Why You Should Think Twice Before Defending Andy Stanly


I just happened to notice in my Twitter feed that Andy Stanley retweeted an article by Dr. Andrew Wilson. It's exceptionally apparent why Stanley would do so from the title of Dr. Wilson's article, "In Defen[s]e of Andy Stanley".

As one would expect upon clicking on Dr. Wilson's article, that Dr. Wilson was intent on providing a defense in favor of Stanley's recent denial of Sola Scriptura. I recognize that Stanley isn't denying the Bible or its importance but anyone who listened to Stanley's recent "apologetics" series recognizes that he implicitly denied Sola Scriptura.

Dr. Kruger and Dr. White have weighed in very extensively on Stanley's errors and Dr. White has critiqued Dr. Turek's defense of Stanely. I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Kruger and Dr. White's work in this area. But upon reading Dr. Wilson's defense of Stanley I can't help but notice an utter ignoring of the crux of the issue.

Dr. Kruger summarizes the issue succinctly,

While one sympathizes with Stanley’s desire to remove obstacles to belief in Jesus, his solution does not solve the problemIn fact, it creates even bigger ones. It becomes (as we shall see below) the equivalent of sawing off the branch you’re sitting on.1 (my emphasis)

As this is the primary problem with Stanley's presentation, any defense of Andy Stanley that does not take this into account has missed the boat; at least the meaningful boat.

Dr. Wilson indicates in his article that he and Stanley don't quite always see eye to eye. And, in fact, there are a number of issues that Dr. Wilson has with Stanley's series. Instead of drawing those issues out or even defining what those issues are and the nature of those issues, Dr. Wilson decided to focus on a rather singular agreement that he has with Stanley and capitalize on that.

Of course, anyone is free to specifically say, "here's where I agree with so and so of whom I would normally disagree", however, to do so in a series riddled with fundamentally problematic errors is to forfeit the credit of your article even before you begin, especially when said series creates bigger problems as Dr. Kruger proved.

As mentioned previously, to not define the nature of the errors you have with Stanley is to create a serious ambiguity. Does Stanley's singularly "true" assertion exist in a vacuum or in harmony with Stanley's many "false" assertions? Of course, it can, but the question is not potential but realistic: does Stanley's true assertion depend upon the efficacy of his false assertions? Dr. Wilson chose to ignore the errors in favor of a defense of Stanley that enables his readers to overlook the errors in favor of a singular solution to many problems that isn't actually a solution at all. The primary point being, that it makes no sense to be not on the same page more consistently than on and to write a piece that provides a total defense of Stanley that ignores many of the issues people have with Stanley as a part of their "kerfuffle". To do so in this way is to misrepresent the "kerfuffle". If you have problems with the "kerfuffle" expose the "kerfuffle".

Dr. Wilson's initializes in his article,

But in the flurry of responses that have been written, some by friends of mine, an important point of his is either being lost, or rejected as untrue. So I want to defend him.

The immediate notice is on the important "point", singular. Again, does Stanley's important point exist in a vacuum and do these responses attack his "important", singular point in a vacuum as well? We're essentially told to contextualize Stanley's important point which Stanley presented a considerably large amount of assertions, arguments, and conclusions to defend his singular point. And if those are false, and Dr. Wilson takes issue with those, then the conclusion cannot exist as it is, and instead you're can't defend Stanley but instead should present the actual arguments that both discredit Stanley and affirm truth.

What is Dr. Wilson's motivation behind defending an individual, like Stanley, that he has more issues with than agreement? Dr. Wilson is honest to recognize that he has identified a similarity between Stanley's important point and an important point that Dr. Wilson holds,

In doing this I’m also defending myself. Two years ago, in my book Unbreakable (which is all about the inspiration and authority of Scripture), I argued, “I don’t trust in Jesus because I trust the Bible; I trust the Bible because I trust in Jesus.” That, in a nutshell, is how I would summarise what Andy is being criticised for saying, although it’s frequently a comment I make in teaching on the doctrine of Scripture or hermeneutics, and when I wrote it, it didn’t seem controversial. The reaction to Andy’s message has made me realise that it is.

There it is. Dr. Wilson is really defending himself. With that in mind, however, there shouldn't have been a need to defend Stanley at all as Stanley said considerably more than that, even if one is simply summarizing. Notice, however, that Dr. Wilson has summarized both his and Stanley's view on why Sola Scriptura is no longer important. He stated, “I don’t trust in Jesus because I trust the Bible; I trust the Bible because I trust in Jesus.” We should probably call this "Chicken and Egg" methodology.

Before criticizing Dr. Wilson's summary, it is important to recognize that many criticisms of Stanley's presuppositional rejection of Sola Scriptura do, in fact, not exist in a vacuum. Stanley has, by his own statements, rejected a New Testament Ecclesiology. Stanley inadvertently praised his version of church and Christianity by virtue of an Atheist's response to and joining of his church without conversion at all. To divorce Stanley's views on Scripture from Stanley's views on Church is to do injustice to Stanley's position. There is a categorical redefinition of New Testament principles of both the Church and the Bible in Stanley's "conversation". The importance of Stanley's Scriptural issue is dependant upon and tantamount to his epistemology, Ecclesiology, and Evangelistic methodology. Especially in light of his Atheist's experience that amounts to a conflation between someone's commitment to Stanley's church as a particular safety net or appraisal of one's own conscience with respect to a person's eternal state. If there in the church building, we're "succeeding", rather than evidence of regeneration.

Dr. Wilson, next, presents an interesting tactic. He provides both the refutation of his own article as well as a more accurate statement to the majority of his content as an assertion to argue against,

Arguing that Jesus is the foundation of our faith rather than the Bible, therefore, is pushing a silly false dichotomy—as if you were to say that you trusted your wife, but didn’t trust her word.

Exactly. However, Dr. Wilson response,

To which I respond: yes and no. Yes, in that as I’ve already said (and written a book about), trust in Jesus does lead us to a very high view of biblical inspiration, authority and truthfulness. Yes, in that framing things this way and then using them as an argument against quoting the Bible in preaching, or affirming it as true, would be bizarre. (I don’t think Andy is doing this, as it happens, but I haven’t heard enough of his sermons to know for sure.) Yes, in that increasing passion for Jesus will lead to increasing passion for the Bible, and vice versa.

The moment in which someone responds "yes and no" is the moment where serious criticism can be brought to bare on their position. The argument itself either stands (yes) or falls (no). Either it's a silly, false dichotomy or it is not. Otherwise, this dichotomy exists as either a false and true statement or perhaps a silly true statement or a serious false statement; or some combination of sorts.

The crux of the issue here is, of course, the inability to have one without the other, especially in our modern timeframe. Let's say that Christ absolutely is the foundation of our faith (of course), as per Christ being the object of our faith. How does one come to know either of these realities? The only answer to this question that we can have is derived from the Scriptures. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by what Christ said i.e. the "Word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Thus, Christ absolute is the foundation of our faith, of which faith is imparted to us by His Word. Where does that Word exist? In something that we commonly refer to as "the Bible", a label Stanley does not like. Which, of course, is irrelevant because the same concepts that Stanley actually does stand on are in fact synonymous with the Bible, or at least portions of it, and therefore, it's erroneous to claim that the Bible is not foundational, at least.

Furthermore, to affirm things like, "Yes, in that increasing passion for Jesus will lead to increasing passion for the Bible, and vice versa", is both true and a refutation of Stanley's position. Dr. Wilson further argued in favor of those criticizing Stanley by recognizing that, "Yes, in that framing things this way and then using them as an argument against quoting the Bible in preaching, or affirming it as true, would be bizarre". As a point of clarification, however, it's more than just "quoting" the Bible in preaching, but adopting beliefs as confirmed or defined in the Bible. For example, how does one become a Christian? Is it through a convincing bait and switch of presenting the Church to be something it is not i.e. a lovely, friendly, unchurched home to Atheists, as Stanley boasted about? Or is it through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit that takes place in the preaching of the Gospel in it's entirety and in it's integrity? Clearly the Scripture teaches the later, but if I don't need to presuppose the Scriptures as true, then who cares what the Scriptures teach with respect to how a person gets saved? And who cares about what Jesus taught about how a person gets saved? And therefore who actually cares about being a follower of Christ when one can "be saved" while denying His teachings or denying any or most of His Word as true?

Dr. Wilson continues,

No, because becoming a follower of Jesus does not require the prior belief that the Bible is completely true. As a simple matter of conversion chronology, people who come to faith today—including, I imagine, virtually everyone reading this—almost always do so before they accept biblical infallibility, even if reading the Bible is instrumental in their conversion (as it often is).

Unfortunately, the "no" that Dr. Wilson provides misses the boat. Here's the conundrum: becoming a follower of Jesus doesn't require prior belief in the Bible being completely true. Becoming a Christian, however, requires someone to present someone else the Gospel as defined and outlined and preserved in the Bible. Furthermore, how do you know this is the case, Dr. Wilson? Because the Bible teaches that regeneration is the 'prior' that must exist for a person to accept anything that the Scripture teaches especially with respect to the Gospel. And how do I know that? The Bible teaches about it.

The real issue is epistemological and methodological. Namely, what is the Bible and how do Stanley and Dr. Wilson's understanding become the norm and methodology of Evangelism? This is why Dr. Kruger hit the nail on the head: thank you, Andy for identifying the problem, no thanks to Andy and Dr. Wilson for supplying an unhelpful and unrelated solution.

How does a person become a Christian? By the Preaching of the Gospel and through the Regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Why then should a Pastor and a PhD teach that we accept a presupposition that the Bible doesn't have to be true? Because this somehow becomes more effective at reaching certain unchurched, deconverted, or unbelieving individuals? Furthermore, becoming a Christian does require that one believes to be true that which is being preached to them. They can't, unless the Holy Spirit regenerates them, but they do accept as absolute truth and fact that which is being preached to them and thus why is it impossible that they accept other portions of the Word of God? The Gospel portion of Scripture preached to those who are converted is accepted as true. It cannot be accepted as false and create a convert. The issue that Dr. Wilson and Stanley are creating is that why should they accept as true the Gospel if they can accept as false, at least partially, the Bible? That's as if to say, "Here's the Gospel that's entirely true, as contained in a Book that's entirely not". Then, as a methodology, why is the Gospel true? Why presuppose the Bible's truth on the Gospel while not presupposing the Bible's truth on the Exodus? Especially considering, John 5:46 (ESV), "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me". It doesn't matter if someone doesn't need to accept as true another portion of Scripture, that other portion of Scripture is true, so it's a misnomer to teach that it's not necessary for their salvation, therefore, our methodology in evangelism leaves it out or affirms it's lack of necessity to be true. And again, if it's not true in certain parts, you've created the ability to discredit the Gospel.

It's one thing to say, "I struggle with the historical reliability or archaeological evidence of the Exodus" and it's an entirely different thing to say, "I don't accept or don't need to accept a portion or all of the writings of Moses to be true". It's one thing to say, "I'm not sure how to interpret the Pentateuch" vs. "I don't need to accept the Pentateuch as true".

Of course, they may not know other parts of the Bible at the time of conversion and therefore not know either way if other portions of Scripture are true or not. But is it inconceivable that someone who preaches to the lost the truth and reliability of the resurrection from the Scriptures to preach the truth and reliability of the rest of Scriptures? And therefore, for the convert to accept the truth and reliability of the resurrection and Christ and to accept the truth and reliability of the Bible that contains said reality?

Again, there's nothing offered as to why we should accept Dr. Wilson's and Stanley's reasoning as a methodology. Furthermore, it may not be prescriptive for a person to accept the Bible as true, but Biblical descriptions of Christians in the NT did accept the Bible as true. If Dr. Wilson were to have made this distinction it would've gone a long way. Of course, there is no prescription of the infallibility of the Scriptures on an unconverted person who rejects everything of the Spirit but the description of a New Testament convert is someone who does accept the truth of the Bible. Please feel free, as Andy Stanley does, to call it something else, but don't turn around and criticize the terminology that someone else is using that is accurate i.e. Stanley wanting us to refer to the Scriptures by their human authors rather than their Divine authorship. An important question that I would have for Andy Stanley and Dr. Wilson: Is it sin to reject portions of the Word of God, declaring them to be false?

What happened to new converts in Acts 2? Of course, after Peter preached from the Scriptures (regardless of not having a New Testament he did quote the Old Testament and what he preached became a part of the New Testament) people got saved and devoted themselves to Apostolic teaching. Which anyone could easily conclude would be both teachings on the OT and New Revelation provided that became the New, in other words, the Scriptures. What about Bereans who searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul was saying was true?

Furthermore, it's an epistemological issue. What actually is the Bible? Is it actually infallible? Is it actually the Word of God? If so, why teach some nebulous concept about how people don't need it to be true in order to be followers of Christ? Why would you not presuppose the Bible's entire truthfulness and then operate on the basis of its truthfulness? No one who criticizes Stanley is saying that in practice you must absolutely present and defend all 66 books of the Bible. But it's a misnomer to take a position that says it's irrelevant whether or not the Bible is true, Christianity doesn't depend on it.

It's also a Gospel epistemology. Is the Gospel only presented in the New Testament? No, as evidenced by John 5:46. So if the Gospel isn't only presented in the New Testament but also in the Old Testament, it makes no sense to say a person is converted without accepting the Bible to be true in some other parts. Did the Old Testament predict the resurrection of Jesus? Did the Old Testament predict Jesus Himself? Of course. So it's an exceptionally slippery slope to start generally declaring the lack of need of all the Bible's truth in order for someone to be saved.

Dr. Wilson continues his capitulation,

No, because it would be possible for Jesus to be risen from the dead and Lord of the world, and yet for there to be details in the Bible that are historically or scientifically incorrect

This is a nonsensical argument that both doesn't care about the nature of the Word of God nor about what the Word of God says. It's significantly unhelpful to speculate in the realm of possibility when we're talking about what God revealed; we're talking about truth and actuality. We can say how anything is possible. We could say it's possible that every single passage of Scripture except 1 Corinthians 15 is false. We could say that the 400,000+ textual variants in the New Testament manuscripts actually do create different doctrines and have. None of that even remotely brings us closer to a helpful or meaningful methodology or epistemology regarding the nature of conversion. What are the facts? That the both Bible is true and Jesus Christ rose from the dead. In fact, His resurrection happened in accordance with Scripture, not in spite of the Scripture.

I’ll say it again: I’ve written a book explaining why I don’t think this is actually the case, so keep hold of that rotten fruit for now. But that position is not incoherent. It is perfectly possible to hold that the basic storyline of the Gospel is accurate, and that the best explanation of the appearances and empty tomb is a risen Christ, but that the stories of the Bible are also full of faulty ancient assumptions, mythical accretions and discrepancies

This makes Dr. Wilson's defense of Andy Stanley even more untenable. If you reject and defend against the statement, why defend Andy Stanley who holds to it and why defend the statement? Dr. Wilson lost any semblance of credibility with respect to a meaningful defense of Andy Stanley when he argues on the basis of possibility, while denying said possibility's reality having argued against it, the assertion that it's possible for Jesus to rise from the dead and the Bible which reveals that reality to us has historical or scientific errors. There really isn't anything different than if I were to say it's possible for me to be excellent at Basketball while being terrible at dribbling, shooting, offense and defense and at the same time having a book that actually describes good dribbling and shooting practices as well as excels at offensive and defensive strategies. No rotten fruit here, Dr. Wilson's argument is spoiled on its own.

Many in the Roman Catholic Church take pretty much this view. So do an enormous number of biblical scholars, including a sizeable majority of those I see at the British New Testament Conference. (I must say I was surprised to see Michael Kruger say that the vast majority of scholars rejected the resurrection; the UK may be wildly different to the US on this, but I don’t think it’s true here.) Unless we are going to say that such people are not real Christians, we have to concede, surely, that Jesus, rather than the truthfulness of the whole Bible, is the foundation of our faith. Don’t we?

It is surprising to say you're surprised by something Michael Kruger would say especially without substantiating what you don't think to be true as false. At any rate, who is Dr. Wilson talking about when he says that we shouldn't concede such people as real Christians? The Roman Catholics? Because yes, we shouldn't concede that such a person is a real Christian, when they either believe or apart of a false Gospel. Should we concede that Scholars are real Christians? Who? Which Scholars? Blanket, sweeping statements about someone's Christianity that should just be accepted as a fact and by that virtue as a refutation of criticisms are not how true concepts are established or rejected. Who is Dr. Wilson even talking about?

But again, Dr. Wilson presents the dichotomy that he already provided useful, a meaningful refutation of a dichotomy and enabled us to dismiss it as silly and false. If Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Christian faith why would we reject what He says as foundational (not to mention the fact that He's the chief cornerstone of the Church along with the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets all of whom gave us the Scriptures)?

This would be like saying, Christ is the foundation of my faith i.e. of what I believe. Yet, I don't see what He taught, claimed, said, accepted as an authority and foundational to His beliefs or instructed us in as foundational to what I believe or to my faith. The contradiction is obvious and the sentiments must be rejected on that basis.

And no, because Andy Stanley is right about one thing: there are an awful lot of people in the secular West for whom Jesus seems wonderful and the Bible seems terrible. This, presumably, is so obvious as to not need defending.

It is obvious and it does not need to be defended, however, should it be rejected or accepted as something that changes or influences Christian thought? The fact of there being an existence of people who reject the Bible but accept Jesus does not necessitate Christian methodology that accepts Jesus as foundational and rejects the Bible as foundational. How someone cannot see that this is one of the clearest cut examples of "caving in" out there is beyond my understanding.

Critic: "We reject the Bible but we love Jesus".

Response: "Great the Bible isn't our foundation anyway, Jesus is".

And this is an appropriate methodology or solution to the problem, how? You're accepting an unbeliever's criteria to be saved rather than Christ's.

So at the level of contextualisation, the argument “X is (or should be) the case because Jesus” is immeasurably more winsome, and likely to gain a hearing, than “X is (or should be) the case because the Bible.” One more time: this doesn’t mean that we fudge the truthfulness of the Bible at all, or that we avoid difficult texts, or that we fail to engage with the heart issues behind people’s objections. I work hard to do none of these things. But as a starting point for the sceptical, Jesus is better than the Bible.

How and winsome to what? To a belief in the Gospel? Or to be an unconverted, unchurched, church member who may or may not be confronted in their sins with the Gospel or challenged to move beyond their issues with the Bible and unto that hard work to deal with difficult texts or engage people's heart issues? This is still determining our methodology and approach on the basis of how people respond rather than on the basis of how people should respond.

So I think there are experiential, theological and missional reasons for defending my statement—“I don’t trust in Jesus because I trust the Bible; I trust the Bible because I trust in Jesus”—as well as a substantial part of what Andy Stanley was trying to say.

My response follows my Tweet to Andy Stanley, what about those who reject Jesus ipso facto or the resurrection? And it's one thing to say, "I trust in the Bible because I trust in Jesus", but even that statement denies the salient arguments of Dr. Wilson's post as well as the salient point of Andy Stanley. Stanley's idea is that it has more weight with the unbeliever who rejects portions of the Bible to not talk about the "Bible" and instead talk about the "Authors" and their supposed credibility. But what do you do when the denial is on the resurrection and the claim is that the Authors were mistaken?

But that summary demands a follow-up question, "why do you trust in Jesus?" I get that Dr. Wilson doesn't trust in Jesus because he trusts in the Bible. I get that Dr. Wilson does trust in the Bible because he trusts in Jesus. I'm asking, "why does he trust in Jesus, then?"

It's clear that the methodology and epistemology of both Dr. Wilson and Andy Stanley have caused them to jump out of the frying pan of Sola Scriptura and into the fire of my aforementioned question. Stanley claims that it's the eye witnesses, which are found in the Bible. If Dr. Wilson argues the same way, then we're left scratching our heads as to why we cannot presuppose the truth of Scripture on non-resurrection issues, but we must on resurrection issues using "non-Bible" language because that's somehow more "winsome".

As it happens, I actually agree with Kruger and others that Andy said a number of confusing and unhelpful things as well, and I’ve said already that Andy and I would have different views on many things, including our approach to preaching. But as so often, there’s a baby/bathwater thing going on here, so I wanted to defend him, at least as regards the foundation of Christianity. “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” You can throw that rotten fruit now.

I'm not sure how you an agree with Dr. Kruger and then defend Andy Stanley. Those two assertions are mutually exclusive. But Dr. Wilson's defense of Stanley and yet the use of 1 Corinthians 3:11 reveals the irony and inconsistency and incoherence of his article. In order to defend Christ as our foundation, he quotes Scripture to prove it.

That's a huge aspect of my criticism. Christ is our foundation. Correct, as revealed and made known to us how? And clearly, it doesn't create a diametric opposition to Christ as a foundation and the Scriptures as a foundation.

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone”

— (Ephesians 2:19–20 ESV)

Of course, there's no reason to accept Dr. Wilson's citation of 1 Corinthians 3:11 as true nor my citation of Ephesians 2:19-20 as true, one could still be saved without either. No one needs to accept the truth of any Scripture in order to be a follower of Christ, right?

We certainly don't want to ever throw babies out when we throw our bath water out, that would be a cruel and unusual way to treat babies. But in not wanting to throw the baby out with the bath water, why is it ok to throw out the presupposition of the truth of Scripture? People on my side of the debate are actually the ones crying "foul" at throwing something out. I refuse to compromise my beliefs in any way, shape, or form. Instead, we should bow to the Lordship of Christ and discern His rule through the Scriptures He gave us. I don't need to throw fruit when it's the vine-dresser who will examine it.

P.S. I got that from Christ... who told me it in the Bible.

1). http://michaeljkruger.com/is-the-bible-foundational-to-christianity-engaging-with-andy-stanley/

About Jeremy Menicucci

Pastor Jeremy Menicucci is the President of Nacmin and main contributor. He is an established nouthetic counselor, pastor, apologist, amatuer textual critic, husband and father.

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