I just finished listening to Pastor Andy Stanley’s Sunday morning sermon to North Point Community Church. I have to say that it is one of the most subversively anti-Christian messages that I have ever heard. Stanley says at the outset that he is preaching the message as a response to Albert Mohler’s column in World magazine titled, “The Train Is Leaving the Station.” In that article, Mohler criticizes a North Point-hosted conference that features gay-affirming speakers.
Stanley never explicitly names Mohler in his message, but he does say at the outset that he does not hold to the same version of Christianity that Mohler holds to. The rest of Stanley’s message certainly bears that out. Indeed, the entire message is an apologia of sorts for North Point’s decision to host gay-affirming speakers and for North Point’s teaching on sexuality. Stanley writes,
“[Mohler] is actually accusing me of departing from his version of biblical Christianity. So I want to go on record and say, I have never subscribed to his version of biblical Christianity to begin with, so I’m not leaving anything. And if he were here he would say, ‘Well, Andy, I’ve never subscribed to your version of biblical Christianity.’ And that’s okay. We can agree to disagree, but this is so extraordinarily misleading. In my opinion, just my opinion, his version of biblical Christianity is the problem. His version, this version of biblical Christianity is why people are leaving Christianity unnecessarily. It’s the version that causes people to resist the Christian faith because they can’t find Jesus in the midst of all the other stuff and all the other theology and all the other complexity that gets blobbed on to the message.
Bottom line, that version of Christianity draws lines. And Jesus drew circles. He drew circles so large and included so many people in his circle that it consistently made religious leaders nervous.”
Stanley frames the message as if this imbroglio is merely a misunderstanding and that critics like Mohler just don’t get it. Stanley says that North Point didn’t host a bible or theology conference. Rather, it was a “pastoral” conference designed to restore the relationships of parents to their gay children. He further contends that North Point has not changed its teaching on sexuality. He says that North Point continues to teach that biblical marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and that sex outside of marriage is not God’s best. Sounds pretty Christian, right?
Well, not really. Actually, not at all. Stanley immediately follows that affirmation by saying that some gay Christians find this teaching too hard to follow. He says gay people at North Point know what the Bible says about marriage, but they choose to enter gay marriages anyway because they don’t want to spend their lives alone. They don’t want to live without love and a family, so they marry a same-sex partner and then just add that to following Jesus. Stanley says that North Point doesn’t draw “lines” to keep those people out of the church. Rather, they draw “circles” of inclusion so that they can remain at North Point as gay “married” couples. In Stanley’s words,
“[Gay Christians] choose a same sex marriage, not because they’re convinced it’s biblical. They read the same Bible we do. They chose to marry for the same reason many of us do, love, companionship and family.
And in the end, as was the case for all of us, and this is the important thing I want you to hear me say, it’s their decision. Our decision is to decide how we respond to their decision. Our decision as a group of local churches is how are we going to respond to their decisions? And we decided 28 years ago. We draw circles, we don’t draw lines. We draw big circles. If someone desires to follow Jesus, regardless of their starting point, regardless of their past, regardless of their current circumstances, our message is come and see and come sit with me. And this is not new. This is who we are. It’s who we’ve always been. And this is why I love our church and this is why I’m so extraordinarily proud of you. We aren’t condoning sin, we are restoring relationships, and we are literally saving lives.”
Stanley argues that the two conference speakers in gay marriages are faithful followers of Christ, even though both of them reject what the Bible teaches about marriage and sexuality. Stanley says,
“This is why Justin and Brian were invited, the two married gay men at the center of all the controversy. And I’m sure that you’ve read all about that. And here’s the thing about Brian and Justin: their stories and their journeys of growing up in church and maintaining their faith in Christ and their commitment to follow Christ all through their high school and college and singles and all up to the time that they were married, their story is so powerful for parents of gay especially kids, that it’s a story gay parents and gay kids need to hear.”
There is more to the message, and I won’t rehearse all of it here. Stanley says that North Point intends to release the message publicly sometime later this week. I encourage you to listen to it for yourself when they do.
What are we to make of all of this? This message is crafted to lead Christians to believe that as long as they give lip-service to the Bible’s definition of marriage, they can affirm unrepentant homosexual sinners as Christians. Indeed, Stanley argues that critics should stop criticizing and come and “learn” from North Point to see how pastoral ministry should actually be done.
I use the phrase “subversively anti-Christian” at the outset of this essay not as clickbait but as my honest assessment of what this teaching represents. The message is anti-Christian because it tells unrepentant sinners that they can inherit the kingdom of God—a message that the Bible roundly contradicts:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” –1 Corinthians 6:9-10
“For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” –Ephesians 5:5-6
Stanley’s message is subversive because it’s designed to sound like authentic Christianity. Indeed, it’s designed to try and persuade the consciences of Christians that they can affirm unrepentant sinners as brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s designed to convince listeners that churches should affirm the unrepentant as followers of Christ.
All of this is in keeping with Stanley’s teaching elsewhere on this subject. In May of last year, Stanley encouraged listeners to be in awe of the self-sacrifice of gay people whose prayers God did not answer and yet who still love God. He says that Christians have a lot to learn from gay men and women “who love Jesus” and “who want to worship with us.” If churches want to reach the next generation, then they must be more like Jesus who never “started with theology” but “started with the people in front of him.” Furthermore, Stanley argues that “If your theology gets in the way of ministry—like if there’s somebody you can’t minister to because of your theology—you have the wrong theology.”
As I argued in my essay about this earlier this year, Stanley’s message comes across as a straightforwardly affirming position on homosexuality in the church. He valorizes the faith of homosexuals as head-and-shoulders above the faith of straight Christians. He says, “the men and women I know who are gay, their faith and their confidence in God dwarfs mine. And so not only is there room, there’s plenty of room” for them in the church. He brushes aside what the Bible says about homosexuality as “clobber” verses, as if those texts somehow harm gay sinners. He even suggests that a change of theology is in order if churches can’t welcome gay people into their midst.
Followers of Christ need to be discerning lest they be hoodwinked by messages like this. No, Stanley doesn’t say in so many words, “I affirm gay marriage.” Nor does he say in so many words, “Homosexual immorality is fine with God.” He simply affirms the Bible’s definition of marriage out of one side of his mouth and then denies its necessity for pastoral care out of the other. This is not Christian teaching. This is not Christian at all.
Jesus gives stern warnings to those who would affirm true things with their words while denying those words by their actions:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'” –Matthew 7:21-23
What kind of a teacher would tell God’s people that their verbal affirmation of the Bible’s teaching on marriage somehow absolves them from the need to repent of sexual sin? Only a false teacher says things like that, and sadly that appears to be what we have before us here.
It brings me no joy to say any of these things. Nevertheless, they must be said. Anyone who listens to this teaching and follows it will be led away from Jesus and not to Jesus. This sad truth may be lost on the congregation at North Point who gave Stanley an ovation after he finished his teaching. But it shouldn’t be lost on faithful Christians. We must contend for the faith in the face of those who would undermine it (Jude 3). Otherwise, such ovations may find their way to other churches—maybe even yours.
After publishing this essay, Denny Burk sat down with Colin Smothers to record a podcast conversation addressing the issues covered in this article. Listen below.
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