Here is the scene: You have spoken out against someone’s sin. Perhaps it was in conversation or discussion about this concern, or in an Internet comment section. Perhaps it was directly to the offender, in an attempt to turn that person from wrong to right. The immediate reaction to your statement is a chorus of objections the goes something like this:
Jesus said “Judge not!”
“You should be loving like Jesus, not judgmental.”
“Jesus never judged people.”
“Jesus only loved people, he never judged them.”
“Jesus loved and accepted people the way they were, he never judged them.”
Never mind the irony of people judging you for judging— is what they are saying about our Lord Jesus true at all? We are not at liberty to make up facts about Jesus so He will fit our narrative. Jesus is who He is, He did what He did, and He said what He said, all as recorded for us in God’s Word, the Bible.
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
If you had told me a month ago that a well-respected, successful Southern Baptist pastor would devote an entire sermon preaching against that line, I would have been very skeptical. That, however, is just what megachurch pastor and popular speaker Andy Stanley did as part of his “Who Needs God” series. He quotes the familiar song and says “This is where our trouble began.”
I know that Stanley is a gifted and popular figure. No doubt many who are reading what I am about to say have benefited from his ministry. We are not questioning that the Lord has used him greatly, and that is what makes this situation all the more dangerous and tragic. Dangerous for his hearers, because his followers will be disposed to overlook or minimize a serious and deadly error. Dangerous for Pastor Stanley, because “we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). Mark my words, this is going in a direction that will not end well. God’s people need to be aware and to take care.
Stanley invites us to ask the question, “Should we really believe something just because the Bible tells us so?” He answers in the negative, and the remainder of the message gives his reasoning. The sermon is specifically addressing those who have left the faith after being taught the “childhood version” reflected in the song. These young people go off to college and learn from their professors that certain parts of the Bible are not true, and so they turn away from Jesus. Stanley says that if you are well-read, “It is next to impossible to defend the entire Bible.” It is not adequate to say, “The Bible says it, that settles it.” Pastor Stanley says to those who left Christianity because they thought they had to believe the entire Bible: “You left Christianity unnecessarily.”
Stanley does not directly say that he himself disbelieves any of the Bible, but neither does he say that he believes it all. What he does say is that believing all of the Bible is unnecessary and can be a hindrance to faith in Jesus.
Christianity is a “revealed religion.” Man cannot know God through his own efforts. We need God to speak to us, and thankfully He has spoken: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2a).
The truth that God spoke through the prophets, and finally through His Son, is given to us in the Bible. The Christian faith is built on the Savior as He is revealed in the written Word. Stanley will have none of this, and argues that basing Christianity on the Bible makes it “a fragile house of cards religion.” The correct view, he counters, is to make Jesus, rather than the Bible, the foundation of our faith.
That sounds spiritual, but this is a move that has been used by liberal theologians for many years: Embrace Jesus while rejecting the Bible. The problem with this is obvious. We only know about Jesus through the Bible. This is a self-defeating tactic. One does not love Jesus more by believing the Bible less. It’s just the opposite.
The introduction to pastor Stanley’s sermon found on the website has been changed, but here is a copy of the original introduction:
“Do you find some of the Bible’s stories about God unsettling? Do you ever wonder how you can trust Jesus if it requires you to believe everything in the Bible is true? Does Christianity seem like a fragile house of cards that may tumble down in the face of scientific or archaeological discovery? Before you abandon your faith, it’s worth exploring this question: What if the Bible isn’t the foundation of the Christian faith?”
Notice that this makes a distinction between trusting Jesus and trusting the Bible. No such distinction can be made. The only “Jesus” we know is the Jesus revealed in the Bible. Furthermore, in the Bible, Jesus affirms the written Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God. To follow Jesus includes following what he taught about the Scriptures.
The Lord Jesus consistently used the Old Testament Bible as the decisive point in any argument, insisting “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). When He appeared after His resurrection to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He directed them to the Bible: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). He said of the Scriptures, “it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39), and that “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18).
It is not only the direct words and example of Christ that testify to the absolute truthfulness of the Bible. The doctrine of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible is taught and assumed throughout the Scriptures. In his message Stanley mentions some examples of biblical teaching he considered indefensible. They include such biblical accounts as the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the walls of Jericho falling down, and the world-wide flood of Noah’s day. But how could the Bible’s account of these events be false if Scripture was produced by the Holy Spirit of God? Consider the claims the Bible makes about itself:
“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Andy Stanley is all too willing to surrender the doctrine of Scripture that the Lord Jesus Himself taught, and that the entire Bible claims about itself. This is no small error.
Revisionist Church History
Pastor Stanley goes to great length to argue that the early Christians did not believe in Jesus because of the Bible, did not build the church on the Bible, and did not even have the Bible. As I listened to the sermon, I was frankly dumbfounded to hear what I was hearing, because it is so demonstrably false. Please bear with me as I share just a little of all that could be brought forth to disprove his conclusions.
During the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Diocletian in 303-305 AD, some Christians saved their lives by surrendering copies of the Scriptures to the authorities. The church called them “traditores” (“the ones who handed over”), and they were considered to be guilty along with those who denied Christ to escape persecution. There was even a major division in the church when a party called the Donatists refused to recognize the ministry of any church leader who had been a traditor. So it would surprise the early Roman Christians to hear from Andy Stanley that they did not even have the Bible, since he claims that the Bible did not exist until after 312 AD.
Here are some examples of Pastor Stanley’s revisionist church history:
1. Stanley: “Christianity made its greatest strides during the 282 years before the Bible even existed.”
→ He is counting from the crucifixion of Jesus to the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. This edict by the Emperor Constantine recognized Christianity, for the first time, as a legal religion in the empire. There was nothing in this Edict that brought the Bible into existence. And of course the Bible existed. The Old Testament was quoted by Jesus and the apostles, and the New Testament books were all written in the First Century.
2. Stanley: “No one had ever held in their hand a Bible.”
→ I suppose this is true if he means a printed leather-bound Bible, because that technology did not exist yet. Nevertheless, they certainly had copies of the Scriptures, so this is a patently false statement.
3. Stanley: The early Christian scribes “did not make copies because they believed they were inspired … but because they believed they were true.”
→This is a false dichotomy. The Scriptures are true because they are inspired. We have seen from 2 Timothy 3:16 that the apostles taught the inspiration of the Scriptures, and 2 Peter 3:16 shows that the New Testament writings of Paul were considered “Scripture” right along with the Old Testament. And anyway, Stanley’s whole point is that you do not have to believe that the Bible is entirely true, so he is even diverging from his own unfounded interpretation of early Christian scribes.
4. Stanley says that the Old and New Testaments were not combined until 350 AD, and that it was not referred to as “the Bible” until 388.
→ The first statement is false (cf. 2 Peter 3:16), and the second is irrelevant. What difference does it make if the Greek title “ta biblia” (“the books”) was not given until the Fourth Century? Previous to “ta biblia,” the inspired writings were called “the Scriptures” or “the Holy Scriptures,” but it is the same thing.
5. Stanley: “Christianity doesn’t exist because of the Bible.” “Christianity was not born on the back of ‘The Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says.’” The early Christians “believed Jesus loved them before the Bible told them so.” The apostles “did not choose to follow Jesus because of an infallible Old Testament or a non-contradicting New Testament.”
→ The testimony of the New Testament says otherwise. The New Testament books quote the Old Testament hundreds of times, and they quote it as the Word of God, absolutely authoritative.
The same is true of the early Christians. Take Clement, the First Century pastor of the church in Rome. In his letter to the Corinthian church he quoted from both the Old and New Testaments some 150 times. He said to these early believers (who, according to Stanley, did not have the Bible), “You have studied the Holy Scriptures, which are true, and given by the Holy Spirit. You know that nothing unjust or counterfeit is written in them” (1 Clement 45:2-3a). He calls the Scriptures “the sayings of God” (53:1).
The writings of Justin Martyr, a Second Century Christian writer, are no less saturated with quotes from the Bible. In his Dialogue with Trypho, which describes an evangelistic conversation with a Jewish man, Trypho at one point replies, “For you have sufficiently proved by means of the Scriptures previously quoted by you, that it is declared in the Scriptures that Christ must suffer, and come again with glory.” Further on Trypho, continuing to resist the evangelist’s efforts, says, “nor would we have tolerated your conversation, had you not referred everything to the Scriptures: for you are very zealous in adducing proofs from them.” At one point the witnessing Christian says, “I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded. ” Examples could be multiplied of early Christian writers quoting the Bible as their final authority of faith and practice.
Time would fail us to bring forth a flood of examples from early church writings to disprove all that Stanley said about the Bible and the early church. His declarations sound more like something derived from “The Da Vinci Code” than from even a rudimentary knowledge of church history. His claims are like a historian saying that the U.S. constitution did not exist until after the Civil War.
A Pathetic Substitute
What does Pastor Stanley offer in place of the Bible? How are we “adults” to know that Jesus loves us without the “embarrassment” of believing in the Bible with that troublesome “childhood version” of “the Bible tells me so”? Here is where things get (if possible) even stranger. Stanley at this point takes up some good apologetic arguments for the veracity of the gospel accounts. He argues for an early date for the New Testament writings. He emphasizes that these are eyewitness accounts. He makes a good case for the preservation of the original New Testament texts through the exceptionally strong manuscript evidence. All of this, however, is not so much to support the Bible, as to replace the Bible!
So here is our new song, according to Stanley: “We believe that Jesus rose from the dead but not because the Bible says so. It is way better than that … Now that you are an adult … Jesus loves you, this you know – because John who watched him die and had breakfast with him on the beach tells you so.” Of course, we only know what John says by reading the Bible, but never mind that. He apologizes for “… that fragile version of our faith” that depended upon the Bible. “If you have stepped away from Christianity because of the Bible, I want to encourage you to reconsider. I’m convinced you may have stepped away unnecessarily.”
I am aware of two arguments from those defending Pastor Stanley’s new teaching:
Defense #1: “This is part 3 of a 6 part series, and you have to listen to all 6 to understand this properly.” The other 5 messages may indeed be good and effective. I expect they would be. However, unless message number 2 says “disregard everything I say in message 3” or message 4 says “I repent of what I said in message 3,” there is no larger context that makes this any less than what it is: A denial of the inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of God’s Word. And that, again, is no small error.
Defense #2: “You have to look at his motivation, which is to keep young adults from leaving the faith, and winning back those who have left.”
A good motive does not justify heresy. Perhaps he will “win” some young adults back by giving them permission to not believe God’s Word. What good, in the end, is that? Have you really won anyone to the Lord? Shall we also give permission to deny the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the sovereignty of God? Some people have a hard time with those doctrines, too.
In John 6:60-69, our Lord Jesus failed to keep a crowd of disciples from leaving Him. After He shared some difficult teaching, we read “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” The Lord did not soften his message to get them to stay. “Do you take offense at this?” He said, and then He went on to speak even more difficult truth. As a result, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” Jesus then asked the Twelve if they, too, intended to leave. “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
Do not be ashamed of your supposedly fragile “childhood version” of faith in Christ. “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven ’” (Matthew 18:2-4).
Do not be afraid to defend God’s Word. Be afraid of abandoning it.“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).
As far as the secular attacks on the truth of the Bible, there are plenty of good resources to supply us with what we need to support our faith and to make a good case before unbelievers. Andy Stanley’s surrender is, to use his word, “unnecessary.” The truth of the matter may be summed up in one sentence: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”