As we look at the final section of this book, we see the real heart of why Stanley wanted to write it. He’s noticed something we should all be very concerned about: Christians don’t know what they believe and they don’t know how to share the gospel. Our roots in the West, if we think about Psalm 1, are shallow and far away from the living waters.
It is worth quoting Stanley at length here:
“Everything we’ve discussed so far was written to prepare you for what lies ahead. I’m convinced what follows is extraordinarily important for the church in the West, especially as it relates to reaching the next generation and rereaching the current one. You may find what follows curious or even unnecessary. If you attend a church designed for church people, you may very well be one among those many. If you can’t remember the last time you prayed for someone far from God by name or if you can’t remember the last time you invited an unchurched person to church… and it hasn’t bothered you until I brought it up… you may find what follows strange at best and heretical at worst.” (263)
“We’re to be prepared with a verbal explanation for why we’ve chosen to follow Jesus. And while we make our reasons known, we’re to live in such a way that our behavior underscores rather than undermines our message. There was a time when the Bible says was reason enough. And while it may still be reason enough for you, it’s no reason at all for a significant percentage of the population.” (264)
A Frog in the Kettle
Stanley has hit the nail on the head here in identifying the massive problem facing Christianity in the West. It’s actually been a problem for decades but the slow rise of the secular temperature has left us like a frog in a kettle. Only now, with the heat beginning to sting and boiling bubbles around us have we begun to see how bad the situation is. Christians don’t know how to literally verbalize a response to pluralism, secularism, atheism, the radical Left’s new definitions of gender and marriage, Islam, and the list goes on.
All that I can think of is the classic slogan of the nineties church: “I don’t tell people about Jesus, I show them!” While catchy, and I’m sure the kind of turn of phrase that gets a lot of pats on the back after service, preaching this motto has been revealed as wholly inadequate. The reality of such a statement is that Christians know that defending their faith is hard, it requires study, it requires failure, and it requires actually talking with people who disagree with you. In our flesh we all don’t want to do that, so lets make a version of evangelism that makes it easy. Just live your life and everything with turn out peachy-keen. We wanted Christendom to maintain itself, and now are reaping the consequences.
Instead of identifying the church’s lack of knowledge of our worldview and how to defended it, Stanley points his finger at the Bible as the real problem. It’s not that we have lousy arguments that have not been thought out, but that the Bible is full of lousy arguments that we need to get rid of. This is his new/old apologetic that I’ve already engaged with here: the reason why no one believes the Christian message is because the Bible.
“The foundation of our faith isn’t an eclectic assortment of ancient stories, poems, sermons, prophecies, and letters, written and complied over the course of 3,000 years.’ The foundation of our faith isn’t even an inspired assortment of ancient stories, poems, sermons, prophecies, and letters, written and compiled over the course of 3,000 years.
The foundation of our faith isn’t an assortment of anything.
But the majority of Christians believe it is.
And the majority of post-Christians thought it was.
So they left. (271)
So far, Stanley is has been making this case that it is the OT that needs to be cut away. We now see what he is really saying: the Bible needs to be cut away. This whole secular problem in the church is the Bible’s fault. No real modern person could actually believe it to be true. And because they don’t believe it is true, we should stop using it to win them to Christ.
“Close to half our population doesn’t view the Bible as authoritative either. If we’re trying to reach people with undergraduate degrees or greater, over half our target audience will not be moved by the Bible says, the Bible teaches, God’s Word is clear, or anything along those lines.” (272).
Yes, it’s Heresy
Stanley said at the beginning of the chapter that what he was about to propose would, at worst, be considered heresy. Well, it is heresy. With that said, I think Stanley’s heart is genuine. I think he really does want to reach people. The problem is that the very thing he is claiming is wrong with the church, a lack of understanding of the Bible and apologetics, is the very thing he is suffering from. Stanley is a very famous blind person leading blind people. For all that I’ve worked through trying to refute the terrible arguments in this book, I said from the beginning that the major problem is soteriology. Stanley’s soteriology leads him down the road of throwing away the Bible.
What do I mean?
Stanley believes that in order to save people he must convince them. This assumes that people, within their own power or will, are able to respond to God. They are sinful in Stanely’s estimation, but basically spiritually neutral just waiting for a reason to believe.
This is not the message of the Bible.
Hearts of Stone
From beginning to end, the story of the Bible reveals man’s incredible ability to reject God. The Israelites were privy to amazing miracles that other nations just didn’t get to see. From the plagues of Egypt, to parting the Red Sea, to manna from heaven and water from a rock they should have been so convinced that their God was the true God. Yet only a few weeks after these miracles, they built a golden calf and worshipped it. This is a cycle that plays out over and over again. The whole book of Judges is a story of this cycle. Israel was given a mountain of reasons to believe God, but they rejected him.
The greatest calamity in this cycle was the coming of Jesus. God came in the flesh and he was rejected by the vast majority of the people who saw his miracles. Stanley says earlier in the book that crowds of people loved Jesus and loved following him. This simply is not true. Every time a crowd follows Jesus, every time the “Jesus Movement” starts picking up steam, he turns and says something on purpose that reveals their hardness to him.
Go read John chapter 6. Jesus feeds the multitude and they love him. They begin following him around hoping for another miracle meal. Then Jesus starts talking about how no one will be truly fed unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood. Then he says something even more astonishing and offensive:
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:43-44
No one can come to Jesus, unless he is drawn by the Father. The Jews don’t have within them the ability to take out their heart of stone and receive a heart of flesh. The word drawn here means “to drag.” We don’t come willingly to Jesus on our own. Without that heart transplant, we will refuse Jesus no matter the miracle or the reasoning. The point is driven home at the end of the chapter:
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” – John 6:66-70
Those who heard Jesus’ had words turned away and left him. They didn’t like his biblical arguments. They didn’t like the hard things he was saying because they had hard hearts. Those with hard hearts cannot have saving faith in Christ. It is impossible for a dead man to raise himself. Only the power of God can do that. The only reason Peter has such faith is because he was chosen.
Interestingly we get the other clue to how hearts of stone are removed. Peter says to Jesus that he has the words of eternal life. God’s word has the power bring everlasting life. Paul expands on Jesus’ teaching:
How then shall they call on Him in whole they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heart? And shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tiding of good things!”
That quote there is from Isaiah. The preaching of gospel from all of Scripture is the means by which God saves sinners. It is his word that has the power to take out hearts of stone and gives hearts of flesh. Andy Stanley, by throwing away the Bible, is actually throwing away the very thing that has the power to save. The stone that builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
Stanley’s apologetic may yield short term results but it will end in long term disaster. Will some people be saved because God is gracious? Sure, God can make a straight line with a crooked stick, but how many more will be deceived? Much more. This is a dangerous teaching and we will know it by its fruit.
I have one more post on this book so stay tuned for my final thoughts.