Andy Stanley’s Problem with the Bible
by Josh Buice | Mar 31, 2016
(Josh Buice is pastor of Prays Mill Baptist Church in Douglasville, GA, a west suburb of Atlanta.)
Andy Stanley’s Problem with the Bible
Andy Stanley knows the Bible. As the son of the popular Baptist pastor, Dr. Charles Stanley, he has grown up under Bible teaching and preaching. As a pastor of a very large megachurch, North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, Andy Stanley has spent much time reading and studying the Bible. So, why does it seem that Andy Stanley has a problem with the Bible on so many different levels?
Over the past few years, Andy Stanley has managed to stay in the light of controversy regarding his positions on key issues of the faith. Is Andy Stanley operating by the old adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”? While Stanley may not be seeking bad publicity, the fact is, he has managed to keep controversy stirred up around him in recent years. Exactly where did Andy Stanley go off course? As we examine the controversial statements made by Andy Stanley, there seems to be an undeniable connection between his errors and the manner in which he approaches the Bible.
Is Verse-by-Verse Preaching Cheating?
Andy Stanley is not an expository preacher. In an interview with Ed Stetzer in 2009 regarding his book titled, Communicating for a Change, Stetzer asked Stanley about preaching. The question was, “What do you think about preaching verse-by-verse messages through books of the Bible?” Andy Stanley responded, “Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that.” It’s quite clear that Stanley isn’t a fan of verse-by-verse preaching, but what does that communicate regarding his overall approach to the Bible?
Is the Bible Sufficient for Church Growth?
In 2010, at the pastors’ conference for the Southern Baptist Convention, Andy Stanley appealed to big corporations such as Chick-fil-A and Intel in order to drive home his church growth message to thousands of pastors in attendance. He repeated this phrase, “If you make your church better, they will come and make your church bigger.” His entire sermon was positioned squarely on pragmatism rather than the Word of God. In his sermon, Andy Stanley said, “We’ve created church for church people.” He then scolded church leaders for an unwillingness to make it easier for unchurched people to feel comfortable in our churches.
Is the Bible Clear on Homosexuality?
Andy Stanley’s seeker sensitive approach to church growth is perhaps the lightest problem in recent years. In 2012, Stanley was the center of controversy once again with statements (and a lack of statements) regarding the sin of homosexuality. In a sermon he preached titled “When Gracie Met Truthy,” he described a couple in his church that had to be asked to step down from leadership. Two men were engaged in a homosexual relationship, but the reason they were asked to step down was what Stanley called “just good old fashioned adultery.” Stanley explained, “You’re in a sexual relationship with someone else’s husband.” Stanley capitulated on the whole issue calling out the sin of adultery while refusing to call out the sin of homosexuality. Albert Mohler writes:
The most puzzling and shocking part of the message was the illustration and the account of the homosexual couple, however. The inescapable impression left by the account was that the sin of concern was adultery, but not homosexuality.  Although Andy Stanley wasn’t clear on the subject of homosexuality, we can be sure that the Bible is abundantly clear. So why does Andy Stanley continue to feel the need to distance himself from a clear and historically orthodox interpretative method of reading and applying the Bible?
Is the Bible Authoritative?
In 2014, Andy Stanley stood on a stage at Exponential, a church-planting conference and communicated to 5,000+ people that they should stop using the phrase “the Bible says” in their sermons. Andy Stanley said, “Don’t say the Bible says. Say the author’s name who wrote the book. Paul said… (by the way he hated Christians, but then wrote this) Give 2-3 sentences about who the author is.” Andy Stanley made his point in print through his book titled, Deep & Wide suggesting that his goal is evangelism and it keeps skeptics engaged.  With a goal of keeping skeptics engaged, we must ask an honest question, has he cast a shadow of doubt upon the authority of the Bible?
Is the Bible True?
In early 2015, Zondervan released a series of Bible study lessons by Andy Stanley titled Starting Point. You can see the first session on YouTube where Andy Stanley casts doubt upon the trustworthiness and reliability of the Bible in his opening statements. In fact, Andy Stanley went as far as to say, “We went off to college and discovered that even though it [the Bible] was sacred, it wasn’t scientific. Even though it was something to appreciate, it wasn’t necessarily something that was factual. Even though there were stories in here [the Bible] that were inspirational, they weren’t necessarily true.” Sure, it seems that Andy Stanley is playing along with the thought process of what the skeptics actually believe, but he spends more than 50% of his time dealing with such issues leaving him very little time to explain the text of Scripture from Acts. Why must Andy Stanley consistently cast doubt upon the inerrancy of the Bible? Isn’t he a Bible preacher?
Are Small Churches (like the ones in the Bible) Bad?
Recently, Andy Stanley hit the news again with statements about small churches. He called out parents who refuse to take their children to megachurches by saying, “If you don’t go to a large church, you are so stinking selfish…and don’t care about your kids.” Keep in mind, many of the churches in the cities that we see appearing in the New Testament are relatively small. Sure, some of these churches experienced great growth, but many of them remained small.
Andy Stanley sought to explain his point as he retracted the perceived meaning in a subsequent interview with Christianity Today. However, if you listen to the rant in the original sermon, it’s hard to imagine how a preacher could make such statements with profound conviction and not really mean it. What exactly does Andy Stanley think about small churches today? What about the small churches in the Bible?
Is the Bible a Poor Starting Point?
On Easter Sunday, Andy Stanley opened his sermon with a statement that was aimed mostly at the unbeliever. He said, “If you said to me one-on-one, ‘Andy, I’m not a Christian, I’m not a Jesus follower, but I’m going to let you take your best shot at convincing me to follow Jesus’ – Here’s what I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t try to defend the history of the church, because the church has done some really goofy things and there’s some really embarrassing (not just weekends of church history) seasons of church history. And, I wouldn’t try to defend a lot of things that Christians have said or the ways that Christians have treated you….and I wouldn’t try to convince you with the Bible.”
Stanley went on to explain, he said, “There were thousands and thousands and thousands of Christians before there was a Bible.” He then went on to say, “I would start with the resurrection of Jesus.” Why is it that Andy Stanley seems to distance himself from the Bible? Is it possible to present the resurrection of Jesus without the Bible? Could it be that some other historic account of Jesus’ resurrection carries more authority than the Bible? How would Andy Stanley pull from the evidence of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection without using the Bible?
Paul, a man who had seen the risen Jesus, wrote 1 Corinthians 15. Before Paul went to the eyewitnesses and other supporting evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, he started with the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), Paul said the following:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
Notice that Paul’s starting point is the Bible (as Paul said – the Scriptures). Apparently Andy Stanley and the apostle Paul have very different starting points when it comes to defending the Christian religion. Before appealing to evidence, point to the authority of the written record that was prophesied (Psalm 16) and validated (1 Corinthians 15) in the sacred account of the Scriptures.
Immediately after stating that he would start with the resurrection of Jesus rather than the Bible in order to convince people of Christianity, Andy Stanley said, “There were tens of thousands of people who believed in the resurrection of Jesus before there was a Bible.” Exactly what does that statement mean? Is that a true statement? Was Psalm 16 considered to be part of Scripture before the resurrection of Christ? What exactly was Paul referencing in 1 Corinthians 15 when he appealed to “the Scriptures”?
Andy Stanley is a gifted communicator and apparently a good leader. He has a stunning résumé when it comes to church growth and leadership. However, Andy Stanley has positioned himself to the far left in recent days regarding his approach to Scripture and his position on other key Christian doctrines. His method of preaching the Bible has led to his capitulation on biblical doctrines. We can all learn a great lesson from Andy Stanley. As a pastor and leader in the evangelical world, Andy Stanley has been gifted with a platform and a voice, but sadly he has consistently pointed people off course. For that reason, we must beware of Andy Stanley and his ministry. He has demonstrated an inappropriate care for God’s Word and God’s sheep. The person who casts a shadow of doubt upon the Word of God likewise casts a shadow of doubt upon himself.
- R. Albert Mohler, “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” (AlbertMohler.com – 5-1-12)
- Kevin P. Emmert, “Should Pastors Stop Saying, ‘the Bible Says’?” (Christianity Today Magazine, July-August, 2014).