How can we preach to the unchurched more effectively? I’m walking through Andy Stanley’s list of seven guidelines. This one might make you think:
Guideline 5: Avoid “The Bible says” . . . because it doesn’t.
This is the one that stood out to me. This phrase is an obstacle to faith that is unnecessary. Do people need to believe in the inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture to be saved? Actually, no. People were becoming believers before the Gospels were even written. In Acts 15 the Gentiles were not given a requirement relating to the Scriptures for their salvation. They were not even told to read the Old Testament, in fact, quite the opposite in some respects.
I hope that you believe in inerrancy and have a high view of the Bible, but that is not a pre-requisite for faith. Most unchurched people are bombarded with a very negative view of the Bible in popular media.
So Andy Stanley suggests a fresh approach to talking about the text that doesn’t make it harder than necessary for the unchurched to come to faith. He suggests not referring to it as a book, since in the minds of the unchurched the Bible is not a book in the normal sense of the term (and God didn’t write it in the way that a normal author writes a book). Stanley suggests developing terminology that refers to the Bible as the miracle that it is – a collection of documents by over forty human authors written over more than fifteen hundred years and yet telling one coherent story.
A large part of why people think the Bible is full of contradictions and unreliable myths, etc., is because they have only heard Christians refer to it as God’s book (when it is obviously different authors in different times writing in different genre). If we start to explain the reality of what it is, people are more likely to engage it and realize how good it is, instead of dismissing it based on “insider” terminology. So Stanley writes, “Don’t talk about it like it is a divinely inspired book. It’s not. It is a collection of divinely inspired manuscripts.”
This means citing authors rather than simply, “the Bible.” So instead of saying “The Bible says Jesus rose from the dead,” why not list the eyewitnesses that saw and recorded accounts of their seeing the risen Christ? The first statement is a claim dismissible due to the prevailing view of the Bible. The latter approach draws people into the reality of the evidence that we have in the Bible.
Stanley is not showing a low view of the Bible. He is arguing that we should do nothing to keep people from hearing the gospel. Part of that process is making the Bible as accessible as possible so people will hear what it says, rather than creating an obstacle that hinders hearing. I think he has a point.
9 thoughts on “Andy Stanley’s 7 Guidelines part 4”
Counterpoint. I once had someone say to me, “Why did you keep saying in your sermon, ‘Paul says’? Who is Paul, anyway? I thought you said your preaching was about what the Bible says, not about some guy.”
Even leaving that experience out of it….
If we don’t have authority, we’re just another voice. If our authority is just a historical document, we’re just another historian. Why should they listen?
(Ignoring for now the whole question of where there is any Biblical basis for our preaching in the church ever being geared to the unchurched.)
Thanks Jon – I don’t want to speak for Andy Stanley, but I would suggest that simply saying “Paul says” does not communicate in the way that is being suggested in the book. The point is that explaining that we are looking at a collection of historical documents that were written by specific people, along with some necessary details, allows the non-Christian listener to get to grips with what kind of “book” the Bible is. It also allows them to engage with the truth presented without requiring a belief in a doctrine of inspiration they don’t understand yet. At the same time, it isn’t exclusive, in that I would refer to the Bible and help folks understand that this collection of documents are combined in the Bible and we believe that God was in charge of that whole process. But belief in God’s involvement cannot be required before allowing people to consider the content.
I would think that authority comes from a variety of factors. One is our view of Scripture and that we are representing the self-disclosure of God. Another is the authority of the content of the Scripture we preach. Another is our personal implicit testimony that we know the God of whom we speak. And so on. Authority is not simply about affirming our own high view of Scripture – we can and should be demonstrating that by the way we handle it and live it out. I suppose the point in the book is that if we are preaching to unchurched people, then we should not add any unnecessary obstacles, but let the gospel itself woo or offend.
(Whether the church is to be targeted toward the unchurched or not is an important question. Without pursuing that debate, I would suggest that our preaching should be targeted toward those who are present . . . and it seems that in the typical church situation there will be some who are unchurched.)
Thanks for engaging this content, Jon. I have found the book to be thought-provoking and helpful, even if I disagree with some elements along the way.
Thanks, Peter. I haven’t read the book yet, so it doesn’t surprise me to be partly missing the point.
I do think that in Scripture we see differences between how pagans are addressed (Athens), how unbelievers who accept the Scriptures are addressed (Pentecost, and even Agrippa), and how believers are addressed (the epistles). So the distinction being made is valid, which perhaps means we really need to answer that question about the purpose of the church if we are going to discuss how we should preach in the church.
Thanks Jon – you are right that biblical communication is always targeted. I have some reservations about making church about the unsaved, but I understand where Andy Stanley is coming from in this sense: I have been impressed by listening to him that he is able to instruct believers in a way that is accessible for unbelievers. I will quote him on Wednesday with his conclusion to the preaching chapter and I think this will be helpful. Thanks for engaging with the posts!
Most of Stanley’s points I think are spot on, and I even understand the intent behind this one, but I have to disagree with it anyway. The Bible is a book! It has a beginning a middle and an end. It is not ‘just’ a collection. Beside the clear teaching of 1 Peter about the prophets understanding they where serving generations to come and not themselves (1 Peter 1:10ff), the consistent use of “the Scriptures” in the gospels and the NT defy Stanley’s argument. It is appropriate to say “the Scriptures say…”! After all, isn’t that the thrust of Jesus words to the disciples on the road to Emmaus? Doesn’t Christ intend to imply that the import of the entire OT is that, ‘the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead…’?
The way in which the Scriptures are a ‘book’ is not conventional or normal, it is supernatural. I grant that it makes it hard for the unchurched to know what we mean, and we should make every effort to explain (human authorship etc), but not diminish.
Thanks Drew. I agree with all that you say here. I don’t want to speak for Andy Stanley, but I also see his point. The key issue he is addressing is a sensitivity to contemporary listeners and not creating any obstacle to the greater goal of their hearing the gospel. Speaking of the Bible as a collection of documents is not wrong, and the whole attitude of the speaker will communicate our view of its inspiration. But to say that it is “just” a collection of documents would be a serious error. Thanks for your comment on the site. I think it is really good to wrestle with these kinds of issues, otherwise we can so easily communicate without thinking about who is listening, which could be very unhelpful – for that I am grateful to Andy Stanley for this book.
What are you people saying? This is nothing but humanism and has nothing to do with Christianity. This gospel doesn’t depend on man’s cleverness. The Church is spiritual and the weapons of the Church are not carnal but spiritual as well. The world hated Jesus and it will hate the true Church of Christ. Jesus said that it would. Are we going to contradict Jesus? Most of what so call churches are doing today can be done by unsaved people. There’s nothing spiritual or powerful about it. Where’s the power of the Holy Spirit in what Andy Stanley is doing? There is none! Prayer, fasting and the preaching of God’s unadulterated Word is what’s needed in this present day more than ever before. People are going to hell because of sin and we’ve got a bunch of spiritually dead people playing church. The Gospel, not mens cleverness, is the solution for a dying world that’s in darkness. Sin is so terrible that Jesus had to come and pay a terrible price because of our sin.
What can I say? I’m almost at a lost for words. Trying to built a church with unsaved people is unbiblical. The Church is the body of Christ and what Andy is doing has nothing to do with lifting up Christ but everything to do with lifting up himself. Andy thinks he’s being clever, but this gospel is preached with power, not cleverness. Man can never with his cleverness save himself. This world hates Jesus and it will hate the body of Christ. Jesus said so and I’m not going to contradict Him. What we have is a bunch of unsaved religious people playing church. The bible isnt the problem and neither is preaching the gospel. The problem has, is and always will be man. What we need are God fearing preachers that aren’t looking to be popular with the world. Christian baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Why don’t we open up to Romans and read the entire book verbatim to a bunch of 2nd graders in a good literal translation? There could many answers to this question: their attention span; their lack of understanding some of the theological terms; there ignorance of the cultural/religious context of the original hearers, etc… My point is that we will naturally accommodate our presentation to their ability to understand. If we just read/lecture from Romans in the conviction that we are “unleashing the gospel” on them, it would not work. But if, somehow, we were able to COMMUNICATE effectively to their understanding/world view/apperceptive base, then the dunamis would rock their world — if they are sheep, of course . We need to do the same for the average Joe-God-Is-Drawing Seeker or the Mary-New-To-The-Faith Sister. We are not compromising with the 2nd Graders; we will not be watering down the gospel with the seekers or newbies either. IMHO.