This has been in the news for quite some time now. Andy Stanley preached a sermon the middle of April. It was part of a series on what it means to be a Christian. In this sermon, Stanley addressed the issue of grace and truth (from a reference to Jesus from John 1:14).
Andy Stanley, “Christian: Part 5: When Gracie Met Truthy” (Sermon Preached April 15, 2012; The moral/ethical issue raising questions begins at about 24 minutes)
The people Jesus loved were messy. The way Jesus loved was messy. He ate with tax collectors and talked with adulterers. His disciples struggled and we still struggle today to understand his extraordinary love. In this message, Andy Stanley unwraps the two ingredients that made Jesus’ love revolutionary – the secret of the most irresistible message ever preached.
Al Mohler, “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” (May 1, 2012)
Mohler was one of the first to pick up on this message and addressed both what Stanley said and what he did not say. Here is the essence of Mohler’s concern over Stanley’s message and what he said and did not say.
The message was insightful and winsome, and Andy Stanley is a master communicator. Early in the message he spoke of homosexuals in attendance, mentioning that some had shared with him that they had come to North Point because they were tired of messages in gay-affirming churches that did nothing but affirm homosexuality.
Then, in the most intense part of his message, Stanley told the congregation an account meant to illustrate his message. He told of a couple with a young daughter who divorced when the wife discovered that the husband was in a sexual relationship with another man. The woman then insisted that her former husband and his gay partner move to another congregation. They did move, but to another North Point location, where they volunteered together as part of a “host team.” The woman later told Andy Stanley that her former husband and his partner were now involved as volunteers in the other congregational location.
The story took a strange turn when Stanley then explained that he had learned that the former husband’s gay partner was still married. Stanley then explained that the partner was actually committing adultery, and that the adultery was incompatible with his service on a host team. Stanley told the two men that they could not serve on the host team so long as the one man was still married. He later told of the former wife’s decision not to live in bitterness, and of her initiative to bring the whole new family structure to a Christmas service. This included the woman, her daughter, her former husband, his gay partner, and his daughter. Stanley celebrated this new “modern family” as an expression of forgiveness.
He concluded by telling of Christ’s death for sinners and told the congregation that Jesus does not condemn them, even if they cannot or do not leave their life of sin.
Declaring the death of Christ as atonement for sin is orthodox Christianity and this declaration is essential to the Gospel of Christ. The problem was that Stanley never mentioned faith or repentance — which are equally essential to the Gospel. There is indeed no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but this defines those who have acted in repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). As for those who are not in Christ, they stand condemned already (John 3:18).
The most puzzling and shocking part of the message was the illustration and the account of the homosexual couple, however. The inescapable impression left by the account was that the sin of concern was adultery, but not homosexuality. Stanley clearly and repeatedly stressed the sin of adultery, but then left the reality of the homosexual relationship between the two men unaddressed as sin. To the contrary, he seemed to normalize their relationship. They would be allowed to serve on the host team if both were divorced. The moral status of their relationship seemed to be questioned only in terms of adultery, with no moral judgment on their homosexuality.
Denny Burk, “The Relevant Queries for Andy Stanley” (May 1, 2012)
Burk agreed with Mohler and his concerns and followed with three questions for Stanley.
1. Do you believe that the Bible teaches that homosexual behavior is sin? Do you agree with the Bible?
2. Are practicing homosexuals allowed to become members of your church? Would you baptize a practicing homosexual?
3. Are practicing homosexuals allowed any positions of leadership or responsibility in your church? If so, what positions?
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, “Andy Stanley Sermon Illustration on Homosexuality Prompts Backlash,” Christianity Today (May 3 [Web-only], 2012)
Anugrah Kumar, “Andy Stanley Avoids Gay Issue in Last Sermon of Controversial Series,” The Christian Post (May 6, 2012)
Scot McKnight. “Andy Stanley, Right and Good” (May 7, 2012)
McKnight concludes that what Stanley said and the manner in which we said it, and what he did not way, was “right and good.” Additionally, he concludes that critics of Stanley, viz. Mohler and Burk, have unfairly placed him on a slippery slope based on what he did not say. They, according to McKnight, engaged in the worst reading/hearing of Stanley, not the best. In response, McKnight used an illustration of Jesus and the Pharisees.
This whole story reminds me of two stories about Jesus and his Pharisee critics, two stories when he befriended those whom the others thought unacceptable.
Denny Burk: “Update on the Stanley Conversation” (May 7, 2012)
In this post, Burk replies to McKnight, acknowledges that this is as much about ecclesiology and how one views membership and discipline as it is about the moral status of homosexuality, and he points to North Point’s “student ministry volunteer application” that does address “sexual behavior.”
Andrew Marin, “Andy Stanley, Al Mohler, and Homosexuality,” Out of Ur (May 8, 2012)
Marin has this to say about Stanley’s message:
Stanley illustrated a story of a wife, husband and daughter in his church—where the husband cheated with another man who eventually became his partner—and the journey for each of the participants. The reality of this family’s new tension-filled dynamic illustrated for Stanley the tension between grace and truth in the Christian faith.
Here is his conclusion about Mohler, who was the first to take issue with Stanley’s message:
It should not be a surprise that Mohler took a hardline stand against Stanley’s nuanced message of tension.
Mohler’s worldview leads him to take the role of a moral watchdog within Christendom to anchor and promote conservative social, theological, and political ethics in an ever-trending liberal Western society.
Marin then contrasted Stanley and Mohler:
Using that filter I can grasp Mohler’s point about sin not being mentioned in relation to the gay relationship in Stanley’s illustration. Mohler has the expectation that every time homosexuality is mentioned, “sin” must be reiterated (you know, just in case there are any doubts). Since the progressive and LGBT movements are at the crux of cultural trends opposing strong conservatives like Mohler, when one of his own doesn’t unequivocally reaffirm his understanding of orthodoxy, even if that was not meant to be the point of the sermon, he must respond. In his mind, not taking this opportunity to label homosexuality sin leaves Stanley and other nondenominational megachurch pastors on the road toward liberalism. Yet my experience has shown Mohler’s assumption of a “slippery slope” is a theology-based academic construct much more than a functioning real-life theology of engagement.
To suggest that Stanley was attempting to normalize homosexuality by not speaking of the sin of same-sex sexual acts, as Mohler suggested, is to miss the point of Stanley’s sermon. Stanley focused on what it means to live in the tension of sin being present in the world and yet still follow as best as one can in the Way of Jesus. There is no better example of this in contemporary society than the complicated, broken, mixed family Stanley profiled—wife, boyfriend, daughter, ex-husband and his partner.
This whole exchange is worthwhile to read.
Here are a number of brief observations:
- There are cultural issues that are pressing against the Christian faith.
- Homosexuality and same-sex marriage is one of those key moral issues that is one of the leading cultural issues.
- It is imperative that Christians and the Church stand firmly on all the truth, and yet also specifically address those moral and cultural issues that are the specific pressure points against the truth and the Christian faith.
- Since culture consists of the mores of a people, and since people are not neutral spiritually/morally, there are issues to which the culture ways “yes” that the church, based on truth, must say “no.” Because liberal theology regularly accommodates Scripture to the culture and the mores of the people, they often say “yes” to these sorts of things. As Evangelicals, Scripture is not to be accommodated because if it is it is compromised.
- There are differences among Evangelicals in how we are to engage culture and how we are to communicate the truth to this culture.
- On these moral pressure points, both speaking and not speaking speak volumes. If homosexuality is addressed as sin, there are those who will claim that that is all that is being spoken about as sin and we have a single note to our message. If homosexuality is not addressed as sin, it may mean that one denies it is sin but it may mean that one is not addressing the full implications of this sin at this point in one’s statement, writing or message.
- Though the moral sin must be addressed, it ought to be addressed in a broader category of sins. In this case of human sexuality, homosexuality is sin. But so is fornication and adultery, and many other sins.
- As the moral issues of the day are addressed, it must be done from within the foundation and framework of the gospel. The issue must neither become nor supplant the gospel.
What do you observe? What would you add? How do you stand on the truth of God’s Word, equip and model for God’s people how to do that, and engage in culture, specifically on this point?