It seems that mega-church pastor Andy Stanley is in trouble. Something he said in one of his sermons has triggered a howling from a slew of critics. In his message he asserted that the historical event of Jesus’ resurrection, and not the written document that records that event (the Bible), is the foundation of the Christian faith.
Anyone even slightly familiar with Stanley knows his affirmation of Biblical inerrancy and the authority of Scripture is without question. Are his opinions on theological issues infallible? Of course not. Has he ever made statements that deserve to be challenged? Yes. But many, like this guy, seem ready to hang the dreaded title of “liberal” on him for the assertion above. To be sure others have come to Stanley’s defense, taking note of the dismaying reality that “conservative, Bible-believing Christians stormed social media with their polemical pitchforks and torches, eager to do battle with this ‘heresy.’ “
This overwhelming urge to go to war over the slightest perceived misstatements reaches its peak when, here as so often, questions about the salvation of the target are raised. It seems that conservative Christianity is plagued with “salvation inspectors” who believe their calling is to be ever vigilant to cast out those who fall short of their standards of what it means to be a real, true Christian.
At best, we don’t know our own hearts all that well and ought to be very slow to judge the hearts of others. Certainly it should take more than one misstatement to give someone the boot. I’ve always tended to accept an assertion “I am a Christian” at face value. I figure that over time we can be more (or less) confident in that assertion as we know them longer.
Not so with the salvation inspectors. They smugly make judgements on the salvation of others. I met one man years ago who said he had “the gift of rebuking” of those who fall short of his exacting standards of faith. He went from church to church identifying those within it, or in some cases everyone within it, as not being real, true Christians.
I recently stumbled across an online article with the intriguing title What Churches Can Learn From Jane Austen. Curious about the subject, I read it and found that it started with this qualification:
“Don’t worry – it’s not soteriology or anything. There is no evidence that Jane Austen possessed saving faith, so taking theological tips from her doesn’t make sense.” (Boldface mine.)
Are we now so diligent at salvation inspecting that we feel free to question the faith of the long-dead novelist and pastor’s daughter? Do we think that we have the ability to judge whether someone who has been dead for 200 years was a Christian? More to the point, where do we get the idea that we are supposed to make such judgements? The tenor of the article, in particular the “Don’t worry” at the start, makes me feel that the author was at least as worried that salvation inspectors would come down on her for quoting Austen as she was about Austen’s eternal state.
From what I’ve seen, Andy Stanley has enough “fruit” in his ministry to give me confidence he is “one of us.” And Jane Austin? Well, there is this quote of hers that makes me think she might be on the team too:
“Above all other blessings Oh! God, for ourselves, and our fellow-creatures, we implore thee to quicken our sense of thy mercy in the redemption of the world, of the value of that holy religion in which we have been brought up, that we may not, by our own neglect, throw away the salvation thou hast given us, nor be Christians only in name. Hear us Almighty God, for his sake who has redeemed us, and taught us thus to pray.”
For me, and I’d like to think the salvation inspectors too, we should be too busy examining our own hearts to be quick to pass judgement on the faith of others.