Andy, Denny, Adam, Eve

Andy, Denny, Adam, Eve June 3, 2013

Andy Stanley has come into the crosshairs of Denny Burk again, this time over how he determines whether or not Adam and Eve are historical figures. Andy’s approach is through the authority of Jesus. Denny Burk questions if this is the proper method.

Here’s what Andy said in a recent sermon:

The foundation of our faith is not the Scripture. The foundation of our faith is not the infallibility of the Bible. The foundation of our faith is something that happened in history. And the issue is always – Who is Jesus? That’s always the issue. The Scripture is simply a collection of ancient documents that tells us that story…

Here’s why I believe this actually happened. Not because the Bible says so, but because of the Gospels – Jesus talks about Adam and Eve. And it appears to me that he believed they were actually historical figures. And if he believed they were historical, I believe they were historical because anybody that can predict their own death and resurrection and pull it off – I just believe anything they say.

Here’s what Denny says:

Nevertheless, there’s a poison pill in his remarks for the doctrine of scripture. The view of scripture that Stanley evinces undermines what evangelicals hold to be the verbal plenary inspiration of scripture.

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.

Stanley says that his belief in Adam and Eve is not “because the Bible says so,” but because Jesus says so. The first and most obvious problem with this formulation is the fact that our only knowledge of what Jesus says comes to us from the Bible. There can be no bifurcation between “what the Bible says” and “what Jesus says.” The former gives us the latter. [SMcK, and I would say we have the former because of the latter, and that makes all the difference.]

My summary:

Denny believes in Jesus because he believes in the Bible as the Word and Andy believes in the Bible because he believes in Jesus as the Word.

Who’s swallowed the poison pill?

There are two problems here.

First is the Word problem. The only reason we have a Bible is because God speaks and God’s speaking is called Word and the Word at the center of the Word is Jesus. So, Denny may say we only have knowledge of Jesus because of the Word but that is a failure to think theologically about the Bible as the Word, and the Word as Christ, so that we have both the Living Word and the Written Word. We know about Jesus and what he said about Adam and Eve because Jesus, the Everlasting Word from Before Time, chose to “Word” the Word into words.

Point: it is not uncommon to hear that our view of the Old Testament ought to be Jesus’ view of the Old Testament, or that our view of the Torah ought to be Jesus’ view, and I’ve heard this on a number of topics. By approaching our faith through the lens of Jesus’ teachings, then, is neither unusual not unhelpful. In fact, it is common. A Christ-shaped faith is a good thing. The Bible is not flat; the Bible points to Jesus so to Jesus we must go! (Not only to Jesus but first to Jesus.)

But the irony in all this is that time after time folks in Denny’s orbit have pounced on this Adam and Eve theory because of what Paul says in Romans 5:12-21. What they are saying is “I believe Adam and Eve are historical because Paul does.” I’ve not heard anyone push back from their side that they are using Paul — not the whole Bible — to determine what the Bible says.

One of the secrets to Bible reading is learning where to begin. The place to begin is Jesus, the Word.

Second is the canon problem. Andy’s touching on something vital even if his rather either-or approach can confuse some. (As will Denny Burk’s.) Once we assume the Word Story of the Bible then we realize that Jesus is the Word Incarnate and it was Jesus himself – a person, born, living, teaching, acting, miracles, and all that, then dying and then rising and then glorified – who evoked faith and who then led to Scriptures through the Spirit and then guided the Church into those Scriptures. The first Christians didn’t believe in Jesus because they had a New Testament but they composed the New Testament because of Jesus and because they believed in him and because God’s Spirit empowered them to know the truth about Jesus. Andy’s right. Jesus came first, his authority and his revelatory mission and his Spirit sending that illuminated us so that we might know the truth. So any articulation of our faith that is not first God in his authority before Scripture’s authority makes a fundamental mistake.

To be sure, we know Jesus because of the Word but we have the Word because God spoke the Word and the Word God speaks has a name, Jesus. So first the Word, the Living Word, and then the Word, the Written Word. And it is really a silly game to think we need to argue about which one is most important: both.

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  • Ben

    This reminds me of what Ben C. Ollenburger writes of 16th century Anabaptist hermeneutics: “But they spoke of following Jesus in a strange way, as if they knew him apart from the texts of the Gospels—as those who had met him in life and who, therefore,looked to the Scriptures for guidance.”

  • Eric Smith

    I really like Andy Stanley, and I do understand that Jesus as the Word, precedes the written word. But, Denny makes a good point that the only reason we know about what Jesus said is the written word. I don’t see how you can separate the two.

  • Michael Mercer

    Good for Andy Stanley! And even if Burk’s argument were to hold (I don’t think it does), it only applies to the apostolic writings. Furthermore, Burk’s claim that “The message of salvation comes to us in the Bible, apart from which there is no salvation,” is itself one step removed from historical fact. Without the Church and the Spirit working in and through her, there would be no Scriptures. So it would be more accurate to say that “the message came to us through the Church, who gave us the Bible, and apart from whom there is no salvation.”

  • jim


    See last paragraph of Scot’s observations:

    “To be sure, we know Jesus because of the Word but we have the Word
    because God spoke the Word and the Word God speaks has a name, Jesus. So
    first the Word, the Living Word, and then the Word, the Written Word.
    And it is really a silly game to think we need to argue about which one
    is most important: both.”

    I would be willing to bet Andy believes exactly the same.

  • scotmcknight

    Michael, I agree: it is not as simple as Bible first. That whole approach discounts Community of God’s People (Israel, Church) and Spirit and the presence of Christ. My suspicion is that Andy Stanley is not just “Gospels” first but there’s a theology of God at work in this world, and Christ is the center and Scripture is there and the Gospels witness to Jesus and Jesus is at the center of centers… that sort of complexity. It seems, too, that a theology of “Word” needs to be explored in which Word is not simply reduced to written words in the Bible.

  • nietzschesdownfall

    I’m noticing what looks like a very Christocentric trend in your reading of not just the NT, but the OT as well. OT Scholar Peter Enns has suggested that this is actually not the best way to tackle the OT as it tends to give the wrong color to the culture and knowledge of the people who wrote the OT. Rather, it is better to understand Christ as the END goal of the OT (Christotelic) rather than the CENTER of the OT. This is one of the big points of his book Inspiration and Incarnation.

    I could very well be misinterpreting you, but how would you respond to a thought like that, that the OT is Christotelic in nature?

  • And the Holy Spirit fits where in this, Eric?

  • Eric Smith

    Exactly. That was the point I was trying to make. You need them both and can’t separate them. You’re right Andy probably does believe that as well. I love Andy. He’s one of my favorite pastors. His statement was probably just a little unclear. We’ve all Ben guilty of not wording things the best at times.

  • Rick

    As Sam Storms wrote in Tough Topics, “Jesus Christ is Lord of the Scriptures”.

    Although I do agree with Andy, I don’t think his comment “The Scripture is simply a collection of ancient documents that tells us that story” was helpful. I think that may have raised the concern of Denny and others.

  • scotmcknight

    Thanks. A Christotelic reading, however, finds its orientation in Christ himself and then the New Testament that tells that Story about Christ, right? I’m not so sure I’m trying to push a strong distinction between christocentric vs. christotelic… and least not that I’m aware of.

  • Eric Smith

    Bill, I don’t understand the question. I’m not sure how anything that has been said would discount the role if the Holy Spirit.

  • Rick

    In the comments on Denny’s site, Andy (or someone who appears to be Andy)commented:

    “Perhaps the confusion stems from the fact that I was suggesting an approach to talking about “The Bible” in a culture that is no longer moved by “The Bible says.” But I do believe the epicenter of the faith is something that actually happened”

  • I think Burk is missing the point here. Our view of scripture is shaped by whether our not we have regenerative faith, and that is by hearing and believing the testimony of Christ. (That testimony is found in scripture but the point is do you believe the testimony, not do you believe because your view of the bible requires you to believe the testimony.)

    Without Christ the phrase “because the Bible says so” is a non sequitur. So when discussing “what the bible says” to atheists or agnostics or even new believers the frame of reference has to be Jesus.

  • Justin Borger

    “The Scripture is simply a collection of ancient documents that tells us that story” What kind of pastor says something like that?

  • nietzschesdownfall

    Probably not. This is just what sprang to mind while reading this post.

    Christotelic, I think, lets the OT be the OT while remembering what it will be leading up to, if that makes any sense. It would do damage to the text to assume that all those prophets knew wthey were pointing at Jesus when they wrote what they wrote so many years before him. Christotelic readings of the OT allows the text to stay in its context, whereas Christocentric has this tendency to make the text talk about Jesus.

    What this has to do with the whole Adam/Genesis thing is that it frees us to understand the Genesis myth in the context of the culture it was written in. One can point to a few similarities between Genesis and other existing creation myths at the time (such as the Epic of Gilgamesh), and get a little more of a feel for the ancient Near-Eastern mindset. I tend toward not affirming a historical Adam, but by reading the text this way, I see more of a value in it by seeing what was leading up to Christ, that being a “setting the world to rights” (to use Wright’s phrase).

  • Phil Miller

    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.

    This sounds awfully contradictory to me… Burk seems to be admitting that the apostolic message is actually the foundation, not Scripture. But right before he says, “Our only access to what Christ accomplished for us in history is through Scripture!”. So which is it? The apostolic message or Scripture. It seems pretty obvious that there were Christians before the canon was closed, so I don’t quite get how one can make the argument that the foundation of faith is Scripture.

    This seems to me to me getting pretty close to the argument that Christian Smith talks about in Bible Made Impossible. There’s alway some broader framework through which we read Scripture.

  • scotmcknight

    Well, I’d not be so insulting Justin. It is not a felicitous expression, that’s for sure. He was minimizing one thing to exalt another and it doesn’t come off well.

  • Larry Barber

    Of course, they’re both wrong, just for different reasons. There never was a time when the human race consisted of just two people. So arguing over interpretative methods that both yield erroneous results seems like a real exercise in futility. Maybe both of them should first find a hermeneutic that yields correct answers, or, better yet, correct questions, and then they can argue over the finer points of the differences between them.

  • Justin Borger

    Insulting. That is exactly what’s wrong with Stanley’s statement, Prof. McKnight.

  • Steve Johnson

    It seems to me that when we want to place the Bible equal to or ahead of Jesus in importance we begin to worship a quadity, a 4 part God-head. Is there any scholarly discussion of this?

  • AHH

    Stanley’s statement “Jesus talks about Adam and Eve” is pretty dubious. But at least his heart is in the right place in centering the faith (and the Scriptures) around Jesus, whereas Burk seems to reflect the all-too-common attitude “For God so loved the world that he gave us this perfect Book”.

  • NateW

    Insulting? I can’t help but think that every statement we make about God is like this. Unless we want to spend all eternity endlessly qualifying everything we say (and so saying nothing at all), we must sometimes put to death our fear of insulting someone and say what needs to be said in the present circumstance, trusting the Holy Spirit to sort it out for those who are humbly willing to hear.

    I suppose he could have given a nod to paradox here, but I won’t deny that what he said needs to be heard loud and clear by a goo number in the church today.

    (Edit: this comment was meant to go under Justin’s reply below, not Scot’s)

  • jim


    I would urge you to listen to the whole context before being so willing to assassinate Andy Stanley’s character. Scroll to the bottom of and you will see a link to the video.

    You will probably see it is exactly as Scot has described. This is not “insulting”, it is an attempt to elevate Jesus. Andy explicitly says “Jesus first, then scripture.”

    I would urge you to reconsider your inflammatory remarks.

  • Adam

    Just before this post is a post about which books belong in the New Testament. That post opens up with the statement that for 400 years there was no New Testament. I don’t think humans were living to be 400 years old at that time so those people in year 390 didn’t have a New Testament and yet still believed in Jesus. How is this possible?

    As far as I see it, a book is merely the easiest method OUR society has of passing along information from one generation to the next. If there were no books, the story of Jesus would still get passed on through different methods. It seems that people have gravely mistaken the medium as the message.

  • Darren Huckey

    The problem is that Scot’s statement, “The first Christians didn’t believe in Jesus because they had a New Testament but they composed the New Testament because of Jesus and because they believed in him and because God’s Spirit empowered them to know the truth about Jesus” is an over simplification of the issue.

    The life and ministry of Jesus had to line up with the Torah and the Prophets. It is on this basis COUPLED WITH the prompting of the Holy Spirit (I’ve seen MANY people who think they heard the Holy Spirit and #fail) which identified Jesus as the Messianic figure to which all of Scripture points. Yes, he is at the center and he pre-existed, but our belief in him has to be qualified by Scripture, otherwise he is merely a charismatic cult leader of a false religion.

    And it is this fact itself which causes theological error across Christendom which makes Jesus into a malleable deity, rather than the Son of the Living God and the Messiah of Israel.

  • Phil Miller

    If you actually listen to the broader context of Stanley’s sermon, you’ll see that this statement isn’t really meant to express his complete view of Scripture. What he’s referring to in that is students taking a history of religion course where students are learning about the Bible as literature and how the Creation story compares with other creation myths.

    The point he’s making is that many students were not prepared to deal with this sort of thing because their foundation was the inerrancy of Scripture, and once that was brought down, they were left with nothing.

  • scotmcknight

    Darren, fair enough and done on purpose, but I do think that sentence is clarified in what surrounds to include the importance of the whole Story (of the Word-shaped Story) to inform who Jesus was and how we understand him. The graphe and the pneuma and the ekklesia are all at work here.

  • Darren Huckey

    I agree, Scot. Thanks for the clarification.

  • The distinction between the written word and the living Word is to the point. If Christ lives– and if, being reconciled to God, we participate in his life, here and now –it matters little what we “think” or “believe” (or “disbelieve”) about the Bible or Jesus of Nazareth except insofar as it serves (or hinders) our recognition of that which we are in Christ. For example, in Christ, we recognize that we are One in the Spirit. Christ-like, we can say:

    * My Father is Greater than I (John 14:28).
    * I and my Father are One (John 10:30).
    * My neighbor is myself (cf. Mark 12:31).
    – We are members of one another (Ephesians 4:24-25).
    – What is done to the least of these is done unto me (Matthew 25:31-45).

    This REALITY is pointed to by the Bible, but it is realized not by “believing” it is so, but by trusting in and relying on the living presence that is Christ-in-you:

  • But knowing what Jesus said and knowing Jesus would seem to be two different things:

    Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and
    was glad.” Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old,
    and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you,
    before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:56-58).

    The light of the world shines forth from the soul of every human being– created as we are, in Christ –in the beginning with God!

    “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!” (Psalm 36:9-10).

    The upright of heart are those of any era or culture who, like Abraham, are justified by faith—those who trusting in and relying on Him, truly see His day. Each one of us sees (by virtue of) this light, but few recognize Him as Lord—few recognize in Him their real origin and destiny.

    “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name: Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:10-13).

  • In context of the sermon, it was not at all unclear. Burk is just taking it out of context to make a point. A point that I disagree with because the broader point that Andy was making in the sermon was that we have faith in Christ, not in Scipture. If Burk’s point was that we should have faith in scripture above Christ, then he is wrong. But it was not Andy’s point that we should have faith in Christ and ignore scripture. It was Andy’s point that we have faith in Christ and scripture supports that.

  • Whether that is Andy or not, he has said similar multiple times lately. He has had several talks to pastors about the need to stop saying, “The bible says”.

  • Perry L. Stepp

    Two observations:
    1. If I in a sermon or lecture refer to Peter Pan’s refusal to grow up, does that mean that I think Peter Pan is a historical figure? The simple fact that Jesus referred to Adam & Eve doesn’t mean that he thought they were historical figures. (Although I think it likely that he did.)

    2. Both parties are arguing that Jesus could not have been wrong about statements of historical fact. That’s like arguing that Jesus never misspelled a word on a spelling test, or that he went to his first math class understanding quadratic equations, because anything less would compromise his perfection.

    If Jesus was fully human, then his understanding and knowledge were limited except in places where God gave him miraculous knowledge or insight.

    Jesus could well have believed that Adam & Eve were historical figures. Did he and the culture around him think of the categories “historical” and “ahistorical” the way that we do? I don’t think so. Did they understand the difference between fact & myth? (Heck: do WE understand the difference between fact & myth?)

  • Phil Miller

    Or it could have been that Jesus was simply talking to the people he was around in a way that they could understand. What would be the point of Him offering a discourse on genetics and evolutionary biology to people who lived 2,000 years before DNA was discovered?

    The concept of what Jesus actually knew while incarnated is kind of a fascinating thing. We’re told “He grew in wisdom and stature”, so I don’t think Jesus simply learned everything through divine osmosis.

  • scotmcknight

    Perry, that’s a separate conversation and we may well feature it on the blog this week. RJS has a few thoughts on this.

  • Eric Smith

    Yeah, Adam. I didn’t hear the entire sermone. I have no doubt that Andy’s comment would have been more clear in context.

  • Rick

    Thanks. I thought I had heard him say so elsewhere, I just wanted to make sure I qualified the reference just in case it was not actually him who wrote the comment.
    If I am not mistaken, you go (or went) to Northpoint. What did you think of his “simply a collection of ancient documents” comment?

  • I am a member at Andy’s church and frequently defend him against unfair accusations. But this is one thing that he does frequently that drives me nuts.

    He says the same thing about Jonah and other OT stories. The fact that Jesus mentioned the stories no more means that they must be historical in the sense that we now use historical than me mentioning Sleeping Beauty means that I believe there was a historical sleeping beauty.

    I am not saying that the the only way to see Adam and Eve or Jonah is as myth or stories. But Jesus was not mentioning them to prove their historicity, he was mentioning to make a point.

  • In context of the sermon and the rest of his regular teaching I don’t think it is a big deal. As a sound bite it doesn’t sound good. I am not a fan of the word ‘simply’ in that phrase. But the rest of the phrase I think is hard to dispute.

    (On the other hand he frequent reference to believing in Adam and Eve or Jonah because Jesus did drives me nuts.)

  • peterhamm

    How close to “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel” is this argument, though, I ask…

  • Your statement limits the ability of the Spirit to speak except through the written word. Which makes the explosive growth of the church in the first four centuries somewhat confusing. As well as the growth of the church in China in the last sixty years.

  • Eric Smith

    Bill, I don’t see how my statement makes that limitation. The fact that we know what Christ has said through His recorded word in the Bible does not mean the Spirit cannot work in our lives, and lead us and direct us. I do not think the Spirit leads us or speaks to us in ways that would contradict the written word of God. So, in that sense I guess you could frame that as a limitation.

  • BradK

    The verbal, plenary inspiration that Burk references is a non-starter. It makes no sense for God to have inspired every single word but then have not preserved every single one of those words. I consider the Bible to be inspired and reliable, and even infallible regarding the issues it actually addresses. But verbal, plenary inspiration is irrational.

    As others have mentioned, Stanley is off base as well in saying that because Jesus refers to Adam (seemingly) as a historical figure that he must have been so. This is also irrational.

    So both of them seem to have “swallowed the poison pill.” Both are also examples of why Christianity becomes more and more irrelevant in our post-Christian world every day. A faith that does not make sense is easily disregarded.

  • BradK

    Btw, I wonder what Burk would think of a view of inerrancy like that of Daniel Wallace at which one arrives inductively?

    “Where does this leave us with reference to inerrancy? I arrive at
    inerrancy through an inductive process, rather than by starting with it
    deductively. My epistemological method may therefore be different from
    others, but the resultant doctrine is not necessarily so. At bottom, the
    reason I hold to a high bibliology is grounded in my Christology. Jesus
    often spoke of the Bible in terms that went beyond the reverence that
    the Pharisees and Sadducees had for the text. They added traditions to
    the Bible, or truncated the canon, or otherwise failed to handle
    scripture appropriately. Jesus had a high view of the text, and it
    strikes me that I would be unwise to have a view different from his.
    Indeed, I believe I would be on dangerous ground if I were to take a
    different view of the text than Jesus did. Thus, my starting point for a
    high bibliology is Christ himself. Some may argue that we can’t even
    know what Jesus said unless we start with a high bibliology. Frankly,
    that approach is a bit circular. Making a pronouncement that scripture
    is inerrant does not guarantee the truth of such an utterance.”

  • candeux

    What are some examples of how Jesus “spoke of the Bible” and had a “high view of the text”? If there are such examples, I’m not sure they were meant to be used as support for innerancy. Jesus was typically more interested in the incorporation of God’s word into hearts and lives (“spirit of the law”) than he was about propping up the literal words on a page (“letter of the law”) and he even quoted OT Scriptures to emphasize this (e.g., Hosea 6:6 quoted in Matthew).

  • Mike Mercer

    I too disagree with this part of Stanley’s argument. I congratulate him, however, for the very point Denny Burk thinks puts poison in the water.

  • Andrew Dowling

    You took the words out of my mouth/keyboard. One can make allusions for the sake of explanation any number of popular folklore (the tortoise and the hare, for example) and not believe the story “happened” in a literal sense, although I think there are issues anyway construing Jesus as some all-knowing (in a literal facts of knowledge sense) guru who could have solved the most complex geometric equations (if someone had only asked him!)

  • Craig Wright

    Where did Jesus refer to Adam and Eve as historical, other than in an indirect reference to marriage in Matthew 19?

  • Luke Allison

    This is another gatekeeper fail. Burk doesn’t say “I disagree with Andy Stanley about this” he says “Andy Stanley’s not one of us…he’s actually dangerous, and here’s why.” He’s just itching for Stanley to go one step further so he can pronounce him outside the camp.

    At this point, for me, Burk and his ilk = meh. I’ve never heard the man make an interesting point or really ANY point that went beyond “This is not Calvinist enough for me.” Boring.

  • Mark Sandberg

    Eric’s statement does not really limit the role of the Spirit to speak. Certainly the Spirit still speaks today, but does he give new information, facts, about the life of Jesus? Or to make the point a different way: Bill, what information about Jesus have you received directly from the Spirit that you could share with us?

  • Bill

    I read your comments with interest. It seems a little bit like jumping into the middle of the story to talk about New Testament Christians believing in Jesus without making reference to their trust in the Old Testament. As you know, Paul (or any of the apostles) were not encouraging Christians to think about Jesus (who he was or what he came to do) with out reference to the Scriptures (Word of God). See 1 Cor. 15:3-4; “according to the Scriptures”) It seems that part of Denny’s point is that Jesus existed within a context that already had an understanding about the nature of Scripture as the word of God. After reading Andy’s comments it seems that he is focusing on an apologetic issue, while Denny is raising some theological questions about Andy’s view of the Bible as the word of God