NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – A columnist with PJ Media, a conservative news and commentary website, has named popular preacher Andy Stanley – the son of television preacher Charles Stanley – one of the "five most dangerous wolves preying on Christians."
Writer John Ellis writes that Stanley, like Joel Osteen, Rachel Held Evans, Jim Wallis (with Sojourners) and Matthew Vines, are guilty of pushing "errors and flat-out heresies that are couched in 'Sunday School' language."
"The five people on this list have mastered the art of hijacking Jesus for their rebellious ends," Ellis writes. "Most of them are very popular with a large following; all of them have had and continue to have a negative influence on Christianity. All five have earned their place in Jesus' warning found in Matthew 7:15 to 'Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.'"
Stanley, who leads Atlanta's North Point Community Church and its satellites, is number five on the list – apparently the least dangerous of the five most dangerous wolves.
According to Ellis, who has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Fast Company and Real Clear Politics, Stanley's theology has become "continually squishy" and his church has crossed "into the profane in worship." In April, Ellis wrote that Stanley's church services began with the singing of "Purple Rain," by Prince, just after the singer died.
The five people on this list have mastered the art of hijacking Jesus for their rebellious ends. Most of them are very popular with a large following; all of them have had and continue to have a negative influence on Christianity. All five have earned their place in Jesus' warning found in Matthew 7:15 to 'Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.'"
Ellis then claims Stanley dismissed the authority of Scripture in a recent sermon. On Aug. 28, Stanley said Christians should not be too accepting of the doctrines of the faith because "the Bible tells me so."
"That is where our trouble began," Stanley said in the sermon. "If the Bible is the foundation of your faith, here's the problem: it is all or nothing. Christianity becomes a fragile, house of cards religion."
Stanley also claimed "it is next to impossible to defend the entire Bible" and said Christianity "made its greatest strides during the 282 years before the Bible even existed." He was presumably referencing the collection of the books that make up the Bible, rather than the authorship of them (the early church leader Athanasius wrote in his Easter Epistle in A.D. 367 the list of books that currently form the corpus of the New Testament).
Ellis, however, interprets the comment to mean Stanley believes the gospels themselves weren't written until hundreds of years after the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ.
"At this point, he's a short step away from Walter Bauer's claims that orthodoxy simply reflects the winners of ecclesiastical battles and not the truth of the Gospel as revealed by Jesus Christ and taught throughout the Bible," Ellis argues.
"Leading people into a religion that allows its adherents to pick and choose from the Bible what they want to believe and/or follow, Andy Stanley is leading people away from true faith in Jesus Christ."
Patricia Holbrook, a religion author writing at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, noted in a column that Stanley would soon offer a lengthy exposition of his statements which – she claimed – would soothe the consciences of those who might have been offended.
Holbrook claimed Stanley's style is non-traditional and distinct, but she said she believes his ministry "followed the same millennia-old dogmas, based on Christ's teachings, and which have become the pillars of the Christian faith."
She also claimed Stanley still believes in the inerrancy of Scripture and wrote that Stanley has told her of his belief that the Bible is true.
The inerrancy of the Bible, however, is not really what is in question. The sufficiency of Scripture is, according to Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Mohler claimed in an article Sept. 26 it is "odd" that Stanley looks to sources outside of the Bible to defend the resurrection and other core doctrines.
"He rests his confidence in recent historiographical work by apologists who defend the historicity of the resurrection by affirming historical sources that are prior to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John," Mohler wrote. "But where do these historians claim to find those sources? In the four gospels."
"Stanley seems to base the defense of the resurrection in historical traditions he claims are prior to the gospels, but the Holy Spirit gave the church the four gospels, and the entire New Testament, as verbally inspired, authoritative, and infallible revelation. All of Scripture — the Old Testament and the New Testament — was given to the church so that we would know the rule of faith and everything revealed therein. This is the evangelical Scripture principle, and it is precisely what the Reformers defended as sola Scriptura," Mohler wrote.
On Sept. 30, a few days after the articles from Ellis and Mohler, Stanley published an explanation of his views, a defense of his method and a call for others to stop using traditional formulas in reaching the lost for Christ.
Stanley first wrote he believes "the Bible is without error in everything it affirms."
However, to say so in a world that has changed makes no sense to non-Christians living in a post-Christian world that is focused on obtaining truth through common sense, philosophy and reason, he claimed. Stanley instead argued that religious "nones," especially among millennials, are not on a "truth quest." They are looking for happiness and they see faith as an impediment to happiness.
"The seemingly irrational, anti-science version of faith many were brought up on makes it that much easier to simply walk away. Given all of that, this next statistic should not come as any surprise. When asked about their view of Scripture, 72 percent of nones said that it is not the Word of God," he wrote.
"Appealing to post-Christian people on the basis of the authority of Scripture has essentially the same effect as a Muslim imam appealing to you on the basis of the authority of the Quran. You may or may not already know what it says. But it doesn't matter. The Quran doesn't carry any weight with you. You don't view the Quran as authoritative."
Stanley then wrote that nearly half of the American public doesn't view the Bible as authoritative. So they will not be "moved," he claimed when "the Bible says so" language is used.
"If that's the approach to preaching and teaching you grew up with and are most comfortable with, you're no doubt having a good ol' throw-down debate with me in your head about now—a debate I'm sure you're winning. But before you chapter and verse me against the wall and put me in a sovereignty-of-God headlock, would you stop and ask yourself a question: Why does this bother me so much? Why does this bother me so much—really?" He wrote.
"If someone is first convinced the Bible is God's Word, you can leverage 'The Bible says' language. But let's be honest. What do you call people who first accept the Bible as God's Word before they've read the Bible? What do you call someone who takes someone's word for something as significant as 'This book is the infallible Word of God?' What kind of person would go for that?"
Stanley then answered: "A child."
He also defended his method as being equivalent to both Peter's and Paul's in the New Testament. He claims both of the early apostles, whose sermons were recorded, preached about a faith "rooted in an event, not a book."
In March, Stanley also faced controversy when he described parents who wouldn't take their children to a mega-church as "stinking selfish" adults who don't care whether or not their children fall in love with the local church. He later apologized for the comment.