been deleted. It said: “The Christian faith doesn’t depend on whether or not 66 old documents are true. It all depends on the identity of one person: Jesus of Nazareth.” Stanley’s tweet was based on a sermon he gave at Browns Bridge Church in Cumming, Georgia, on March 6.
I felt sad and sick when I first saw the tweet on social media. I had heard a lot of statements like this before. In the 1980s, the moderates and liberals who ran the Southern Baptist Convention often made this argument. I had defended the faith against this kind of interpretation of the Bible in the Baptist Associations where I had worked, at a time when my belief that the Bible was inspired by God and completely free of mistakes put me in the minority and on the outside.
The Southern Baptist Convention was saved from this kind of doctrinal error because conservatives worked hard and gave up things to stop it. Also, other churches that followed what Stanley taught ended up on the trash heap of spiritual ineffectiveness or outright apostasy.
So, it hurt me a lot to hear Stanley, a well-known preacher with a lot of influence who has said he believes the Bible is infallible, say something that goes against what he has said.
Unfortunately, Stanley’s view of the Bible is still shared by a lot of seminaries and once-faithful mainline churches today. It says that if you argue for the highest view of Scripture like the Church did in the past, you risk a form of idolatry in which you put the Bible above Jesus and are therefore guilty of Bible worship. In other words, you can make the Bible more important than Jesus. You can make the Bible more important than the Lord himself did.
This is a dangerous argument
This is a dangerous argument that may be appealing to people who don’t know any better. It goes against what the Church has always taught, which is that Christ, the “Living Word,” is so closely linked to the “Written Word,” the Bible, that no teacher can lower the authority of one without also lowering the authority of the other.
Jesus had the highest view of the Bible of anyone who has ever lived. In fact, Jesus told people over and over again to judge his whole life and work by what the Bible said. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that he didn’t come to contradict or replace the Scriptures. Instead, he came to fulfill them exactly, completely, to the “jot and tittle” (Mt. 5:17-20).
Years ago, after I quit being a pastor to become the executive director of the Christian Action League, I joined a church where a man was being considered a pastor. First, the candidate gave a general statement about his doctrinal beliefs and church rules. Then, people in the audience asked him questions.
One thing the candidate said gave me a reason to think twice. He said that he thought Southern Baptists put the Bible ahead of Jesus. So, I asked him in front of the whole church to please explain what he meant.
The candidate kept talking about things that had nothing to do with the question, to the point where it was embarrassing. When he did finally talk about it, he did so in vague, general terms that didn’t really answer the question.
At last, I tried to get him to talk, so I asked, “Please be clear. Do you think the Bible is the Word of God that can’t be wrong? Which one?” His answer, “No, I don’t,” was honest and showed a lot about him.
At this point, the candidate got very angry and started insulting me, saying that he believed in the Bible just as much as I did. I told him that he didn’t believe in the Bible as much as I did or as much as the people in that church did. Then I told him, “You think the Bible has some of God’s words, but you don’t think it’s all God’s words. Correct?” He agreed that what I said about what he thought was right.
One woman stood up to defend the candidate and said, “Well, I agree with him.” “It’s true! I think our denomination has made a mistake by putting the Bible ahead of Jesus. I told her, “Please tell me how any of us can know anything reliable about Jesus that isn’t in the Bible.”
Then the candidate said, “I know! By experience!”
“Experience?” I spoke up. “And how can we know if someone’s experience is real or true without a Bible that never makes mistakes and is the final word on everything?” I asked. “How do we know if what we’re going through is from God or the devil? Are we to think that our experience can never lead us astray, that it can never bring us to a fake Christ?”
No one else spoke, and the candidate took his name out of the running, saying that he could never go to church with someone like me. Others, on the other hand, said that I had just kept the church from getting into a lot of trouble and possibly failing.
For those who are willing to think and look at the Bible, the main point is very clear. Jesus did not believe or teach what Stanley does about the authority of the Bible. Let’s not forget that even Jesus followed the Bible. Our Lord connected himself and his work so closely to the Bible that he said that a person can know Him to the degree that they accept the Bible.
When someone has a different view of the Written Word than the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, it should really bother us. In the end, it makes our own thoughts, beliefs, and experiences more important than what God has told us. This only leads to mistakes, giving in, and leaving the faith.