Does Andy Stanley Understand God, Scripture or the Gospel?

A new article from our brother in Christ, Edward Benitez: 

In April 2014, Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Atlanta delivered a sermon series titled “Why in the World?”

According to Stanley, the central theme of the series was to discuss why “God become one of us,” in reference to the incarnation. He mentions several reasons and in part 4 of the series, titled “Putting Religion in its Place,”(1) – one of those reasons was (as the title says) to “put religion in its place.” In this sermon Andy Stanley demonstrates that he possibly may not understand who God is, what Scripture says, and what the gospel is about. It can also be gathered from this sermon that religion is not a good thing in Stanley’s eyes. “When religion takes first place, it begins flexing its muscles at the expense of mercy,” Stanley says. He mentions many of the negative things religion has supposedly done by mentioning phrases common to religion such as “child sacrifice…, honor killings…, holy war, crucify him, crucify him, crucify him….” Religion, in Stanley’s eyes, is apparently awful, and this perception seems to drive his theology. But the problem with the sermon is not found there. What exactly does Stanley mean when he says Jesus came to put religion in its place? It appears that it means not to put laws or rules above people at the expense of mercy. And that is where the problem lies. While well-intentioned, Stanley’s explanation of what he means demonstrates, or at least makes it questionable, that he does not entirely understand God, Scripture, or what the gospel is truly about.

Stanley makes three interesting statements in this sermon. The first refers to parent-child relationship: “Sometimes I break my rule and you’re happy, and sometimes I break my rule and you hate me. But you know what, common in both of those scenarios? You. Because you are important. That’s what good parents do. That’s what your heavenly father does…Jesus said I have come to put religion in its place and it’s not first place. It’s second place.” The second comment continues this train of thought, in which Stanley quotes God as saying, “I don’t give you rules and laws and I don’t ping your conscious just because I want you to obey. I love you, and you’re screwing up your life….The goal isn’t to make me happy. The goal is to live a life that’s honoring to you, which is honoring to me…I want you to submit to me because I love you. I’m not in love with my rules. I’m not in love with the Bible. I’m not in love in morality. I’m in love with you.”

Firstly, does the Bible mention or imply that Jesus said he came to put religion in its place? Unfortunately no verse of Scripture mentions him saying so. Neither does it mention or imply God saying those other things Stanley quotes God as saying. Stanley is thus adding to Scripture and saying things it doesn’t say or intend to say. And the Bible warns about this:

“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar. ” Proverbs 30:5-6 ESV

By not quoting Scripture directly, Stanley not only misunderstands it but God as well. Secondly, if Jesus didn’t mind breaking the rules, as Stanley suggests, this is not what the Bible says. As Scripture mentions Jesus came to fulfill the law, not abolish it:

“Do not think I came to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-20 ESV

The Bible clearly states that He did not intend to break any laws but rather to fulfill them, with the sole aim of pleasing the father, not necessarily people:

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” John 6:38 ESV

He therefore did not break any of God’s rules because He is in love with us, as Stanley claims. If His intent was to break those rules for the sake of love, how would it have been possible for Him to fulfill the whole law? Jesus did indeed break rules, however those were man-made rules and traditions, and it’s interesting that although Stanley points this out, he doesn’t properly distinguish between God’s rules/laws and man-made ones.

Furthermore, is Stanley encouraging people to not follow God’s law when he says that God doesn’t love His rules, the Bible, or morality? One would hope not, since Jesus did say, “…whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19a ESV),” and, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14:23 ESV).” God clearly does want obedience, so He must care for his rules. God clearly does care about His word, which has the power to forgive sins (Romans 1:16), and the gospel IS part of His word. Again, Stanley misunderstands Scripture and God himself by misteaching exactly what God ask of believers.

The third and last statement is the most important to Stanley’s theology since he places great emphasis on it. “[My wife] said something so profound….What [she] just said, I think that is at the center of the center of the center of what it means to follow Jesus….She said…’you are more important to me than my view’.” Alexander Griswold, who also reviewed this sermon, best explains the problems with this statement:

“Equally troubling is his suggestion that Christians’ ‘views’ are less important than love. And which views are those? The closest that Stanley comes to saying is his statement that ‘the moment someone places their religious beliefs and values above you, we go backwards.’ So it isn’t simply a matter of simple opinions, like liking one color over another. Stanley believes that Christian ‘beliefs and values’ are not as important as ‘love,’ but again, Stanley leaves it to us to decide which Christian beliefs aren’t actually that important.

Really, the problem permeating throughout Stanley’s sermon is a false dichotomy between ‘love’ and ‘people’ vs. ‘religion’ and ‘views.’ Put simply, there should never be a conflict between practicing the Christian religion and loving someone. If there is, either you aren’t practicing the faith or you aren’t actually loving someone.

Likewise, he creates a false dichotomy between ‘you’ and the Christian ‘view.’ ‘You’ are not more important than the Christian ‘view,’ because there is no conflict between the Christian view and the importance of every individual. If the Christian ‘view’ keeps you from loving someone, again, you’ve misunderstood the situation.”(2)

This quote moreover demonstrates that Stanley may not comprehend the gospel. The center of Christianity is not that someone else is more important to me than my view. The center of Christianity is following Jesus Christ and his teachings, which is the most important view one can have. And the most important teaching of Christ is the gospel, which teaches that we are all sinners worthy of God’s wrath, but Jesus came as the perfect sacrifice to forgive those sins so that we may have peace with God. Stanley is either ignorant of what the gospel is or he is leaving it out entirely from his teachings.

This sermon was given several years ago, so why it is important to bring it up now? The reason why is that Andy Stanley still carries on teaching this same theology. This is evident in a discussion he had with Russell Moore in 2016,(3) in which Stanley says that we shouldn’t say “The Bible says” because “I think it is an easier on-ramp for people who are distancing, doubting, to start with the authority of the author than to start with the Bible. The reason is this…it’s not what the Bible says that’s the issue, it’s what else the Bible says. And, again, when you’re dealing with secular people, as soon as you say “the Bible” everybody now knows the problems with the Bible (referring to creationism, the lack of evidence for the flood and the exodus)…The foundation of our faith isn’t the Bible. The foundation of our faith is an event, the resurrection.” This statement is very problematic. If the foundation of the Christian faith is the resurrection, where does one find out and learn about the resurrection? No other written document discusses the resurrection besides the Bible so this statement is illogical. Also, if what the Bible says isn’t the issue, then how can what else it says BE an issue? It is either all or none.

From statements such as this, Stanley shows that he may ostensibly have a dislike towards the authority of Scripture. His disdain for certain Christian practices and beliefs is further revealed in his comment that people who go to small churches are “stinkin’ selfish.” (4)

It is distressing to see a so-called Christian leader discouraging people’s adherence to the authority of Scripture as well as their attendance to well-meaning churches just because they are small. Most importantly however, Stanley is leading people away from the true God and His gospel. And this is worrisome, for the gospel is the power of God for salvation to any who believes (Romans 1:16).

1. http://northpoint.org/messages/why-in-world/putting-religion-in-its-place/

2. https://juicyecumenism.com/2014/04/17/andy-stanleys-troubling-new-sermon/

3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WesZwBUgGeo&t=618s

4. I could not find a video for this, but it is a pretty well known statement of Stanley’s

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