I was encouraged to see Andy Stanley’s article in Outreach Magazine in which he responded to various critiques of his sermon “The Bible Told Me So.” (you can find the article here http://www.outreachmagazine.com/features/19900-the-bible-says-so.html) I myself had written a blog on the sermon that raised several concerns. In light of Stanley’s response, I felt it necessary here to give my response to the concerns I had raised. I do this for several reasons. First, the blogosphere is often nothing more than a one-sided conversation in which concerns are voiced, but when an answer is given, nothing further is said. This is not a productive conversation. Monologues are good in Shakespeare, but often prove to be unhelpful in theology. We need back and forth interaction that dialogue affords us, but the internet often does not offer that. We can critique and then move on, leaving the critique hanging in the proverbial cyber-air. Second, it is imperative for the church that we listen to each other, seek to understand each other, and show an irenic nature with each other. It is healthy and fruitful to disagree, to voice concerns, but we also need to listen to the answers that are given. With that in mind, let me briefly address each concern I raised and Stanley’s response.
First, and foremost, I wrote that Stanley appears to be rejecting the inerrancy of scripture in his sermon. In his article, he unequivocally states that he holds to inerrancy. I will take him at his word. He further addressed my concerns by acknowledging that in his “quest for an engaging presentation, he sometimes sacrifices precision.” I speak quite often and know how hard it can be to communicate precisely and effectively at the same time. I appreciate Stanley’s honesty on this point.
Second, I argued that Stanley rejected that some events in the Old Testament had taken place, such as the walls of Jericho falling or the Exodus. He addressed this concern when he stated that an occasional viewer (that is me) could be confused because it is his “habit of saying what he suspects skeptics are thinking about something he’s saying. In his effort to state their assumptions, he sometimes sounds as if he shares their assumptions.” This is exactly what I did, and his clarification of that point is welcomed. I would assume now that Stanley does believe the walls fell and the Exodus occurred. It might be helpful for Stanley to be more clear, though, that he is taking the role of the skeptic and not just asserting what they say. I think it would be easy for a skeptic to believe that Stanley agrees with their position when he does not in fact do so. This could lead to a person feeling like a bit of a bait-and-switch had taken place. I thought there was not Exodus, the skeptic might say, but now that I have believed a dead man was resurrected, I’m being told there was an Exodus. Now I am sure that if a skeptic can accept a dead man coming back to life never to die again happened, that it would not be that difficult to believe the Exodus. Still, it would be helpful to be clear up front, what positions we think are true and which ones are not when talking with skeptics. Stanley’s own phrase “I can see how you might think that” is a good one to use. I can see how you might think such-and-so didn’t happen, but let me explain to you how in fact it did.
Finally, I argued that the first followers of Jesus had a high regard for the evidentiary value of the Old Testament. I think Stanley would affirm the same thing. On this point, I believe that Stanley and myself may be closer than I thought. When Stanley talks of the Bible, he means the finished book, bound and delivered as the compilation of 66 books. He wants to then to be able to talk about the message of say, Paul, as being in the Bible, but also separate from the Bible. The letter to the Romans existed before the finished Bible existed. I agree with this, and so would anyone that pays any attention to history. I do think that Stanley, in his quest to engage the ‘nones’, is not precise enough in his language. He wants to argue that “the Bible says so” will not resonate with a ‘none’, but that Peter says so will. At its heart, though, these two statements are the same. I have worked with youth enough in my life (20+ years) to know the benefit of getting someone to think of something from a different angle, to get past their preconceived notions, so I am not overly concerned with how Stanley phrases this. At some point, however, a person will realize that Peter says and the Bible says is the same thing.
I would like to add that one of the greatest pieces of evidence we have today to the validity of Scripture, is Scripture itself. When one sees the story of the Old Testament come to its completion in Christ, when a person can see how Jesus is the answer to the promises of the Old Testament, when they see Jesus as the Plot Twist that no one saw coming, but once having seen it, you can’t see the Old Testament in any other light, then we can show others why we trust the words of Paul, Peter, and the rest. Their eyewitness testimony is backed up by the entire Old Testament. This is what Jesus was showing the men on the road to Emmaus. He had to live and die the way he did, because God had already made promises to that affect. This was the heart of my critique of Stanley’s sermon, that the evidentiary power of the Old Testament might be diminished if its importance is not heralded.
Stanley has much to say in his article about preaching techniques that I will not address. We all agree that we should shape the style of our message to our audience. I speak differently to teenagers than I do to doctoral students. The preaching style changes (as does my appearance), but the content is fundamentally the same. Doctoral students get more depth and nuance, but hopefully what I communicate to a youth group is the same truth as I communicate to doctoral students, but on a level that the youth can receive.
Let me close by expressing thanks to Andy Stanley for his response in his article. Furthermore, I want to thank those who commented on my first post for your kind responses. By kind I don’t mean that you agreed with my assessment, but that you expressed your position in a way befitting a follower of Christ. May we strive to express in all our communication the charity that is ours as followers of Christ.