Recently American Mega-Pastor Andy Stanley (North Point Community Church) delivered a sermon where he said that he believed in Adam and Eve, not because the Bible says so, but because Jesus believed in a real Adam and Eve. According to Stanley, “The foundation of our faith is not the Scripture. the foundation of the faith is not the infallibility of the Bible.” For Stanley, the foundation of our faith is Jesus.
My good friend Denny Burke takes issue with Stanley, calling his view a poison pill. Denny argues in contrast:
While it is true that Christ’s accomplishment in the cross and resurrection is the basis of our salvation, it is misleading to say that the “foundation of our faith is not the Scripture.” Our only access to what Christ accomplished for us in history is through Scripture! The message of salvation comes to us in the Bible, apart from which there is no salvation. This is why the apostle Paul can speak of the apostles’ message as the “foundation” of the church (Eph. 2:20). Without their testimony which has been inscripturated for us in the Bible, there is no salvation.
Another friend and well-known scholar, Scot McKnight, also chimes in with a response to Denny, suggesting that Denny has a deficient theology of the Word and a deficient view of the biblical canon.
My own response to this melee runs thus:
1. Although I can perhaps appreciate an apologetic intention towards the unchurched here, I think Andy Stanley’s framing of the discussion in terms of “not Bible, but Jesus,” is unhelpful. It can potentially foster a Bible vs. Jesus paradigm. Moreover, I have been around churches and theologians (especially Episcopalians) where Jesus is invoked as an authority over and against the Old Testament, Paul, and Revelation. So I see the problem that Denny is responding against and a response of some kind is appropriate.
2. I think we need to remember that our authority is indeed the Word, but the Word exists in its threefold form: The Word incarnate (Christ), the word prophesied and proclaimed (Prophets, Apostles, and even Preachers), and the word inscripturated. You cannot play one Word off against another Word since they are all rooted in the self-disclosure of the one triune God.
3. I have several problems with Denny’s response to Stanley:
a. The idea that the “Bible is the Foundation” of our faith is a recent post-Protestant innovation. For a start, what was the center of people’s faith across history when most people were illiterate and prior to the advent of the printing press. In order to make the Bible the center of faith, you have to assume a kind of mass produced Bible-culture and an environment where literary rates are high. It is impossible for Denny’s point to hold true for most Christians, in most places, at most times in history. Now I would say that the Bible is essential for developing a fully orbed and fully rounded faith. Further to that, the Bible is our authority for living out a Christ-centered, Spirit-led, and God-honoring life. However, it is not our only access to the word of salvation. For people learn about the word of salvation from the preaching of the gospel, from the recital of ancient creeds, and in the great hymns and songs of the faith. In many ways these connect to Scripture, but they also connect to and expound a faith that existed prior to the canonization of the Old and New Testament. The faith that Denny wants to protect is not simply a faith contained within the pages of the Bible, it is rather the faith once delivered to the saints by Jesus and the apostles of which Scripture it is written form. Scripture is the written product of God’s Word being preached by the Apostles and preserved by the apostolic community through the agency of the Holy Spirit.
c. Most concerning is Denny’s remark that “The message of salvation comes to us in the Bible, apart from which there is no salvation.” If I’m reading Denny correctly – and I think I am – his view is basically extra Biblicum nulla salus. Such a move is christologically disasterous. Christ is the center of Christian faith and without Christ there is no salvation. Denny is attributing to Scripture what the apostolic and catholic churches have ordinarily attributed to Christ. But note Paul’s words: “For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:22).
d. I think Denny is committing what I would call the “SBC Error” which confuses epistemology with authority. This error can be seen in a comparison of the 1963 BFM and the 200o BFM. In the 1963 BFM, it states that “Therefore, the sole authority for faith and practice is Jesus Christ whose will is revealed in the Holy Scriptures.” But this is changed in the 2000 BFM to “Our living faith is established upon eternal truths.” In other words, the BFM 2000 removes “Jesus Christ” and replaces him with “eternal truths.” It replaces our Deliverer with Doctrine!! That is not kosher. Just because my main way of knowing Jesus is through the Bible does not make the Bible the center of my faith. That would be like saying that the Priest/Pastor who says, “I now pronounce you man and wife” is the center of my marriage. The Priest/Pastor might tell me the good news that I need to know, but he sure ain’t coming with me on my honeymoon! The center of our faith is not the Word about Christ, it is rather, Christ the Word!
Andy Stanley’s remarks made me grind my teeth in discomfort, while Denny’s response left me sympathetic but deeply frustrated. A Christ-centered faith does not mean pitting Jesus against Scripture. Similarly, a high view of Scripture does not mean removing Jesus from the center of our apostolic faith.