Andy Stanley has produced another sermon that denigrates the Scriptures, in favor of the Resurrection, as the basis of Christianity. Although there’s a lot wrong with the sermon, I decided to focus on three major areas of discussion. I encourage the reader listen to the sermon to show that I have accurately represented Mr. Stanley in my response. All scripture references are taken from the NKJV.
1. There were no Christians/believers before the Resurrection
I’d love to know what Mr. Stanley classifies as a Christian/believer. We’re told in Romans chapter 4 that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness”. In fact the chapter goes on to say that Abraham is the prototype of us, as we have the same faith he did. Can we really say there were no believers before Christ was raised from the dead? Abraham may not have known the specifics of Jesus’ life like we do, but when the Son of God appeared to Him in Genesis 15 (we know it was the son who appeared as John 1:18 says no one has seen the Father, only the son), he believed Him, and the promise He told him, and it was accounted to him as righteousness.
Ah, but one may argue, “Abraham may have been a believer, but you couldn’t have called him a Christian! He wouldn’t have even understood the word.” By that logic, no one was a Christian until the name was introduced in Acts 11, long after the Resurrection. However, let’s move on to another example, the thief on the cross. The thief on the cross professed faith in Christ, so Jesus told him “today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Are we to believe this means that he was only a believer after he found out about the Resurrection? He was already in paradise. And if this man believed in the Jesus who he saw in front of him unto salvation, can we really say he wasn’t a Christian?
Let’s look at one final example before moving on to the next subject. Ironically, it’s from the story that Mr. Stanley utilizes to prove there was no one still believing in Jesus: Mary (and the other women), going to the tomb that blessed Sunday morning to anoint Jesus’ body. If these women really thought that it was all over and that Jesus wasn’t who He said He was, would they have gone to the tomb to honor Him? If you followed a man who you thought was God’s chosen one for years only to find He was a fraud, would you be inclined to honor His death? But they go. Why? Because in some sense they still believed He was who He is. Perhaps they believed in Him and thought He was wrong about His death, I can’t say exactly what was going through their heads. However, I do know they had not become unbelievers. They still demonstrated they knew who He was by treating Him as such.
2. The Bible doesn’t produce Christianity, the Resurrection alone does
This is a common theme I’ve heard in Stanley’s teaching. He even attempts to address a common criticism of this teaching, that the only reason we know about the Resurrection is because of the Bible. Because the Bible was compiled until the 4th century, and there were obviously Christians before that, it was Mark, Matthew, and the rest of the New Testament writers that communicate to us about the Resurrection. This is a false distinction in my mind. Just because the scriptures weren’t necessarily compiled into one book until after Jesus death, doesn’t mean that they aren’t the reason I know about the Resurrection. I do know about the Resurrection because of the Bible, because it contains the scriptures. The Bible is God speaking to us (Matthew 22:31-32, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21) and thus it is ultimately God who tells us about the Resurrection through the writers of the New Testament.
As to the idea that the Resurrection alone produces Christianity, I’d like to appeal to Paul for a second:
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3–4)
It isn’t just that Jesus rose again that Paul thought was important, its also that He rose again “according to the scriptures”. A resurrection divorced from the Old Testament is meaningless to us. What’s the significance of a man being raised from the dead? Well, as the scriptures teach us, Jesus needed to die for our sins and be raised for our justification, so we are able to be with our God forever. This is even in the Old Testament (although less clear). Yes, it is indeed the writers of the Gospels that tell us Jesus rose from the dead, but their writings are scripture, so we cannot say that the scriptures didn’t make us Christian.
Let’s look at another example from Peter himself. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the believers and they begin to speak in foreign tongues. This causes the crowd to marvel, and Peter begins to preach his first sermon. So, does he appeal to his first hand account of the Resurrection to sway the crowds to Christianity? He does eventually, but only after appealing to Scripture first. He quotes from Psalm 16 and says of it:
“Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the Resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. (Acts 2:29–31)
If the scriptures weren’t important to Peter’s case for the Resurrection (and thus Christianity), why bring them up? Because he was letting the crowds know that this was part of God’s plan (see also verse 23), and thus He truly was the Messiah. The Old Testament background is a necessary part of WHY the Resurrection happened. Other people (like Lazarus) had been raised from the dead, but we don’t think they were the Messiah. This Resurrection, however, was foretold in the Old Testament, and thus validates Jesus’ claim of who He was. Do we need Jesus to be raised from the dead in order to be saved? Yes. Is that the sole fact we need to know in order to be saved? No. Many cults believe Jesus was raised from the dead, but they don’t believe that Jesus was God or other important facts about Him (1 John 4:2-3), so their faith will not save them. The Resurrection alone is not what produces Christianity. God produced Christianity and uses the scriptures as a means to bring people into a saving knowledge of the truth.
Now let’s address the elephant in the room
3. The reason why Andy Stanley wants to downgrade the scripture is because he’s worried it drives people away from the faith
At least in some sense I can see why; many grow up in Christian churches only to leave when they grow up and find they can’t believe the miraculous elements of the Bible. However, by selling the Bible short, Stanley ultimately sells Jesus short. Jesus, when disputing with some of the Pharisees, says the following
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods” ’? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? (John 10:34–36)
For Jesus, the Scriptures couldn’t be broken. They had to be true in what they said. If you teach that it’s OK to not have to believe in all of the Bible, and you just need to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, you end up disagreeing with Jesus. And from that perspective, if Jesus could be wrong about the Scriptures, does it matter if He rose from the dead? How can you say you believe in Jesus, but don’t believe He was right in His teaching about the Scriptures? What kind of faith is that?
The message of Christianity is supposed to look foolish to the world (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). It is a demonstration of God’s power to save using foolish looking means. We don’t need to dress it up and make it look like the most reasonable thing to choose from a worldly perspective. I will end with a quote from Jesus. Jesus, when telling the story of Lazarus and the rich man, tells us that Abraham said:
If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead. (Luke 16:31)
Do you think that people are any different than those of Jesus day, Mr. Stanley? If the people that you preach to are unwilling to believe what God said in Moses and the prophets, they won’t believe God when His son is risen from the dead. Please, I implore you (in love), stop minimizing the Bible. People need to believe in more than the Resurrection to be saved.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.