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.
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.]
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.