Andy Stanley's Microcosm of the Church

February 12, 2015

Andy Stanley’s Troubling Rules on Love, Sex, and Dating

As I stumble through the awkward limbo of single, yet soon-to-be-married, I’ve tried to read every resource tagged within the “marriage,” “love,” and “relationships” genre. This, and the fact that I was desperate to escape the zillions of online articles dissecting 50 Shades of Grey from every possible angle (though I’m grateful for their messages), prompted me to download a copy of Pastor Andy Stanley’s new book on romantic relationships to my Kindle. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Geared towards the young, unwed, and culturally savvy, Stanley explains in the introduction that his purpose for writing The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating (Zondervan, January 2015) is to “increase your relational satisfaction quota.” What does that mean? Red flags started to rise. Still I pressed onward with hopes of encountering helpful gems of wisdom and Christian counsel over the next 200 pages. After all, the author is the Evangelical pastor of the largest church in America.

I’ll start with the positive.

The book’s strength lies in providing clarity on the idea that love is an action, not an emotion. While presenting I Corinthians 13:4-8, Stanley moves slowly through each of the Apostle Paul’s love descriptors careful to paint a clear picture of what love looks like when it is “not easily angered” or “rejoices with truth.” By using Scripture—an overall rare occurrence in this book—Stanley creates an easily digestible to-do and not-to-do list with practical, contemporary examples that squash the fairytale “love” narratives inundating our culture. For this section, I was grateful.

I was disappointed with Stanley’s book for a couple reasons, the first being its lack of depth. Undoubtedly, he has provided Bible-based premarital and martial counseling to thousands of struggling couples. But instead of pastoral counseling, readers are offered endless clichés like, “the right person doesn’t always act right,” “your relationship will never be healthier than you,” and “fix your pet, not your partner.”

Stanley does expound on his amusing sound bites, but prefers to draw from clever anecdotes and humorous stories rather than Scripture. For example, in the second chapter he explains that “preparation is more important than commitment” when it comes to marriage. Stanley wrote, “Most people are content to commit. When it comes to relationships, commitment is way overrated.” An odd statement, especially since Stanley nodes towards America’s high divorce rates in the previous chapter.

“Don’t get nervous. I don’t believe church people are the only ones preparing to commit.” He continues, “Church happens to be my context. Online dating services provide a similar context.” Likely Stanley does not intend to convey to his readers that it is unnecessary to finding someone who shares your faith so long as you prepare for marriage well by paying off your debt, breaking bad habits, and addressing past experiences. However, his ambiguity threaded throughout his book actually does more harm than good.

Here’s why.

I committed to reading this book from cover to cover and as Stanley jumped head first into debunking myths like “maybe a baby will help?” I wanted to apply the brakes and demand a wiser starting point. If marriage is the end goal for love, sex, and dating—and presumably Stanley would agree that it is—then a helpful launching pad would be to examine the purpose and parameters of this covenant before moving forward.

I’m grateful that Stanley tackles other tough issues like sexual purity before marriage and how to explain biblical submission to our friends. But if readers don’t have a foundational understanding of the moral implications of the marriage covenant, then the rest of the discussion is pointless.

This is the most troublesome part of Stanley’s book. It fails to lay out clearly the sanctity of marriage and its divine purpose, which has to do with much more than fulfilling our “relational satisfaction quotas.” As a pastor, it is disappointing that he avoids Genesis 2, which clearly lays out the purpose of marriage, namely, that it is a covenant relationship between one man, one woman, and God.

As hard as it is to admit, America’s most influential pastor will not define or defend the sanctity of marriage because he doesn’t want to upset anyone. So he seems to compromise his teachings by insinuating that Jesus would probably bake a cake for a same-sex wedding couple and therefore Christians should too.

Stanley’s move away from orthodoxy is more evident while discussing his new book with Religion News Service’s Jonathan Merritt. During the interview, Merritt asked Stanley why he did not address the LGBT community in The New Rules on Love, Sex, and Dating. We might expect an Evangelical pastor’s answer to explain that he did not address this community because LGBT lifestyles do not fit the parameters of marriage as God defined it. Stanley’s answer was quite different. “I met with about 13 of our [church’s] attenders who are a part of the LGBT community… It was unanimous that they thought it was helpful and shared some of the stuff they learned.”

Sadly, Stanley’s new book does little to ease the bubbling concerns of faithful Christians listening to the Georgia pastor’s provocative sermons and statements coupled with questionable silence on unorthodox teachings. (If you have not yet read Alexander Griswold’s exposé “Andy Stanley’s Troubling New Sermon,” I urge you to do so.)

While Stanley does not blatantly deviate from historic Christian teaching on the subjects discussed (in the book, at least), he does little to define or defend their divine purpose within its pages. As A.W. Tozer, an Evangelical thinker and teacher, wrote, “He believes it, but he doesn’t teach it, and what you don’t believe strongly enough to teach doesn’t do you any good.” Nor does it do his readers any good, I might add.


9 Responses to Andy Stanley’s Troubling Rules on Love, Sex, and Dating

  1. Trevor Thomas says:

    Congratulations Chelsen! May God Bless Your Marriage as Only He Can!

    You might find our book on debt and finances helpful: “Debt-Free Living in a Debt-Filled World.” The book chronicles our (now) 16-year journey of living debt free (including building our home without a mortgage). The book also delves into raising 4 kids while staying out of debt, home-schooling, and more (on a teacher’s salary).

    The book is at Amazon and on my website: http://www.trevorgrantthomas.com.

    (I would’ve emailed you this, but I didn’t see your address listed.)

    Trevor Grant Thomas

  2. Holgrave says:

    Great review! It’s important to offer positive, non-judgmental relationship advice, but if we’re talking about whether people should enter into marriage, we need to know what that means, especially these days when the prayer book definition isn’t what people immediately assume.

  3. MarcoPolo says:

    Perhaps Pastor Stanley’s acceptance of ALL people deserving to love (and marry) the person of their choice precludes the hegemony of mainline churches?

  4. John Thomson says:

    Another “Christian” preacher who fancies that he had some revelation telling him “the New Testament can be dispensed with.”

  5. Stacy Long says:

    Thank you for also seeing, and pointing out, that this book left a lot to be desired on the discussion of relationships. I also had concerns with the book, and in fact, I felt like it negatively affected my attitude toward my own relationship, especially in reading the first few chapters. The general message seemed to be, if there’s something about someone you don’t like, break up with them – commitment, love, and grace is not as important as your happiness. That seems like a selfish and petty way to treat serious relationships.
    I kind have had to assume he was speaking mainly to people who are in relationships that don’t fit a Christian lifestyle, or perhaps who are in a potentially harmful or abusive relationship. I know his ministry focuses on the unchurched or newly churched, so it made sense he might begin with trying to speak to them. That being said, it didn’t seem there was much there for me to connect with.
    The middle section of the book was better, and much like material on relationships I’ve previously seen from him. In fact, it was too much like the same stuff, and I haven’t actually continued with the book after that point. Overall, I didn’t feel like it was contributing anything positive or new to my view of relationships.
    A much more relevant, encouraging, and convicting book on the subject is “What the Bible Says about Love, Marriage and Sex,” by David Jeremiah. It is a much more worthwhile read for anyone serious about faith and relationships, and who is looking for sound, biblical principles.

  6. CSM says:

    It is a shame when Pastors work so hard to develop thier “brand” that they forget their mission.

  7. Terry Carlson says:

    Although I haven’t read it, it would not surprise me that there is little depth in it. As a weekly viewer of his father’s ministry, I have listened to a number of his messages during the occasions that his father allowed Andy to use his program. My impression is that he seems more concerned with using modern communication techniques to relate to younger viewers than he is with delving into their issues with any Biblical depth. It’s as if he reasons that his attempts to be “cool” will draw more kids to his church and his various media outlets. And that’s fine — it probably does — but he’s not benefiting once they get there, which means he won’t keep them for long. More distressing, they’ll likely go the way of the seeds planted in shallow soil in the parable of the sower …

  8. Jeff Sylvester says:

    Haven’t read the book so it’s hard for me to tell, but the review sounds more like it wasn’t about what the reviewer wanted it to be about more than it contained issues.

    The few statements the review does bring up (one about relationship quota and abother about attitude toward commitment) aren’t objectionable to me at all.

    I also don’t understand why any book about relationships must denounce homosexuality in order to be useful.

  9. steve burdan says:

    good article! though on one aspect, I’m not sure Scripture actually supports the weight Amer. Evan. put on the concept language about marriage, i.e. institution, divine purpose, sanctity, etc. as a celibate single, it seems the Evan. church has, in response to nasty current culture, created a whole-piece perspective that actually ends of making marriage the normative expectation and the admission ticket to church community – the social pyramid that frequently exists… plus since Evan. church leadership is mostly people married since their 20s, they are in danger of not seeing or preaching the gospel to the single adult demographic in the US – more singles than marrieds… just some thoughts…

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