Christian Index Walks Back Criticism of Andy Stanley; Apologists Should Walk it Forward

In a December 27th editorial entitled “Andy Stanley’s Approach to the Virgin Birth,” Christian Index Editor Dr. Gerald Harris criticized a recent message (sermon) from Atlanta area mega-pastor Andy Stanley, labeling Stanley’s preaching as “ambiguous” and “lacking”. For Stanley, such criticism is nothing new. He has been catching flack for his preaching and the way he operates his organization for some time. Over twenty years ago, Andy Stanley broke away from the church pastored by his father, former Southern Baptist Convention President Charles Stanley, and founded North Point ministries with a vision of creating “churches that unchurched people love to attend”. In keeping with his vision, Stanley does not preach verse-by-verse expository sermons geared towards Christians who respect the authority of the Bible. Stanley has called such preaching “cheating” and argued that preaching expository sermons is not how to “grow people”. Contrary to his father’s style of preaching, Andy Stanley carefully crafts Sunday morning messages that are geared towards appealing to skeptics and unbelievers (unchurched people). Thus, it’s not surprising that Stanley has drawn the ire of conservative Bible teachers such as Dr. Albert Mohler and Gerald Harris. In his December 27th editorial, Harris criticized Stanley for downplaying the importance of the virgin birth in a December message preached to North Point Church. Harris also hearkened back to an August message from Stanley in which Stanley “seemed to minimize the importance of the role Scripture plays in the life of the believer”. Harris was on the right track in plotting Stanley’s dangerous trajectory. Unfortunately, Harris walked back his criticisms of Stanley in a December 28th editorial entitled “Andy Stanley’s Approach to the Virgin Birth is Different, Not Wrong.

Harris explained in his latter editorial:

“Pastor Stanley was kind enough to contact me and said the sermon I referenced was the first of a three-part series. He then asked if I had heard the other two sermons, to which I replied I had not. He indicated the series was actually an apologetic for the virgin birth of Jesus.”

Part of Stanley’s apologetic for the virgin birth included the following:

“In fact, this was a weird idea. It was a kind of Greek leftover – from Greek mythology. In Greek mythology the Greek gods were always mating with Greek, beautiful, human females in order to have these God-person creatures like Hercules and Helen of Troy whose father was Zeus. The whole idea of gods mating with humans to create these god-human creatures was not Jewish. It was Greek. It was pagan….Nobody was expecting the virgin birth. It was not critical to the story of the Messiah coming to deliver the nation of Israel; and making this up doesn’t help the story.”

Stanley’s is a really, really bad apologetic. Even if it is granted that preaching such an “apologetic” sermon to a church audience is appropriate, Stanley’s grasp of the facts (or lack thereof) in inexcusable. Firstly, Stanley’s statements play into the mindset of internet infidel Jesus Mythicists (the very skeptics that Stanley purportedly wants to reach) who contend that the story of Jesus was adapted from earlier pagan myths. Secondly, his assertions flatly contradict the Old Testament scriptures. Harris’ apology editorial ironically exposes a further problem with Stanley’s preaching.

Dr. Robert Stewart is a Professor of Philosophy and Theology at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where he teaches courses such as “Christian Apologetics” and “Apologetic Method.” Stewart defines “Mythicism” as “The claim that Jesus never lived or that the story of Jesus as told by Christians is an amalgamation of various ancient mystery religions.” By giving credence to the popular skeptical idea that the virgin birth is “kind of a Greek leftover” Stanley provides sound-byte ammunition to Mythicists with which they can assail the Christian worldview; Stanley, a bona fide Chrisitan minister has given credence to Mythicist claims that the story of Jesus was adapted, not from biblical prophecy, but from the “virgin birth” stories of gods and demigods such as Horus, Mithras, and Hercules. Those who compare pagan god origin stories to the biblical virgin birth engage in a number of fallacies: terminology, chronological, dependency, composition, and intentional. For some reason, Stanley plays their game. This is not a game played by the translators of the Septuagint. The Septuagint was the primary Greek Old Testament that was in use during Jesus’ (and the Apostles’) time on Earth. The Septuagint renders Isaiah 7:14 as follows:

“διὰ τοῦτο δώσει Κύριος αὐτὸς ὑμῖν σημεῖον· ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει, καὶ τέξεται υἱόν, καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ᾿Εμμανουήλ·”

Which translated in English is:

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel.”

They key Greek term in this Old Testament prophecy, where the virgin birth is concerned, is παρθένος. This Greek term describes a maiden who has not yet known sexual relations with a man. It is the same term the evangelist uses in Matthew 1:23 to describe Mary. It is also the same term used to describe Mary in Luke 1:27. This is the term the (very Jewish) translators of the Septuagint chose to use for the Hebrew term הָעַלְמָ֗ה when they translated the book of Isaiah from Hebrew to Greek. Detractors of the doctrine of the virgin birth have argued that הָעַלְמָה means “young woman” but does not necessarily indicate that the young woman being described is a virgin. The translators of Jesus day clearly believed that this term indicated that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Stanley’s apologetic, it seems, weakens their case. Stanley’s statement that “Nobody was expecting the virgin birth. It was not critical to the story of the Messiah coming to deliver the nation of Israel” flatly contradicts the translators of the Septuagint and what has been revealed scripture through Matthew and Luke.

Gerald Harris would have done well to “keep up the skeer” rather than apologize to Andy Stanley who has, once again, engaged in ministerial malpractice, this time in the realm of Christian apologetic. Biblically-grounded members of North Point Church would do well to flock away from their errant shepherd, Andy Stanley.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

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@gsethdunn

Seth Dunn

Editor at Pulpit & Pen
Host of the Christian Commute Podcast
Member, Evangelical Theological Society
@gsethdunn

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