By Jeff Lenhart,
By now it’s no secret that Andy Stanley has preached some controversial sermons regarding the doctrine of inerrancy. In particular, his message titled The Bible Told Me So has raised the ire of a broad cross-section of Evangelicals. On the other hand, noted apologists Dr. Frank Turek and Dr. Richard Howe came to the defense of Stanley on a recent Cross-Examined podcast. Drs. Turek and Howe spend a good deal of discussion on Stanley’s view of the foundation of Christianity. Stanley remarks that the foundation of Christianity is not the Bible itself but rather the events that the Bible records. This launches Drs. Turek and Howe into a discussion of presuppositional vs. classical approaches to apologetics and theology. If Stanley is only making reference to this underlying viewpoint of presuppositionalism in his sermon, then he certainly is correct. There is a difference between the ontological (the order of being) foundation and the epistemological (the order of knowing) foundation of the Christian faith. While the Bible serves as the means by which we come to know the truth of the Christian Faith, the actual events themselves serve as the reality of the Christian faith. Thus the Bible is the foundation of the Christian faith in that it serves as the instrument through which we come to understand the significance of the events themselves.
Questions for Andy Stanley
Drs. Turek and Howe highlight a very important component to the sermon preached by Andy Stanley. This is likely due to the sensitivity both have to apologetic methodology since Dr. Turek is a professional apologist and Dr. Howe is a professor of Apologetics. However, helpful observations from Drs. Howe and Turek aside, the presentation of the sermon was ambiguous enough that certain points ought to be questioned. There are three statements from the sermon in particular that raise serious red flags: (1) “if the Bible is the foundation of our faith, here’s the problem, it is all or nothing,” (2) “what your students have discovered, and if you read broadly you have discovered, it is next to impossible to defend the entire Bible,” and (3) “Christianity made its greatest strides during the 282 years before the Bible even existed.”
The Bible as the Foundation of Faith
As already mentioned in the introduction, Stanley makes a big deal about the Bible not being the foundation of our faith. This statement is acceptable if all that is meant by it is that the Bible is not the ontological grounding for our faith. However the statement is presented in such a way as to rightly raise the antennae of diligent Evangelicals. The problem I have with Stanley’s presentation is that he couches it in terms of deconversion. This term raises concerns since the term is a technical term associated with certain current schools of thought. In particular the fact of deconversion is argued by some to be grounds for Evangelicals to abandon the notion of inerrancy. Thus the usage of the technical term deconversion combined with the subject matter of the sermon gives rise to the question of whether or not Stanley himself is proposing Evangelicals jettison inerrancy-talk, or if he is headed in that direction. This position is a denial of the role of the Bible as the epistemological ground of the faith, and if this is the direction Stanley is heading, it is a severe error.
There is a problem with not holding to the Bible as the epistemological grounding of the Christian faith. While it is true that the events themselves are the reality that ground the faith, we would not be able to understand their significance without the testimony of the Bible. The faith is grounded in the trustworthiness of the Scriptures as they testify to the plan of God for salvation in the real events of history. If there are errors in the Bible then we could never know whether or not the Gospel is true. Jesus says this Himself in John 3:12: If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? If the Bible errs in the mundane details of history, how can we trust it when it records details of things hidden? If the Bible is errant, maybe it errs on the significance of the Resurrection. Maybe the Resurrection of Jesus is actually a demonstration of His power over death and a symbol that nothing can defeat Him, letting us know that He’s coming back to destroy us all. Without adhering to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, we can’t know.
The Formulation of the Doctrine of Inerrancy
When Stanley makes reference to the doctrine of inerrancy, he represents it in a very interesting way. He says, “What your students have discovered, and if you read broadly you have discovered, it is next to impossible to defend the entire Bible.” This statement betrays an error in the formulation of the doctrine of inerrancy. It is unclear whether Stanley is only making reference to the way in which layman think of inerrancy or if he holds this formulation himself. Again, there are questions that arise from Stanley’s presentation. The way Stanley presents a defense of inerrancy here is by means of induction. Simply speaking, an inductive argument seeks to look at every particular instance and form a conclusion from those instances. As it pertains to inerrancy, this method would look at every particular passage of Scripture, observe no errors, then arrive at the conclusion that the Bible is inerrant. This is not how the doctrine of inerrancy is formulated though.
The doctrine of inerrancy is formulated as a deductive argument. A deductive argument is one that argues from 2 or more premises to a conclusion. The conclusion arises naturally from the premises, and thus if the premises are true, so is the conclusion. Regarding inerrancy, this argument is formulated in the following manner:
- The Bible is the Word of God.
- God cannot err.
(3) The Bible cannot err.
The argument for inerrancy thus depends upon whether or not the Bible is the Word of God and whether or not God Himself can err. Both premises find their detractors, but Evangelicals hold firmly to both. Thus the doctrine of inerrancy is not arrived upon through looking at every passage of Scripture and demonstrating the trustworthiness of each one. Rather, it is the task of apologetics to demonstrate the trustworthiness of passages that are charged with error.
The Formation of the Bible
Finally, there is the most curious statement by Stanley that the Bible did not exist until 282 years after the central events of Christianity. At best one can understand that Stanley is making reference to the official recognition of the canon by the Church. However even this generous understanding seems disingenuous. Surely Stanley is aware that the New Testament in its entirety was completed in the 1st century. Not only that, but the Old Testament already functioned as Scripture for the Church before any New Testament Scriptures were written. This is testified by the fact that Origen (AD 185––255) compiled what is known as the hexapla. The hexapla is an interlinear edition of the complete Old Testament consisting of various versions of the Old Testament. He compiled this because these were the Scriptures of the early church in addition to the New Testament. Other early church fathers wrote numerous commentaries on the texts of New Testament Scriptures. To argue that the Bible didn’t exist until 282 years after the central events of Christianity is to provide an unnecessary stumbling block for those struggling with the question of the canon of Scripture.
While sympathetic with Stanley’s aversion to a presuppositional approach to the Christian Faith, there are serious questions that his sermon raises that need clarification. Until these questions are clarified, it may be best to suspend judgment as to the direction of Stanley’s teaching.