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Why would a preacher cast doubt on the authority of the Bible?

A well-known megachurch pastor does it again

Pastor Andy Stanley Wikimedia Commons/North Point Publishing

Why would a preacher cast doubt on the authority of the Bible?
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Andy Stanley is no stranger to controversy. In the past, the megachurch pastor caught flak for downplaying the importance of the virgin birth and encouraging listeners to “unhitch” the Old Testament from the New. Now, once again, Stanley is in the spotlight because of a recent sermon in which he stated, “The question to ask is if Matthew, Mark, Luke, or—not and—or John, are a reliable account of actual events. If they are, then game on.”

He continued, “What’s your initial response to the suggestion that the Christian faith rises or falls on the reliability of the Gospels rather than the reliability of the entire Bible. … This distinction understandably makes some Christians nervous, but it is the church’s fault. And I’m convinced that this distinction might actually be the key to recapturing and safeguarding the faith of this and the next generation.”

Is Stanley once again misleading the flock? Maybe. Upon a closer look, certainly.

To understand Stanley on his own terms, we must keep a few considerations in mind. In the sermon’s introduction, he clearly targets people who are on the fence when it comes to the Christian faith. Maybe they have qualms about Genesis and the origins debate, or perhaps they question the accuracy of the Old Testament historical accounts. Maybe they are just sick and tired of other Christians. What do such people need, in terms of substantial truth?

There is an apologetic technique—especially prevalent in evidentialist circles—to zero in on the historicity of Christ and His resurrection. The reliability of the eyewitnesses of the Lord’s bodily resurrection holds up in court, especially considering their willingness to die for the sake of their testimony. This throws a historical monkey wrench into the various philosophical arguments and religious opinions of nonbelievers. Talk about the problem of evil all you want, but the tomb is empty. Jesus is the Son of God.

While Stanley’s centering on Christ is good, casting doubt upon the rest of the Scriptures will prove spiritually destructive and ecclesiastically detrimental.

This helps explain Stanley’s impatience with a “the Bible tells me so” mentality. In an apologetic situation, this is a circular argument. A skeptic denies the truth of the Bible. He must have a compelling reason to believe the Scriptures in the first place, and one of those compelling reasons is the historicity of Jesus and His miracles, with firsthand testimony from the Gospels clearing the bar for standards of historical reliability. Stanley, it would seem, is using his platform to coax the skeptical to faith by laying aside doctrines and concerns that are currently low status in educated circles. Instead, he zeroes in on the incontrovertible historical truth of Jesus Christ and His supernatural miracles, the greatest of which is His resurrection from the dead. “This is the question you have to wrestle with,” Stanley insisted, targeting those struggling with their faith. The historical reality of Jesus is the most troublesome pebble to drop in someone’s spiritual shoe. “If even one of the Gospels is true, you need to lean in,” Stanley insisted. This, in and of itself, is true—but dangerously misleading.

Stanley’s exceptionally brief history of the Biblical canon’s development and publication leaves something to be desired. He treats the word “Bible” as a sentimental category or label. Most importantly, Stanley actively questions the accuracy and reliability of Holy Scripture. He suggests abandoning the reliability of the entire Bible in favor of embracing the reliability of the first five books of the New Testament. He even predicts this will help preserve the church in the generation to come. It’s a Sadducean impulse. We cut out the parts of the Bible we don’t like or trust, only to receive Christ’s condemnation.

While Stanley’s centering on Christ is good, casting doubt upon the rest of the Scriptures will prove spiritually destructive and ecclesiastically detrimental. What gives a modern-day reader the right and authority to declare one part of God’s inspired Word historically reliable or ethically binding and another part (perhaps one that invites social ostracism) as unreliable and dismissible? Does he believe the Bible contains insurmountable contradictions? Did God mess up in His mission to specially reveal Himself? Can the Gospels be harmonized? If not, what is the devotional and theological life of Christians supposed to look like?

Inquiring minds want to know. Why? Because, sadly, Pastor Stanley has a bad track record on these issues. It would be easier to downplay these concerns over Biblical inerrancy if there weren’t previous examples of repeated irresponsible commentary. While some of Stanley’s critics act out of envy, others have simply seen where a weak doctrine of Scripture leads. One need only visit the empty hulks of the theologically liberal churches to find out for himself. The Bible is the Word of God, period.

Barton J. Gingerich

The Rev. Barton J. Gingerich is the rector of St. Jude’s Anglican Church (REC) in Richmond, Va. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Patrick Henry College and a Master of Divinity with a concentration in historical theology from Reformed Episcopal Seminary.

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