And so today I find myself in an interesting situation – issuing the kind of warning that I usually hold back.
First of all, let me begin by saying that it has been my long-standing policy to not criticize other preachers by name. There are times in my own teaching when I must refer to the teachings of others with whom I disagree. I almost always say something like, “Some preachers say ____________, but that is not quite right. Jesus actually said _______________.”
One reason I do this is because I don’t think it’s good for a church to become dependent on their pastor for discerning who to listen to and who not to listen to. It seems to me that if I faithfully preach the Bible week in and week out, my listeners should be able to figure out which other teachers out there are worth their time and which ones are not. It’s kinda’ like the old illustration about bankers being able to identify counterfeit bills because they are so familiar with the real thing, rather than because they are so familiar with counterfeits. After all, one day I will be unavailable or dead, and the people of my congregation will need to be able to determine true teaching versus false teaching without me.
I also, at times, get irritated with “discernment bloggers” who spend almost all of their “serving-God-time” simply criticizing the ministries of others. I think it’s important for Christians to have a positive ministry of building up the Kingdom of God, and not having a negative ministry of almost exclusively attacking other people they disagree with.
It is with all of that in mind, that I am surprised that I am writing this particular peice. It’s not like me. However, I feel responsible to write this because of how positively I have spoken about Andy Stanley in the past, including multiple sermons at Good News Church. If there is a problem with his teaching (and I am now certain that there is) I probably need to say something about it as a way of rescinding my prior recommendations of his teachings.
Andy Stanley is the pastor of Northpoint Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. In the early years of my ministry, he was a role model pastor for me, and God has used him in my life multiple times in positive ways. In fact, let me start there.
a) One of the reasons I try to keep my sermons as “focused” as can be is because of Andy Stanley’s example. I noticed, years ago, that he usually doesn’t try to preach a sermon about singleness, marriage, and divorce all at once. He breaks up those topics onto multiple Sundays to give extra time to each idea. I came to believe (and still believe) this is a good method for getting people to actually absorb what it is you are saying. I’m thankful that I learned this valuable tip from him.
b) Another thing I heard him say (this was about probably about 20 years ago) is the phrase, “What is rewarded is repeated.” This little proverb has helped me make a ton decisions in my life. The idea is to not reward behaviors that you don’t want more of; it’s been particularly helpful in the realm of parenting.
c) While on the topic of parenting, another quote from Stanley that I have appreciated is this one: “Your greatest contribution to the Kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.” I searched Good News Church’s website and it looks like I used that quote during my Mother’s Day remarks twice, once in 2014, and again in 2018. It’s a good quote and I still believe it.
d) Lastly, I will say the most important thing that God has done with the words of Andy Stanley in my life would be a sermon of his that I heard back in 2005 or 2006. He preached a sermon on John 6, highlighting the question that Peter asked when he was tempted to leave Jesus: “To whom shall we go?” The sermon helped me realize that I should not walk away from Jesus, even when tempted to do so, because there is no one else better that I could turn to as an alternative. In fact, I preached a sermon on this concept last year around this time.
In that sermon, I mentioned Andy Stanley’s name as the person who first introduced me to that idea. I did this because I am pretty “anti-plagiarism” and I try my best to credit people for their ideas, especially when I think those ideas are fairly unique to them and not common knowledge.
So, I suppose I’ve made the case that I am, in some ways, indebted to Andy Stanley; God has used him in my life in positive ways.
Having said that, I have also watched his slow departure from Christian orthodoxy over the last several years and have found it disturbing. At first, it was just in a few places here and there, and it didn’t seem (to me) to taint his entire ministry. Additionally, his drift happened so slowly that it was difficult to know where to draw the line. I’d think “Did he go too far this time?” And then a few years later: “What about this time?”
a) I suppose the first time I noticed this was in the now infamous “When Gracie Met Truthie” sermon back in 2012. Here's an article reporting about that one.
I listened to the sermon myself, and did not simply go with what was being reported online. And after having listened to it, I must admit I was uncomfortable with what Stanley said. Actually, it wasn’t what he said as much as it was what he didn’t say that bothered me! Pastors can communicate a lot about an issue with their silence. In this case, it was weird that Stanley was so very vocal about the sin of adultery, but absolutely silent about the sin of homosexuality that was obviously also involved in the same situation.
At the time, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. You can’t condemn people for things they didn’t say. Rather, you must evaluate their teaching by what they do say.
b) In 2018, Stanley again got himself into a lot of hot water by preaching these words in a Sunday morning sermon: “Peter, James, [and] Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.”
The phrase “unhitching from the Old Testament” was credited to him, and he tried to walk back the comment a few weeks later. Here’s an article on that.
It’s funny looking back now. In April of that year, Stanley said that we need to “unhitch” our faith from the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament.) Then about a month later, in a follow-up interview he said, “I never suggested that we ‘unhitch’ from a passage of Scripture or a specific biblical imperative.” However, a few months after that (I think it was October of the same year), he came out with a book that literally says, “The Ten Commandments have no authority over you. None. To be clear: Thou shalt not obey the Ten Commandments.”
Looking back, perhaps I should have noticed that he was talking out of both sides of his mouth. But, I figured someone could comb through Good News Church’s website and find one thing I said on one occasion that doesn’t match up with something else I said on a different occasion. This is the nature of communication. Things that are neither “lies” nor “errors” can seem like they are, when taken out of context and smashed together. So, again, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
c) But his most recent sermon (preached October 1, 2023) was the final straw for me. I believe it may be the most deceptive sermon I’ve heard in my life.
To be clear, Stanley’s sermon is not pure garbage. There are things that he says in this sermon that I agree with. And I think that’s why it bothered me so much. Stanley knows how to cloak his teachings with just enough truth from the opposite perspective that people can walk away from his sermons and get two different messages out of what he said.
This particular sermon was so well-worded that one attendee could walk out and say, “Andy Stanley affirmed the biblical position that marriage is only between a man and a woman” and yet a different person could walk out of that same church service and say, “Andy Stanley taught that homosexuality and transgenderism are not like other sins. They are special, and the people who are involved in them (including even the people who are giving into those temptations) must be affirmed and accepted regarding this issue.”
Both of those people would be correct. Yes, Andy Stanley taught both of those things in the same sermon.
For some reason, Northpoint made the choice to not to publish this particular sermon (the one from October 1, 2023) on their website, however someone from the crowd recorded it and it can be heard on protestia.com.
That was the first website that I saw it on. However, the audio has found its way onto other websites (at least one other one) since then.
This sermon is a masterpiece of communication. Stanley spends most of the first 30 minutes of the sermon talking about how wonderful the middle school and parenting ministries are at his church. He tells stories about how it’s great that their middle schoolers are in such an affirming environment that they can confess their same-sex attractions in front of their youth leaders and not be judged for it. (I actually agree with him on this point. And I think it should apply beyond youth-aged people. All Christians should be able to be honest about their sins and struggles with their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.) However, after several minutes of this kind of talk, one begins to get the impression that all these judgmental conservatives who have been criticizing Andy Stanley are getting bent out of shape because his church merely discusses LGBTQ+ issues.
Shortly after the 41-minute mark, Stanley finally makes the statement that he hopes will reassure theological conservatives (ie: people who believe even in the difficult parts of the Bible) that his ministry is orthodox. He says this:
“Regarding marriage, and this feels weird to even say this, but just make sure everybody knows where we are. We talk about marriage, or we talk about and teach about marriage, the same way Jesus and the apostles did. Every instruction in the Bible regarding marriage references or assumes a husband and a wife, a man or a woman. So biblical marriage, biblical marriage is between a man and a woman. We’ve never shied away from that. We don’t change the words in order not to offend people.”
Hmm, I wonder why it felt “weird” for him to say something that he claims he has “never shied away from”? The truth is that Stanley had actually never preached on this before; he admitted that earlier in the sermon, around the 31-minute mark. So, that’s 28 years of ministry at Northpoint Church without addressing this, at least from the pastor during church services. Now, I’m not saying that’s a sin. But I am asking what definition could the phrase “shied away from that” possibly have that it doesn’t apply to a topic that, by his own admission, has gone unmentioned on Sundays for nearly three decades?
Well, I will now grant that he did finally address this issue on a Sunday morning. I suppose that’s something.
However, about two minutes later, he makes it clear that this sermon isn’t just about middle schoolers talking about their temptations. Rather, he refers to adults (at one point he refers to men he knows between the ages of 35 and 65) who “put their faith in Jesus Christ” and after he mentions that some of them choose a life of celibacy, he says that for many others “that is not sustainable” therefore they get married (to someone of the same-sex) for the same reasons that many other people do: “for love, companionship, and family.” The tone and implication of the words that followed make it clear that these Christians need to be affirmed and accepted as they are, including their same-sex sexual behaviors. He did not specifically use the words “affirmed” or “accepted” at that point, but it was the obvious implication from the metaphor that followed about not “drawing lines” but rather “drawing circles.” The phrase “drawing lines” was used to demonstrate judgment, and “drawing circles” symbolized acceptance. You can listen to the recording and judge for yourself.
I have no problem with accepting people outside of the faith who identify as gay. I know non-Christian people who are gay and their sexuality is not a stumbling block to our relationship. That would also be true about friends who are atheists or who dabble in Buddhism. Their rejection of the God of the Bible is not something that hinders my relationship with them (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.) However, there is a problem related to those who profess to have “put their faith in Christ” and yet they reject His teaching on this subject (again, see 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.)
After having listened to Stanley’s sermon, I imagined the different types of people who I know and what it would be like if they had attended that church service. The people who want to be reassured that Andy Stanley is still an accurate Bible teacher would walk out of there remembering the four or five uncomfortable sentences where Stanley declared marriage to be between a man and a woman. And the people who want to see the Christian church stop believing that homosexuality and transgenderism are sins would walk away comforted and encouraged by the other 49-minutes of the sermon.
And that’s when I realized, that Stanley is doing this on purpose. He is a master communicator who just preached a 50-minute sermon that essentially espouses the progressive, affirming position. But he did it in such a way that journalists are able to publish articles with headlines like “Andy Stanley Affirms Traditional View of Marriage” which actually happened on ChurchLeaders.com this week.
It’s deceptive, and I thought that I should warn you, considering that I’ve spoken positively about his preaching over the years.
I still love Andy Stanley, and if I had a chance, I wish I could thank him for the wonderful things he’s done for me (mentioned at the beginning of this article) while also warning him that he is deceiving his people: “Take a stand. Either say that the Bible condemns this behavior, or say that it affirms it. But stop talking out of both sides of your mouth.”
If you have any further questions about my beliefs on this topic, I recently did a whole lesson on it that can be found on our YouTube channel.