The heavyweights are at it again. In this corner you have Andy Stanley, son of world famous preacher Charles Stanley, pastor of one of the largest churches in America and influencer of tens of thousands of pastors. And in this corner you have Albert Mohler, theological intellectual extraordinaire, president of the Southern Baptist Seminary and defender of the classical interpretation of all things evangelical. Fights like this might only interest denominational geeks like me, but believe me this is a heavyweight fight.
In a recent messaged entitled: Who Needs God – The Bible Told Me So, Stanley addresses a major reason that many people walk away from (or deconvert) from Christianity: an unbelief in the infallibility of the Bible. The Holy Scriptures are obviously the centerpiece of our religion. These are the pages from which we get our biblical stories and accounts of the life of Jesus. As civilization has progressed and scientific and archeological advancements have cast doubts on the accuracy of some of the biblical stories (mostly found in the Old Testament), Christianity during the mid-20th century heavily debated the infallibility of Scripture. Many mainline Protestant denominations (referred to by Mohler as ‘Protestant liberalism’) backed away from the claims of infallibility while most Evangelical denominations (including the Southern Baptist Convention) doubled down on those claims.
Stanley kicked the hornet’s nest again when he made the argument that this shouldn’t even be the argument. Our faith rests on a person (Jesus) and a historical event (the Resurrection), not on a book. Mohler responded with a strong rebuke and a tenuous leap from Stanley’s sermon to the father of modern theological liberalism, Friedrich Schleiermacher. So, the battle lines are drawn. From my ringside seat, the great standard bearer of the Southern Baptist Convention (Mohler) has come just short of accusing one of its favorite sons (Stanley) of heresy. Mohler’s article title explains it all: “Biblical Authority Denied . . . Again”. But don’t take my word for it. You can watch Andy Stanley’s full sermon here and Albert Mohler’s full response here.
So what’s the central issue here? The place of the Scriptures in our religion. What’s at the center of our religion? Is it a person or a book? Many evangelicals would argue that at the very center of our faith is a book, the Holy Bible. And since the Bible is at the very center of our faith, any attack on any portion of the Bible must be met with a strong defense. Because if the Bible is somehow proved to be untrue in any portion, then everything will come crashing down around it. So for many churches, this has turned into belief in the infallibility of the entire canon of Scripture as a type of litmus test for salvation. Yes, trusting in Jesus is key, and the forgiveness of sins is paramount, but you must also believe every story recorded in the Bible to be saved. (Please here me clearly: Mohler nowhere makes this precise argument, but just as he accuses Stanley of a position that is a pathway to heresy, so the standard evangelical placement of the Scriptures alongside Jesus as the co-centers of our faith can lead to another type of heresy). So what’s the answer?