Andy Stanley is so incredibly inept at preaching that he should just retire immediately before doing any more damage to the Body of Christ.
I am not writing these words lightly. I spent many hours listening to Andy’s sermons and reading his own words before forming my conclusion. And after watching him continue to struggle week after week without improvement, I think it’s finally time to take grandpa’s keys away.
I don’t consider Andy to be a false teacher, so why am I picking on him? If his heart’s in the right place and he’s leading people to Christ, then what’s the harm? That’s just it: I think that God is saving people in Andy’s congregation in spite of his preaching, not because of it.
I believe that Andy is a true brother in Christ who’s doing his best to fulfill the Great Commission. I haven’t listened to his earliest sermons, but I imagine that he probably started off as a solid preacher. Then, as the size of his congregation grew, he gained the attention of emergent church leaders like Doug Pagitt. That’s probably when Andy’s pride got the better of him, and he became more focused on boosting his weekly attendance rather than the spiritual condition of the congregation.
Today Andy is the self-proclaimed CEO (not pastor) of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, one of the largest megachurch congregations in America, but he has also become a hugely influential leader in the larger seeker sensitive movement. He has become so successful at promoting his own brand of “church for the unchurched” that he’s even expanded with several church franchises. He has become a church denomination unto himself.
It’s precisely because so many people are trying to emulate Andy’s strategies that I feel compelled to call him out.
Andy’s Too Distracted
One reason that Andy’s preaching has suffered is that for several years now he’s been more interested in being a leader than in making disciples. I have no problem if a pastor has other hobbies and interests outside of his church, but when you consider the following details, you’ll see that Andy seems to have veered off into a ditch.
Leadership is more important than truth
Andy holds annual leadership conferences, and he broadcasts a monthly leadership podcast. These are pretty big distractions considering that a pastor’s primary God-given assignments are to preach the Word and make disciples. Add to that the fact that Andy hijacks the Bible to endorse his leadership activities, and now we have a real problem.
For example, take this 2010 Catalyst conference promo in which he claims that God created a principle of momentum that you should apply in your church. Or take this 2009 Drive conference lecture and this 2014 podcast episode in which Andy explains the difficult but important task of vision casting in a church. Where exactly are these things taught in the Scriptures?
Andy’s unhealthy leadership obsession has also led him to develop some questionable associations. Speakers at his conferences include some truly awful Bible twisters such as Brian Houston, Levi Lusko, Craig Groeschel, Jen Hatmaker, John Gray, Christine Caine, Lysa Terkeurst, and Priscilla Shirer. The fact that Andy promotes these people as great leaders rather than warning his church to avoid them is a sign that he lacks proper discernment.
A CEO, not a pastor
Andy revealed the enormous size of his ego, when he changed his job title from pastor to CEO. Here are some direct quotes from a 2006 article in Christianity Today:
- “Bloggers complain, ‘The pastor’s like a CEO.’ And I say, ‘OK, you’re right. Now, why is that a bad model?'”
- “Follow we never works. Ever. It’s ‘follow me.’ God gives a man or a woman the gift of leadership. And any organization that has a point leader with accountability and freedom to use their gift will do well. Unfortunately in the church world, we’re afraid of that. Has it been abused? Of course. But to abandon the [CEO] model is silly.”
- “Absolutely [we should stop talking about pastors as ‘shepherds’]. That word needs to go away. Jesus talked about shepherds because there was one over there in a pasture he could point to. But to bring in that imagery today and say, ‘Pastor, you’re the shepherd of the flock,’ no. I’ve never seen a flock. I’ve never spent five minutes with a shepherd. It was culturally relevant in the time of Jesus, but it’s not culturally relevant any more. Nothing works in our culture with that model except this sense of the gentle, pastoral care. Obviously that is a face of church ministry, but that’s not leadership.”
- “[Shepherd is] the first-century word [for pastor]. If Jesus were here today, would he talk about shepherds? No. He would point to something that we all know, and we’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I know what that is.’ Jesus told Peter, the fisherman, to ‘feed my sheep,’ but he didn’t say to the rest of them, ‘Go ye therefore into all the world and be shepherds and feed my sheep.’ By the time of the Book of Acts, the shepherd model is gone. It’s about establishing elders and deacons and their qualifications. Shepherding doesn’t seem to be the emphasis. Even when it was, it was cultural, an illustration of something. What we have to do is identify the principle, which is that the leader is responsible for the care of the people he’s been given. That I am to care for and equip the people in the organization to follow Jesus. But when we take the literal illustration and bring it into our culture, then people can make it anything they want because nobody knows much about it.”
I’m amazed that Andy had the audacity to say these things, and I’d like to spend a moment addressing some of his statements. First, the Church already has a CEO, and that’s Jesus (Ephesians 5:23). Notice that Jesus referred to it as “my Church.” (Matthew 16:18) By making himself the vision casting leader of his congregation, Andy is challenging the authority of Jesus.
Second, God is the author of the entire Bible (2 Timothy 3:16), even down to the smallest letter and the tiniest stroke of the pen (Matthew 5:18). To claim that Jesus would have picked a different word besides shepherd if He were here today is blasphemy⸺ It’s like saying that He didn’t know what He was doing.
If Jesus wanted pastors to serve as chief executives, then he could have called them kings or pharaohs. Any first century Jew would have been quite familiar with those illustrations. Instead, Jesus chose the example of a shepherd because he wanted someone to feed, protect, and care for His flock.
Furthermore, a shepherd is a very common motif used throughout Scripture (Psalm 23:1, Ezekiel 34:23, Matthew 26:31, and Micah 5:4), including texts written after the Book of Acts (Revelation 7:17). In fact, Jesus Himself is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4, Hebrews 13:20, and John 10:11). Why would we abandon a word like shepherd, which is so rich in Messianic meaning, and replace it with a term that’s not used anywhere in the Bible?
Finally, it’s absurd to claim that no one today understands what a shepherd is. Shepherding is still practiced in many parts of the world, and even a child understands what it means to tend sheep. In contrast, hardly anyone can explain what a CEO does.
I think the real problem is that Andy’s been reading his own press clippings and now feels that shepherding a congregation is beneath him. Being an effective shepherd requires the pastor to spend a significant amount of time with individual church members, which precludes the possibility of having a large church. Since Andy would rather feed his ego, he’s promoted himself to chief executive strategist and delegated all the non-glamorous responsibilities to his underlings.
Andy’s Church Gets More Facebook Likes Than Yours
Andy’s goal is to create churches that unchurched people love to attend. That is to say, he wants to make church so attractive that people will keep coming back, regardless of whether they actually believe in Christianity or not. Think Disneyland.
Not your grandma’s church
According to a 2010 article in The Christian Post, Andy believes that churches should strive to create “an environment where people are so excited that they want to talk about church all the time and create buzz in the community.” Andy alludes to Philip’s invitation to Nathanael in John 1:46 to describe this type of church as a “come and see environment.” If more churches were like Andy’s, then people would never be embarrassed to invite others to their local church.
Andy’s wrong. Philip was excited about finding his Savior, Jesus Christ, not about free Starbucks coffee at church. Also, it might be uncomfortable for Christians to evangelize, but it’s not because we go to a boring church, but because we don’t want to face persecution (Matthew 5:11).
Andy believes that we need to get rid of steeples, stained glass, pews, pulpits, hymns, natural light, and long sermons, because those are all things that score poorly on his market surveys. We need to replace those outdated features with things that people really like: rock concerts, light shows, and free Starbucks coffee. Apparently, Andy thinks that this is what the apostle James was referring to in Acts 15:19.
In Andy’s mind, there are millions of unbelievers who would find salvation if only the church would remove some of these outdated impediments. Not only does that belief contradict Scripture, Andy’s model for church is also way too expensive⸺his church runs a $60M+ annual budget.
Jesus used gimmicks to draw crowds
In his 2012 book Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, Andy explains that he copied the seeker sensitive method directly from Jesus:
“When you read the Gospels, it’s hard to overlook the fact that Jesus attracted large crowds everywhere he went. He was constantly playing to the consumer instincts of the crowds. Let’s face it: It wasn’t the content of his messages that appealed to the masses. Most of the time they didn’t even understand what he was talking about. Heck we’re not always sure what he was talking about. People flocked to Jesus because he fed them, healed them, comforted them, and promised them things.”
Andy’s wrong again. Jesus wasn’t some used car dealer giving out free bobbleheads to get more foot traffic. In fact, He sometimes instructed people not to tell anyone about His miracles (Matthew 9:30 and Luke 5:14). The truth is that Jesus performed these miracles to fulfill Messianic prophecies and to prove His divine nature. Every time Andy hijacks a Biblical text to find support for his brand of church, he’s just making himself look ignorant.
Pastors shouldn’t be afraid to compromise
According to this 2013 article in The Christian Post, Andy says that pastors need to “stay at the epicenter of what is happening culturally” so they can tailor their church experience for unbelievers. For example, in your Christmas Eve services, be sure to celebrate the birth of our Savior by including silhouetted go-go dancers like they might have in a red-light district.
Although he says that churches shouldn’t tailor their content for unbelievers, he frequently preaches on topics that address common life issues (e.g. how to improve your marriage and your finances) in an effort to draw new people in. Andy claims that Jesus used the same preaching method by speaking in parables “to connect with diverse groups of people and appeal to common emotions and experiences.”
WRONG! Jesus said that He spoke to the crowds in parables as a sign of judgement and to fulfill Messianic prophecy (Matthew 13:10-15).
Andy’s attempts to build a better mousetrap are done with good intentions, but he’s ignoring the clear words of the Bible. Jesus warned us that very few people would actually be saved (Matthew 7:13-14 and Matthew 13:1-23), and the problem isn’t with our methods. The problem is that every human is born dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1), and therefore no one seeks after God (Romans 3:11). If we could get more people saved just by offering free Chick-fil-A, then we would get the credit rather than God.
Andy says you’re “stinking selfish” if you attend a small church
In Andy’s 2016 sermon entitled “Saved By the Church,” he explains that he likes big churches because they have enough children to split them into separate youth groups. Apparently that’s the only way that kids can enjoy church, and if they don’t enjoy church then they will almost certainly leave the faith when they go off to college. And if you’re someone who prefers to attend a smaller church because maybe you like to know everybody, then Andy Stanley has a message for you:
“You are so stinking selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids, or anybody else’s kids.”
This is really a bizarre argument. Why does Andy think that it’s impossible for kids to enjoy a small church? Why is the size of the youth group more important than doctrine when evaluating whether a church is good or bad? If Andy seriously thinks that attending a small church is the reason why people become atheists after going off to college, then he doesn’t have a clue.
Understandably, Andy’s comments drew widespread criticism, and he was forced to apologize. In a March 8, 2016 article in Christianity Today, he didn’t try to defend any of his comments. He merely clarified that parents should never force their kids to attend a church they hate simply because mom and dad like it.
I still think Andy’s argument is complete nonsense. My kids would much rather play video games at church than listen to a sermon, but the point of church is to hear the Word of God rightly preached. Kids need to grow up knowing that mom and dad take church seriously, and eventually they will grow to appreciate it as they mature.
Andy’s Preaching Stinks
Andy’s preaching style is confusing and self-contradicting, and he often undermines the power of the Gospel by attacking Christianity. It makes me wonder how many people in his audience are actually saved and how many are false converts just there for the show.
God wants your money
In Andy’s 2011 sermon entitled “Balanced: Developing a Plan,” he explains that we need to invite God to do something extraordinary in our personal finances by systematically re-prioritizing the way that we manage our money. He walks through Malachi 3:7-10 to introduce the concept of tithing, and he correctly observes that the promises in Malachi were made to the ancient nation of Israel and not to twenty-first century Christians. However, he also claims that Malachi is teaching a common principle that does apply to Christians and which is found throughout all of Scripture: the principle of cause and effect, of sowing and reaping.
According to Andy, we need to put God first in our finances before He will bless us financially, which is apparently what Jesus said in Matthew 6:33. This is absurd. When Jesus said “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” he wasn’t telling us to start tithing, but to repent and be born again.
Andy makes it sound as if God sits back and watches Christians suffer through financial hardships until they write Him a check. So if you’re sitting in Andy’s church and the bank is about to foreclose on your house, then it’s all your fault because you weren’t generous enough with your money and God’s mad at you. And if you’re blessed financially, it’s not a gift from God, but a wage that you earned through your obedience.
This teaching is demonstrably false. The apostle Paul was extremely obedient, and yet he suffered horribly (2 Corinthians 11:23-29). Meanwhile, there are plenty of examples of nonbelievers like Caesar who were quite wealthy despite the fact that they blasphemed God and murdered Christians. Even today, many Christians are poor while many atheists are rich, and it obviously isn’t because Jesus is the Lord of their finances. The fact is that God is merciful to all people, and He allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45).
Love your neighbor⸺God commands it
In Andy’s 2009 sermon entitled “Staying in Love: The Juno Dilemma,” he attributes the high divorce rate to our upbringing. Growing up without healthy marriage examples to follow has left us clueless about how to be good husbands and wives, and unless we received massive doses of nurturing and encouragement during our formative years, we’re probably expecting our spouse to make up that deficit. To solve this marriage crisis, Andy reveals Jesus’ secret for enduring love: “love one another, even as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) In other words, if you want a better marriage then you just need to love your spouse more.
I have several problems with this line of reasoning. First, the Biblical explanation for the high divorce rate is that we are all born dead in trespasses and sin, but Andy seems to blame poor parenting.
Second, the Gospel is the one and only solution to sin, but Andy is prescribing the Law. Andy’s prescription doesn’t make any sense because no one is able to keep the Law (John 7:19, Acts 7:53, and Galatians 6:13). That’s like telling a gunshot victim to “just get well” instead of giving them emergency medical treatment. Jesus wasn’t telling us to follow some external rule. He was saying that once we make the Gospel (as I have loved you) the foundation of our lives, then we will naturally begin to love one another through the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Andy is putting the emphasis on the Law (just go love your spouse more) rather than on the Gospel. That’s like prescribing ibuprofen to get rid of a headache for someone who has brain cancer⸺you’re only treating the symptoms instead of the root cause. If Andy would just focus on clearly preaching the Gospel, then the people in the audience would get saved and naturally have better marriages as a side effect. He makes these vague allusions to the Cross and then assumes that everyone already knows what he’s referring to. In a church full of unchurched people, that makes zero sense.
If someone wants life tips, they don’t need a crucified and risen Savior for that. They can just listen to Oprah or Dr. Phil.
Sin: it’s no big deal
In Andy’s 2012 sermon entitled “Age of Kings: Resistance is Futile,” he minimizes the consequences of sin by focusing solely on temporal punishment with no eternal repercussions. He is correct that temporal punishment is how God disciplines His children (Hebrews 12:4-12), but remember that Andy is doing church for the unchurched. That means that many people in the audience are probably not saved, and therefore they are not children of God but children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3, John 8:44, 1 John 3:10, and 1 John 5:19). By lumping everyone into the same category, Andy is giving false assurance to the unsaved people.
In case you think I’m making too big of a deal about this, take a look at Discussion Question #2 from the study guide for this sermon:
“In this message, Andy says, ‘God doesn’t have to punish us because sin bears its own consequences.’ How does this change your view of sin? How does it change your view of God?”
Without question, Andy is making it sound like God will turn a blind eye to sin, and as a result these people are not being brought to repentance for the forgiveness of their sins.
Solomon was just a wiseguy
In Andy’s 2014 sermon entitled “Ask It: Musical Chairs,” he empties the Book of Proverbs of any eternal meaning and makes it into a self-help book.
Quoting Proverbs, he describes a wise person as someone who seeks the counsel of others and a fool as someone who either lacks experience or refuses to heed instruction. However, the Bible says that a fool is someone who denies the existence of God (Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1) while the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10).
The many references to the Gospel are so blatantly obvious throughout Proverbs that you can’t even make it past the first chapter without tripping over them. Either Andy doesn’t notice them or he’s intentionally avoiding them, but either way he’s dropping the ball BIG time.
Oh, and just to suck any last remaining significance out of the text, Andy clearly states that God is not the author of Proverbs and that these are merely Solomon’s own words. Incredible.
Avoid the Gospel at all costs
In Andy’s 2015 sermon entitled “What Makes You Happy: Plan for It,” he manages to dodge the Gospel message clearly evident throughout the Beatitudes.
He begins by defining the Greek word for blessed (makarios) as happy. While happy is certainly part of the definition of that word, it is deeper than the fleeting happiness that might come from being entertained. It’s meaning is closer to bliss or complete and utter contentment. In the context of Matthew 5:3-12, makarios refers to the constant and eternal state of bliss that comes from experiencing the true joy of salvation.
By emphasizing the mundane meaning of the word happy, Andy chooses to put the focus on our temporal happiness rather than our eternal happiness. As a result, Andy misses the whole point of the “blessed are those” statements. Here are some of the mistakes he makes:
- Andy claims that the poor in spirit are those who aren’t putting their trust in wealth, circumstances, a job, or their own abilities because they recognize that everything they have comes from God.
- WRONG! The poor in spirit are those who aren’t arrogant or self-righteous. Only those who are humble and recognize their need for a savior will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
- Andy claims that those who mourn refers to people who are connected with life and aren’t afraid of dying. They embrace the inevitable instead of fighting hopelessly against it, and therefore they are able to be happy.
- WRONG! The people who mourn are the same people as the poor in spirit from the previous verse. They are mourning because they have seen themselves through the mirror of the Law and the Ten Commandments. They now see their sins as God sees them; they realize that the little white lie, which seemed harmless at the time, is an affront to God’s infinite holiness that required Him to pour out all His wrath upon Jesus on the cross. They mourn because they realize they are responsible for Jesus’ suffering.
- Andy claims that the meek refers to those who have a proper valuation of who they are in the larger context of God’s creation and love. They don’t think that they are the center of the universe.
- 50/50 While Andy communicates meekness and humility well, he misses out on the second half of the verse “for they will inherit the earth.” This is a clear reference to the final judgement when God comes down out of Heaven to dwell with the saints on the new Earth. All the unbelievers will inherit the lake of fire.
- Andy claims that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness refers to those who are committed to doing the right thing even if it costs them. They are happy because they have no guilt, no regret, and a clear conscience.
- WRONG! Most people are committed to doing the right thing because God has written the Law upon their hearts. However, since we are all born sinners, none of us can do the right thing, no matter how much we want to. Furthermore, no one seeks after God on their own. Therefore, only the poor in spirit from the first verse (those whom God has already chosen for salvation) will hunger and thirst for the righteousness that comes from Jesus’ saving work on the cross. They will be filled because once a person is saved, God gives them a new heart with new desires, and the Holy Spirit begins to sanctify them so that they grow in holiness.
- Andy claims that the merciful are those who are relationally generous: those who are not seeking revenge, not holding grudges, not waiting to be paid back. They are happy because they are not bitter.
- 50/50 While Andy accurately communicates the meaning of merciful, he misses the second half of the verse “for they will be shown mercy.” The point of this verse is not that we should let go of bitterness to achieve happiness. The point is that God has already forgiven us an insurmountable debt, so we also want to demonstrate that same love to others.
- Andy claims that the pure in heart refers to those who are morally pure. They are happy because they have the clarity they need to be able to identify and see the activity of God. Once you purify your mind and heart, then you’ll be able to recognize where God is at work in the world. You’ll recognize God’s plan for your life, including what path He wants you to take when faced with a tough decision in your relationships, your finances, and your career.
- 200% WRONG! Andy starts to speak for Jesus here. By adding to the text and putting words in Jesus’ mouth, he makes a promise that anyone who is morally pure will suddenly have special insight into the mind of God, like you’ll suddenly get some kind of special inside relationship with God that the rest of us sinners don’t have. Nowhere in the Bible does God promise this. Furthermore, no one is going to be morally pure because we are all sinners. Even Christians still sin, so Andy is setting up an impossible legalistic standard that we can never live up to. The pure in heart are those whom God has made pure by giving them a new heart. When it says that they will see God, it means just that: they will be in Heaven and see God face to face.
- Andy claims that the peacemakers are those who try to be kind. They are happier than troublemakers.
- WRONG! While Andy does manage to make a passing mention of the fact that God wanted to make peace with us, he doesn’t go into any explanation. Instead, he argues that the whole point of this verse is that peacemakers are happier than troublemakers. Again, he totally skips the second half of the verse “for they will be called children of God.” It’s a common misconception that we are all children of God, but scripture makes it clear that only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life are sons and daughters of God. Unbelievers are children of wrath. Therefore, the point of this verse is that we should seek to make peace with God, and once we are born again we will naturally seek to make peace with those around us.
- Andy claims that those who are persecuted for righteousness refers to those who suffer for doing the right thing. You’re going to suffer consequences either for doing the right thing or suffer regret for doing the wrong thing so might as well just do the right thing.
- WRONG! Again Andy skips the very important second half of the verse “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Instead of preaching a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” sort of message, Andy should have referenced Jesus’ end times message in Matthew 24. Jesus clearly predicts that Christians will be persecuted for His sake, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
- Andy says to pursue purity because you want to see God. Although he doesn’t take the final step and say that we must earn our salvation by our good works, he comes awfully close. If non-Christians are constantly visiting Andy‘s church for the first time as he likes to claim, then shouldn’t he place a special emphasis on giving a clear Gospel presentation rather than muddling it and implying salvation by works?
- No Biblical text says that we can sow and reap our way to happiness. Temporal happiness is not guaranteed, and by making promises that the Bible doesn’t make, Andy is setting people up for disappointment. They may become atheists as a result.
- We can’t decide to do any of these things on our own because we are dead in our sins. Instead, God must first raise us from the dead as born again Christians, and then we don’t need to be told to do these things because we will naturally start to live out our salvation. The way Andy is phrasing it, it’s all up to us to do these things on our own. For a non-Christian to hear this and struggle to live it out, they will decide that it is too hard and they will give up.
- The text he’s closing his sermon with comes directly after Jesus gives several warnings about the narrow road to Heaven and the broad road to Hell, about hypocrisy, and about true and false converts. This is a truly sobering message in which Jesus describes a horrible situation that awaits so many people. They will cry out to Jesus on Judgement Day, “Didn’t we do good works in your name?” But Jesus will say, “I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness.” How many people sit in churches week after week, looking good on the outside? They say all the right things, and they go through the motions, but they never experience godly sorrow about their sins that leads to repentance. When God’s wrath comes, they will experience a mighty fall into Hell while those whose lives were built on the sure foundation of repentance and faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins will survive God’s wrath and enter Heaven.
Andy takes what could have been a fantastic Gospel message and trivializes it into an “8 Steps to a Happier Life” message which will lead many people to Hell.
Andy Doesn’t Respect God’s Word or Doctrine
Andy claims to believe that the Bible is the infallible and inerrant Word of God, but he frequently abandons that stance.
We don’t need the Bible…except when it’s convenient
In a 2013 interview, Andy claims that the way most churches talk about the Bible is actually undermining the faith of younger generations. To make his point, he tells about the time in college when his literature professor compared the Biblical creation account to creation myths from other ancient cultures. In a single lecture, this professor completely destroyed Andy’s belief in a literal Adam and Eve, and it left him wondering what else in the Bible was just a story.
Now, listen to Andy’s solution to prevent anyone else from experiencing a similar crisis of faith:
“The foundation of our faith is not the scripture. The foundation of our faith is not the infallibility of the bible. The foundation of our faith is something that happened in history, and the issue is always who is Jesus. That’s always the issue. The scripture is simply a collection of ancient documents that tells us that story. So when we talk about the Scriptures and especially the reliability of the Scriptures, I think anytime that we can tie the Old Testament especially back to Jesus, we have done everybody, Christians and non-Christians alike, an incredible service by letting them know, ‘You know what? You can believe that Adam and Eve is a creation myth. So what? Who is Jesus.’ And then to your point, when I deal with Adam and Eve, I’m quick to say, ‘Hey, this is one of those odd stories. This is that story you heard growing up about two naked people running around in a garden. And who can believe that? And there are many creation myths. But here’s why I believe this actually happened: not because the Bible says so, but because in the Gospels, Jesus talks about Adam and Eve, and it appears to me that He believed they were actually historical figures. And if He believed they were historical, I believe they were historical because anybody that can predict their own death and resurrection and pull it off, I just believe anything they say.'”
At this point, I’m wondering whether Andy is schizophrenic, because he’s literally arguing with himself. On one hand, he’s saying that our faith doesn’t depend on the truth of the Bible, and then a second later he’s appealing to the truth of the Bible to support his claim of a literal Resurrection. Is anyone else confused?
After hearing this ridiculous argument, I just figured it was a mistake, but he keeps using it. He uses it again during his 2015 Easter sermon entitled “Unbelievably Believable.” He starts off well, by pointing out that the Resurrection is one of the most well documented events in ancient history. Then he immediately shoots holes in his own argument by saying that we don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead because it’s in the Bible, but because eyewitnesses like Matthew, John, and James wrote about it…in the Bible.
In Andy’s 2016 advent sermon entitled “Who Needs Christmas: The World Did,” he tweaked his argument by attacking the virgin birth instead of the creation account. Apparently it’s not important whether Jesus fulfilled all of the Messianic prophecies about His birth, just the ones about His death and resurrection. Who needs a God that’s 100% accurate when it comes to prophecies about Himself?
I get what Andy’s trying to do. He wants to make it easier for unchurched people to become Christians by telling them that they don’t even need to believe in the creation account or the virgin birth in order to become Christians. He’s correct, but the way he’s presenting his argument is all wrong. Why doesn’t he just uphold the authority of the entire Bible by teaching basic apologetics and leveraging the resources available from Answers in Genesis? After all, it’s not our clever arguments that save people; it’s God who draws them in.
God needed a do-over
In Andy Stanley’s 2015 sermon series entitled “Brand New,” he attempts to debunk the belief in an infallible God by arguing that the New Testament is basically God taking a mulligan. To support this argument, he introduces something he calls “The Temple Model,” which has four elements:
- Sacred Places – These are places of worship, such as synagogues and churches.
- Sacred Texts – These are holy books, such as the Bible.
- Sacred Men – These are priests or pastors.
- Sincere Followers – You could also call these superstitious followers.
The Temple Model is a patriarchal religious system in which the sacred men are holier than everyone else, and they alone have the ability to interpret the sacred texts. They maintain their religious power structure by determining who’s good and who’s bad, and they threaten dissenters with excommunication.
The Temple Model has been common throughout human history, according to Andy, and it’s always a bad thing. He says that we can find examples of the Temple Model among the ancient Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Jewish temple system, witch doctors, and militant Islamists.
Andy explains that Christianity was supposed to be something brand new and completely different from the Temple Model of the Old Testament. According to Andy, the new model of Christianity would no longer require a high priest, and it would no longer require big words like “propitiation” for sins. This is blasphemous because Jesus is our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14) and the propitiation, or atoning sacrifice, for our sins (1 John 4:10).
Andy continues his argument, claiming that some of those old elements from the Temple Model have managed to creep back into Christianity. Therefore, he thinks that we need another Reformation to get back to the pure form of Christianity that existed in the first two centuries after the Resurrection. Once we do that, then we’ll experience a huge wave of conversions.
Notice how Andy equates the Jewish temple system with pagan religions. Also, he clearly believes that male-only church leadership has got to go. Since God instituted both of those systems, Andy is accusing God of making mistakes.
I get what Andy’s trying to do. He’s criticizing the type of legalistic Christianity that always results in self-righteousness and hypocrisy, but he’s doing a terrible job of communicating that. For example, when he quotes Galatians 5:6 (“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”), he makes love into a command rather than a natural result of true saving faith. The very argument that he’s using to rid Christianity of legalism is actually a form of legalism in itself.
An exercise in rewriting Church history
As part of Andy’s argument to condemn the Temple Model, he repeats his favorite logical fallacy (using the Bible to argue that we shouldn’t be using the Bible anymore), but he also employs a new tactic to attack the Bible: rewriting Church history.
He creates a false narrative that Christianity experienced exponential growth during its first 300 years because they didn’t have to deal with those pesky Scriptures. Since they couldn’t be distracted by reading the Bible, they were able to maintain a singular focus on loving their neighbors, which greatly enhanced Christianity’s curb appeal. It wasn’t until the evil Emperor Constantine organized the Council of Nicea in 325 that the formal canon of Scripture was ratified and quickly became a tool to oppress people.
Time out. Andy’s shoddy history lesson includes two huge mistakes that I want to correct:
- The canon of Scripture was not even a topic of discussion at the Council of Nicea. Andy’s been getting his news from Dan Brown’s fiction novel The Da Vinci Code.
- Early Christians definitely had access to the Scriptures, both the Old and the New Testament. Here are several examples:
- Paul writes to Timothy, “From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures.” (2 Timothy 3:15)
- The Berean Jews examined the Scriptures every day (Acts 17:11).
- Peter refers to the prophecy of Scripture (2 Peter 1:19-21). Then, he casually mentions the fact that multiple letters exist, and he specifically calls out Paul’s letters as being on par with the rest of Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).
- In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quotes from Luke 10:7, proving that Luke’s Gospel had already become widely available.
- Paul writes, “For some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.'” (2 Corinthians 10:10) Several of Paul’s letters must have already been circulating for people to attack him in this way.
- Paul gave instructions to read his letters aloud and make sure that everyone heard them (Colossians 4:16 and 1 Thessalonians 5:27). Therefore, people would have treated them with reverence and made copies rather than throw them out.
- People were so familiar with Paul’s habit of writing letters that false teachers began writing forgeries (2 Thessalonians 2:2 and 2 Thessalonians 3:17).
- Jude refers to a collective body of doctrine known as “the faith,” meaning the complete canon of Scripture (Jude 1:3).
Besides all of these examples from Scripture itself, we also have examples from oustide of Scripture. For example, using only the writings of the Early Church Fathers, we are able to reconstruct almost the entire New Testament, with the exception of only a handful of verses. This confirms that almost all New Testament writings were widely in use well before the Council of Nicea.
Andy’s factual errors come fast and furious after that:
- He blames Christianity for the bloody history of the Roman Catholic Church.
- He attacks the Protestant Reformation because instead of getting rid of the Bible, which is what Andy really wants to do, it ended up giving each person their own personal copy of the sacred texts. He claims that this increased access to God’s Word led to the splintering of the Church into hundreds of denominations.
- He claims that the monastic movement was the only thing that kept Christianity from being completely lost. Apparently, monks and nuns cloistering themselves in monasteries and convents is what real Christianity looks like.
All you need is love
If you haven’t noticed yet, Andy is a HUGE fan of loving one another. In fact, he prefers to preach love your neighbor at the expense of the Gospel. For example:
- He implies that it’s wrong to exercise church discipline on members of the congregation even if they deny the deity of Christ.
- He attacks creeds because they don’t mention any behavior at all. He thinks that Christians who believe the Nicene Creed would still go out and live like a complete hellion because there’s no mention of love.
- He refers to Christians as Jesus followers, and he refers to Christianity as a movement of people who believe in Jesus and follow His ethic to love one another. Notice there’s no mention of repentance and faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.
- He criticizes Protestants for using the Scriptures as a weapon to beat people over the head with. I assume that means that he doesn’t like Ray Comfort’s motto of “Law to the proud and grace to the humble.”
Andy wants love to be the defining characteristic of the Church, just like Jesus said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) The problem is that Andy doesn’t seem to place any importance on doctrine. The love that Christians demonstrate is proof that we not only understand the Gospel but that we have internalized it by being born again. If someone demonstrates love but does not believe the Gospel, then their love can’t be evidence that they are a Christian, it’s just evidence that God’s Law is written on their heart (Romans 2:14-15).
It’s almost as if Andy subscribes to Philip Clayton’s “Big Tent” Christianity, which is like ecumenism on steroids. Sure, let’s invite all the nice Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses to be part of the Church. Who cares that their version of Jesus isn’t the same as the Bible’s? Hey, the Hare Krishnas are pretty nice; let’s let them in, too. Who needs truth when we’ve got love! See how quickly that concept falls apart?
Good without God
According to Andy, it’s bad to get your morals from the Bible, because that’s Temple Model thinking (remember that we shouldn’t have sacred texts controlled by sacred men). Andy’s moral compass, which he refers to as the Jesus Model, says that you should tell the truth not because the text says to, but because when you lie it hurts people, and God is concerned about the people you lie to. Likewise, you should be generous because it helps people, and you shouldn’t gossip because it hurts people.
So anything that helps people is good, and anything that hurts people is bad⸺got it! Thanks Andy! Now we don’t have to waste time studying God’s Word…wait a minute. How does Andy know that helping people is good and hurting people is bad? Didn’t he just violate his own rule by pulling that ethic straight from the Bible?
I get what Andy’s trying to say. If we simply treat the Bible like a rulebook, then we’re practicing legalism instead of Christianity. However, getting rid of the Bible creates more problems than it solves.
Hell’s just a figure of speech
Andy does not like to talk about the topic of Hell, probably for fear of offending all the unchurched people. His aversion to discussing the topic is so strong, that even when he’s reading from passages where Hell is blatantly obvious, he tap dances around it. For example, in Andy’s sermon “Comparison Trap: Two Bags Full,” he reads the Parable of the Talents, including the last verse: “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30) Incredibly, he tries to explain this away by claiming that the worthless servant was being tossed out of the rich master’s inner circle, and he was experiencing frustration and regret over a missed opportunity.
In Andy’s sermon “Brand:New: What Love Requires,” he quotes from the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, but he doesn’t even read the second half of the parable where it says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41) I guess he figured that he wasn’t going to be able to talk his way out of that one.
Andy’s attempts to eliminate God’s wrath from Christianity are a bit like Cardinal Glick’s (George Carlin) attempts to replace the crucifix with “Buddy Christ” in the movie Dogma:
“Christ didn’t come to earth to give us the willies; he came to help us out. He was a booster.”
I truly think that Andy must believe in some form of universalism, because why else would he not take advantage of such a perfect opportunity to remind people about the reality of Hell?
Finding a happy medium between truth and error
Since Andy doesn’t want to offend first-time visitors by making authoritative truth claims, his preaching style often takes on a more postmodern, conversational tone. He often starts his sentences with “what if…” and “imagine…”, and his favorite technique is finding common ground. Unfortunately, since there is no middle ground between truth and error, Andy has only succeeded in detaching himself from the firm foundation of God’s Word.
A recent example of this type of compromise is seen in Andy’s 2016 “Who Needs God” sermon series. In his first sermon of the series, he repeatedly says that evolution and the Big Bang theory may be true, and he manages to preach an entire sermon without quoting from the Bible once. I honestly don’t think that Andy believes in a literal 6-day creation, because he certainly doesn’t do anything to reinforce its extreme theological importance.
In his third sermon of the series, he actually does a good job of giving some apologetics to explain why we can trust the Bible. However, he quickly undermines his own argument with several huge blunders:
- He repeats his false history of the Church and reiterates the lie that no one had a copy of the Scriptures until 300 years after the Resurrection. Oh, really? Then how did people learn about Jesus?
- He says that Christianity doesn’t rise and fall on the integrity or the verifiability of the entire Bible. In other words, it’s not important to him whether Jesus spoke the truth or not.
- He says that even if you don’t have a copy of the Old Testament, it does nothing to undermine Christianity. He’s downplaying the importance of the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and basically encouraging people not to study the Old Testament. He’s robbing these people of typology and symbolism pointing us to Christ, of fulfilled prophecy building our faith, and of key doctrines such as original sin that show us our need for a savior.
Once again, Andy’s ridiculous comments earned him the ire of many prominent Christians. However, instead of apologizing and backing away from his statements like before, this time he defended his miserable preaching by writing a very lengthy article for Outreach Magazine. I will now close out this blog post by picking apart Andy’s article:
- He’s not concerned with making a few mistakes during his sermons. It’s more important that he delivers an engaging presentation, even if it means sacrificing precision. He makes more mistakes in the early morning sermon, but if you come during the afternoon sermon the mistakes are few and far between.
- A pastor’s job is to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2) and the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). I don’t want to hear Andy’s musings, I want to hear directly from Almighty God Himself. In his sermon, we should learn more about Jesus than we do about him (John 3:30).
- Pastors are basically a stand-in for Jesus and therefore speaking on His behalf. It’s not okay to get it wrong, because you could send people to Hell! That’s why James says that teachers will be judged more severely (James 3:1). Nor is it okay to say, “I’m going to say something dumb or only give you half the story this week, but if you stick around for the next 6 weeks then it’ll all make sense.” What if a unbeliever dies before you can finish your 6-part sermon series? You have to take every opportunity to point people to Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
- The apostle Paul was such a terrible speaker (2 Corinthians 11:5-6) that he once put someone to sleep and they fell out the window and died (Acts 20:7-12). Yet how many lives have been saved as a result of his tireless effort. If the key to salvation is based on someone’s ability to preach well, then they get the glory, but in fact the ability to save people belongs to God alone, so He gets all the glory.
- Andy’s argument that the 4:30pm sermon is more polished doesn’t make any sense. All the mistakes that I see appear intentional, not a result of ad-libbing. Besides, if the 4:30pm sermon was the best one, then I’m assuming that they would always post that version to their web site. I’ve watched all of his sermons online, and I find plenty of glaring mistakes.
- Andy often uses the method of saying what he suspects that skeptics are thinking, but it can come across as though he shares their assumptions. Similarly, he likes to affirm or validate an unbeliever’s assumptions.
- Why are a bunch of unbeliever’s in Andy’s church anyway? Church is supposed to be a gathering of Christians (1 Corinthians 14:33). Unbelievers are welcome to come and listen to God’s Word, but they’re not the focus of the service.
- We can’t compromise truth in an effort to connect with unbelievers. In Mark 7, Jesus had no problem telling the scribes and the Pharisees that they were wrong to put tradition ahead of the commands of God. He didn’t resort to some sort of Dale Carnegie technique and say, “I don’t blame you a bit for thinking that way.” Stop being so politically correct and warn people that they’re condemned in their sin unless they repent.
- He wants all congregations to abandon the traditional approach to church and adopt his brand of church for the unchurched instead. He believes this transition is necessary because the world has changed⸺the culture no longer has a high regard for the Bible. And besides, the old method never worked all that well anyway.
- Wow, what delusions of grandeur! It’s like God is powerless to stem the rising tide of atheism, and Andy is the only one capable of saving the Church from imploding.
- God can predict the future with 100% accuracy because He sovereignly determines whom He will save (Isaiah 46:8-13). Therefore, He knew how the culture would change over time, and if He had wanted us to update our approach to church to reach Millennials, then He would have told us so.
- To claim that the old way of doing church never really worked or that the culture used to have a high regard for the Bible is laughable. Christianity managed to grow from dozens of followers to millions, even in in the most hostile cultures, long before the seeker sensitive church model was invented.
- He quotes Dr. Al Mohler to highlight a serious problem that exists in many traditional churches today: the only people being baptized are the offspring of current church members. This is evidence that the church must adapt our services to appeal to the unchurched.
- I agree that evangelism must extend beyond our own children, and I certainly need to improve in that area. However, Andy makes it sound like the only possible answer is to adopt his church model. What’s wrong with other options like street preaching, community outreach projects, and simply being more open about sharing our faith with everyone?
- He points to his results as proof that his church model is working. I assume that Andy’s referring to the fact that his congregation is among the top in the nation in terms of weekly attendance numbers and still growing rapidly.
- We cannot simply look at weekly attendance numbers to determine whether Andy’s method is successful. Various studies have shown that “Mormonism is the fastest growing faith group in American history,” and that either Islam or nonreligious are among the fastest growing faith groups in the world. Is that evidence that people are being saved?
- How many people in Andy’s audience are born again and maturing in the faith? I would love to do a survey of Andy’s congregation to see how their beliefs line up compared to what the Bible actually teaches, and my guess is that the results would be appalling.
- He says that, “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. You may or may not already know what it says. But it doesn’t matter. The Quran doesn’t carry any weight with you. You don’t view the Quran as authoritative.”
- WRONG! The Bible says that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:17) It also says that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hewbrews 4:12)
- He tries to make the case that the apostle Peter adapted his preaching style to suit the audience. For example, in Acts 2 Peter sprinkles several quotes from the Old Testament into his sermon to an audience of Jews. This makes sense because they would have already been familiar with and accepted the authority of the Old Testament. However, in Acts 10 Peter doesn’t quote the Old Testament at all when preaching to a group of Gentiles because they would not have been familiar with or accepted the authority of the Old Testament.
- First, it’s important to note that Peter is evangelizing, taking the mode of a street preacher in the first case and door-to-door missionary in the second case. In neither case is he preaching a sermon in a church worship service. No one would argue that Christian evangelists and missionaries need to adopt their methods to suit their audience. For example, if you’re talking to an atheist, then you might first have to explain that the creation is proof that there is a Creator (Romans 1:20).
- When the text describes a congregation of Christians gathering together for worship service, it says that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” (Acts 2:42) I guarantee you that during these church gatherings, the apostles were delving thoroughly through the Scriptures just like the Berean Jews (Acts 17:11). No way were they discussing how to find God’s vision for your life or 5 tips to a better marriage.
- In the case of Cornelius, the text describes him as someone who was “devout and God-fearing” and who “prayed to God regularly.” (Acts 10:2) He was probably a Gentile in the process of converting to Judaism, and therefore he would have been quite familiar with the Old Testament. Also, he had just witnessed an angel speaking to him, so he was expecting that whatever Peter was going to say would be directly from God (Acts 10:3-6 and Acts 10:30-33). There was no reason for Peter to quote from the Old Testament to make his case when the audience was already so primed for the Gospel. Similarly, I might spend more time convincing a self-righteous person of their sinfulness before sharing the Gospel, whereas if I were speaking to someone who readily admitted their sinfulness then I wouldn’t need to spend much time convincing them.
- He quotes from the apostle Paul as evidence that we should adopt our church style to reach more nonbelievers: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law(though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
- Not so fast Andy. What’s the larger context of this passage? Paul’s not giving us carte blanche to turn our church worship service upside down to attract more nonbelievers. He’s merely making the point that we shouldn’t consciously offend someone and hinder our ability to share the Gospel. For example, Paul had Timothy circumcised before taking him along on his missionary journey, because he did not want to offend the Jews in the area and therefore give them an excuse to ignore him (Acts 16:1-3).
- It’s worth noting that Paul also discourages the use of clever arguments so that the believers’ faith “might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
- He tries to make the case that the apostle Paul adapted his preaching style to suit the audience. For example, in Acts 13 Paul sprinkles several quotes from the Old Testament into his sermon to an audience of Jews. This makes sense because they would have already been familiar with and accepted the authority of the Old Testament. However, in Acts 17 Paul doesn’t quote the Old Testament at all when preaching to a group of Gentiles because they would not have been familiar with or accepted the authority of the Old Testament.
- Once again, Andy is pointing to examples of Paul evangelizing out in the marketplace, so they cannot apply to how we should conduct church worship services.
- I would agree that a missionary to a Muslim country shouldn’t begin his outdoor sermon by telling everyone within earshot that they worship a false idol. That’s just common sense.
- He claims that Paul deliberately ended his speech to the Athenians without mentioning Jesus so as to leave his audience hanging. In other words, Paul was only giving part one of a two-part sermon series.
- Again, Paul was street-preaching, so we cannot extrapolate that we should leave our audience hanging in a church sermon.
- How do we know that Paul’s speech was done? We know that he was more than happy to continue talking for hours as long as he had a captive audience (Acts 20:7-12). The way I read the text, it sounds more like Paul was interrupted by jeers from the audience to the point where he was unable to continue. Those in the audience whom God had appointed to salvation pulled him aside on his way out and said that they wanted to hear more.