Andy Stanley, the Unconditional Conference, and Why We Cannot Be More Loving Than Jesus

I met Andy Stanley twenty years ago. I found him interesting and likeable. We had a number of mutual friends, I knew people at his church, and I have recommended several of his books that I found helpful and on target. I am sad to say that in the last eight years or so I have been unable to recommend Andy’s teaching for a variety of reasons. This 2016 article by Josh Buice documents some of those. I take no delight in being a critic in this situation. On the contrary, I find it heartbreaking.

Many readers are aware of the recent controversy surrounding Andy, who is senior pastor of North Point Community Church. North Point hosted the Unconditional Conference, designed for parents of LGBTQ+ children and ministry leaders, which claimed to approach LGBTQ+ issues from “the quieter middle space.” It featured speakers who are either in same-sex relationships or are supportive of those who are.  

I’d like to recommend a few resources related to this. First, Sam Allberry wrote an article on Andy Stanley’s ‘Unconditional’ Contradiction. He does a good job of summarizing the serious issues with the conference.

Second, before the conference, Albert Mohler wrote a thoughtful column for WORLD: The train is leaving the station: Andy Stanley’s departure from Biblical Christianity.  After it, Andy Stanley responded to Mohler’s article in his Sunday sermon. In his follow up article (Go and sin no more: Andy Stanley doubles down on his departure from Biblical Christianity), Al writes, “…he stated up front that he ‘never subscribed’ to the Christianity I represent, so he has not departed from it. Stanley represented my understanding of Biblical Christianity as drawing lines and suggested that Jesus, unlike those who draw lines, drew circles: ‘He drew circles so large and included so many people in His circle that it consistently made religious leaders nervous.’”

Al Mohler continues:

The problem with Stanley’s assertion that Jesus drew circles rather than lines is that the four Gospels consistently present Jesus as drawing both. He did draw lines, such as when He told of the good Samaritan who, unlike the religious leaders of His day, helped the man assaulted by robbers. Casting the Samaritan as the God-honoring character in the parable was indeed a way of drawing a circle. Jesus came to save sinners, and thus we are saved. But Jesus never drew circles that ignored the reality of sin. Christ also drew lines with clarity, such as the line separating the sheep from the goats. Similarly, the Apostles preached the great good news of the gospel, yet also called Christians to holy living and to avoid sexual immorality. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10).

Third: writer, theologian, and pastor Gavin Ortlund made a video on Is Same-Sex Marriage an “Agree-to-Disagree” Issue? He responded to Stanley’s comments after the Unconditional Conference:

Gavin says, “Jesus said, ‘Come as you are,’ but He didn’t say, ‘Stay as you are.’” And: “Giving people clarity on what God commands is love. And giving them ambiguity about what God commands is unloving and unkind. It isn’t compassion.”

Finally, Greg Stier shared these reflections:

It’s not whether or not a church is affirming that bothers me so much as what that church has to do to Scripture to get to that conclusion. Yes, we must love those in the LGBTQ community. We must reach them with the hope of the gospel. But we cannot dismiss, redefine, or minimize what Scripture clearly says on these issues.

All of the current Christian chatter on social media regarding this subject ultimately comes down to one issue, Biblical authority. Do we really believe God’s Word is authoritative? Are we willing to submit to its commands, both to love everyone with the love of Christ and being willing to call a sin a sin?

It is my contention that we can be 100% truthful and 100% loving at the same time. I believe we can speak the truth in love. I believe we can call homosexuality a sin and compel those in that community to come to Jesus as they are. As the old hymn goes, “Just as I am, thou wilt receive wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve because Thy promise I believe. Oh, Lamb of God, I come, I come.”

Once any sinner comes to Christ in simple faith based on his finished work on the cross, they are born again (John 3:3). They have a new identity in Christ and as a child of God (John 1:12).

We can help new these new believers shed their old lifestyles and live holy lives as new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Everyone comes to Christ as a sinner, totally unable to change themselves or turn from their sins in their own strength. But as soon as they put their faith in Christ they are declared righteous in the sight of God (Romans 4:5), regenerated spiritually (Titus 3:5) and immediately indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13,14.) Now, that new believer has all the powers of heaven at their disposal to live a life that pleases God on every level, including when it comes to their gender and sexuality (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).

And we, as fellow sinners-turned-saints, must help them walk in that spiritual victory, as others have helped us!

That journey will be messy; sanctification always is. But we must “fail forward” together, helping each other make progressive steps in holiness until we ultimately fall into the arms of Jesus and (hopefully) hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Let us strive to submit to God’s Word on these issues. May we speak the truth in love. May we strive to live humble lives drenched in love, compassion, and holiness.

Some last thoughts: John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (emphasis added). Jesus distinguished Himself from the attitudes of the Pharisees toward the adulterous woman when He said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” But He still said to her, “Go and sin no more.” The Gospels show us how Jesus treated each person, full of grace and truth. Sometimes (sensing that person’s particular heart and needs), He came across heavier on truth, and other times heavier on grace, but never devoid of either. He came across differently than the truth-only Pharisees, but also differently than modern grace-only Christians who would picture themselves being loving because they never raise the sin issue, or redefine what is and isn’t sin. (Do we really think it’s possible to be more loving than Jesus?)

To admit we are unworthy sinners, that we are lost without Jesus, and that we are called to forsake our sins is difficult, but it is necessary in order to come to true faith in Christ. That is the gospel message for everyone, heterosexual or homosexual: that all our sins are sufficient to send us to hell, which is why we desperately need the Savior. The gospel is insulting to all of us. But it is the grace and power of God. And it is Christ’s grace and His truth that set us free.

Also see our recent article series on gender confusion and sexuality.

Photo: Pexels

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries