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How should we love and pray for those with whom we disagree?

Paul D. from Australia writes in response to Andy Stanley takes the easy way out:


I have been an avid reader of Creation publications and have taught creation science in several countries of the world. I find Creation.com’s approach to evidence and making conclusions to be powerfully convincing as it is totally reliant upon the Bible as the authoritative text. However, I also find that Creation.com’s counter-arguments towards those who hold a different view to be somewhat less than gracious and loving. Whereas I have read many convincing counter-arguments from creation.com, I have not found a call to pray for and show love to those who see things differently. I find myself wondering if these people sense grace or judgement when they read creation.com’s counter-arguments. I expect it is the latter. And I also expect that the judgmental tone coming from Creation.com causes people to hold tighter to their errant beliefs rather than reassess them. It is not by being more scientifically correct that the world will know we are His disciples, but by showing love.

Lita Sanders, CMI-US, responds:

Thank you for writing in with these comments, and giving us a chance to talk about this important issue. There are a couple of elements involved, and it is important to give due weight to each.

Telling the truth is loving

It is loving to correct someone who is wrong, because it’s part of telling the truth. So while in today’s society it can be seen as fundamentally unloving to contradict someone, telling the truth is by definition part of being loving.

It is not only loving to Stanley to tell the truth about his wrong teachings, but even more so to others who may be deceived by him. Stanley did not make his statements in private, but to over 30,000 people who watch his sermons weekly, and however many thousands of people who will buy his book.

Most importantly, it is showing proper love and respect for God and His Word to refute falsehood. My response to Stanley was filled with Scripture. Whenever we see a fellow Christian in error, we should lovingly respond by opening up the Scriptures, hoping to convince the fellow Christian of their error. This brings glory to Christ.

It should be noted that we did not disrespect him by, for instance, calling him names or being intentionally insulting. “Stanley is teaching dangerous falsehoods” is fundamentally different from “Stanley is stupid”—we did the former, and we would never condone the latter.

Should we confront privately?

Many people ask us whether we privately contacted Stanley before publishing our articles about him. We did not. We follow the same principle that we are happy to have other people use in regard to us—we respond on the same scale that the statement was made. So when people call or email us personally, we respond personally. When someone makes a public comment, that’s fair game for public response. Even the Apostle Paul, when he saw his fellow Apostle, Peter, making a mistake in public, corrected him publicly, so that anyone who was influenced by his error would also be corrected at the same time.

Praying for our opponents

You said you found no call to pray for or show love to those who see things differently. A while back we wrote How do we love our neighbor? about this issue. But if that’s not clear enough, hopefully this statement will suffice: We should pray for Andy Stanley to come to a conviction that the Bible is the totally inspired, true, and sufficient Word of God. Anyone reading this who does have a way to speak to Andy Stanley and who is concerned about the direction his ministry is going should certainly talk to him privately and encourage him to rethink his error.

Is CMI judgmental?

In one way, we are judgmental when it comes to our core issue of creation—and this is biblical! Jesus says that we are to “judge with right judgment”. We judge people by the standard of Scripture. My article showed how Scripture itself didn’t line up with Stanley’s teaching. To judge people by the standard of Scripture is not unloving; in fact, it’s the standard each one of us should use to judge ourselves.

Of course, we should always be prepared to be judged with the same standard we judge others. This is why we accept and publish negative as well as positive feedback and invite people to let us know if they think we are not being fully biblical.

How we should think about Stanley and other Christians who are wrong

CMI has never been slow to call out what we see as unbiblical, harmful views of Scripture. But we have always strived to do so in a way that is instructive, and which criticizes the falsehood without unduly maligning the person who is in error. A notable exception is when we see someone to be a dangerous, intentional false teacher, who is actually not Christian at all, but working to undermine and deceive Christians, like in the case of the folks at BioLogos. We even wrote an article about them called It’s not Christianity! If you compare our articles about BioLogos, it makes our comments about Stanley seem like a tea party—that’s because we see them as different types of opponents.

We should pray that God would open Stanley’s eyes to the error of his teaching, and would enable him to use his huge platform to instead spread the Gospel of Christ, and that he would do so from the Scriptures, which give us the only firm foundation from which to do so.

Michael T. from the US also wrote in regarding the article:

I am a monthly supporter of CMI, ICR, and AIG, because I value aligning scientific arguments with the Biblical historical accounts. I wish we’d stick with the science: it’s a winner. I bristle at “defense-of-the-Bible” articles, and am heartbroken at the sport of trolling of Andy Stanley. Full disclosure: I’ve only read one article from Stanley but I have lived a profound disappointment with ‘Biblianity’ and the traditional church experience that puts me in his camp. Here’s the simplest argument I can offer: 1. At no place in any of the sixty-six documents in the Biblical canon does any author refer to the whole Bible itself. That would be self-referencing and logically indefensible. 2. The author cites a commonly called-upon list of uses of “Scripture” and “Scriptures” and asserts them as proof that the claim “The Bible Says” is itself Biblical. Those references cannot ensure the conclusion drawn, since each verse cited clearly refers to previously existing documents—none of which by themselves are the collective canon. 3. The references are accurate in their literary scope. Literary scope is the key and we ignore it at our peril, which is exactly Andy Stanley’s point. Stanley doesn’t argue against the accuracy of the canonical texts, only against their de-contextualization, or their universal re-contextualization. To sum: The error in the author’s argument is in the conflation of the literary term “The Scriptures” and the physical collection called “The Holy Bible”. No Biblical author means “The Bible” when referring to any previous “writing” (i.e. “scripture”). That capital ‘S’ divides the body of Christ. It has done damage that we are too quick to dismiss for the sake of a type of doctrinal purity.

Lita Sanders responds:

Often people tell us we should stick with the scientific evidence because it’s stronger. That misunderstands the entire focus of our ministry, which is biblical. You speak of your disappointment with “Biblianity”, but you did not really address my article, which showed that Scripture itself has a high view of Scripture. To respond to your points:

  1. While no author refers to “the sixty-six books of Scripture”, the New Testament refers to the Law and the Prophets, a way of referring to the entirety of the Old Testament—precisely what Stanley is saying we should ‘unhitch from’. My article showed the high view the New Testament has for the Old Testament. New Testament authors also recognize other New Testament writings. For instance, Paul quotes the Gospel of Luke as Scripture, and Peter refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture.
  2. My list shows that the term and status of Scripture is used for the Psalms, Zechariah, Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, 1-2 Kings, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus. But that wasn’t a comprehensive list, I was just wanting to make the point. The Bible is one book, and that can be established simply by looking at how interconnected it is. I produced a graphic for our booklet, How Did We Get Our Bible?, that is a visual representation of a standard Bible cross-reference dataset. You can tell that all those books belong because of the number of cross-references, and if you tried to put something else in, like Maccabees or Tobit, you would see how few cross-references there would be, indicating it doesn’t belong.
  3. “The references are accurate in their literary scope” sounds like weasel words to allow someone to deny the plain meaning of Scripture anytime it’s convenient. Everyone agrees that Scripture should be interpreted according to its genre. When David longs to hide in the shelter of Yahweh’s wings, no one asks whether God has wings like a bat, a bird, or a dragonfly—we know that David is employing poetic language. But that’s not what your statement means. Statements like yours are too often used to say, “day doesn’t really mean day”, or to interpret Adam out of existence.

You’re perceptive to note that the Scriptures divide—that’s one of their many purposes. And the people doing damage are those who threaten the doctrinal purity of the Bride of Christ, not those who seek to defend it.

Published: 15 December 2018

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