By Kerwin Holmes, Jr.
This Sunday, I had the privilege to see an episode of Your Move, a cable televangelist show sponsored by North Point Community Church’s lead pastor Andy Stanley of Atlanta, GA. The show’s episode this time featured an onstage interview between Andy Stanley and Joseph Sojourner for what was termed “a candid interview” concerning the substance of Stanley’s new book The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating.
Now, starting off I want to give a little backstory because I attended college in Atlanta recently.
During my time in Atlanta, I had the privilege of visiting North Point Community Church’s Alpharetta and Buckhead campus locations. I habitually attended Buckhead’s services because of its ease of access and the fact that, apparently, Andy Stanley preferred to speak to that congregation as well. I had just moved off-campus and I was suffering from what many Christian students I conversed with also faced in the years of being at college away from home: the lack of a Church community to fellowship with in the meaningful worship of God.
So, having the ability to join a Christian community and also get a taste of the celebrity-religious experience in Atlanta (in what was then the largest congregation in the nation) was a two-for-one deal. But I became more and more concerned as I listened to sermon after sermon Andy Stanley delivered. The messages came off as a bit too much like a softcore pep rally to my taste. Going through the real life struggles of college life, the last thing that I needed was a pep rally after I ended the week resisting the sexual advances from the women in my school and later succumbing to the temptation of pornography in my privacy. What I needed was something capable of reaching down in my filthy sinfulness and lifting my head to see the love of God fully displayed on the gritty and world-racking Cross of Messiah. In short, what I needed was “a word from the LORD.”
Now, I got a word from Andy Stanley the last time that I attended Buckhead Church, it’s just that what I got left me even worse than when I had arrived…so much so that I had to compensate with hours of solitary Bible study and doxology afterwards to cope. Stanley preached a sermon from his series “You’ll Be Glad You Did,” which was a series about sexual purity and marriage.
Hold on, it all relates together with my original direction, I promise.
In that message Stanley began to deride certain lifestyles that believers like myself have fallen into, such as pornography (many an Evangelist preacher’s favorite go-to for preaching sexual purity), shacking up (aka non-marital cohabitation), premarital sex, and pressuring a partner into unwanted physical affection. His words were so convicting that the young couple immediately in front of me shifted in their seats. The man was fire. Then, all of a sudden he started to say how couples around the world had written to him about how his advice had helped to enrich their relationships, even homosexual couples wrote him gracious letters.
Hold up. The couple in front of me and I sat a tad bit straighter. Honestly, Stanley had stayed on the topic of pornography the longest, so I was still fresh on my spiritual singe, and the couple in front of me was just recovering from being blasted. The packed mega-size auditorium was dark but manageable, and somehow that day I had managed to get a seat reasonably close to the middle floor section. So I saw him clear as day as his mouth moved to his words. There he was, Christian pastor Andy Stanley, talking about sexual immorality and putting our lives on blast…and in the same breath choosing to use homosexual couples as the examples we should aspire to in following his “Biblical” advice.
As I had mentioned, I had already begun to have reservations about how Stanley could lecture for a full 45 minutes and reference the Bible fewer times than the most liberal and antichrist of my religion professors in college. Now, I was sure that I’d have to search for another community of believers. It wasn’t Stanley’s admission that homosexuals found his advice soothing and worth adhering to, God bless them for it! But, when Stanley preached a whole series about sexual purity and came down my-street-dot-com for most of his scripturally lackadaisical sermon and then neglected to point out one of the major sexual dangers facing the city of Atlanta when all Biblical roads led to such a confrontation–especially at a time when popular opinion was sorely against Christ on the issue–I found the answers to all of my questions about why I was feeling reserved. That was the last sermon that I attended so far from Andy Stanley.
And now, back to the program I watched today about his book The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating. Not surprisingly, Stanley had no references to the Bible this entire episode. Instead, in answering questions about the themes of his book, he constantly referred a totally different collection of holy writ called Statistics. For example, the holy book of Statistics apparently tells us that because most people who live together before marriage have a 50%-80% higher chance of divorce than the national average, then Christian people should not live together. What a certifiable fact from a divine source to trust the whole essence of my life to!
What made the mock interview even more rich (pardon the snarkiness) was that Stanley constantly qualified his advice by saying something like “I’m going to say this, but most people aren’t going to listen anyways…” But, it was here that I found Stanley being most honest and practical with himself, as a pastor who totally abandoned using the Bible in a sermon. As a sinful man saved by God’s faithfulness in Messiah Jesus, I am sure that I would toss out every one of his statistics with the oft made-up statistic about 90% of statistics being untrue. I mean, in the world of sexual temptation, my sinful mind can get pretty creative with giving me excuses and reasons to fall…statistics from phantom populations aside. But I wasn’t alone in my concern about how Stanley handled this topic. Christian Post writer Chelsen Vicari had similar words to write, and I tell you the truth that reading her article gave me some ease. She even referenced Stanley’s well-known fickleness about addressing homosexuality from a USA Today opinion piece where Stanley claimed that Christians refusing to bake wedding cakes for homosexuals should remember that Jesus died for those who He did not see eye to eye with.
Point well taken. Jesus did die for those He disagreed with, in fact he vehemently disagreed with all of us. Romans 5:8 makes that painfully clear to myself even as I type this work, hanging somewhere between peaceful calm and the next sinful temptation. But we must fully remember this about Jesus’ death even as we have recently celebrated Jesus’ birth…
Jesus didn’t commit suicide. Jesus was murked aka murdered aka hunted down and lynched. Let’s not forget that the Lord of the Universe in the flesh did not depart from this life gracefully like some elevated sage, nor did He die in the vindicated fashion of launching some extraordinary revolution but getting caught in the crossfire like a social martyr. Jesus was literally hunted down, given an illegally staged trial, and lynched by the entire capital city of his own people (the Jews) along with His people’s oppressors (the Romans) and anybody else who happened to have been in town. The whole world literally converged and conspired to put to death the Prince of Peace, and if we are Biblically-minded Christians, we realize that we (at least in spirit) were right there too, sinning our affirmation to each bruise, pulverized muscle, and spilled bodily fluid as our Savior was tortured to death naked on a Roman cross. Sure, Messiah laid down His life, but the world (including the tax collectors and prostitutes the religious leaders paid off that day) eagerly took it from Him.
So when Andy Stanley insinuates that Jesus, the man who overthrew tables in the Temple court and whipped people just for selling goods on the wrong section of pavement, would bake a cake for a homosexual couple willingly engaged in sin, I laugh and then get right back to real life. I mean, the man made His own whip to do that stuff (John 2:15). That takes dedication, the dude was going ham. We cannot forget that Jesus is the same Person who thousands of years ago walked to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in order to render to those people as they deserved, all the while being willing to extend mercy to those cities on His way there (Genesis 18:16-33). We cannot forget that God’s mercy is nothing without God’s justice. We cannot forget that if we reject God’s mercy, we leave the Righteous Judge of all the Earth with only the option of giving us His justice. We cannot forget that being Yahweh, Jesus Himself rained down fire upon those persons from His Father in Heaven (Genesis 19:24). Yes, Jesus profoundly loves us and He desires for us to be reconciled to His Father (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). It’s just that we also must realize that Jesus once for all suffered the price of our reconciliation. Even God’s mercy requires that His justice be dealt with first. The unrepentant sinner should be motivated by how costly that suffering was for Jesus in order to turn from practicing sin and to accept Christ as Lord. And if we do not turn, we ourselves will face the fine that God’s justice demands, and it is a price that even in eternity…we will never ever pay.
And one only gets to that truth by reading the Scriptures of God, relying upon God’s authority, and applying God’s message to real life. And this is something that I pray that Andy Stanley, and many of my Christian siblings along with myself, continue to mature in doing as we walk our lives in the Light of the Way.