Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path~ Psalm 119:105 KJV
Seismic shifts have taken place in evangelical churches in recent years and it is true that even God-fearing Christian people can get it wrong sometimes (Jeremiah 17:9). Because of these two realties there is little that happens in the church world that shocks me anymore.
Nonetheless, every once in a while something happens in church world that is so peculiar or awful that I am profoundly shocked by it. This occurred last week as I was catching up on some old podcasts.
A podcast I listen to regularly interviewed Pastor Andy Stanley. I, like, most American Christians have read several of his books. I liked some of his books, others not so much. To be perfectly truthful, up until about ten minutes into the podcast I would not have classified myself as either a fan nor a detractor. I was fairly middle-of-the-road on the topic of Andy Stanley.
He began to make a case for minimizing the use of the Bible in preaching and evangelism. Mr. Stanley believes that rather than steering people towards what the Bible says about issues that we ought to simply point them to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and teach them to love others. The following quotes were taken directly from the interview. They sum up the essence of the program fairly succinctly:
“The Bible did not create Christianity. Christians created the Bible…. What created Christianity was the first Easter morning…”
“In the culture and in the marketplace and in the public square, we have to shift the focus from the Bible to the Resurrection. Because the Resurrection is completely defensible now just as it was in the first century.
“I think [some people] put [the Bible] in the place of Jesus.”
“All the New Testament imperatives that we find after the gospels are simply applications of Jesus’s new covenant command to love as I have loved you. The Apostle Paul wasn’t coming up with new rules and new laws.”
It is not my intent to malign, besmirch or vilify Mr. Stanley (I try really hard to avoid that sort of thing). Rather, I want to share five things that inevitably happen anytime Christians intentionally or unintentionally choose to minimize the importance of the Bible.
We lose our true north-
The Bible is more than just simply a book filled with dusty old ideas. The Bible is our true north. It is the one thing fallible humans can count on to act as a reliable guide anytime human wisdom fails us (as it inevitably does). Without the Bible to act as a compass we quickly begin to lose our way and devolve into doing our own thing. Without the Bible guiding us through life we become like the Israelites in the book of Judge where every person did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).
We devolve into myth and superstition-
Andy Stanley correctly points out that few (if any) early Christians had access to personal copies of the Bible. This is because few people could read and books as we know them today simply did not exist. The scrolls that did exist were prohibitively expensive for all but the most outrageously wealthy of people. However, this situation was far from optimal. Because few people had access to the Bible the church frequently fell into fits of heresy and individual Christians were prone to superstition, mystical thinking and believing all kinds of weird myths about God. This problem reached an apex just prior to the reformation when even well-educated church leaders were commonly biblically ignorant and spiritually lost. Without an ongoing emphasis on the Bible we will assuredly follow their path.
We construct our own standards of right and wrong-
The great thing about the Bible is that it spells out in no uncertain terms exactly what is right and what is wrong. This prevents Christians leaders from playing favorites (most of the time) and applying standards of behavior to some people and not to others. It also keeps Christians from simply adopting the standards of an everchanging culture.
We become hopelessly reliant on subjective definitions of right and wrong-
We know exactly what sin is because sin is clearly defined in Ephesians 5:3-7, Galatians 5:19-20, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:21-31. We know what love is because God spelled it out for us in 1stCorinthians 13. We know when divorce is morally acceptable because of Jesus’ teaching on the subject in Matthew 19:4-9. Without these and other teachings found in the Bible we are left to decide for ourselves the definitions of key issues. Anytime foolish humans are left to define right and wrong for themselves there will be some monster who decides that it is a loving act to kill people he or she finds distasteful or burdensome. It’s simply a fact that life gets really weird, really fast without hard and fast definitions of right and wrong.
We doom ourselves to repeating the mistakes of the past-
Most of the New Testament letters were written to correct wrong thinking concerning various doctrinal issues. When we willfully ignore the vast storehouse of wisdom and knowledge contained in the Bible, we doom ourselves to make the same mistakes early Christians made. The only difference between those early believers and us is that we are without excuse because God has graciously given us everything we need in the word of God to avoid the doctrinal errors of the past.
All we have to do is study it.