A shot now reverberating around the evangelical world was fired by Atlanta megachurch pastor Andy Stanley in recent days. Preaching at North Point Community Church, in a sermon series known as “Christian,” Stanley preached a message titled “When Gracie Met Truthy” on April 15, 2012. With reference to John 1:14, Stanley described the challenge of affirming grace and truth in full measure. He spoke of grace and truth as a tension, warning that “if you resolve it, you give up something important.”
The message was insightful and winsome, and Andy Stanley is a master communicator. Early in the message he spoke of homosexuals in attendance, mentioning that some had shared with him that they had come to North Point because they were tired of messages in gay-affirming churches that did nothing but affirm homosexuality.
Then, in the most intense part of his message, Stanley told the congregation an account meant to illustrate his message. He told of a couple with a young daughter who divorced when the wife discovered that the husband was in a sexual relationship with another man. The woman then insisted that her former husband and his gay partner move to another congregation. They did move, but to another North Point location, where they volunteered together as part of a “host team.” The woman later told Andy Stanley that her former husband and his partner were now involved as volunteers in the other congregational location.
The story took a strange turn when Stanley then explained that he had learned that the former husband’s gay partner was still married. Stanley then explained that the partner was actually committing adultery, and that the adultery was incompatible with his service on a host team. Stanley told the two men that they could not serve on the host team so long as the one man was still married. He later told of the former wife’s decision not to live in bitterness, and of her initiative to bring the whole new family structure to a Christmas service. This included the woman, her daughter, her former husband, his gay partner, and his daughter. Stanley celebrated this new “modern family” as an expression of forgiveness.
He concluded by telling of Christ’s death for sinners and told the congregation that Jesus does not condemn them, even if they cannot or do not leave their life of sin.
Declaring the death of Christ as atonement for sin is orthodox Christianity and this declaration is essential to the Gospel of Christ. The problem was that Stanley never mentioned faith or repentance — which are equally essential to the Gospel. There is indeed no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but this defines those who have acted in repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). As for those who are not in Christ, they stand condemned already (John 3:18).
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. . .
. . .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.
And yet, even as we know this is true, we also know that the Christian church has often failed miserably in demonstrating grace to those who struggle with same-sex attractions and those who are involved in homosexual behaviors. We have treated them as a special class of sinners and we have assured ourselves of our moral superiority. The Gospel of Jesus Christ destroys that pretension and calls for us to reach out to all sinners with the message of the Gospel, declaring the forgiveness of sins in Christ and calling them to faith and repentance.
The Gospel is robbed of its power if any sinner or any sin is declared outside its saving power. But the Gospel is also robbed of its power if sin — any sin — is minimized to any degree.