Now that Andy Stanley has responded so fully and helpfully to the critics of his sermon “The Bible Told Me So,” we may be able to sort out a few things about his method more carefully. My aim here is to state what I think Stanley is commending to preachers, and then suggest some questions that young preachers should ask before embracing Stanley’s method. He has important things to teach us, and I was helped by reading his rejoinder to his critics.
(Note: Andy and I corresponded about this article before publication. Just so you know where he is on it, he gave me permission to quote him: “Your response is gracious, thorough, fair, and inspiring. The last two paragraphs made me want to shout, ‘AMEN.’”)
Should We Say, “The Bible Says”?
In a recent conversation with Russell Moore, Stanley made the case that, in preaching to unbelievers and Christians who are struggling with doubts, you can help them get more traction with the truth of Scripture if you do not say, “the Bible says,” but rather say, for example, “as Luke says, who researched everything carefully,” or “as Paul says, who hated Christians, but who died spreading the very message he once hated.”
In the recent sermon, Stanley was making the point that the children’s song, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” is an inadequate foundation for faith as students head off to college. Then, he devotes the lion’s share of his message to giving historical arguments for the credibility of the New Testament writers.
So instead of saying, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” it is more helpful, according to Stanley, to say something like the following:
Jesus loves you, this you know for John, who watched him die and had breakfast with him on the beach, tells you so. Jesus loves you, this I know, for Luke, who thoroughly investigated the events, wrote them down meticulously, and interviewed eyewitnesses, made sure it was so. Jesus loves you, this I know, because a Pharisee who hated Christians, who was going to arrest Christians, who was going to singlehandedly stop the Jesus movement, became a Jesus-follower and risked his life traveling all around the Gentile, Mediterranean rim to make sure that you’d know. Jesus loves you, this we know because his original followers were martyred believing it was so. Jesus loves you this you can know, for the early church defied an empire and the temple because they were convinced it was so.
So Stanley is suggesting that we not quote the Bible as “Bible” but rather refer to its contents by citing its authors along with some historical context that lends credibility to what the author says.
Stanley’s Underlying Viewpoints
Behind Stanley’s decision to move away from “the Bible says” in preaching, and to move beyond “the Bible tells me so” in discipling our young people, lie three pivotal views: 1) a view of culture, 2) a view of how the Bible illustrates contextualization, and 3) a view of how redemptive events behind the Bible relate to faith and preaching.
A View of Culture
First, with regard to culture, he cites the Barna Group that “48 percent of Americans qualify as ‘post-Christian.’” This is different from “non-Christian.” The post-Christian “has been there, done that, and has a closetful of camp T-shirts to show for it. . . . For post-Christians, common sense, science, philosophy and reason are the go-tos for worldviews and decision-making. Post-Christian ‘nones’ have a low tolerance for faith-based answers to fact-based questions. . . . This presents a unique challenge for us in terms of apologetics and evangelism. It requires a new approach.”
In particular the post-Christian view of the Bible is not what it was in Sunday school. Quoting again from the Barna Group,
With each passing year, the percentage of Americans who believe that the Bible is “just another book written by men” increases. So too does the perception that the Bible is actually harmful and that people who live by its principles are religious extremists.
Therefore, Stanley concludes,
Appealing to post-Christian people on the basis of the authority of Scripture has essentially the same effect as a Muslim imam appealing to you on the basis of the authority of the Quran. . . .
Close to half our population does not view the Bible as authoritative either. 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.
That is the cultural part of Stanley’s rationale for moving away from citing the Bible per se as our authority to citing witnesses and events behind the Bible.
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SOURCE: Desiring God