Truth Is The Word

Month: July 2018

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Andy Stanley: Unhitched, Unhinged, or Misunderstood?

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In this article, I respond to a challenge to comment on Andy Stanley’s ‘Aftermath’ series of sermons.

I recently wrote an article about the five preliminary questions we need to answer before censuring a preacher. As an example, I used the recent flood of criticisms aimed at Andy Stanley’s contention that it is time for Christians to unhitch from the Jewish scriptures. In the Q & A session of the TruthTalks podcast, my daughter Karen challenged me to write about what I think of Andy’s recent teachings. So, I have done my homework… and here are my preliminary observations given as answers to three of the five proposed questions I suggested people use as an aid to deciding whether something is worth confronting publicly. After this, I will respond to some of his specific contentions. I suggested we ask ourselves:

  1. Just how important is the perceived problem?

There are at least three important issues here. (i) The inspiration and authority of the Bible, (ii) The relevance of the Old Testament, and (iii) How we communicate the Gospel to the current and coming generations of unbelievers.

  1. Do I really understand what the person is actually saying?

Well, I have read his book ‘Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend’, listened to all three parts of his Aftermath series on YouTube (see links at the end of this article), read a transcript of an interview where he responds to his critics, and read through his 27 page booklet ‘The bible says so, is not enough anymore’. In addition, I have viewed Dr Brown’s ‘Line of Fire’ comments on Andy Stanley’s approach, and I have read or viewed a number of hostile critiques of him and his theology. So, I am satisfied that I understand pretty much what Andy is saying and what he is not saying.

  1. Can I reasonably discern his heart attitude and motivation?

His heart and motivation come through very clearly in the interview he gave to RELEVANT Magazine. Also, Dr Michael Brown, a theologian I respect, affirms Andy’s pure motives and pastoral heart. I have no reason to criticise Andy as a person and so I have no need to contact him directly – any negative comments I have are with his approach and the implications of some of the things he teaches.

Specific observations and responses to Part One of the Aftermath series

The first observation I have is that we need to listen to all three parts of his Aftermath series before jumping to any conclusions. Most critics pounce on the ‘it’s time for Christians to unhitch from the Jewish scriptures’ statement in Part Three.

Secondly, the BIG point of almost all Andy says in this series is about how we can reach current and future generations with the Gospel.  His church model is ‘seeker sensitive’  and within this context, his major concern is with ‘how we talk about the bible, and specifically what we point to as the foundation of faith, which for most Christians, unfortunately, is the bible.’ He is not addressing how Christians view the Bible, or how we speak to each other about the Bible; his concern is how we use the Bible as our source of authority when addressing the current generation of unbelievers. This is key to understanding what he is trying to communicate.

Unfortunately, when Andy speaks of the scriptures he uses various terms ranging from the ‘Jewish scriptures’, the ‘Old Covenant’ to ‘the bible’, and so it is not always clear if he regards just the Old Testament as redundant, or indeed the New Testament as well. He says things like; ‘The Achilles Heel of our modern version of faith (is) Sola Scriptura, the bible alone is the final authority and the foundation of our faith’. Then he adds that ‘the foundation of our faith is not a story, the foundation of our faith is an event’. He claims that the first disciples did not have Bibles, but based their faith of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Well, the very first believers came out of Judaism and they did have a ‘bible’, the 39 books of what we now call the Old Testament. They understood Jesus’ advent, crucifixion, and resurrection within the context of their scriptures. When Andy says that ‘the bible did not create Christians, Christians created the bible’, he is surely referring only to the New Testament. Of course, Jesus Himself is our source of truth, and yes, the Christian message stands or falls on the authenticity of the resurrection. But how do we and the generations that follow us come to know Jesus and how do we test the authenticity of the resurrection? Why through the New Testament scriptures, that’s how. And how do we appreciate the fullness of who Jesus is and what He taught and did without reference to what Andy calls ‘the back story’, the Old Testament?

I think that in an attempt to communicate HOW we should be approaching new generations of unbelievers he is casting doubt on the relevance of the entire Bible. However, In his booklet defending his belief and method, he writes; ‘I believe the bible is without error in everything it affirms. I believe what the bible says is true, is true’. So, how then are we to understand his call for us all to unhitch from the Old Testament?

Where I agree with Andy, is that agnostic post-modern/post-truth generational folk just do not accept biblical authority, so what is the use of quoting the Bible to them and expecting them to believe us simply because the ‘Bible says so’. I agree that we should be starting with a testimony to Jesus and His life and ministry. Moreover, we should be testifying to His reality and the power of the Gospel by demonstrating it in our lives.

However, Andy has another concern; he is troubled by the onslaught of atheist scholars on the factual and moral veracity of the Bible. He contends that if they are able to discredit one part of the biblical account then the entire ’house of cards’ will fall. The attacks he refers to are directed mainly at such things as the creation account, Old Testament history, accounts of God-directed genocides, and so on. These critics claim that the God of the Old Testament is a baby-bashing monster and that the stories of His working with His chosen race are just rural myths. Well, my contention is not that we should abandon the Old Testament because of these attacks, but that we should rather explain its purpose, style, and the human influences in its composition. It is not that the Bible is erroneous, or that God could be perceived negatively in the Old Testament, but that so many people do not understand its purpose.

Specific observations and responses to Part Two of the Aftermath series

In Part Two of his series Andy contends that we should not try to mix and match the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. He claims that ‘Paul saw the incompatibility of the old and new covenants’. Then he adds that ‘God changed covenants. That first covenant was over. The covenant that God established with the nation of Israel was a means to an end, and when Jesus showed up the end for that covenant had come.’ Therefore, he says, ‘you’ve got to let it go.’ So, if I take this and read it in conjunction with what he says concerning his belief that all of the Bible is without error in everything it affirms, I come to the conclusion that he holds the Old Testament to be inspired and true… but no longer relevant. He confirms this when he says, ‘once you’ve got the new covenant you have to let go of the old covenant… it’s not our covenant, ours is better…’ I have serious problems with this sort of statement. Jesus and His followers validated the authenticity and influence of the Old Testament and often quoted from it. If the Old Testament fails critical scrutiny then what does this imply concerning the New Testament? Besides, whilst the Old Testament has such things as the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, so the Gospels have Jesus (and Peter) walking on water. If we give atheistic critics and next-generation seekers a free pass on their objections to God’s dealing with the Amalekites in the Old Testament, how then do we defend His dealing with Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament? If the Old Testament is discredited then so is the New Testament. And, if the Gospel accounts are suspect then on what basis do we claim that the resurrection actually occurred?

My firm conviction is that we should rather affirm the authenticity and relevance of the whole Bible and counter critical objections by explaining what the scriptures actually are – a divine-human collaboration designed to instruct and draw humanity into an eternal relationship with the triune God.

Specific observations and responses to Part Three of the Aftermath series

In Part Three of his series Andy Stanley makes his much quoted ‘unhitch’ comment, but he has already set out his ideas regarding this in Part Two.  He builds his argument in this final part of the ‘Aftermath’ series around the Jerusalem conference described in Acts Chapter 15 and claims that the ‘church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures.’ He says that they did this in order to make it easy for Gentile converts to come to faith and that we should do the same.

 

Just so I am clear on where I stand – Firstly, I don’t agree that the seeker-sensitive approach to church is a biblically viable model for ‘doing church’. It may be an effective pre-evangelism tool, but I do not think it meets the criteria for authentic church family life. Secondly, I do not agree that we should ditch the Old Testament as irrelevant to the Gospel and modern life. However, I do believe that we need to present the Gospel as a Jesus-centred rather than a Bible-centred reality, without implying that two-thirds of the scriptures are irrelevant and confusing. The Gospel is both Jesus-centred and Bible-based.
 

Conclusion

From what I have read and heard, it seems that Andy Stanley is genuinely concerned for the integrity of the Good news of salvation in and through the Lord Jesus Christ and is passionate about communicating this to current and future generations of unbelievers.

However, he is not just an evangelist to the unsaved, and he is not just a pastor to a few American churches – he is the leader of the largest church in the USA and one of the most influential voices in the Christian world. So, I do hope that he will re-examine his ‘theology’ and perhaps weigh more carefully what he communicates to the church at large.

 

 

Here are the links you can follow to access what I have used as my source material for this article.

The Aftermath series:

Part One https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmoTAtH3zus

Part Two https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBX08olAoFw

Part Three https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pShxFTNRCWI

The interview: https://relevantmagazine.com/god/andy-stanley-thinks-sermon-critics-curious/

Dr Brown’s comments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alVPoqxs90g

Andy Stanley’s 27-page response to his critics regarding his beliefs and methods: https://tg353-3637c0.pages.infusionsoft.net/

 

 

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TruthTalks: When opposites actually aren’t

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Could it be that Legalism and Licence or Free Will and Divine Determinism are not as different as they first appear?

This TruthTalk explores the fascinating idea that many apparent polar opposites are essentially similar when viewed from a different perspective.

If you would like to read the article this is derived from, you can find it HERE, otherwise Download or listen to it below:

 

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When opposites actually aren’t

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Sometimes things that appear to be poles apart are actually as close as two peas in a pod.

I am currently about halfway through Frank Viola’s latest book ‘Insurgence’, and what I have read so far has brought back to mind to two related issues.

Frank describes the two well-known polarities of Christian religious belief and practice – Legalism and Licence (which Frank calls Libertinism). He defines Legalism as ‘the human attempt to gain God’s favour by keeping rules, regulations, laws, and expectations’. He describes Libertinism as the polar opposite of Legalism and although he does not define it, he captures the essence of what he understands by the term with the words; ‘The gospel of libertinism teaches that because we are under grace, anything goes’. He then proposes a third ‘gospel’, the ‘true’ Gospel that stands between these two false gospels, which he calls the Gospel of the Kingdom, the good news that Jesus Christ is both Saviour and Lord.

There is of course nothing new in these classifications but one of the things that engaged me as I read was the question,

‘Are Legalism and Licence really on two opposite ends of a scale with the ‘true’ gospel in a middle position?’

Figure 1:

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I have often observed how truth claims that seem to be polar opposites of each other are often so equally false that we should regard them as a cohabiting couple rather than enemies. For instance, Legalism is a rules-based religion and Licence is a rule-less religion, but they are both false reflections of true Christianity. Also, when we regard them as opposites, then we tend to relegate Truth to a form of compromise between the two. Yet Truth is not a mediation between two forms of error and nor is it a middle-ground hybrid of both; Truth stands opposed to error.

So here is another way to look at things like this. Imagine taking a rope, labelling one end Legalism and the other end Licence, and then looping it into a circle. The two ends of Legalism and Licence now join at one point and Truth is at the opposite position on the circle.

Figure 2:

opposites aren't

 

When we look at things from this perspective then it is easier to appreciate the essential similarity between the two errors and the stark separation of Truth from them both.

The other similar thought that I pondered as I read, is the contrast often drawn between the ‘solutions’ to the perceived opposite problems of Legalism and Licence.

Frank describes Legalism as ‘white-knuckle, performance-based Christianity’ and Libertinism as ‘anything goes’ Christianity. So, is the antidote to Legalism simply learning to loosen up on rules, and the antidote to Licence learning to apply some rules? The linear model (figure 1) tends to suggest this because in terms of this model a person can move from either end of the line towards the middle Truth position. However, moderation, in this sort of scenario, will not bring one closer to the truth because Truth is actually somewhere else on the circle (figure 2), not somewhere between the two errors of Legalism and Licence.  No, if we want to move from error to truth then we need to move to an entirely new position on the circle. Frank identifies Legalism as embracing the Lordship of Jesus Christ while rejecting Him as Saviour, and Libertinism as accepting Him as Saviour but not as Lord. This analysis leaves one feeling a little like a spiritual plank-walker trying to find the balance between these two positions. A step to the left and the plank tilts to Legalism and a step to the right tilts it to Licence. Perhaps the idea fits into the linear model, but it does not fit into the circular concept.

To move out of either Legalism or Libertinism the Christian needs to teleport to the other side of the circle and embrace something entirely different from either Legalism or Licence, something called The Truth.
Frank uses the words ‘Gospel of the Kingdom’ to label what I have referred to as Truth and it would not surprise me if when I finish reading his book we might well be on the same ‘page’. However, my understanding is that Jesus Christ is The Truth, that He stands as the opposite to both Legalism and Licence (and in fact to all forms of religion), and that the antidote to both Legalism and Licence is to be ‘in Christ Jesus’. To me this means Jesus Christ manifesting His resurrected life in and through the believer, and the believer finding his or her worth and core identity in Christ. That said, a key issue is just how we are we supposed to give expression to being ‘in Christ’.

The legalist will attempt to find favour with God by working hard to obey whatever scripture or denominational teaching impose. The Libertine enjoys being ‘in Christ’ by relying on God’s grace to replace most, and sometimes all rules implied in the Bible.  Both approaches are essentially useless in that all they do is inch us along between the short gap on the circumference of the circle between Legalism and Licence. No, what we need is a radically new approach, a complete leap over to the other side of the circle to a new position in Christ Jesus.

Legalism regards Christians as slaves owned by a master. Libertinism regards Christians as masters and Jesus as a faithful slave-servant. Neither is a reflection of biblical truth and there can be no true merging of these two positions. My understanding of the biblical revelation is that we are sons and daughters who serve. We desire to project our heavenly Father’s life through a Spirit-empowered conformity to the image and likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our transformation is not the result of self-driven adherence to rules and nor is it a fatalistic belief that God will do everything for us, including sanctification. Rather, our life in Christ is an expression of a loving and dependent cooperation between The Triune God and Spirit-born obedient children. This spiritual ‘partnership’ is neither a form of works-based Legalism nor a self-indulgent Libertinism.

I do hope that what I have written here is helpful to you and not just a philosophical indulgence. I think it is a vitally important subject worth exploring in as many ways as possible and I have written about it before both here and here.

Perhaps I will comment again after I have finished reading Frank’s book, but in the meantime, I would love to interact with you on this, so please use the comments facility under this post.

 

TruthTalks Sermons

TruthTalks (Sermons): Agabus – A New Testament Prophet

In this sermon, delivered at the Lonehill Village Church on Sunday 24th June 2018, I spotlight prophecy in the book of Acts and then extend the subject into the church of our day.

Although by no means a comprehensive Bible study, this message includes insights from Paul’s treatment of prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14.

You can listen to the sermon here:

 

 

You can download the sermon notes HERE.

Please subscribe if you would like your podcatcher to notify you when we publish a new TruthTalk and, as always, feel free to make comments and suggestions.

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TruthTalks: Exposing Ourselves in Public

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Following THIS post on a rather contraversial theological statement made recently, Dr. Christopher Peppler (a.k.a. Dad) gives a summary with some extra details followed by a question and answer session with me (a.k.a. daughter/admin/non-theologian).

I do hope you enjoy it and take up the challenge with me at the end of this podcast.

Click below to listen now

Until next time,

Karen

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar. I have started a site called Classical Guitar SA to serve classical guitar enthusiasts in South Africa.