Mohler on Stanley: A Problem with Grace

If Jesus were to come back today, he would do it all again.  He would tweak the noses of the powers-that-be.  And he would get himself crucified.

Or maybe he would just get himself crucified on Al Mohler’s blog.

Albert Mohler, who is no stranger to provocative blogosphere discussions, stirred the pot with a post last week on megachurches.  In something akin to the experience of taking your car to get an oil change only to have your mechanic lecture you on the history of the internal combustion engine, he begins by giving us the full-on history of the megachurch movement, its development and its sociological implications, and comes around to make the point that megachurches are, in his estimation, the new purveyors of liberal theology.  Or maybe the object of this exercise was to take a swipe at a particular megachurch pastor?  (You’ll know when you read it.)

At issue for Mohler is a message that was preached by Andy Stanley at North Point Community Church a couple of weeks ago.  The message in question is part of a sermon series called “Christian“.  The big idea of the series is this:  Christianity has an image problem.  One of the biggest reasons is that the Bible is not clear on what it means to be a Christian–the word only appears three times in the entire New Testament.  It is painfully clear, however, on what it means to be a “disciple”–this is the word by which New Testament Christians most frequently identified themselves.  And the largest part of what it means to be a disciple is that we love others the way Jesus loved them.

One of the biggest aspects of how Jesus loved others was that he loved with the fullness of grace and truth.  Not grace without truth, or truth without grace, or some partial combination of the two, but the full measure of both grace and truth.

In the message in question, creatively entitled “When Gracie Met Truthy”, Stanley illustrated this point by telling the story of a couple that were friends of his and North Point attenders.  The wife divorced when she learned that her husband was having an affair with another man.  She asked him to stop attending North Point, so he did.  He and his gay partner began attending the Buckhead campus.  Here the whole thing starts to get really complicated and convoluded–you’d best just listen to the message itself (it’s part 5 of the series).  How’s that for a promo?

At any rate, the wife made the decision that she did not want to live in bitterness forever, so she began to reach out to her ex-husband in hopes of reconciling the family.  Toward that end, she invited him and his gay partner and family to a Christmas service at North Point so that they could all celebrate the holiday together.

Turns out, the gay partner was still married when he and the husband started living together.  This came out when the two men were serving as greeters at their new church.  Stanley determined that they were living in adultery and could not continue serving as greeters under such conditions.

And herein lies Mohler’s issue.

The most puzzling and shocking part of the message was the illustration and the account of the homosexual couple, however. The inescapable impression left by the account was that the sin of concern was adultery, but not homosexuality. Stanley clearly and repeatedly stressed the sin of adultery, but then left the reality of the homosexual relationship between the two men unaddressed as sin. To the contrary, he seemed to normalize their relationship. They would be allowed to serve on the host team if both were divorced. The moral status of their relationship seemed to be questioned only in terms of adultery, with no moral judgment on their homosexuality.

Was this intended as a salvo of sorts? The story was so well told and the message so well constructed that there can be little doubt of its meaning. Does this signal the normalization of homosexuality at North Point Community Church? This hardly seems possible, but it appeared to be the implication of the message. Given the volatility of this issue, ambiguity will be replaced by clarity one way or the other, and likely sooner than later.

We can only hope that Andy Stanley and the church will clarify and affirm the biblical declaration of the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, even as he preaches the forgiveness of sin in any form through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His affirmation of grace and truth in full measure is exactly right, but grace and truth are not actually in tension. The only tension is our finite ability to act in full faithfulness. The knowledge of our sin is, in truth, a gift of grace. And grace is only grace because of the truth of what God has done for us in Christ.

If that is what Mohler took away from the message, then he completely and totally missed the point.  The point of the message and the illustration was not to make a statement about homosexuality one way or the other, but to discuss the tension between grace and truth which we all must live with.

Mohler does speak to this, in a nice little soundbite:

[Stanley’s] affirmation of grace and truth in full measure is exactly right, but grace and truth are not actually in tension. The only tension is our finite ability to act in full faithfulness.

In other words, there is no tension between grace and truth.  Just straighten up and act right and it will magically disappear.

Of course there are several issues in play here.  One is the tendency of those in certain parts of the evangelical world (especially those that bear the Reformed label) to seize upon some pet issue or another and say that anyone who disagrees with them on that issue has abandoned the Gospel.  But that’s another diatribe for another day.

There is also the fixation with homosexuality.  As if homosexuality is a class of sin much greater than adultery or any other sin, and must be denounced as such at every possible opportunity.  That too is another diatribe for another day.

The issue for today is the tension between grace and truth.  Oh wait, there is no tension.  Just straighten up and act right and it all goes away.

Jesus told a parable in which a landowner invited his friends to a banquet.  When they all turned him down, he invited the losers and dregs of the street in their place.  Of course, we must assume that all these losers repented and began to “act in full faithfulness” before they went to the banquet.

Then there was the time that Jesus invited himself to dinner at the home of a notoriously corrupt tax collector named Zaccheus.  Of course we must assume that Zaccheus was “acting in full faithfulness” before Jesus would deign to darken his door.

Go ahead.  Admit it.  There is something scandalous about this estranged wife inviting her ex-husband and his gay lover to church for Christmas, isn’t there?  And that’s the point here.  Grace is scandalous stuff.

Evangelicals talk a really good game when it comes to grace and the Gospel, but an awful lot are horribly uncomfortable with grace.  As Michael Spencer puts it:

“Amazing Grace” may be the church’s favorite hymn, but I’m not the first person to notice that the subject of God’s actual grace seems to give many Christians a case of hives. Singing about it is way cool. After that we need a team of lawyers to interpret all the codicils and footnotes we’ve written for the new covenant.

This is the opening line to “Our Problem with Grace“, one of the finest essays he has written that addresses the issue of grace.  It is long but well worth the read.

Grace is scandalous stuff.  If you are showing grace, then in all probability somebody will call you a liberal or say that you have abandoned the Gospel.

Let me close with this quote from Michael Spencer’s piece:

Sometimes Christians go very, very far down the road of sin’s allurements and dwell there for years. When this happens, we shouldn’t be outraged by such behavior, as if the church is scandalized. The church ought to be a scandal of grace every day, and when it’s not, the Gospel is missing. Go find it. Our treatment of that wayward person, in personal relationships and in the congregation, is all about God’s determination to be glorified in the lives of those for whom Jesus died as a substitute and a sacrifice.

Grace doesn’t approve. Grace just refuses to give up on us. (God really is amazing!)

7 thoughts on “Mohler on Stanley: A Problem with Grace

  1. I love Andy, but Mohler is right here. I think you might not understand the word tension. Grace and truth aren’t in tension. Grace is part of what is true. Mohler was saying that we are incapable of acting in full faithfullness, that’s why our finite ability is in tension with full faithfulness.

    Andy should have either used a different illustration or identified both homosexuality and adultery as sin. If it was a misstep then Andy should just fess up to it and move on.

  2. Yikes. If a pastor can’t label a sin a “sin”, then what do we have in the pulpit? Someone who does not want to cross the line for sake of controversy, or sake of losing half of a congregation that financially supports the church. The body of Christ is to be “without blemish”. Anyone in sin is asked to stop sinning, or leave. This is the duty of Christian brotherhood… upholding the Holiness of the Bible above everything, including the liberal use of the word “grace”. Grace is what Christ gave us when we repented of our sin, not when we were still sinning. When we were still sinning we were “enemies” of God, we were filthy rags and we were destined for hell. Apart from repentance there is no grace whatsoever. Mohler is exactly right. Just because two gay men want to go to a church does not mean that the Holy Scriptures are null and void to knowingly allow them to continue in sin without confronting that sin. This goes for any and all sins. So yes, Andy Stanley had the responsiblity as a “Shepherd” to call out sin where it is due, and he did not. This is tragic, for it is when sin is confronted that lives are changed, lives are saved from death and GRACE enters the human heart. Tragic because this gay couple could have been freed from the sexual bondage that is outside the will of God that enslaved them to sin.

  3. Mohler is absolutely correct. Grace without truth is a license to sin. To hammer on Mohler for pointing out that the issue with homosexuality in the context of the illustration is not ungracious… it is truth! Can you ever name a time in Scripture where Jesus looked at someone in sin and said… “No worry… it’s all good… you got grace?” NEVER… Grace was in His love towards sinners and in His forgiveness of repented sin. If Jesus doesn’t care about homosexuality lived out in the lives of believers… then He owes a HUGE apology to Sodom and Gomorrah (Thank you Ruth Graham for that quote.)

    The diatribe that we should have DAILY in our “Christian Culture” is the fact that we are allowing ourselves to become so influenced in the church by a worldly culture that preaches tolerance… that we have allowed the world to become our standard for holy living rather than God’s Word. We have lost our distinctiveness as true Disciples. And here in lies the problem of grace and truth… Our “Christian” culture has leaned heavily on Grace in order to be more acceptable to the world… even at the expense of straying from God’s Word (The final authority on truth.) We should not think that this straying is acceptable to God. I don’t know how anyone can read God’s Word and come to that conclusion.

    I applaud Mohler for pointing out the truth.

  4. “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound”
    On these Biblical grounds I have to agree with Moehler. Grace is needed BECAUSE of truth. Grace only becomes necessary once we recognize that what we are doing is actually SIN. I can remember living a very promiscuous lifestyle, and would never have sought out grace as long as I blissfully believed that it was acceptable. Hearing truth, ( “ will know the truth, and the TRUTH will set you free”) is what brought conviction, and showed me that I was sinning and was, in fact, in NEED of grace. If people are not shown their sin through the Biblical mirror of truth, they will never see a need for grace.

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  6. Moehler overreacted…Stanley’s illustration made the point he wanted to make and makes sense in the context of the sermon series he was preaching. I agree that Moehler must not have listened to the entire series…Stanley’s description of the tension between grace and truth is spot on.

    BTW…one might argue that homosexuality is merely a form of adultery or fornication…making this whole discussion a waste of time.

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