Whether you run in popular evangelical circles or not your most likely have heard of Andy Stanley, son of Charles Stanley. Andy Stanley has over the years made some notable and provocative statements about the Bible. On June 13, 2014 Stanley tweeted,
“Why we must teach the next generation the FOUNDATION of our faith is an EVENT not a BOOK:”
He followed this tweet up with an article from Buzzfeed written by a person who was steeped in Christianity when he was young but has since then abandoned the faith.
Then of course there is the famous, “We must unhitch the Old Testament from our faith” statement on April 30, 2018.
Last Sunday, March 6, 2022, Andy Stanley continued this particular theme when he preached or gave a religious talk [I think “preached” is a bit generous, but he certainly did proclaim the following],
“The Christian faith doesn’t rise and fall on the accuracy of 66 ancient documents. It rises and falls on the identity of a single individual: Jesus of Nazareth.”
The bulk of Stanley’s talk revolves around an evidential approach to the reliability of the Gospel account. If the Gospel accounts are historically reliable then the existence, coming, and actions of Christ are also reliable. That is reasonable to a point, and a fine one in a very narrow sense but the cost of making this statement was too high.
First, let us make some observations about Stanley’s point and then make some broader observations regarding the Scriptures in general. Note that Stanley employs the Bible without employing what the Bible is. The Bible is the inspired infallible revealed word of Almighty God, but Stanley would have us treat the Bible like a mere historical witness to potentially miraculous things. That said, he can’t get away from the Bible in his attempt to make a case for the divinity of Jesus form the Gospels. So to simultaneously say that our Christian faith doesn’t rise and fall on the accuracy of 66 ancient documents only to turn around and make a plea for the accuracy of ancient documents seems a bit silly, counter intuitive, and self-defeating. But hey, he’s got a big church and a bunch of Twitter followers so…checkmate. On this point Stanley sidelines reason for the moment in order to make his point.
Note that by considering the Bible a mere historical witness the concept that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God translates into faith comes by hearing and hearing by reliable historical witnesses. In short, Stanley is preaching is a church on a Sunday and he still will not put forth his Christian precommitments as primary and necessary to the preaching of the Christian Gospel. If you don’t need to think and speak in Christian terms to preaching the Christian Gospel then maybe it is not necessary that you be a Christian at all [See the President of Harvard Chaplains, an atheist, as an example]. The striking thing is that Stanley is on home turf playing for the home crowd but he is theologically hedging as if he is in enemy territory and in danger of being ratted out as a spy only to finally be hanged. On this point Stanley sidelines his Christian precommitments for the moment in order to make his point.
Later, in this same talk, Stanley shows us a chalkboard diagram which starts with an event [the resurrection] that leads to a movement [Christianity] and that movement is recorded [in the Gospels] and then 300 years later we get the Bible. Therefore, the account is not a Bible story, he says, but Bible is a result of the Jesus event. Stanley is probably unaware of the fact that this kind of talk, juxtaposing event, revelation, and history is just a watered down version of Barthian Crisis Theology.
Karl Barth argued in the name of a kind of Neo-Orthodoxy that Scripture was mere historical record, then at some point in time you may read that record and God in the person of Christ, who is absolutely free, will decide to encounter you [event] through the record and in that moment the record becomes the inspired word of God to you. After your crisis encounter with Christ, if you go to share your experience with your wife or friend, then your experience is now record and not inspired word of God. One more thing. Just so we are clear, most of the Bible was already written [i.e., the Old Testament] hundreds of years before “The Event”. So of course you would say such things like the account of Jesus is not a Bible story because you have already unhitched the OT from your faith. On this point Stanley is about as much a Crisis Theologian as you can get in order to make his point.
It seems to me that Stanley really didn’t think his way through this very much. There is no doubt that a true Christian understands that Christ is the ontological foundation of Christianity. Indeed, Christ is the center of the center. We can get no more foundational than Christ the Chief Cornerstone. That said, there is no way we can come to know Christ and to know Him by faith except through the word of God, through Scripture. In this sense, the Scriptures are the epistemological foundation and these two foundations, ontological and epistemological, are not mutually exclusive. They can occupy the same intellectual ground without conflict. As such, both Word of God [Christ] and the word of God [Scripture] can serve as foundations. The being and office of Christ is dependent upon Him but our knowledge of Christ’s being and office is dependent upon Scripture. Indeed, our knowledge of Christ is dependent upon the reliability and accuracy of 66 ancient documents. On this point what Stanley doesn’t know has come back to hurt him so that he could make his point.
I can’t help but make the correlation between Stanley’s failure in this instance to be overtly Christian in a Christian church among Christians and that of Christian professors’ failure to be overtly Christian in Christian institutions among Christian students when dealing with textual criticism. Both Stanley and the college professor are at home playing for the home team. Both are unashamedly stingy with their Christian precommitments when engaging in their respective enterprises. Both are overtly evidential in their methodology. Both aim to treat the Bible as a mere historical witness. Both have little problem speaking of ancient peoples as scientifically illiterate and superstitious because they didn’t understand modern science the deliverances of which have given us abortion on demand, sex transition therapy, 5600+ manuscripts, the fact/value divide, an “embracement of riches,” and more efficient and impersonal ways of killing people which includes the most efficient and impersonal of them all – nuclear weapons. Both Stanley and the CT/MVO advocate are on the popular end of the socio-cultural scale spectrum in ecclesiastical circles, and both seem to make strident efforts to impress their god-hating interlocutors with their balance, neutrality, and even-handed approach to the Gospels and what they teach.
Lastly, can we really blame Andy Stanley for speaking as he does? In preparing for this post I read several posts and blogs about how Stanley needs to step down or how bad his words look for Christianity and for the Gospel in particular. Why? All he is doing is preaching in a fashion consistent with text-critical methodology. What? You didn’t think modern text-critical methodology wouldn’t make it into the pulpits of the West when its marks are all over the Bible resting on that pulpit?
Stanley and the CT/MVO advocate assume a neutral position, remove the miraculous from the equation [at least initially], make a series of historically based arguments, then based on this seemingly neutral grounding compel others to come to your side which you call orthodox Christianity. Then when they do come to your side you backtrack for years trying to explain to God’s people that what really matters is that the Bible is inspired and infallible. But because you started the discussion from “neutral ground” you need to make up reasons why errors or additions or omissions don’t really affect the doctrine that you say really matters. Then people like Bart Ehrman call your bluff and leave the faith. In short, Andy Stanley’s treatment of the Bible is perfectly in line with the current evangelical way of treating manuscripts, from which we get the Bible. So give the man some space. He is an honest product of the CT/MVO process and methodology. Or in other words,
“Hear me and rejoice. You have had the privilege of being saved by the great Text-Critical Enterprise. You may think this is suffering, no. It is salvation. The universal scale tips toward balance because of your sacrifice. Smile. For even in death, you have become children of Reasoned Eclecticism.Ebony Maw (Probably), Infinity (Textual) Wars, 2018.