August 26, 2016

Andy Stanley and Russell Moore on Differences in Preaching, Cultural Engagement

Engaging culture from a Gospel perspective is the theme of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s (ERLC) third-annual national conference happening August 25-27 in Nashville, Tennessee. Nearly 1,000 Southern Baptists—mostly Millennial church planters, pastors, and lay leaders—are gathered for talks and training in areas ranging from politics and racial reconciliation to pastoral ministry, parenting, and the arts.

The most provocative talk from yesterday was between two very different kinds of Evangelical leaders. Pastor Andy Stanley joined Russell Moore, ERLC president, to discuss points of disagreements and some similarities in leadership, preaching, and cultural engagement. 

Approach vs. Content

Stanley, who leads Atlanta’s North Point Community Church, candidly addressed his provocative approach to church and preaching, which has garnered criticism from other Evangelical leaders in the past. But Stanley says he isn’t bothered by criticism from other Believers, so long as he is reaching un-Believers.

“When we do wide, into the net preaching and services we de-church,” explained Stanley. “So on this particular Sunday there were no prayers, there was no worship music, there was no corporate singing, there was no offering… If you showed up on that Sunday, you would judge me harshly as a pastor and a preacher.”

Stanley noted right off the bat that his goal for preaching is for unchurched people to be so excited by what they hear that they want to come back and bring a friend. “If your church people are not comfortable bringing their unchurched friends to church, you just need to think about that.” Stanley drove his point home as he read a letter from an Atheist woman who relented to a friend’s request to visit one of Stanley’s satellite churches. After having a pleasant experience, she chose to return. “I am Atheist, but I belong to Browns Bridge Church,” read Stanley from her letter.

Moore tried to dig a bit deeper into Stanley’s preaching approach, noting, “We have a very clear proclamation from John the Baptist all the way through to the Apostle Paul and Peter and elsewhere. So would you say she’d sort of gradually become comfortable with the Church or instead is there a place for II Corinthians 5, I’m pleading with you as though Christ is pleading through me to reconcile to God—”

“That was a letter to the church,” interrupted Stanley.

“Yes, it’s a letter to the church, but it’s a letter to the church that’s in error,” retorted Dr. Moore. “How do you decide?”

As Stanley sees it, his job as a preacher is not to make people fall in love with Jesus but to play the part of matchmaker and “set up the dates and hoping that God does his thing.”

Eventually, Stanley says, he will get to the Bible’s text, but the priority is getting un-Believers to come back to church because “eventually it’s going to rub off on you” and the individual will, hopefully, have an encounter with God. For that to happen, Stanley’s approach hopes the individual enjoys the date. “When people who are far from God and people who don’t believe and people who don’t take the Bible seriously show up in a church environment and enjoy it, that is shocking.”

While Stanley believes style and approach are key to reaching the lost, Moore stressed it’s the content of what preachers say that is ultimately life changing. “I also think it’s important that what we’re approaching people with is an encounter with the risen Christ who speaks through His Word,” clarified Moore.

The Bible Says So?

Changing topics slightly, Moore brought up Stanley’s controversial statement in 2014 instructing pastors to stop using the phrase “the Bible says” in their sermons. “I would of course disagree with that because no one naturally perceives the authority of Scripture,” explained Moore. “The Scripture brings with it its own power and its own authority. What do you mean when you say we shouldn’t say ‘the Bible says’?”

For Stanley, using “the Bible says” comes down to whether he is dealing with someone who either doesn’t take the Bible seriously or is doubting Scripture all together. In those situations, Stanley prefers to use a “more direct route” by saying “Jesus taught,” “the Apostle Paul said,” or “James wrote.”

“I think it is an easier on-ramp for people who are distant, distancing, doubting to start with the authority of the author than to start with the Bible,” Stanley elaborated. “To have a discussion around the Resurrection is a much easier discussion than trying to defend the whole Bible. That’s my point. It’s not a lack of confidence in the Scripture, it’s an approach, again, based on culture and some cultural assumptions.”

“But don’t you think that as your preaching and teaching through the Bible, II Corinthians 4, the voice of God speaks through the Scriptures?” questioned Dr. Moore. “It seems to me that if we don’t appeal to the authority of the Scripture, what we do is appeal to the authority of ourselves.”

Stanley disagreed, pointing to his Easter sermons as evidence. “Every Easter I say Christians believe—we just want you to know—we believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead. We do not believe that because the Bible says so. It’s better than that. We believe it because Matthew, an eye-witness, and I talk about Matthew. Mark, I talk about how he got his information. Talk about Luke, who started his whole Gospel life thoroughly investigating these things, interviewed eye-witnesses…”

Stanley continued, “All I’m saying is it’s all important, it’s all inspired, it’s all valued. But in terms of approaching with secular people in a secular culture, this is just a different approach. I don’t think we lose anything.”

“I do,” said Moore. “We’re not simply talking about a list of witnesses, we’re talking about witnesses who have behind them the Spirit of God in such a way, as Paul says to the church in Thessalonica when he’s commending them, we received what we are saying—”

Stanley interrupted, “I just think dropping back into the historical realities behind our inspired Scripture is a different, I say better approach. It removes obstacles and ultimately people who follow Jesus and people who take the New Testament and the Scripture seriously, the more they read it, the more seriously they take it.”

“So you would not feel uncomfortable saying to an unchurched person, ‘this is what God says, thus sayeth the Lord’?” asked Moore clearly taking issue with Stanley’s seeker sensitive approach.

“If I’m trying to win them to Christ, I wouldn’t start there,” answered Stanley honestly.

“But would you ever get there?” questioned Moore.

“Well, yeah. Once they have taken steps toward understanding what those words even mean.” Stanley clarified, “We accommodate people’s capacity. We all do that. That’s all I’m saying based on the prejudices and the misinformation about the Bible.”

The important difference, Moore stressed, is that all of fallen humanity is trying to hide from the voice of God. “So the shrinking back from the open proclamation of the truth ‘this is what the Scriptures say, we believe in the authority of Scripture, you may not but consider the claims being made—What I’m saying to you, this is what God says.’ I think that’s where our difference is.”

Confronting the Tough Cultural Topics

Stanley supports teaching youth there are topics not up for discussion “not because you don’t have an answer, because of who is in the audience.”  As an example, he turned to Matthew 21 when Jesus refused to answer the Pharisees’ insincere question about the source of His authority.

“There are things we know for certain, but because our goal is not to simply be right, our goal isn’t simply to make a point, our goal is to invite people to take a step towards surrendering their lives to Jesus Christ,” Stanley said. “There are certain topics that when you talk with one of these on in rows with people you don’t know in the audience you are probably going to make the people who already agree with you happy. But you may have put another brick in the wall between the people you are trying to reach.”

Abortion is one of those topics Stanley thinks is not up for discussion from the pulpit, though he affirmed his pro-life conviction. Instead, he encourages small groups to address tough topics like the sanctity of life.  “That’s a topic I don’t blink on, but when I have a room full of people that I do not know, that’s a topic that I would rather move women or boyfriends into an environment they can talk about it.”

Moore pressed into Stanley’s reasoning, asking if in 19th century Georgia among slaveholders should pastors have relegated topics of injustices to closed circles or preach against slavery from the pulpit.

Stanley reiterated it depends if pastors are talking to church insiders or outsiders. “I think as Christians we leverage our New Testament ethic, our moral ethic. As [citizens] talking to non-Christians, we still step into that realm and address social evils.” He continued, “I think we have the opportunity to do it from a different platform and when it’s appropriate say, ‘You know the thing that fuels my energy against this social issue is my Christianity.’”

Moore told the audience the major reason why he chooses to address abortion from the pulpit “is because we have so many people coming into our churches who have participated in abortion” and the culture they live in justifies their harmful choices.

“When I preach about abortion, what I’m wanting to say is, ‘What you fear about this is true, and yet Romans 23, God is both just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,’” Moore explained.

“I think there’s a liberating power to saying I’m speaking directly to you and I’m not apologizing for what the Scripture would say to you about the injustice of this,” he continued. “But what I’m doing is speaking directly to you that there is mercy and reconciliation, even for you woman who had the abortion, or man who paid for the abortion, or grandparent who drove that granddaughter to get an abortion.’

To this, Stanley agreed.

The Pope of Evangelicalism

In closing, Moore asked an intriguing question: If Stanley was the Pope of Evangelicalism, what changes would he make?

Stanley gave four equally intriguing answers:

(1) He would have all the churches that are dying sell their properties and give the money to church planters.

(2) Ask preachers and student pastors in their communication to “get the spotlight off the Bible and back on the Resurrection” and “leverage the authority we have in the Resurrection as opposed to Scripture—not because I don’t believe Scripture is inspired—in terms of reaching this culture.”

(3) Possibly republish all the Bibles and rename the Old Testament “God’s covenant with ancient Israel” and rename the New Testament “God’s covenant with the world.”

(4) Ban Christians from judging outsiders and require them to ask, “What does love require of me?”

With that, Stanley turned the question to Moore who smartly answered:

(1) Seek a consistent confidence in the Bible as the Word of God among church leaders as they speak both to the congregation and to the world.

(2) Encourage the American church to have a sense of broken-heartedness for secular society, as Stanley noted.

(3) Ensure that our churches are representing what it means to be repentant and reconciled people in our lifestyles.

By far, this gracious but direct discussion between Stanley and Moore on their differences over cultural engagement was one of the most engaging, thought-provoking conversations I’ve heard in a while.

What are your thoughts as you think through engaging secular culture and remaining faithful to the Gospel? Should our focus be on approach or content?

33 Responses to Andy Stanley and Russell Moore on Differences in Preaching, Cultural Engagement

  1. COL Bull-sigh says:

    These comments by Andy Stanley are very disheartening. I have been a longtime admirer of his father, Dr. Charles Stanley, whose grasp of the Scriptures, both Old and New, is always evident in his preaching, I have often wished he had been destined to become an Anglican minister or bishop. But his son has apparently lost his way somewhere along the line and has become a part of the “emerging church”, which follows all sorts of man-designed worship styles, creeds and doctrines. We should pray that the son listens more to the preaching of the father and the voice of the Father.

    • Bill Miller says:

      This comment is either a joke or someone that is misinformed. Although there is no way to prove this I am quite confident that Andy has had more influence on bringing non believers to Christ than his Dad has in twice the time. I have attended both churches hundreds of times and brought non believers to both environments. I can’t name one person who eventually accepted Christ in a result of attending First Baptist. On the other hand I can specifically name 10+ Non believers who I brought to North Point who are now on fire for Jesus. Isn’t that the only thing that matters? I love Charles Stanley after I became a believer but his message and style would have never resonated with me before

      • Christopher Lynn Park says:

        Church is for Believers to worship God. Unbelievers are welcome as spectators, but the message is primarily focused on the corporate worship of believers. If the service you’re performing is an outreach to unbelievers, call it that, not, “Church,” the ekklesia, the Assembly, the Called-Out-Ones.

        Also, as Chris Rosebrough and others have documented in hours of audio, Andy Stanley twists Scripture to make it say what he wants it to say, not what the,”Holy men of God,” “carried along by the Spirit,” intended it to mean. He often uses partial citations to do this, and in a *narcigetical way.

        Narcigesis “Narss-i(a)-Jesus”–Narcissistic Eisegesis: The act of reading yourself or your audience into the text for an effect or with a meaning different from the author’s intended effect or meaning. Especially prevalent when the text is the Bible, and the meaning of the text points us to Jesus, not you. Pronounced, “Narss-i(a)-Jesus”

      • CDGingrich says:

        100% right on, Mr, Miller, Andy reflects God’s love.

      • Jeff D says:

        Consider that Christ gave one new commandment to his Church, and that was to love one another. ” The world will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another”. Consider what the “world” looking at this discussion see.
        Reading the responses to this article, I would suggest that Dr. Moore looked more like a TV broadcaster interview of a political enemy. And the comments are all taking sides like a political blog. Each pushing they are right and the other is wrong, WORLDLY!
        I wonder if Dr. Moore can name ONE Church he is involved with that is known, by the world, for their love for one another. For that matter, is there a Church, other than Andy Stanley’s North point Churches, that have this as a Goal? A mission? A Church whose goal is to be a place that is known by the way they love one another?

        May I suggest both these men are right but the person must hear them to be impacted.
        Every human is in a spiritual place along a scale somewhere between Satan’s grasp, hating God on one extreme with a Billy Graham, serving and following Christ 100% on the other. Somewhere between these extremes, a person decides to begin following Christ and begins his Sanctification. Christians are charged to make disciples. That would be anything we can do to move someone along this scale away from Satan and closer to Christlikeness. A young man that hates God because he was molested by a priest in the past is discipled if he encounters Christ love in action and is brought to reconsider following Christ. Many today see the Bible as just another book so quoting it means nothing special. Andy is focused on drawing non believers into his Church where they connect, eleminate being alone as they get into small groups where messages are discussed and digested, relationships are built, the Bible is studied and Christ Love is experienced. Members injest Gods word in manageable bites starting with the foundation of the resurrection of Christ with all the evidence provided by the witnesses of that era. With the full belief of the resurrection as a beginning, sanctification brings followers to see and swallow the rest of the Bible, recognizing it as Gods word as they grow in Christ. At this point the Biblical messages of Dr Moore are received as they should be. Milk for newborn, more substantial spiritual food as they grow in Christ. Where Andys approach encourages visitors to comeback for more by having
        them experience a Church that loves one another and loves them, Dr. Moore’s approach would probably be received by these visitors and baby Christians as beating them over the head with the Bible BUT later in their walk it would be heard and received and impactful.

  2. Tony Seel says:

    I think that both participants made good points. By the numbers, Andy has had a bigger impact on Atlanta than his father. The question is, how is the fruit that NPCC is producing?

    • Ifeoluwa Ojetayo says:

      I think Andy Stanley’s view of scripture, what it means to be a Christian, the church’s role in the world and culture are absolutely horrendous. On the surface, the arguments he puts forth are illogical. And his “attractional” model is completely unblibical. I’m afraid his impact, no matter how great it is, actually impedes the spread of the gospel.

      • Tony Seel says:

        What is his view of Scripture? What is his view as to what it means to be a Christian. It seems to me that his view of the church’s role in the world is to lead people to Christ. How is his attractional model unbiblical?

        • Ifeoluwa Ojetayo says:

          “What is his view of scripture?” The idea that you can’t tell people ‘the bible says’ when doing evangelism or apologetics is silly. If you don’t say that then on what authority do you speak truth. And if you say Jesus says, or Paul says, I think even unchurched people know that’s a reference to the bible.
          The notion that he’s a matchmaker and the church role is to set people on dates with Jesus. The church’s role is to proclaim the truth of the scripture to a dying world (yes be winsome but don’t jettison the truth). What will win the world to Jesus is the gospel preached and lived out in our midst. Our proclamation and our integrity in living it out, bearing witness to its truth, that is attractional. There’s no need to pretend that we’re not a church, and not sing or pray in a service so we can make people feel welcome. What on earth is that?

          • Ifeoluwa Ojetayo says:

            I think his model ultimately leads people to Andy Stanley and NPCC (I’m sure people think he’s really nice and charismatic and his church is really cool) but not to Jesus.

          • Tony Seel says:

            You are free to have and express your opinion; however, the truth is that he is leading people to Jesus, thousands of people.

          • Jurij Pikalov says:

            How would you know? Do you know for a fact that most of the people attending are born again, regenerated christians?
            He (Stanley) himself showed the letter of this atheist woman that is attending his church but is not a believer. Can this change? Yes God can safe whom ever he pleases. But we know that the gospel is polarising. To say people all over the world hate the gospel message just because we present it wrong is sad an unbiblical.

            Paul himself was loved and hated at the same time. Not because aof the way he behaved or presented the gospel, but because of the message he preached.

            Every unbeliever hates to be confronted with sin and e rightous and holy God, unless God changes the heart. Stanley should just trust God and preach the word.

          • Tony Seel says:

            Jurij, how would we know that for any person or congregation? None of us can look into the hearts of anyone else.

          • Jurij Pikalov says:

            Exactly. but You just said “the truth is that he is leading people to jesus.”

            I just wanted to point out that having lots of people in a church doesn’t automatically mean that all or most of them are saved.

            My fear is that people somehow start to think that it depends on us and our capacity to sell the gospel in a very compelling way, rather than on the work of the holy spirit who convicts us and leads us to the truth og christ.

          • Tony Seel says:

            Yes I did, and since this seems to have confused you I will explain. When someone prays to receive Christ, I accept that they have received Christ. It may turn out that they do not wish to become a follower of Christ, but I take it at face value that they are praying to become His disciple. When thousands do so, I expect that some of them will probably wash out, but I also expect that many if not most of them will follow through. It doesn’t depend on us, it does depend on the Holy Spirit, and I do not assume that those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior under Andy Stanley’s ministry are not genuine believers.

          • Tony Seel says:

            That is not his view of Scripture, that is his view of communicating from Scripture to unchurched people. I think that you will find that he believes that Scripture is inerrant and infallible. He does proclaim the truth of Scripture and he doesn’t jettison the truth, imo. He is doing church in a different way, not pretending at all to not be a church. Have you been to his church? I think that you will find that they do sing and pray.

  3. Skipper says:

    I think both make a point. It’s great to be sensitive to the perspective of the seeker. However, since we are to meditate on the bible “day and night” (Joshua 1:8 and Psalms 1:2), I would prefer phrasing “get the spotlight off the Bible” as “Keep the spotlight on the Resurrection part of the Bible.”

    • Jurij Pikalov says:

      See the fundamtenal difference and my disagreemant with the last part of your statement is dependent on the view of scripture. Either it is Gods breathed word and all of it is usefull and necessary, or it isn’t. To just focus on the resurrection is not enough. There is so much more that needs to be taught and believed.

      By the way. I followed Stanleys and Tureks argumentation about the resurrection. Where do we find this information about the resurrection? In the scriptures!!
      As an atheist or unbeliever If you don’t believe that scripture is inspired you will find flaws and errors and disharmony in the text.

      This mere Christianity movement is a very dangerous road to travel on.

      • Skipper says:

        I agree with you Jurij, we need to believe the bible and the whole bible. I did not appreciate him saying “get the spotlight off the Bible” and was trying to be nice about it. Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. Craig Piefer says:

    I watch the entire conversation. I was really surprised by the antagonistic approach of Dr. Moore. It seemed he was always waiting and ready for a “Gotcha Moment.” I thought it was missed opportunity to help pastors reach the lost. Andy wanted to share how they are making a huge impact at NorthPoint, Dr. Moore wanted SB pastors to continue toeing the line when it comes to methods.

    • Christopher Lynn Park says:

      “What you win them with, is what you win them to.” –Dr. James White.

      • Craig Piefer says:

        Okay. “I would rather win people to loving Jesus than win people to loving the bible.” – Mr. Craig Piefer

        • John C. Jimenez says:

          And how do you begin to do that without the scriptures?The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.The Gospel is the life and work of Jesus the Christ…..that are found in the scriptures.

          • Craig Piefer says:

            No one in the first century had the scriptures. So that was a completely lost generation. Wait, that was the generation that started the church. But how did they get the Gospel? According to you the Gospel is only found in the scriptures. The Gospel can stand alone without the scriptures, but the scriptures cannot stand without the Gospel.

          • Larry Hale says:

            Craig, I appreciate what you’re sharing because I believe you have a desire to do the right thing. However, I’m having some difficulty going along with some things you’ve said. Can the gospel stand alone without the scriptures? I can see how someone could say “yes”…especially if you lived in the 1st century. But we don’t live in the 1st century. And as far as no one having the scriptures in the 1st century, it seems to me they did have them. On the one hand, they didn’t necessarily need the NT scriptures at times because the Apostles and eyewitnesses were with them. And on the other hand, it’s true that the canonization of the NT may have not been widely accepted as official until the 4th century. However, it seems that the NT writings were not only widely circulated in the 1st century, but also recognized as scripture (2 Pet 3:15-16). Again, I appreciate what you shared my friend, but I just don’t find it convincing.

        • Jurij Pikalov says:

          Jesus himself said: I am the truth. John said in his Gospel. And the word became flesh.

          To distance Jesus from the bible is impossible. You cannot love Jesus and not love his word.

          Theology matters my friend.

          Mr. Jurij Pikalov

        • Charles Horton says:

          Don’t forget, Craig, that Jesus said “If you love me, keep my commandments,” which means if you love Him, you have to know what He taught and then obey. Also, Andy says, “get the spotlight off the Bible and back on the Resurrection” and “leverage the authority we have in the Resurrection as opposed to Scripture—not because I don’t believe Scripture is inspired—in terms of reaching this culture.” How do you leverage the authority we have in the resurrection as opposed to Scripture without the Scripture? The only reason we know about the resurrection is because we’ve read about in the scriptures.

          • Craig Piefer says:

            You are creating a false dichotomy. He is not pitting the resurrection against the authority of scripture, you are. Also, by your statement, no first century Jesus follower obeyed Jesus, because none of them had the bible. Worship Jesus love the bible. I think many have begun to worship the bible and love Jesus.

          • Charles Horton says:

            Thanks – I was thinking that Andy was polarizing “resurrection” and “scripture” rather than simply directing the spotlight toward resurrection. Apparently, Andy is thinking that demonstrating Jesus living in him, based on the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5) summed up in love of neighbor, proclaims what the scriptures say without actually quoting chapter and verse. I think Andy and Russell both are right, not “either or”. Personally, I like focusing on resurrection a lot, and that includes our own bodily resurrection. Why Christians speak so little of this basic Christian – and deeply joyous orthodox doctrine about our glorious future – disturbs me. But of course they had Scripture – didn’t Mark write his book around 55 A.D.? That’s only a couple of decades after the fact. Before that they had word of mouth, which back in those days was highly reliable.

          • Craig Piefer says:

            Good thoughts.

  5. John C. Jimenez says:

    To think that unbelievers come to faith by somthing new and innovative means that we ourselves come up with is contrary to the the actual truth of salvation.The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.Unbelievers don’t believe because they reject the gospel,to them it’s foolishness.The Father draws unbelievers to The Son,we are just to preach the foolishness of the cross that God uses as the means.

  6. Dennis Richardson says:

    Freemasonry has successfully infiltrated the Southern Baptist church. Andy Stanley and Russell Moore are false prophets. This church may fall, if Albert Mohler has correctly determined that Freemasonry is inside the SBC. In 1980, Ron Sider was proved to be a false teacher when Gary North debated Sider at Gordon Conwell’s un-theological cemetery over communism in the church.

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