Series 24: For The Love Of Faith Icons | Episode 02
A Faith that Leaves Room for Questions: Andy Stanley
Our “For the Love of Faith Icons” series continues with another leader who hails from a famous evangelical family and has blazed a trail to a new understanding of Christianity and where the Bible fits in: pastor, writer and speaker Andy Stanley. As he grew up as a preacher’s kid of a man who has iconic status in his own right, Dr. Charles Stanley, Andy was encouraged to find his own way to God and to ask hard questions without fear of recrimination. This freedom ultimately steered Andy into his own ministry, and he is still asking the hard questions on behalf of thousands of people who attend services across 6 campuses at Atlanta’s North Point Church, the 2nd largest church in the U.S. Andy and Jen discuss how folks who have been burned by the church or who are just burned out in their faith can take a step back toward Jesus and shed their religious baggage by realizing the basis of our faith is an event (the resurrection) and a person (Jesus), not just a book of rules. They also agree that the ancient truth of the Bible can stand up to our toughest questions and that curiosity and faith really can go hand in hand.
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey, guys. Jen Hatmaker here. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast. Thank you for being here. Thank you for listening.
We are in a series right now called For the Love of Faith Icons. So, I’m talking to people who have put their hand to the work of faith, and church, and scripture, and spiritual development for some time. These have been leaders for decades. They’ve built amazing ministries, and churches, and faith spaces. We have a lot to learn from them. I have a lot of questions for them, because my gosh . . . If you started ministry 30 or 40 years ago, and you’re still in it, some stuff has gone down. Things have changed and shifted. I mean, talk about real transitions in leadership. You know I don’t shy away from any questions, so I had some stuff to ask, especially to today’s guest.
You probably know Andy Stanley. Andy . . . gosh, where do we start? Well, first of all, he’s the founder of North Point Ministries, which has seven churches in the Atlanta area and then a network of over 90 churches around the planet. That’s a deal. You maybe know Andy’s dad, renowned pastor, Dr. Charles Stanley, who we talk about in this interview. I think you’ll find that interesting. Of course, Andy’s doing things very differently than his dad did. But he had some really meaningful things to say about his relationship, and so I really actually loved that part of our conversation.
Super prolific communicator, Andy. Gosh. Well, he’s the host of the show which reaches millions of people on NBC and podcast. He’s also been podcasting, by the way, since basically they invented iPods. He hosts The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. And then, of course, he’s the author of more than 20 books. We’re going to talk about his latest book, Irresistible: Reclaiming the New That Jesus Unleashed for the World, which according to him, is a book for anyone who cares deeply about the future of the church. But as you will hear, it ruffled some feathers. There was some pushback and some criticism, and Andy and I talk a lot about that. Like, what was under his ideas as he really sort of posited his viewpoint of scripture, and what it means, and where its value lies, and how we are to both interpret it and value it? I mean, it’s a real interesting conversation.
Andy—I really appreciated his candor as he talked to me about his convictions there, and what that looks like. I think you’re going to find that really, really interesting. I talked to him about; what is the church’s role toward injustice in this world right now as we’re surrounded by it? Do we have a prophetic voice or not? Are we supposed to stay in or stay out?
We go in. We go in. I am really grateful to Andy for the level of frankness that he offered us in this conversation. I think you’re going to love it, and I think you’re going to be encouraged by it. Grateful for his time. Grateful for his presence on the show. Help me welcome my guest today, Andy Stanley.
Jen: I’m so happy to be talking to you and so glad to have you on the podcast, Andy. Thank you.
Andy: Hey, it’s my honor to be here and we were just chatting before. We haven’t actually seen each other in about five years. I hope you are doing well–apparently so.
Jen: That’s right. Let me tell you, I don’t know if you remember this, but I’m going to jog your memory. I just shot at five years. I think that’s about what it was. I did an event at your church and it was kind of this joint–women in one sanctuary, men in the other. Craig Groeschel had the guys and I had the girls. Here’s the main thing that I remember from that night, which I still have and probably, I’m going to say, one of the more bizarre moments of my entire adult ministry. You handed me a bobble head of myself. Do you remember this?
Andy: Well, surely that’s not the first bobble head you’ve gotten of yourself, is it?
Jen: I tell you that it was—first and only.
Andy: Okay. Good. All right. Everybody should have one of those.
Jen: So what’s funny is my friends think that’s hilarious and they take that bobble head, and then it shows up at real weird places since that day. So I want you to know that it lives on.
Andy: Well, I have someone . . . somebody gave me one many years ago and Sandra takes it and she hides it, and then I have something that I hide and we hide them all over the house to scare each other. And it’s just a–mine is so bizarre. I can’t even describe it. I was in Romania and this kid painted a picture of me and it’s a caricature, and it’s huge, and it’s like watercolor, and it looks like I’m a creature, but it’s like a life size head on this roll up canvas. And so I hide it in the dryer, and in the washing machine, I put it in her drawers. She opens her drawers and there I’m staring. It is so creepy. So yeah.
Jen: That is amazing.
Andy: Now, the other thing too, I thought you were going to say is because that was an interesting event where we had men in one room and women in the other, and I thought you were going to say, “So is that how you do all of your services? You have the men in one room and women in the other.”
Jen: Sure, let’s just divide and conquer here.
Andy: Yeah, yeah.
Jen: Okay. So obviously most of my listeners of course know who you are and I’ve talked a little bit about your credentials and who you’ve come from and all that. So before we sort of dive into your work now in church, I would love to talk a little bit about your early years because they’re important to all of us, especially to you because you grew up with a dad who’s a faith icon in his own right, obviously, Dr. Charles Stanley. Super well known and respected voice in the Christian church. And so I know what it’s like to grow up with a parent in ministry. I’m a minister’s kid too and now I’m a grown up doing the same thing–even though I said I wasn’t going to.
So I would love to hear from you—maybe I’m leading the witness here—but some of the scrutiny and maybe the pressure that you might’ve felt growing up with your dad being so well known around the world. What was that like for you as a kid?
Andy: Well, it was 90% wonderful and positive and partly because my parents bent over backwards not to put that extra preacher’s kid pressure on my sister or on me. I mean, some of my fondest memories are my dad basically just telling people to back off when they would come to him with extra stuff. The story that Louie Giglio and I—we grew up together at my dad’s church—the story that we both tell is one Sunday after church—well, Louie and I used to skip church all the time and go down to the Varsity, which is a restaurant where they had the televisions on, live television, and we would stand up and change the channel and watch my dad’s service from the Varsity just so I’d know enough about the sermon to be able to get in the car and say, “Hey dad, the thing about the dog was so good.”
Jen: That’s amazing.
Andy: So his assistant one Sunday said, “You just need to know that so-and-so saw Andy and Louie headed down the street, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. And they were skipping church.”
So we’re driving home that afternoon after church and I’m in the back seat, I remember. It was just the two of us for some reason. He said, “Andy, Ellen came in today and said that she saw you and Louie headed down probably toward the Varsity about time the service was going to start.” And then he paused and he said, “And you know what I told her?”
I said, “No, sir.”
He said, “I told her, ‘You raise your kids, and you let me raise mine.’” And that’s all he said.
And here I am a hundred years later. I still remember that. So that really was the posture. And so consequently, for the most part, it was great. I got to meet amazing people, go amazing places. As a pastor, of course, all three of my kids are preacher’s kids and I tried to take a page out of his playbook.
Jen: Totally. My dad was never like the hovering minister presence. My dad was super rogue anyway. He’s not a typical pastor at all. But it was like my mom was the one in the choir, in the choir loft. And so it wasn’t just my mom, it was all my best friends’ moms.
Andy: Watching you.
Jen: Oh, watching us. I don’t think they ever heard a sermon in their lives. All they did was stare at us and give us the evil eye for passing notes and falling asleep in church, so we couldn’t escape the choir. I love hearing that story about your dad because how tempting would it have been for him to double down on that? That’s an awesome story.
Andy: Yeah, he did it right.
Jen: Yeah, he sure did. We’re trying to do the same thing cause we’re like how much therapy can we actually pay for five kids? We’ve got to do this right the first go-round.
Andy: You know, the other thing, I think about being a preacher’s kid—because I love hiring pastor’s kids because anytime a pastor’s kid wants to be in ministry, that says so much about their parents, their family, their church. But one of the things that you can appreciate too, when you grow up in that world, you understand real quickly never to be impressed with what a person’s like on stage with a microphone. The average person gets so, I think, drawn in, and suckered in, and somewhat almost hypnotized by giftedness.
And when you grow up in ministry, we may not have the terminology early on, but we realized real quickly: what a person can do on stage with a mic, that’s not the time to judge their character, their maturity, or really anything else about them other than their giftedness.
People are like, “I just felt like the spirit was moving tonight.”
And I’m like, “Well, maybe the room was full. Maybe it had more to do with the room full.”
I don’t know. I think we see maybe a little bit more clearly and hopefully it makes us a little bit more effective. I don’t know. But I had a great experience growing up.
Jen: I hope you’re right. I couldn’t agree more that sometimes stage presence is not a whole lot more than just plain old charisma. You and I’ve seen behind the curtain since we were kids, and so I have the same standards as you. Show me what you’re like on a Tuesday, show me what you’re like when things are going sideways.
Andy: At home.
Jen: Yeah. At home. Exactly.
Let me ask you this, because so many of us have watched you, and learned from you, and listened to you, and followed you for a really long time. And so I’d like to hear in your own words, I don’t know—what point did you feel like it was okay or you had some sort of permission, if you will, to ask questions about your own faith? Not your dad’s, but yours, and then maybe even practice it a little differently from your dad’s, which is very normal–sort of a generational shift. Because processing the faith that we had as a kid is this lifelong process. And so I wonder how that has looked for you as an adult and then ultimately like parse it out for how that kind of affects the way you lead your own church now.
Andy: Well, the shift for me actually started in seminary. I went to Dallas Theological Seminary, and I had a very devotional understanding of and devotional approach to the Bible, but going to DTS, I mean my mind was blown in terms of the academic side of theology and Bible study and all of that. And what that did for me—and this is not true for everybody—sometimes seminary undermines people’s faith. But for me, when I understood the history of Christianity, or began to understand it, and when I understood the history of how we got our Bible, and thanks to Dr. Norman Geisler, my faith—and this is in my late 20s or mid to late 20s—my faith shifted from an “anchored to the Bible” faith to an “anchored to the event of the resurrection” faith.
And this sounds so strange, but most of your listeners understand this. I was no longer afraid of what I might bump into in the Bible, and I felt far less pressure to be able to defend everything. And I felt a lot less pressure to sand off all the rough edges and make it all fit together perfectly. And that is not to say that it can’t be made to fit together perfectly. I’m just saying I felt the freedom. I didn’t feel like my faith hinged on my ability to prove that everything in the Bible was true because once upon a time, there were thousands and thousands of Christians with no B-I-B-L-E, and somehow their faith endured with far, far more pressure than we’ll ever feel. So really ,it was in an academic environment that I felt like my faith got more grounded and I felt the freedom to think.
And then secondly, the second part of your question, I was working with college students in Dallas and then I came to work for my dad for 10 years with high school students. And the freedom that we have in student ministry to explore and to try to be creative, it’s a playground of ideas. And so again, those things blended together. I just felt permission. And then again, when I came to work for my dad, he gave me extraordinary freedom to do things that were a little bit unusual, a little bit unorthodox, and he supported me 100%. So that’s kind of the short version.
Jen: Well, let’s talk about North Point a little bit. So obviously you went on to plant North Point, and then it just grew exponentially and you went down a little bit of a different road than the one that you came up on. Obviously dealt with what feels like some struggle when you go a different direction. I love the North star that you have for your ministry, which is you’re trying to create, as you say, churches that unchurched people love to attend. I want to talk about that for a minute because I, like you— churched my entire life.
And so I think it’s interesting to think through this lens. What does somebody who’s not familiar with church or burned by the church—which is something, of course, you and I both see a ton—what are they looking for? Can you talk through your perspective there? What you are hoping that people find at North Point and what you hope to be offering really to everybody who walks in the door?
Andy: Yeah. I love talking about this, and so just interrupt me when I’ve gone too long.
Well, there’s a couple of big differentiators. Again, reading the New Testament, I’m convinced everybody can take a step to follow Jesus from wherever their starting point is, regardless of what they believe about Jesus. And I say that because in the New Testament that was His invitation. It was follow Me, follow Me, follow Me and hopefully somewhere along the way you’ll start to believe. But we know from the gospels, even at the very end, they walked away. So my approach and the approach we’ve tried to create with all of our language, and our ministries around, and our environments around, and experiences around–is this whole idea of take a step, take a step. Everybody’s invited to follow Jesus. Our mission is to inspire people to follow Jesus because Jesus introduced the kingdom of heaven to earth and everybody is invited to participate in it.
So when that’s the front end of the messaging, then regardless of what a person believes, we’re not saying, “Here’s four things you’ve got to believe. You’ve got to swallow the whole thing or you can’t do anything at all.” And in my kind of subtitle to that for me and my personal evangelism is that I’m convinced following Jesus will make your life better, and it’ll make you better at life, and in time you may discover He deserves to be followed.
Jen: That’s good.
Andy: But take a step and follow Jesus. And I tell you who resonates with this message is Jewish people. Jewish people who want to connect in some sort of faith world, but of course the Jesus piece and Messiah piece that is such a big pill to swallow, but to say, “Hey, look, just take a step. Take a step to follow Jesus.”
The second thing is that I teach from the foundation, as I mentioned earlier, and there’s a lot about this in the book, that the foundation of our faith is an event. It’s not a book.
So the event of the resurrection that launched the movement, the church, that eventually brought us the Bible. So the early Christians’ faith began with the event and the person, not a book. And when I say that, people get nervous and I understand that, but I went to Dallas Theological Seminary, believe me, Dr. Geisler would come back from the dead to haunt me if he thought I had abandoned a high view of scripture.
And again, unchurched people find this to be a much easier on-ramp to faith because it’s not pre-suppositional. And by that I mean you don’t have to start with, “Okay, I believe the whole Bible is true.” Step number two, and it’s not anti-intellectual, but best of all, it’s true: it’s irrefutable historically and logically, but it makes traditional evangelicals a little nervous. And I understand that because when anybody starts talking in different terms about the Bible, everybody should get nervous and sit up straight. I totally get that. But I learned this, I got this framework, again from Dr. Geisler who is the editor of the book, Inerrancy, which is used in every conservative Bible college and seminary almost in the world. So this is not a departure from a high view of scripture. This is a bit of a departure in terms of an approach to helping people take their first step.
Jen: I want to talk to you more about that because I am familiar with what can sometimes be like a really a knee-jerk reaction inside the Christian community.
Andy: Yes, you are very familiar with that.
Jen: I’ve heard that this is true, and I would love to hear you talk more about that and what it is sort of the bedrock in our community that has, I think, created a bit of an aversion to several things that in my vantage point have always been incredibly integral to a faith that is growing and robust. Things like curiosity, things like dialogue, things like listening to, just frankly, a perspective or an approach that maybe isn’t the same exact one we grew up with. I mean, you’ve been at this a long time. What do you think is under that?
You mentioned the Jewish community a minute ago. I’ve learned a lot from the Jewish community too, but one of my favorite things about the way that they engage with God is they have just sort of a baked-in sense of curiosity about scripture, about stories, about interpretations. And it’s not always such a threat. It doesn’t always seem like the whole thing’s about to unravel. But rather I find it this really intellectual, and open hearted, and an open handed approach to God that He’s managed to use generation after generation.
Okay. That was a long intro. I just would like to hear your perspective here on . . . do you think it’s possible for, like, the evangelical communities, let’s say specifically, to reclaim some of that strength and not get so rattled so easily?
Andy: Well, that honestly is such a big part of why I wrote Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Came to Unleash in the World because . . . I have a favorite atheist. Let me just give you the quote, but I love this quote. And the quote is—Sam Harris says that, “We should all pay attention to the frontiers of our ignorance.”
We should all pay attention to the frontiers of our ignorance.
Christians have a very difficult time doing that. And my theory is, the reason is because—and again, this is what gets me in trouble—is we have a Bible based, but not just Bible based, an interpretation of the Bible-based theology that serves as a foundation. And so when that’s a foundation, anything that might be threatening, you either have to look the other way or you feel immediate pressure not to be curious, but to batten down the hatches and shore up the defenses.
And so we end up in a very, very, very defensive posture. And ,” we have to immediately scramble to make sure that there’s not a crack in, again, our biblical theology. And I just don’t think Christianity is that fragile. I just don’t think we would be here 2000 years later if it was as fragile and hung by the thread of our ability to make sure there’s no space and no cracks in our understanding of how the world works or what ancient, ancient, ancient people thought and viewed.
Another one of my favorite quotes, and I don’t ever tell people who said this one. I mean, Sam Harris is my favorite atheist, but this guy is so politically . . . and anytime I say his name, people can’t hear what I’m going to say because of who said it. But I love this quote, that, “God accommodates to our capacity,” that God accommodates our capacity.
And we know God accommodates to our capacity. Every parent understands this. When your five-year-old says, “Mommy, where do babies come from?” You don’t lie, but you don’t give a high school answer, a college answer, a graduate school answer, a med school answer. So we know that God accommodates to our capacity because He loves us. So consequently when we look at the scripture, we have to assume because of God’s love, He’s not lying, or deceiving, or misleading. He’s accommodating the capacity of people who didn’t even know there were germs.
Jen: That’s great. I love that.
Andy: Because we plucked up the books of the Bible out of their historical roots and put them in a vase and made it a stand alone icon–if your faith hinges on protecting that–you almost cannot be curious. And so this is fed/fueled the debate between religion and science, Christianity and science and we could go right down the line. So I think that’s a part of it. And so that’s why I like to say to people, “Hey, I’ve got some good news for you. Your faith is not that fragile.” It endured the Roman Empire and the Temple. It was sandwiched between two extraordinarily powerful influences, and there is no more Roman Empire. And the Temple is a tourist attraction. So we’re good. We have a very endurable faith, and there’s plenty of room for curiosity.
Jen: I love that answer. I say the same thing all the time. And one thing I’ve learned is that we can press really, really hard on scripture and it’ll hold.
Andy: Of course, yeah.
Jen: And we’re not going to be the first generation in history in which God’s going to fall out of the sky, right off His throne. We’re not going to do it. We don’t have the capacity to ruin the whole enterprise with some hard questions.
And then of course, I draw a lot of historical strength when I look backward and see every generation has done that. Every single one has asked hard questions of the forms, hard questions of the templates and of the interpretations. That’s great.
Starting here. So forever for sure, but definitely over the last few years, it’s kind of been a weird time to be alive. It’s a weird time to just be a Christian in America. It’s strange. And so it feels like people of faith are deeply thinking right now and discussing and arguing about what it means to actually be a follower of Jesus and how that informs what it is that we believe, how it informs what our values are, how it informs who we stand with—which, for a lot of us, may be different than the way we grew up. What is our contribution to the world right now as believers?
And so I want to talk about that, and then I want to mention that so many people are choosing right now—and of course you and I both know this as church leaders—to practice their faith outside of a church community. That is the trend. So one of the things that you talk about in Irresistible is the notion that church can and has been a very powerful force for good. And so I’d like to hear you talk about both things: this sense of what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in the world right now? And does church have any meaningful part in that still? How would you deal with people who have nothing except for negative, harmful, even abusive associations with the church?
Andy: That’s a lot of questions, Jen.
Jen: I know. Just pick one. Just pick a thread.
Andy: Well, it is irrefutable historically that the church has not . . . I mean, there’s no case to be made that the church has not made major contributions to the world and continues to. And outward facing evangelical churches and even outward facing non-evangelical churches continue every single day, every single week to make extraordinary good things for the world. Every year we raise several million dollars to give to nonprofits in our local communities and faith-based and non-faith based. Every outward facing church does this. So there’s no real case to be made that, “Oh, the church is just a blind . . . It’s just sucking tax dollars. It does no good.” I mean, a person can have a bad church experience and look for evidence to support their conclusions. But that’s just not true.
In terms of what it means to follow Jesus . . . well, to go to the church question, where two or three or more gather in Jesus name, you’re at church. So there’s that. So the church isn’t going anywhere. Of course, we think in terms of the Westernized church, but in the New Testament times, first century, second, third century times, there were people meeting in gardens, and in homes, and backyards, and wherever they could gather safely or somewhat safely. And the same is true all over the world today, as you know. So the church, as you said earlier, you know, it’s going to continue.
My second favorite Bible prophecy is Jesus standing in Caesarea Philippi saying to His 12 apostles, “Hey, I’m going to start a new movement and the Gates of Hades, or basically death, isn’t going to stop it. And on this statement that “I’m the Christ the Son of the living God, I’m going to build my ecclesia.” And they’re looking at each other like, “Well, do we need a new movement? We have the nation of Israel.” Jesus is like, “Okay, it’s going to be bigger than that.” It’s going to be international, multi generational and here we are. So the church is going to be fine. And to your point earlier as well, leaders are going to continue to adapt and adopt and every generation is going to have new innovative, creative things. And there’s always going to be a core.
And I just think at the end of the day, the spirit of God inhabits His people, that the body of Christ is a walking, talking temple–each of us as individuals, to some extent, are as well. So I don’t worry about that. What I worry about is that local churches are not outward facing. They become inward facing. And that’s when the trouble begins. Because an outward facing Christian community, they don’t argue over stupid things. They don’t fight over stupid things. They generally have enough money to get the things that need to get done done. You just don’t have the silliness that often takes place when Christians are no longer outward facing, they’re just holding hands and looking inward. So my encouragement to pastors is always, “Look, don’t just have a cool church, and a hip church, and a modern church, have an outward facing church with a mission that is about not who’s there, but who’s not there.” And that’s going to solve—you’re going to have the right kinds of problems when you make that decision.
Jen: So first of all I’d like to point out to everybody listening that when I speak to a pastor, sometimes he says things like, “My second favorite biblical prophecy is . . . ” That’s just a pastor thing to say, so everybody relax. The second one is. . .
Andy: You want to know what my first one is?
Jen: Of course.
Andy: Yes. My favorite one is in the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus predicts in extraordinary detail the destruction of Jerusalem. I spent a lot of time on this in Irresistible. This is the most overlooked, amazing thing in the Bible to me because you can visit Jerusalem today and see the stones that were scraped off the top of the Temple Mount when Titus with the 10th Legion finally got through that second curtain wall and destroyed the city and sacked the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. And Jesus predicts this with extraordinary detail. It’s unbelievable.
Unfortunately, the evangelical community took that prediction and made it all about Revelation–end times–and have missed this . . . I mean it, it is the primary reason why non-conservative theologians have to have Matthew, Mark, and Luke specifically written after 70 A.D. because if those gospels were written earlier, then everybody needs to stand up and pay attention because Jesus is the Son of God to have made that kind of prediction. It is extraordinary. So that’s my favorite biblical prophecy.
Jen: Okay, I appreciate that.
So I want to go back to something you were just saying about building outward facing churches, which is completely the way that we are wired here too in Austin New Church.
Let me ask you this because one thing that we hear . . . now, we’ve built a church that tends to attract—I don’t know, I’m just going to pick a term, none of them are perfect—but a little bit more of a church outlier, if you will. And so we end up pastoring a lot of people who either have no meaningful church experience in their life or they had a really bad one. So that tends to be the majority of our community.
And so one thing that we hear often, not just from them, but also from just the greater community that we lead is that folks feel conflicted and disappointed, maybe discouraged when they see a church—and I’m just saying “church” sort of at large in this point—who is silent on so many injustices that are just swirling around us in our culture right now. We can’t even escape a single one of them. They’re so constant and ubiquitous.
So what do you think about this or do you believe that the church is to have a meaningful voice when it comes to injustice, when it comes to white supremacy, when it comes to violence and exploitation against women, when it sort of comes to the dehumanization of immigrants and refugees? I’m just picking some of the ones that we are flooded with. What do you find the church’s role to be there? Because what we see is that the church’s silence in that, which of course is under the umbrella as people say as “not being political,” leaves people on the margins out cold. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this.
I guess maybe the question I’m asking you is underneath it. Do you think—as a pastor of a lot of people—do you think the church and its leadership primarily, it’s pastors, its teachers, its preachers, do we have a responsibility to speak into these things?
Andy: Yes, absolutely. We have a responsibility to speak into the issues. Where I think we should be careful . . . and I get criticized for this— because when President Obama was president, people said “Andy, why didn’t you say anything?” When President Trump’s president, “Why didn’t you say anything?” And I always say, “Look, I don’t say anything negative about anybody because I hope that body shows up at our church. I’m going to preach and teach as if they’re sitting there. I’m not going to take shots at anybody by name ever with a microphone on, standing on a platform, ever. That’s just my personal decision.” Now with a group of three or four leaders with a group of a dozen leaders, people want to have a conversation, of course there’s a time and a place. But if people make assumptions about the stance of a church or even a pastor just based on Sunday morning platform time, that’s just unfair.
And there are many people in our churches who left their previous churches because they got tired of that. It was the current events church. And the issue is not what we say, as you know, the issue is what are we doing. And churches must be seen doing good. Churches must be seen doing good in such a way that the church gets the credit for doing good in the community and addressing issues in the community. And there’s a way to do that without turning the church into the current event church every Sunday you show up. Because, I mean, in the city of Atlanta, I’m telling you, every other Sunday we could spend 20 minutes talking about what just happened in our city and this is true with everybody in a large city, right? So, yes, we should address issues. I think we should address them with our time, our volunteering and our money because if you put your money where your complaints are, then people take you seriously.
So absolutely. But I’m like you, it’s a little frustrating sometimes when, “Well, the church . . . and the church . . . and the church never . . . and the church always . . . ” I’m like, “Wait a minute. There are churches that are hip deep into those issues every single day of the week to the point where it’s hard for them to get back to the church stuff because they’re so socially active.” So it just depends on where you stand that determines what you see a little bit. But that’s one person’s perspective.
But in terms of addressing issues, we can’t not address the issues because Jesus models this for us. I mean, He brought such extraordinary dignity to men, but primarily women, and children, and slaves, and free men. And so both in our actions and in our teaching and what we raise to the surface or raise to the top level of our values, all of that is super important.
Here’s another thing you said in the book that I was really struck by. You said, “I’ve yet to hear a story from anyone who abandoned Christianity based on anything directly related to Christianity— at least the original version, anyway.” And I appreciate that clause at the end because that’s worth mentioning. Can you talk a little bit more about that and why essentially Jesus is irresistible?
Andy: Well, the reason I say that is I love deconversion stories, not because people deconvert, I’m just so fascinated. I read books, articles, blogs, rants, the Life After God Podcast—I’m a fan of that because it’s just story after story of people who’ve deconverted and as strange as that sounds, it’s true that when I hear people tell their story, I’m thinking, “Wait a minute. I’m not doubting your experience or I’m not even saying I wouldn’t have done the same thing, but you just need to know what you left, that’s just a bad version of Christianity.”
My son Andrew is an Auburn grad, had a great job, decided he wanted to do standup comedy full time, left his great job, and is in the world of standup comedy. It was the curveball of our parenting, but we’re super proud of him.
But the other day when he was at home, we were having this conversation and he does lots of comedy clubs all over the country. It’s interesting. So he’s in this dark network of comedy club people. Here’s what he said. He said, “Dad, most of my friends and most of these men and women I meet, they all are ex-church people. They’re all ex-church. And when I hear their stories, if I had grown up in one of those kinds of churches, I probably wouldn’t be in church either.”
So again, it’s not the gospel. Think of this, the opening line, the headline was “good news of great joy for all people.” So if your version of Christianity is not “good news of great joy for all the people,” you may not have the right version. And so again, I understand why people—
Jen: It’s a great distillation.
Andy: Well, it’s right there in the gospel.
Jen: There it is, plain.
Andy: So again, trying to help people step back into that beginning era of our faith, it’s fantastic. It was good news. And the more oppressed, the better the news. The less opportunity, the better the news, the more disenfranchised from the religious system, the better the news. So when we can clear away the clutter and put that out on the top shelf, people lean. And I say all the time, I believe people if they understood the gospel, they would want it to be true before they believe it’s true. And they may never believe it’s true, but they would think to themselves, “But if only that were true, that would be good news.”
Jen: That’s great. I love that. I find that a spiritual path in my own life, just the longer that I go and now I’m able to more correctly discern some of the wheat from the chaff, and I understand what is some just sort of human contribution and then what really is, what’s at its core. The longer I go, Jesus keeps me coming back. That’s what I got. That’s what I can tell you. The good news is actually good and I deeply believe that if He’s worth His salt . . .
By the way, I met your son last year at Orange. I was speaking in Orange and he was doing some comedy. He’s hilarious. And so I’m cheering him on as he goes out there and chases down that dream. And good for you for releasing him into the wild with your blessing because you probably didn’t see that one coming.
Andy: No, he says, “It’s the second best thing to being a preacher, at least I’m on stage with a microphone.” I’m like, “Yeah, you’re close.” No points, no screens, no scripture, no application. Just a man and a microphone.
Jen: That’s so great.
And so I would love to hear from you, your thoughts on how we actually like people who are different than us in their opinions, their beliefs, maybe their customs, their demeanor even. This isn’t just a miracle for Jesus to perform. This is possible for His people too, right?
Andy: Yup. It’s more important than a miracle. Right? Miracles have been there, it’s over, and we go to the next thing. Going back to something you said earlier, Jen. Again, because of my view of theology and the Bible, it is easy for me to be curious.
And I actually tell this embarrassing story in the book about how God had to basically stamp out of me and stomp out of me my judgmental spirit that I carried for way too long, once He took me to the woodshed. When I meet people who aren’t like me and who I think might not like me or just so different, I’m just so curious because here’s the thing, and for your listeners, if we could just remember this: everything everybody does makes perfect sense to them. So when somebody does something that doesn’t make sense to me, I’m the one who needs to learn something and everything everybody says and everything everybody believes makes perfect sense to them.
So if I don’t understand why they would say that or believe that, then it’s on me. I don’t understand. So if we can just carry that into relationships and conversations and just be curious. Because everybody’s worldview makes perfect sense to them. Perfect sense to them. And again, you follow Jesus and He was drawn—the word, “He liked people who were nothing like Him,” but the word like is my word. But in terms of the gospels, He was drawn to people who were nothing like Him. And the best part about it is people who are nothing like Him, were drawn to Jesus.
In the book of Mark, the word “crowd” shows up in every single chapter but two. Everywhere He went, there were crowds of people. It wasn’t just the healing and the free food, right? It was, they crowded to hear him teach. No one taught with such authority. So here’s God in a body surrounded by sick, uneducated, illiterate people and they just couldn’t get enough. What if the church had a little bit more of that? It would be remarkable. And those of us in church leadership are hopefully trying to lead in that direction.
I heard you mention in an interview that over the past few years when you teach, that you’ve largely switched from saying “the Bible says” or “what God’s Word says is” . . . to–instead you say things like “Jesus taught” or “Moses wrote.” Can you talk about that? Why did you make that shift? What does that mean to you?
Andy: Well, you sent me these questions ahead of time and I was so grateful. And you’re going to think I’m making this up, but as I’m looking at the questions earlier–actually that day–I was on Twitter and I ran across this tweet, so I’m going to read it to you. This is from one of the most famous evangelical leaders in the world. Everybody in the world would know this guy’s name. And here’s what he tweeted. He said, “The Bible says, ‘Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.'” The first reply is this, “The Bible also condones slavery, genocide, rape, and incest. That’s pretty evil.”
So the reason I changed my language is once upon a time, nobody knew what the Bible said, except people with a Bible who actually read it. Now everybody has an all access pass to what else the Bible says—and think about this—without ever picking one up or ever reading one, thanks to the internet.
So the gig is up. We can no longer hide behind, “If the Bible says it, you’ve got to believe it.” Because those days have been over . . . that’s been over for a long time. So what I’ve said to communicators is, “I’m not asking you to change your view of the Bible, but if you would like to peel back one layer of resistance, don’t say, ‘The Bible says.’ Just say, ‘Jesus said, Paul wrote, Moses said.'” Just go to the source. Because first of all, it’s true. Secondly, it’s more accurate because-
Jen: More specific.
Andy: . . . this gets me in trouble. The term the Bible, T-H-E B-I-B-L-E is a title. This sounds terrible. That’s all. That’s what that is. That is a title that someone in the fourth century put on this collection of Hebrew and Christian scripture. So the Bible–that title–is not the authority. Well, Jesus is clear. He said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me.” So Jesus is our authority.
So by simply making this little change, you tune down the resistance in a world that as soon as you say, “The Bible says . . . ” I’m telling you, you know this, there are a gazillion people out there, they say, “Yeah, but let me tell you what else the Bible says.” But that’s different than when you say Jesus said, or the apostle Paul wrote. Some of your listeners are Fox News fans. If I began this way saying, “Hey, today I heard on CNN.” They’re like, “Well, yes, CNN.” It’s over. They’re not going to take it or the other way around. “Hey, today I heard on Fox News . . . “Oh, Fox News.” Again, this isn’t a change in belief. This is a change in approach. I made this change about 10 years ago and again, I’m just trying to create on-ramps for people to get them to take a step to follow Jesus.
Jen: I want to talk a little bit more about what you just said. Can you discuss further, and we’ve talked a little bit about this, but I just would like to hear more about how you perceive the Bible. How do you think we resist the urge, and I think it’s well intentioned, to hold up the Bible as this infallible guidebook? “This is our guidebook and it has the answer to every single thing.” It’s a template. It is formulaic, if you will, or we only we point to it for answers, that’s the thing that we’re doing typically to be fair, maybe to be right, if I could, but more charitably—sometimes just because we’re looking for answers.
What do you think about that? And do you believe that we are cheating, if you will, on God when we find answers in another faith practice, or a tradition, or interpretation that might not be rooted in Western Christianity?
Andy: Well, I think everybody would agree that all truth is God’s truth. So, wherever it comes from, I mean the multiplication tables are assumed in the Bible, but you don’t find them in there. The fact that we’re reading an English text, we’re leveraging so much work, so much work, but the work that got us from a Greek text to an English text, that work is not in the Bible, but it’s based on what’s true.
So again, this goes back to a worldview, this goes back to what I said earlier about God accommodates to our capacity. So we have an ancient book that was revealed, and the contents were revealed to ancient people, but clearly progressive revelation is a reality. And I know people get kind of freaked out about that because that carries a lot of baggage.
But goodness gracious, one of the greatest gifts that God has given the human race, unlike any other part of creation, is the ability to document information and pass it along to the next generation that that builds on it and passes it along to the next generation that builds on it. And this is the most extraordinary gift we have. So to think that somehow we have to ignore that extraordinary gift that every single person uses every single day—so anybody’s a hypocrite who doesn’t think that’s a gift of God. But somehow, when it comes to our theology or understanding of scripture to say, “Well, but this is different. Somehow we can’t build on what previous generations have built on.” That’s just a fallacy. In fact, it’s impossible not to do that. I mean, here I am talking into a piece of plastic to you. We’re not even in the same state.
Again, it’s a matter of being curious. It’s a matter of a worldview that understands just how enormously big God is, and enormously powerful God is. And what a gift that I’m able to pass along information to my kids that I didn’t have when I was their age. And they’re going to build on that information as well. That is part of the human experience. And I think that is the spirit of God. And the image of God in us. So anyway, that’s kind of an answer to that.
Andy: About two years ago I did a series, a four part series called “The Bible for Grownups.” And I did it for our folks because as I was helping them navigate some of the questions that came as a result of Irresistible, I realized there’s always gaps when you write a book or there’s unanswered questions. And so for people who hear a conversation like this and they think, “Oh, I don’t know what to do with this. This created so much tension in me because I do believe the Bible is the infallible word of God, and yet Andy is saying this.” So before you write me off or Jen off, it’s free. It’s on my YouTube channel. It’s just called The Bible for Grownups. And it’s just a simple explanation of how I was taught in Dallas Theological Seminary how we got the Bible.
And this goes back to your previous question a little bit, understanding how we got the Bible removes the Bible or takes away the option that the Bible is just a guidebook because it is so much more and it’s the “so much more” that makes it so extraordinary. And sure it’s full of wisdom, literature. The words of Jesus are full of wisdom. But it’s the narrative. It’s the overarching scope of the story of our salvation that makes the Old and New Testament so phenomenal.
That really is the most remarkable part. But again, because of the way we’re presented with the Bible as children, it’s easy to miss that. So for me, when I really engage that historical leveraging of how we got scripture, to me it always has this immediate effect. It’s feeling like a relief because to your point it takes off some of the weird pressure that I adopted early on in my sort of tradition and my sort of faith upcoming, just put the whole Bible in such a pressure cooker. So to me, it releases the pressure valve and lets it be what it is, which is way more marvelous than just a “how to” book—way more marvelous.
One of the things I say in that series that I use as an example of your very point, is, I say, “Look, the point of the first chapters of Genesis is not how God created the heavens and earth, it’s that God created the heavens and the earth versus all the other pagan, ancient gods.” This was a polemic. This was an argument against . . . they’d just left Egypt where the Pharaoh claimed to be a god. So I mean, could God really explain to ancient people how He did it? I don’t think God could explain to us how He did it. So God accommodates to our capacity because He’s a good Father.
The creation account, the point is, “Hey, good news. You picked the right God.” His story doesn’t start mid story because there was already something that was in existence that was split in half and became the heavens and the earth. He was there from the very beginning. So anyway, you understand that. But again, that’s the broader context. It helps people, I think, really fall in love with the text as opposed to feel like they have to defend it all the time.
Jen: Couldn’t agree more.
One last question. I find myself these days intentionally in some really interesting communities that are not traditionally Christian or they’re not evangelical. I have been granted leadership space with new people, which is wonderful to me. It’s a gift. It is a joy. I’ve learned immeasurably from people outside this little sort of center of the bullseye in which I grew up in. And so to me, that’s a great and glorious good. However, one thing that I encounter a lot in these spaces with people who have come from wildly different experiences than I have is that sometimes my faith is a sticking point, that it is immediately velcroed to a board that has a lot of other pinned offenses to it historically, recently, all of it. And so it’s very hard sometimes to unravel from some of the, I think, undisputed failings and abuses of the church at its extreme.
But then even just some of these individual experiences that people walk around with, and yet here it is still precious to me, still important, still sort of my entire North star for my life. A lot of my listeners find themselves in the same place in their workplaces, sometimes in their own families where they are hanging onto this faith that is misunderstood, or it’s reviled, or it’s unwanted, or it is mocked in some way in their environment, sometimes rightly so. Right? With a lot of justification. So can you talk for just a minute about how on earth we can reconcile this gap? How do we relate to the people that we love and that we work with who may pretty quickly discredit us because of that particular label? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Andy: Yes. The unhelpful thought is; every worldview has hickies.
Jen: I love that word. Thank you for bringing that back from the 80s.
Andy: Yeah, I just thought I’d bring that up. Every worldview has a backstory that is embarrassing, every single worldview.
Jen: That’s a great point.
Andy: That’s not helpful. That’s just true. But I don’t think . . . well, the other thing I wrote down is I’ve never met anyone who was anti-Christian because of our checkered history. I’ve met many who have used our checkered history. And once you get past the “you’re right, you’re right, you’re right,” and you hear the story, they generally have their own story. But I’ve yet to meet someone who is a sold out, spirit filled, and chasing-Jesus-Christian and found out about witch trials and found out about abuses, and went, “Oh my gosh, I just can’t be a Christian anymore.” That’s generally information that comes later and is used to defend someone’s unbelief.
Again, that’s not really helpful saying that, but that’s generally true. But the reason I say it, both of those things, is because number one, I believe that most versions of Christianity that people have abandoned were flawed views to begin with. And number two, if we can just learn to listen and be curious, everybody loves to tell their story and once you hear a person’s story, you always go, Well gosh, that had happened to me. Me too. You’d grown up that way? Me too. If my dad had done that? Me too. I think that’s the only inroad is the stories. We can’t defend what’s indefensible, but generally those aren’t the reasons why. Those are the building blocks they brought to the party afterwards to defend their decision to be anti-Christian. But again, every worldview has a dark side.
Jen: No doubt. I love that. Thank you for saying that. That was a great answer.
Andy: Well, if you’d said heroes, my answer would be one thing. But in terms of mentors in the faith, it really would be a Norman Geisler who taught me so much Theology in Seminary. He passed away this past July. And Dr. Geisler is a big reason I wrote Irresistible. I was standing on my front porch, he called me one day, he said, “Andy, I’ve seen you’ve been criticized, but dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.” He said, “You have to write about this.” I said, “Dr. Geisler, I don’t have time to write a book about this.” He said, “You have to write about it.” So I said, “Yes sir.” And I got busy. And then this past July, I believe he’s 87 years old. And I love, love, love that man. He left a mark on me and so many other people.
Jen: I love that. Of course, now that you’ve mentioned it too, we’re going to have to hear about the hero.
Andy: Well, my dad. And just the permission he gave me. He risked in some cases his reputation to let me try things and preach for him, and defended me as a kid, and defended me to deacons, and just let me find my own way. I’m just so grateful. He just turned 87 as well.
Jen: Oh, yeah. I mean, I grew up listening to your dad on tape. That’s my age.
So here, how about this one, and this will probably change over the course of our lives, but for now, if you could ask God a single question, what would you ask Him?
Andy: I love that. I saw that you asked me that, and you know what? This is absolutely true. I would just say, “Heavenly Father, what do you want me to do? I just want to know your will from my life in every season with every opportunity, just make it clear. I want to go to bed every night with a clear conscience and know I’m in the center of Your will.” Because I pray that all the time.
Jen: Yeah, me too.
Andy: My dad taught me this little prayer from, I think, Psalm 37: “Instruct me and teach me in the way that I’m going to go and counsel me with Your eye upon me.” That’s just the desire of my heart. So I don’t have any hard apologetics questions for God. I figured that’ll get all sorted out.
Jen: That’ll all flesh out. We’ll all get to heaven and figure out what we were wrong about.
Andy: Which I think is going to be most things.
Jen: I cannot possibly agree more. That’s going to make for some hilarious dinner conversations.
Here’s the last one. We asked actually everybody, every guest in every series this question, it’s from Barbara Brown Taylor. I don’t know if you’ve ever read her, but she is a treasure. And her question is, “What is saving your life right now?”
Andy: It’s December, and I love the month of December and I love Christmas. I love preaching during the Christmas season. I love our family during the Christmas season. I love the weather. I just love this month and it’s just reinvigorated me and just brought me that seasonal joy that I think only comes during this time of the year for me.
Jen: Oh, I love it too. In fact, I usually preach at my church at least once in December too, every couple of years. I’m so tender in December. I can’t handle Jesus in the manger. I can’t handle anybody. I can’t handle Mary. I can’t deal. And so a couple of years ago I was preaching and I was just reading parts of it. I’m going to tell you, I could not get through it. It was embarrassing, just sobbing and I was having a breakdown right there in front of the whole church. The rest of the crew was like, “Jen, you can’t preach in December anymore. You’re just unable. You can’t do it.”
Andy: So did you just coin this phrase because that could be your sermon this December, next “Tender in December.” Why am I Tender in December? So there’s your theme.
Jen: You’re so right. And I’m going to bring that to the board and say, “Andy Stanley said I get another chance.”
Andy: Well, I have a story in my sermon this Sunday that I know I’m not going to be able to get through. I’m going to practice it over and I’m going to read it. But I just get all emotional and part of it is just this season, I’m telling you.
Jen: Yeah, me too, me too. When I’m writing a sermon and as I’m writing it, I feel my throat close up. I’m like, “Well this is going to be a real low spot in the room for everybody.”
Okay. Listen, I just want to tell you how much your ministry has meant to me for a really long time, and how many things I’ve learned from you, and how many sermons of yours I’ve heard, and how much of your leadership I have paid attention to and taken under advisement, and then even how many people that I love that are in your church and being served well there and serving well as well. And so I thank you for being faithful and doing what you were called to do and doing it well and with integrity and with joy. It just really matters. It matters to the world right now, but it matters to me too. So thank you for your time here on this podcast. My listeners are going to thank you too.
Andy: Thank you so much.
Jen: I always feel so grateful that I get to have these deep and meaningful conversations with leaders of a really high caliber, of leaders who have led the church faithfully for a lot of years who have developed and evolved in their own ways and still stayed the course. I can’t wait to hear what you thought about this episode and what moved you. There were several things that Andy said to me that I was like, “Yes, I like that. That’s my conviction too. I believe that. I think you’re getting this right.” Of course, I understand some of the controversy and some of the pushback. Anyhow, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this conversation because we have so much more to come in this series, you guys.
The faith icon series is lit up. That’s just what it is. We have some real, really profound leaders to talk to and you know me, I’m going to ask the hard stuff. I’m going to push in and they are strong, and faithful, and no strangers to deep and important conversations, and so we’re going to have them. We’re going to have them right here on this show, so come back next week. Plenty more to come and can’t wait to bring you the other conversations in this series. Okay, you guys, thanks for being amazing listeners. You are the greatest. See you next week.