Popular megachurch pastor Andy Stanley has repeatedly encouraged preachers to stop using the phrase “the Bible says so” and its various iterations. In recent weeks, he has doubled down on his claim that it’s time to stop appealing to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, even within the Church, because America is now a “post-Christian” society.
“If you’re trying to reach people with an undergraduate degree or greater, over half your target audience will not be moved by the Bible says, the Bible teaches, God’s Word is clear or anything along those lines,” Stanley wrote for Outreach Magazine on October 20.
Stanley recently fleshed out this idea during a discussion with Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), at the ERLC’s conference on August 25 and reported on the Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Chelsen Vicari.
Moore prompted Stanley to explain a statement he made in 2014, when he argued that Christians should avoid using “the Bible says” during sermons. While maintaining that he believed in the inerrancy of Scripture, Stanley encouraged pastors 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” in order to better reach the secular culture.
Three days later (on August 28), Stanley developed this idea further during a sermon entitled “The Bible Told Me So“. This sermon met with widespread confusion, prompting Stanley to defend his thesis in a lengthy column for Outreach Magazine, as cited above. The text of his column – co-authored with Church of God Pastor Thomas Horrocks under the title Why ‘The Bible Says So’ Is Not Enough Anymore – totaled nearly 7,500 words.
Stanley revealed that he had surreptitiously adopted this approach himself, a tactic he has now employed for the better part of a decade. “Eight years ago I shifted my approach. I didn’t announce it. I just did it,” Stanley wrote.
“As part of my shift, I stopped leveraging the authority of Scripture and began leveraging the authority and stories of the people behind the Scripture,” Stanley later explained. “To be clear, I don’t believe ‘the Bible says,’ ‘Scripture teaches,’ and ‘the Word of God commands’ are incorrect approaches. But they are ineffective approaches for post-Christian people.”
Well-known Baptist pastor John Piper responded to Stanley in a lengthy post of his own (nearly 5,000 words), published October 25 on the website Desiring God. Piper spent the first section of his post (more than 1,500 words) exclusively summarizing Stanley’s argument before making his own case. Indeed, while corresponding with Piper, Stanley commented that Piper’s “response is gracious, thorough, fair, and inspiring.”
Nevertheless, Piper was direct in his critiques of Stanley’s position. He argued “that Stanley’s view might rescue a doubting believer, and at the same time establish in churches and families a view of the Bible which undermines the faith of the next five generations.”
Piper encouraged “younger preachers not to blow off what Andy Stanley says,” but questioned whether Stanley’s proposed solution to reaching America’s “post-Christian” culture was really “the best alternative.” Piper admitted that overtly expositional preaching can often be done poorly, but maintained that sound expositional preaching need not “sound naïve or childish.”
“I am arguing that a God-breathed, inerrant Bible, with Jesus Christ at the center, is explosive with its own intrinsic and self-authenticating glory,” Piper wrote. “The joyful experience of this glory is what every human heart in the preacher’s audience was made for.”
He wrapped up his response to Stanley with a final admonition to preachers.
So my concluding suggestion is this: join Andy Stanley in caring deeply about winning “post-Christians”; join him in moving beyond simplistic and naïve-sounding shibboleths; join him in cultural awareness and insight into your audience; join him in the excellence of his teaching and communication skills; and join him in his belief in the complete truthfulness of the Bible. And then spend eight years blowing your people’s post-Christian circuits by connecting the voltage of every line in the book of Romans with their brains.
When it comes to preaching, nothing is more powerful and self-authenticating than the Spirit-anointed, passionate, expository exultation over the inspired text of Scripture. If you don’t believe that, perhaps you have never seen such preaching.
Piper noted in his introduction that Stanley had told him during their correspondence, “The last two paragraphs made me want to shout, ‘AMEN.'” Thus in theory, if not in practice, John Piper and Andy Stanley arrived at some sort of exegetical common ground in the end.Google+