The Joy of Being Reformed (4): Talking Out of Both Sides of Your Mouth, Andy Stanley, & the Bible

To talk out of both sides of your mouth is to say something that contradicts what you said before. A person might give one opinion to one person and turn around and give the opposite opinion to another person. That’s talking out of both sides of the mouth, and sometimes preachers do it in their sermons.

For example, if a preacher said at the beginning of his sermon, “Jesus is the Son of God,” and then a little later in his sermon added, “Jesus’ miracles are simply myths,” you’d think he probably doesn’t actually believe Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus is coequal with the Father and possesses divine power to perform miracles. That preacher would be talking out of both sides of his mouth.   

Andy Stanley is a prominent pastor in the US. He leads North Point Ministries, the 11th largest church in the US – 23,000 attenders. He’s a best-selling author and is considered a leadership expert, an influencer of culture, and one of the most well-known pastors in the world. And though Andy Stanley is considered by tens of thousands, probably more like millions, to be a communicator par excellence, sometimes he talks out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to essential Christian truths like the Bible. It’s not that Andy openly and blatantly says that the Bible is false. But his apologetic approach for contending for the gospel and his controversial statements about the Bible cast doubt on whether he truly believes in the Bible’s inherent divine authority. Andy may attribute his perplexing statements to semantics or his apologetic approach, but creative semantics is no justification for statements that belittle the Bible. Could it be that Andy doesn’t recognize how deeply concerning and misleading his statements are?

After one of his sermons, Andy tweeted a line from the sermon. The tweet, which he since deleted, read, “The Christian faith does not rise and fall on the accuracy of 66 ancient documents. It rises and falls on the identity of a single individual: Jesus of Nazareth.” I think that thought is perplexing considering it came from a trained pastor, and I think it’s a dangerously misleading thought. Andy makes it seem as if the accuracy of the Bible is of little importance compared to the person of Jesus Christ and unrelated to the person Jesus Christ. Those two sentences don’t seem to affirm that the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments are God’s self-revelation, are the very means by which we know about Jesus Christ. The Bible is God’s exhaled, authoritative, and inerrant revelation of His Son. Considering the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments are God’s holy and indisputable Word, the Christian faith absolutely rises and falls on the accuracy of the ancient text, and at the same time the Christian faith rises and falls on the person Jesus Christ. They are not mutually exclusive truths as Andy presents them; they are beautifully complementary truths.

Additionally, it’s important to mention that though Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and the other authors wrote their books as human beings and most as eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit inspired their writings. The entire Bible is God’s witness to Himself. Andy seems dismissive when it comes to the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration which means that God gave the very words of the Bible to the authors who wrote by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Andy Stanley has spoken out of both sides of his mouth on various topics, but whatever your thoughts on Andy’s communication are, it is extremely important that you are clear on what the Bible is.

Article Three of the Belgic Confession explains what the Bible truly is which makes all the difference in how we think and speak about it and how we respond to it. Here’s what Article Three says:

We confess that this Word of God did not come by the will of man, but that men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit, as the apostle Peter says (2 Pet 1:21). Thereafter, in his special care for us and our salvation, God commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit his revealed Word to writing and he himself wrote with his own finger the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures. [1]

That’s a clear and helpful statement that rests at the heart of the Christian faith. To be Reformed, really, to be a Christian, is to confess that the Bible is the Word of God and to believe it all for that reason. In one sense, the Bible is a human book because humans wrote it. In another sense, it is infinitely more because God breathed it out through human authors. Human authors wrote the message, the self-revelation, the Word of God by the inspiration and leading of God. Second Peter 1:21 confirms this by saying, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So then, it is unthinkable to say 2,000 years after Christ’s resurrection about the divine book that testifies to Christ’s resurrection, “The Christian faith does not rise and fall on the accuracy of 66 ancient documents.” I firmly disagree, and I think Moses, David, the prophets, and the apostles all would’ve staunchly disagreed as well. Wipe out the authoritative witness of the Bible and you wipe out the gospel and our faith, comfort, hope, and peace in the gospel.

Our faith, comfort, hope, and peace are grounded in God’s love for us, a love exercised in His giving us His law and gospel for our knowledge, wisdom, and salvation. God even wrote the 10 Commandments on the tablets of stone Himself. Would we set that written law against the person of Jesus Christ who is the embodiment of that law? Dear friends, the Bible is a collection of “holy and divine Scriptures,” and we must receive it as such. True faith depends on the reliability of that book. Heidelberg 21 includes in its definition of true faith: “[accepting] as true all that God has revealed to us in His Word.”

Here’s what Andy Stanley effectively said. Going on the historic Christian belief that the 66 ancient documents are God’s Word, Andy effectively said, “The Christian faith does not rise and fall on the accuracy of [God’s Word].” For starters, that’s simply not true, and it’s certainly not helpful to say. I think Andy is talking out of both sides of his mouth in ways that undercut the very message he’s trying to communicate.

The joy of being Reformed is believing and confessing that the 66 books of the ancient text we know as the Bible are all God’s inspired, infallible, inerrant, and authoritative Word. The joy of being Reformed is knowing that God has communicated to us His law, His gospel, and Himself in His Word because He loves us, that God has shown special care for us and our salvation by giving His Holy Spirit to the authors of Scripture so they would pen the very message of God for us, and then giving us the Holy Spirit so we can understand, believe, confess, and cherish it. We have God’s Word! The joy of being Reformed is not having to guess what God is saying, not having to depend on hearing a private revelation from God or the newfangled advice of a guru. The joy of being Reformed is receiving by faith “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” through holy writ and knowing God through it (Jude 3).

What a precious gift the Bible is to us. Let us receive it with thankfulness for what it truly is, God’s ever important, ever relevant, ever glorious Word and self-revelation to us.  


Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021).

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one-half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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