Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Bible is the obstacle

What you win them with is what you win them to
Andy Stanley recently gave an interview that's getting some buzz:

In your book Deep & Wide, you suggest preachers should use more specific citations like "Jesus says" or "Paul says" rather than "The Bible says." What's at stake in using the phrase "the Bible says"?
In using phrases like "the Bible says," we assume a person is a Christian, because only a Christian takes the Old Testament and the New Testament as authoritative. So if I'm going to preach to people who aren't Christians, I have to leverage a different point of authority if I'm going to expect them to track along with me.
i) I'm unclear on the setting. Is he talking about a church setting or a gathering outside church? Normally, you're not going to find a group of unbelievers who are prepared to sit there and quietly listen to a Christian preacher. 
ii) Given the extent of biblical illiteracy in the general culture, many people don't know what the Bible says. It's useful to educate them on what the Bible says. For many of them, their knowledge of Scripture is based on hostile, thirdhand caricatures. Verses ripped out of context. Village atheist websites. So teaching them what "the Bible says" is a salutary corrective. 
iii) I agree with him that when dialoguing with an unbeliever, you can't simply quote Scripture, for the authority of Scripture is not a given (for the unbeliever). But that doesn't mean you can't quote Scripture. You can give him reasons for believing in Scripture. You can make a case for the authority of Scripture. 
iv) In addition, it's good for a pastor to include some apologetic content in his sermons. Or refer to apologetic resources on the church website. 
To get a person to the point where they believe the Bible is authoritative, they first have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. The reason Christians take the Old Testament seriously is because Jesus did. We don't think of it that way, because [most of us] didn't become a Christian by becoming Jewish first and then a Christian. But any Gentile who takes the Old Testament seriously does so because Jesus did.
But that's absurdly shortsighted. Jesus didn't write anything. Quoting what "Jesus says" in contrast to what the "Bible says" is deceptive, for what "Jesus says" comes down to what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John say Jesus said. So, if you're going to be logical, you can't avoid the appeal to Scripture. We don't have direct access to what Jesus said. That's mediated by the Gospels (as well as a few quotes from 1 Corinthians and Revelation).
In my book, I explain that I believe Adam and Eve are real people, not because the Bible says so, but because Jesus believed they were. 
They don't have to believe Noah built an ark and put animals on it to get there. In fact, the reason I believe the Noah story is historical is because Jesus did. 
I've already pointed out one fundamental problems with that shortcut (see above). In addition, that's a very defective religious epistemology. Andy acts as if the OT has no intrinsic credibility. But although the NT lends credibility to the OT, the OT lends credibility to the NT. The NT needs OT backing. 
So my point is this: Why create an unnecessary obstacle—it's all or nothing; it's the Bible—when the real issue is Jesus.
Believing the Bible is an unnecessary obstacle? Andy's approach is completely at odds with the evangelistic and apologetic methodology of the apostles, NT missionaries, and NT writers. 
I get pushback on this approach. But the truth is no one had copies of the New Testament until the printing press. If you did, you were wealthy. We forget that for 1,500 years, people had only bits and pieces. They saw only a copy or heard portions of Scripture read. Nobody in A.D. 150 got up in church and said, "The Bible says." They leveraged the Old Testament and then talked about Jesus or read a copy of something Paul said. Using phrases like "The Bible says" is a modern phenomenon.
"Scripture says" is a stock NT quotation formula. 
A lady I know wrote an article about how she lost her faith because she found contradictions in Scripture. She somehow believed that the foundation of her Christian faith was a contradictory-less Scripture. So when she found contradictions in Scripture, her faith crumbled. That's so unfortunate because the foundation of the Christian faith is not a Scripture without contradictions. I think my approach actually runs around all of that.
Biblical revelation is a foundational element of the Christian faith. That's not something we can or should run around. We shouldn't pander to people's unbelief. The Christian faith isn't a stack of bargaining chips. An evangelist doesn't negotiate terms with the unbeliever. The unbeliever isn't doing God a favor. 
Andy means well, but I think he's in over his head. Being the scion of a famous SBC pastor gave him a launchpad. I doubt he would have risen that far on the merits, with an entry-level position. 

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