Andy Stanley, pastor of the large and influential North Point Community Church, went on a twitter rant last week about Southern Baptist Convention leaders praying for revival and calling on churches to do the same. I summed up his tweets as a call to stop praying for revival and get to work. In an interview with the Christian Post he admitted to causing confusion with his tweets and he offered a clarification of his earlier comments.
I appreciate his clarification but still find his position troubling. The Christian Post article notes that Stanley “explained that he was talking about local revival rather than a Great Awakening-style revival.” Stanley is quoted as saying, “I realized about half way into what became an almost four hour discussion that many, maybe most, of the response was coming from people who were thinking more in terms of an awakening like America has experienced in the past.” Stanley still maintains that too many local church pastors use “revival basically as an excuse not to make changes.”
Stanley also says that many Southern Baptist churches are doing an amazing job reaching their communities but asserts the common denominator in those churches is that “They are led well. They are organized around systems that free people to use their gifts. They are vision centered. And the preaching is practical and gospel centered.” He adds, “Applying what Paul taught can look a bit corporate. But what happens as a result goes way beyond what an organization can accomplish. People’s hearts are changed. Only the Spirit of God can do that.”
Andy Stanley is amazingly gifted and I have learned much from his writings and sermons over the years but I still find his clarification deeply troubling. To my knowledge Stanley has never disavowed his comments several years ago in which he said there is no such thing as distinctively spiritual leadership and also asserted that we should stop using the biblical term “shepherd” to refer to pastors in the church because it is not culturally relevant anymore (Leadership Journal, “Get-it-Done Leadership,” May 2006). A few days ago Stanley took to Twitter again to aver:
Why we must teach the next generation the FOUNDATION of our faith is a an EVENT not a BOOK: http://t.co/oFYo42mdZR
— AndyStanley (@AndyStanley) June 13, 2014
The article Stanley links for us to read is a tragic tale of a young woman recounting abandoning her evangelical Christian faith as a student at Yale because she stopped believing that the Bible is divinely inspired and infallible. She is an excellent writer and penned a candid article about what she misses about her faith. But she concludes, “Maybe that warm feeling I miss is the true scary part of religion: that it can become this numbing hive mind of false comfort that brainwashes at best.” I find Stanley’s response to the article stunning. He suggests that the article should provide impetus for evangelicals to move away from the Scripture as the foundation of our faith.
Ironically, a multitude of responses to the Stanley’s tweet quote Scripture passages to argue that he is correct in asserting the Bible is not the foundation of our faith. What do we know of the event of faith and of Jesus the Christ apart from the foundational revelation of Scripture? We know the right meaning and theological ramifications of all events only through the lens of the Christ-centered revelation of God in the Bible. When Paul summarizes the gospel message he deliberately notes that the work of Christ was “in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:1-4). In Ephesians 2:20, Paul explains that our faith is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”
Pitting faith in the Christ event against the word of Christ in the Scripture is a disastrous error. Pitting prayer for spiritual revival in the local church against diligent work for Christ in the power of the Spirit is as well. Now Stanley pits Great Awakening-style revival against revival in local churches. All of this is deeply problematic. What was the Great Awakening but a mighty move of the Spirit in and through local churches? Stanley is arguing that effective local churches deemphasize the spiritual and the supernatural and emphasize human leadership and getting busy. His implication is that such churches actually live revival rather than talking about it or praying for it.
I think it is a fair question to ask what kind of revival does exclusively human leadership, getting busy, and focusing on event over the Scripture produce? Deemphasizing the spiritual and supernatural sounds to me like a revival of a different sort. It sounds like a revival of modernism, which accommodated Christianity to the prevailing spirit of the age. It is kind of like Fosdick meets Finney with better graphics and set design. I am sticking with C.H. Spurgeon who told his local church, “We may ask of God multitudes of other things, but amongst them all, let this be our chief prayer: “Lord, revive us; Lord, revive us!” (One Antidote for Many Ills, No. 284, Nov. 9, 1859, New Park Street Chapel).