Andy Stanley recently did a sermon series titled “Who Needs God,” and today’s discussion revolves around one of the sermons in that series. I strongly encourage you to view the entire message; not only will this post make more sense if you do, but you’ll have the full context of the discussion instead of just the parts that I talk about.
Stanley starts with giving us this line from a widely known children’s song:
Jesus loves me, this I know…
You’ve probably already filled in the next line in your head.
For the Bible tells me so.
He then says, “This is where our trouble began,”1
He goes on to say, “The problem with that is this — if the Bible is the foundation of our faith, as the Bible goes, so goes our faith,” then, “If the Bible is the foundation of our faith, it’s all or nothing; Christianity becomes a fragile house-of-cards religion. Christianity becomes a fragile house-of-cards that comes tumbling down when we discover that perhaps the walls of Jericho didn’t.”
Ahhhh, there it is. He speaks of no archeological evidence for the Jericho account, of no archeological evidence for the exodus, of discrepancies in counts and reigns and numerous other things in Numbers and Samuel and Kings, of the Bible teaching that the earth is only 6000 years old2, before saying, “If you’ve read widely, you’ve discovered it is next to impossible to defend the entire Bible.”
So, Stanley has issues with the Bible, or at least some of it, and, while he apparently wants us to have the freedom to get rid of some of the bathwater, he doesn’t want us to throw the Baby out with it. He speaks several times of our growing up but our faith not growing up with us. He talks about it as if the Bible (or maybe specifically the OT; he isn’t clear) is a child’s book, but we’re grownups now, and so it’s OK to put the children’s book down.
Most of the rest of the message is an account of early church history, i.e. from Jesus through Constantine. How Christianity spread far and wide without the benefit of a printing press, how most of the New Testament was written with a generation after Jesus’ death, how the gospel writers “didn’t write what they believed, they wrote what they saw.” In short, we can believe them because they witnessed it, and they wrote while there were other witnesses alive (who by implication could have disputed their accounts). All of this is absolutely true.
He sums it up with we don’t have to believe that Jesus loves us because of the Bible, but because John, who watched Him die and had breakfast with Him on the beach afterwards, tells us so, and because Luke, who thoroughly investigated the matter and interviewed eye witnessess, tells us so.
And you’re thinking, “Ummmm, but John and Luke are dead and have been for 1900+ years. They haven’t told me anything.” Right. What Stanley leaves unsaid, and it’s kind of an important thing to leave unsaid in a message like this, is that the only way we know what John and Luke (and Matthew and (John) Mark and Paul, et al) have to say is through … the Bible.
So the place he’s led us is that we don’t have to believe the Old Testament, but we do have to believe the New Testament3. The OT doesn’t count, but the NT is gospel, literally and figuratively. The miracles in the OT didn’t necessarily happen (the aforementioned Jericho, Moses dividing the Red Sea, Elijah raising the widow’s son from the dea) but the NT miracles did (Peter/John healing a lame man, Paul striking a man blind, Jesus raising himself from the dead).
Let’s count the problems here. Well, really, there are too many to count, but let’s at least get started. (I almost titled this post “When Good Communicators Make Bad Arguments”.)
First, the NT has problems with “discrepancies,” just like the OT. Was there one Gadarene demoniac or two? Was Annas high priest or Caiphas? Did Jesus drive out the moneylenders once or twice?
Two, there’s no archeological evidence for Jesus’ tomb, either. We don’t know where it was. (Yes, you can visit a site in Israel that is advertised as it, but in addition to being a horrid experience with enough incense to fill the Dead Sea, it’s almost universally acknowledged as NOT being the real tomb site.) Do we always take eyewitness accounts over archeological evidence? What about the eyewitness reports in the OT? What if the person that wrote Judges was actually at Jericho? Do we believe him instead of the absence of archeological evidence?
Third, “absence of archeological evidence” is an argument from silence, which is almost never a good argument. It’s also been used many times before about the Bible (“there’s no archeological evidence that David existed”), and been wrong many times before, because years later along comes archeological evidence. So, it may be accurate to say we can’t confirm that X happened, but that is very much different than saying “X didn’t happen”.
Fourth, as I footnoted, the Bible doesn’t say the earth is 6000 years old. It doesn’t say anything about the earth’s age. People have read the Bible and done some math and decided that, based on how they interpret it, the earth must be 6000 years old. That’s a very different thing that the Bible saying it. (Let me be clear: I don’t care whether you believe the earth is 6000 or 14 billion years old or somewhere in between or none of the above. The issue isn’t belief, the issue is what the Bible says. And the Bible does not address the earth’s age.)
Fifth, why does Paul get a free pass? Paul didn’t witness anything. Paul had a vision on a dusty road; it could just as easily have been dehydration.
Sixth, why are we free to feel differently about the Bible than the people that Stanley tells us we should believe? The gospel writers all said that Moses and Elijah showed up on the mountain with Jesus. As in, real people. As in, the guys who parted the Red Sea and wrote about the exodus and raised the widow’s son and stopped it raining for three years. Paul said that “All scripture is God-breathed.” At the time he wrote that, the only scripture was the OT. Using substitution, then, Paul said, “All the Old Testament is God-breathed.” Maybe that should make us think twice (or a hundred times) before we decide we don’t need it, or that we’ve outgrown it.
Seventh, and since seven is the perfect number we’ll stop here, why are we free to feel differently about the Bible than Jesus, the one all of the fuss is about? If Jesus is the center of Christianity, if Jesus is God and man, if Jesus died and was resurrected and now sits at the right-hand of God (and Stanley’s eyewitnesses tell us all of those things), then I would think what Jesus has to say about the Bible (which, again, was just the OT at the time) is rather important.
- Matt 4:1-11 — When Jesus was tempted by Satan (something none of the eyewitnesses eyewitnessed, by the way), His responses to Satan were entirely Old Testament quotes.
- Luke 4:18-21 — Jesus said that Isaiah’s prophecy was being fulfilled in Him!
- Matt 24:15-16 — Jesus speaks of the future fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy, thus validating not only Daniel the person but also that Daniel’s prophecy was accurate.
- Matt 12:40 — Jesus speaks of Jonah’s time in the belly of the great fish as a fact. (I’m guessing we don’t have any archeological evidence for that, either.)
- Luke 24:25-27 — When Jesus has the opportunity to teach the two on the road to Emmaus about Himself, He doesn’t do so by putting His finger in His own chest and saying, “Hey, look at Me, I’m alive!” He does so by showing them how the entire OT speaks of Him!
And, lastly, in Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells a story of a poor man and a rich man. The poor man goes to heaven to be at Abraham’s side and the rich man goes to ****, and the rich man pleads with Abraham for a drop of water from Lazarus, and when denied he then asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his (the rich man’s) brothers, “so that he may warn them.” Abraham replies that they have Moses and the prophets, and that they should listen to them. The rich man continues to plead, saying, “No, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
The response Jesus has Abraham say is as ****ing to arguments like Stanley’s as it was to the Jewish rulers to whom He was speaking at the time.
If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.
Stanley talks about us being adults now. Here’s what I’ve figured out as an adult — I don’t have to understand everything about something to know it’s true. I’m not talking about blind faith, I’m talking about educated faith. I believe Lincoln was our greatest president, but all I’ve ever done is read about him. I believe that nuclear fusion and is real and works, but all I’ve ever done is read about it. I believe Julius Ceasar was a real person and crossed the Rubic’s Cube4, but all I’ve ever done is read about him.
Stanley is right about one thing — it’s not all about the Bible. Jesus has this in common with Lincoln and Ceasar in that I’ve read about all of them, but the big difference is that I’ve met Jesus — as Nicole C. Mullen sang several years ago, “I talked with Him this morning.” And there are millions who have given their lives to follow Jesus before ever laying eyes on a Bible. But that doesn’t make the Bible unnecessary, or untrue.
For all of his talk of being adults now and having a grown-up faith, I think Stanley has forgotten some of Jesus’ most important words.
Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
- Karl Barth, one of the 20th century’s greatest, and most famous (including a Time magazine cover) theologians, had a slightly different view. The German-born Barth (pronounced “Bart”) wrote extensively on theology, his meisterwerk being the twelve-volume Church Dogmatics on systematic theology. During a Q&A at the University of Chicago during his only visit to the U.S., a student asked him to summarize all of his theological teachings. Barth paused for a moment, and, with everyone’s pen at the ready, said, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
- It doesn’t.
- Except Revelation, that one’s kind of suspect, too. No, he really implies that.
- Or something like that.