It’s time to stop saying, “the Bible says.” At least that’s what Andy Stanley says.
At Exponential, a church-planting conference attended by 5,000 in late spring (with another 20,000 watching via video), the senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, said pastors should instead use phrases like “Paul says” and “Jesus says” when citing Scripture.
Stanley (who also made the case in his 2012 book Deep & Wide) told CT the main reason for his injunction is “to keep people who are skeptical of the Bible’s authority engaged in the sermon.” It’s a question of evangelism, not theology, he says. “The goal is to lead [people] to the place where they acknowledge Jesus to be who he claimed to be. They don’t have to believe Noah built an ark and put animals on it to get there. … To get a person to the point where they believe the Bible is authoritative, they first have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. The reason Christians take the Old Testament seriously is because Jesus did.”
But Stanley adds that the approach has “helped Christians in our congregation have a greater appreciation for the historicity of the New Testament, that these were actual people who said these things.” (An edited transcript of our interview with Stanley appears today on our website.)
It’s hard to know how many preachers today use “the Bible says” rather than more specific citations. But Paul Gutjahr, professor of American and religious studies at Indiana University–Bloomington, said the phrase “gained its popularity in the early 20th century with revivalists like Billy Sunday and later Billy Graham.”
Grant Wacker, professor of Christian history at Duke Divinity School, said Graham probably copied the phrase from one of his professors at the Florida Bible Institute. “He was very conscious about what they did and why they did it,” said Walker. “Graham would hold up the Bible and say, ‘the Bible says,’ because he sensed the Bible’s authority in American culture, and it resonated with his hearers.”
A 2014 State of the Bible study conducted by Barna Group and the American Bible Society reported that half of American adults believe the Bible is a valuable resource for living well. According to the study, 80 percent of practicing Protestants, 60 percent of practicing Catholics, and 50 percent of the general public believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life.
Barna vice president Roxanne Stone said that for participants who affirm this, “hearing a pastor point to it would likely add credibility to the statement.” However, “younger generations are less likely to view the Bible this way,” she said. Just over a third (35%) of “Millennials” (ages 18–29) believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life, compared with 49 percent of “Busters” (ages 30–48), 55 percent of “Boomers” (ages 49–67), and 63 percent of “Elders” (68 and older).
CT asked experts if pastors should stop using phrases like “The Bible says” in their sermons. Answers to the question are arranged below on a spectrum from “yes” at the top to “no” at the bottom.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Kevin P. Emmert