On August 21, 2016, Andy Stanley delivered a message which I hope gains a wide audience. Stanley is the son of Dr. Charles Stanley and is the founder and pastor of North Point Community Church in Georgia. I listen to Andy Stanley’s messages occasionally and have benefitted from reading a couple of his books. This message “Gods of the No Testament” is the second in a series titled “Who Needs God.” The message is interesting because rather than presenting an explanation, illustration, and application of a particular text, Stanley attempts to overturn false ideas about God that are sometimes cited by critics of Christianity. Such criticisms of these views of God when coupled with personal tragedy sometimes results in people walking away from the Christian faith. In this message, Stanley makes the case that these views of God should be abandoned because they are not biblical views.
These wrong views of God which should be abandoned include:
The Bodyguard God – The God who never allows bad things to happen to good people. (In response, Stanley reminds listeners that Christianity is founded on the events of the cross of Christ, in which “bad things” happened to a perfect person.)
The On-Demand God – The God who responds to fair and selfless requests like we would. (Instead, God answers our requests with infinite wisdom.)
The Boyfriend/Girlfriend God – The God whose presence is always felt. (Stanley reminds us that we are least aware of what is most constant.)
The Guilt God – The God who controls people through guilt and fear; he loves but does not like people. (Stanely does not reply to this view in the message, but it might be stated that God desires repentance rather than guilt.)
The Anti-Science God – The God who requires us to live by undeniable science or unreliable religion. (Stanley explains that Christianity is based on more than simply faith; also the choice between faith and science is a false alternative.)
The Gap God – The God who is the explanation for everything we can’t explain. (Rather, God is the explanation for much in the universe that can be explained, such as design and order.)
For every view above, Stanley encourages people to stop believing in that kind of God. And he asks: Who told you God is like this? This is not the God of the Bible. Also, your life is better without belief in this type of God. Below are some brief observations on this message.
This sermon challenging weak or false views of God is needed for at least two reasons. First, these wrong views of God are held by many people who were raised in Christian homes. Such basic views of God might have been affirmed as children, but as adults these charicatures of God are wholly inadequate to deal with the complexities and challenges of the “real world.” Stanley’s criticism of these views reminds me of the classic work by J. B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small.
Second, dismissing Christianity as a fool’s system is growing in popularity. Whether in the books and YouTube presentations by New Atheists or through the cable shows and night club routines of mainstream comedians, Christians are regularly portrayed as flat-earth, gullible fools. But frequently, the views which are lampooned deserve to be ridiculed as warped and foolish; most of those views do not accurately represent the Christian faith. For these reasons, Stanley’s message needs to be heard.
Although I encourage people to listen to the message, I cannot recommend two specific choices Stanley made in his Sunday morning sermon. First, he failed to draw attention to and explain a biblical text. He mentions this omission in his sermon, explaining that this is the second of two sermons which serve to introduce the series. In my observation, Stanley typically deals skillfully with one or more biblical texts in a message. Because faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Rom 10:13) and God’s people are fed by God’s Word (1 Pet 2:2), it is important that Sunday morning messages always involve the reading and teaching of Scripture. Second, Stanley quoted from prominent critics of Christianity, such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. It can be effective to cite prominent critics in order to respond to their views. However, when a pastor quotes a person from the pulpit, some listeners will explore that person’s writings, thinking, “Well, the pastor reads this author and mentioned him in church.” Listeners who are easily swayed could be persuaded by the very arguments against the faith that the pastor is trying to challenge. With those two points of concern noted, I still recommend that people listen to this message and I look forward to hearing the other messages in the series.
(Image from the website of North Point Community Church, Alpharetta, Georgia.)