I really enjoy listening to a podcast put out by Andy Stanley called Your Move. His messages have spoken to me during a time where I was really struggling with faith, recovery, and just living life day by day. While his style and content may not be for everyone, God has certainly used him in my life and in the lives of countless others. For that I am eternally grateful.
This week a recent sermon of his has been the subject of much critique and scrutiny. In the message, which you can view and listen to HERE, Stanley suggests that for some people listening – people who have either lost their faith or are on their way to losing faith – they might have done so unnecessarily if they were jumping ship due to their inability to get their head around some concepts of God found in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament.
When I hear Andy preach in this way I hear someone who is familiar with addicts and recovery. I hear someone who has perhaps read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and has discovered the power behind the wisdom found in the 12 Steps. I believe this because what Stanley is doing is nothing more nor less than creating space for the Spirit of God to move and work in the lives of those who have either given up on God or feel God has given up on them. He is trusting heavily on the truth that no human has the power to change lives but God alone. Our job is to simply point the way to Jesus and try our best to stay out the way (or do our best to remove as many stumbling blocks as we can).
If you are not familiar with the Big Book of AA I want to introduce you to one page. This is page 47, found in the chapter titled, “We Agnostics.” It’s a chapter dedicated to helping to remove barriers for those who have tried God and found God wanting, or who have never believed in God for any number of reasons. Read these words and see if you don’t see in them perhaps the Spirit’s work…
When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you. At the start, this was all we needed to commence spiritual growth, to effect our first conscious relation with God as we understood Him. Afterward, we found ourselves accepting many things which then seemed entirely out of reach. That was growth, but if we wished to grow we had to begin somewhere. So we used our own conception, however limited it was.
We needed to ask ourselves but one short question. “Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself?” As soon as a man can say that he does believe, or is willing to believe, we emphatically assure him that he is on his way. It has been repeatedly proven among us that upon this simple cornerstone a wonderfully effective spiritual structure can be built.
That was great news to us, for we had assumed we could not make use of spiritual principles unless we accepted many things on faith which seemed difficult to believe. When people presented us with spiritual approaches, how frequently did we all say, “I wish I had what that man has. I’m sure it would work if I could only believe as he believes. But I cannot accept as surely true the many articles of faith which are so plain to him.” So it was comforting to learn that we could commence at a simpler level.
Simple and beautiful, yes? These words, and the rest of this chapter, have helped thousands upon thousands take their first step (or next step) towards a relationship with God. In the above excerpt I hear the words of James from Acts 15, whom Stanley quoted in his sermon, where James announced to the council of Jerusalem,
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.
We should not make it difficult. We shouldn’t love our beliefs, and our theological conclusions – conclusions we have perhaps had years to develop and reflect upon – more than the person hurting in front of us who just needs to be given permission to get up and take a first step towards a loving Higher Power.
Sadly, far too many of us who are steeped in religion and church-speak fail the world that needs good news because we insist they believe as we do, how we do, when we do. We fail to realize how faith is a gift and how often we forget the time it has taken for us to know what we now know. In our zeal to convert the world we burden our seeking brothers and sisters with unnecessary steps or doctrines or ideas. We strain the gnat and end up swallowing camels.
Church, we would do well to listen to the wisdom found in Stanley’s communication of the gospel or to that found in places like chapter 4 of the Big Book of AA or to that found in Philippians 1 where Saint Paul chooses to rejoice over wherever and however Jesus’ name is being lifted high. We would do well to recognize that we live in a post-Christian culture where most have not been raised in church. Not everyone has an easy time swallowing the concept of a loving God. Not everyone believes what you and I believe, nor will they ever if we make coming to God a matter of accepting beliefs they are in no position to accept. At least not yet.
My hope is that more and more pastors would speak with the cultural awareness Andy Stanley does. Better yet, I hope more and more churches begin to see the wisdom found in recovery material like the Big Book of AA and learn to trust God to meet each of us where we are to move us from point A, to B, to C, and onwards if we would just get out-of-the-way. After all, its spiritual progress, not perfection, that we seek.
Grace and peace.