This week's 'thought' is a bit different than most any one I have sent out before. The reason? Because unlike the others I've sent which I have found edifying, challenging, or comforting -- and agree with -- this is one I send along because I find it rather sad. That is, I find the quote by Andy Stanley (in red) rather sad, not Carl Trueman's response to it (in blue). And the reason I find it so sad is because many pastors share Stanley's view.
Thus I offer this post to you as both a heads up, and the critique of an attitude which I feel pastors and churches should not embrace (Stanley's), regardless of the number of people it may bring into their building.
Andy Stanley Carl Trueman
For the sake of space I have shortened Mr. Truman's response. If you desire to access the article in its entirety you may go to: www.reformation21.org, under, "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," by Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.
His point is well-taken: Truth has never been popular (I Cor. 20-31), yet it is of utmost importance, and must be preached, even if the entire culture considers it irrelevant and boycotts the church until we change it to suit what they want to hear. Enjoy.
"For this month's column, I thought I would offer a few reflections on Andy Stanley's recent book, 'Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend.' Here's a classic passage [from his book] which represents in miniature an entire universe of erroneous thinking.
'People are far more interested in what works than what's true. I hate to burst your bubble, but virtually nobody in your church is on a truth quest. Including your spouse. They are on happiness quests. As long as you are dishing out truth with no 'here's the difference it will make' tacked on the end, you will be perceived as irrelevant by most of the people in your church, student ministry, or home Bible study. You may be spot-on theologically, like the teachers of the law in Jesus' day, but you will not be perceived as one who teaches with authority. Worse, nobody is going to want to listen to you.
Now, that may be discouraging. Especially the fact that you are one of the few who is actually on a quest for truth. And, yes, it is unfortunate that people aren't more like you in that regard. But that's the way it is. It's pointless to resist. If you try, you will end up with a little congregation of truth seekers who consider themselves superior to all the other Christians in the community. But at the end of the day, you won't make an iota of difference in this world. And your kids... more than likely your kids, are going to confuse your church with the church and once they are out of your house, they probably won't visit the church house. Then one day they will show up in a church like mine and want to get baptized again because they won't be sure the first one took. And I'll be happy to pastor your kids. But I would rather you face the reality of the world we live in and adjust your sails. Culture is like the wind. You can't stop it. You shouldn't spit in it. But, if like a good sailor you will adjust your sails, you can harness the winds of culture to take your audience where they need to go. If people are more interested in being happy, then play to that. Jesus did." (Andy Stanley, Kindle 1216-1234)'
To be sure, as grateful as I am to the Rev. Stanley for the offer to pastor my children, and for providing me with fascinating insights into the philosophical convictions my long-suffering wife, I cannot help but see this as a remarkably naïve piece of muddled thinking.
With so much promising material, where should one start the critique? Perhaps with the unintended irony of a man warning his readers about feeling superior while at the same time assuring them that he has better insight into the way their spouses and congregations think than they do?
Or with the odd way in which he berates his audience for making the mistake of assuming that other people are just like them rather than realizing that they are actually all just like Andy Stanley?... One might also look at the travesty of scriptural teaching it contains. The problem of the teachers of the law, for example, was not that they were spot on; it was that they were completely wrong. That is why Jesus spent such a lot of time berating them for their errors of interpretation. And as to Jesus playing to people's expectations of happiness, one wonders why he made such 'play' of the havoc which following him would wreak on families, of the need to take up one's cross, and of the expectation of persecution to come...
I will concede that Stanley is certainly right in his basic contention: people are not on a search for truth. The Apostle Paul articulated that well in Romans 1. Stanley is also correct that truth is irrelevant to people, or at least they think it is irrelevant to them. Compared to Paul, Stanley 's statement on this issue is rather bland. Paul goes much further, declaring the truth, the message of the cross, to be intellectual foolishness to some and a moral offense to others (I Cor. 1).
It is not, however, Stanley 's blandness which is the real problem; it is the practical conclusion which he draws from this. For Paul, the offensiveness and irrelevance of the message of the cross demonstrate the fact that those who think in such ways are perishing. The problem is with them, and with their 'cultures,' not with the cross. For Stanley, by way of contrast, it is the 'culture' which is to set the agenda and to which the church must thus conform or die.
Stanley 's pragmatism, in a manner analogous to the soft relativism of certain evangelical post-moderns looks attractively plausible; yet this is only because it operates within the framework of... modern middle America... But if Stanley had the imagination to set this pragmatism in Nazi Germany or in a country where female circumcision is de rigueur, some place where middle class American tastes and preferences do not apply, then the cost of such intellectual and moral laziness would immediately become apparent. If you cannot stop culture and should not spit in it, what happens when the culture tells you that happiness comes about by gassing Jews or lacerating young girls' genitalia? That is somebody's culture. No point trying to resist it for that would risk irrelevance, empty pews and feed an isolationist Pharisaism. And we couldn't have that, now, could we?
Of course, one can already hear the pat responses of, 'It could never happen here!' or 'But that stuff is obviously wrong!' Touching in its innocence and predictable in its complacency, such mewling would yet betray a shockingly shallow understanding of both human nature and history. No one in 1900 would have predicted that the most technologically and culturally advanced nation in Europe would elect a man like Hitler and be the centre of previously unimaginable genocide. Interesting what national military defeat, adverse economic conditions, and concerted anti-Semitic propaganda can do to a nation, is it not?... In the field of human ethical behavior, one should never say 'it' can never happen here, wherever you may be.
And that is ultimately the saddest aspect of the Andy Stanleys of this world. It is not their patronizing attitude to others. It is not their arrogant assumption that they represent the culture or that they have the right to tell the rest of us how we should think. It is not the sloppy way they bandy words like 'culture' and even 'happiness' around without ever offering a definition of what they think they mean. It is not their crass prioritization of raw numbers. It is not their complete lack of imagination regarding the moral possibilities of 'culture.' Rather, it is the fact that what they confidently present as radical insights are really nothing but lazy, insipid, prosaic, and predictable capitulations to the values of the spirit of the age. In short, they are simply dressing up their society's tastes as absolute truth. Unimaginative, respectable, lazy and lethal. The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie, is it not?"
To add to Mr. Trueman's critique it must be pointed out that Jesus did not "play" to the predominant relativism of Greco-Roman culture. To a culture that thought there could be no definitive or universal truth (a belief summed up so succinctly in Pilate's words to Jesus at his trial, "What is truth?" ) Jesus continually said, "I tell you the truth...," "I tell you the truth...," I tell you the truth..."
Despite their dislike for truth, and the fact that they also considered it irrelevant, Jesus continued to declare it throughout His ministry. In fact, I believe His response to the issue of happiness would still be, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."
What we need and what we think we need are often two different things -- which is why Jesus never did "play" to the relativism of the surrounding culture, but confirmed right to the very end: "I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."