Why Andy Stanley Thinks His Sermon Critics Should Be More Curious

The soundbite version of a recent Andy Stanley sermon caused a stir on Twitter recently, garnering criticism as a “theological trainwreck” by some and as heresy by others.

The megachurch pastor and author had pointed out that early Christians, according to Acts 15, decided not to require Gentile converts to observe all of the Torah laws in order to join the church. His comments were understood by some as dismissive to the Hebrew scriptures.

RELEVANT talked with Andy to clarify his position. The conversation yielded some food for thought on adding curiosity to criticism, looking for context and having a healthy dialogue about ideas.

A sound bite from your “Not Difficult” sermon has been at the center of some theological conversations on social media, specifically about “unhitching” the Old Testament from your faith. Do you feel the point you were making about Christians’ relationship with the Old Testament has been understood properly?

First, thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to respond—once again—to criticism stemming from a single sermon that is part of a series. The confusion always stems from the fact that a handful of academics hear about some “outlandish” statement I’ve made, and for them it’s blood in the water. None of the academic types who have criticized my preaching have ever reached out to me before posting their critiques. When John Piper was concerned about something I said a year ago or so, he reached out to me and let me read his critique before he published it. It was fair, and I told him so. I insisted he let his readers know he reached out to me ahead of time and I linked folks to his article. So I’m not opposed to healthy dialogue around ideas. When something I said was misconstrued as a criticism of small churches I got up the following Sunday and apologized to our entire network of churches and everybody on the internet who was tuned in that day. Ask my kids, I don’t have a difficult time apologizing. 

The folks in our churches understood the point I was making. Anyone who listened to all three parts of the series probably understood the point I was making. Anyone who heard my Christmas or Easter message understood the point I was making. So I guess the point I’m making is that anyone who really wanted to know what I meant by what I said could figure that out pretty easily. But it might require listening to more than one message!

I approach a message series like a single sermon. I don’t try to cover everything in 35 minutes. I’m not that good. So, if you want to criticize my approach to preaching, fine. I would love to talk about that. But don’t criticize a statement in a sermon if you aren’t willing to spend the time necessary to appreciate the context. 

All that to say, there are some folks who did not understand the point I was making. And for those who follow me on Twitter and who asked for clarification, I gave it. Over and over. Which I actually enjoy. I tell leaders all the time: Be a student, not a critic. Be curious.

We are working hard to engage with our post-Christian culture. We will not get it right every time. We will make mistakes. But we will not circle the wagons, pray for revival and hope Jesus comes soon to rescue us. It’s not about us. What’s at stake, what drives us, is the faith of the next generation. A generation that unlike previous generations is just a click away from infinite misinformation about our faith, the Bible and the Church. Years ago I embraced a new approach to preaching…how I talk about sin, faith, discipleship and the Bible in light of my concern for what is happening in our culture. My critics should be more curious. 

Knowing the reactions that would follow, if you could go back to that preaching moment, would you add any nuance for greater clarity? If not, why do you stand by the comments as is? If so, what would you change? 

That’s a great question. I’ve re-watched the message. The reason I would not change anything in that particular message is I was preaching to our church. Our church that follows along with our series. And by the way, AFTERMATH is really an extension of a series I began in January on the life of Jesus. It was titled 90 based on the fact that there were 90 days between January 1 and Easter. So if someone really wants context, go to 90.today and start there. 

Now, if I was teaching through Acts 15—which is the passage I was teaching through in the message that caused this most recent dust-up—at someone else’s church … well, honestly, I wouldn’t! There’s too much there to cram into a single message without the context of Acts 2-4 and Acts 10. Which is what I covered in parts one and two.

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Source: Relevant Magazine