Andy Stanley’s Circles and Lines: A Response from Robert Gagnon

By Robert A.J. Gagnon

October 10, 2023



Human Sexuality

Robert A.J. Gagnon, Ph.D.

Andy Stanley seriously misrepresents the teaching and practice of Jesus on sin, and even his own teaching about egregious sin. Stanley claimed in his Sunday sermon on Oct. 1, right after the so-called “Unconditional Conference,” that Jesus “drew circles so large and included so many people in His circle that it consistently made religious leaders nervous.”

So, Stanley says, “we draw circles; we don’t draw lines—we draw big circles,” meaning that his church will now “embrace the journey” that homosexually active or transgender persons who come to their church are on, without rebuke or a call for repentance.

It is not just a question of Stanley putting aside the Old Testament witness any longer, nor even of disrespecting the apostolic witness. Stanley is in rebellion against the witness of Jesus himself on sexual ethics.

I. Circles, Lines, and Stanley’s Dilution of Homosexual and Transgender Sin

Two points about “circles” and “lines” are in order. First of all, even circles are circular lines that establish boundaries, and Jesus certainly drew lines. Even Stanley draws lines by viewing some behaviors and beliefs as well beyond the pale. He certainly wouldn’t adopt the same posture that he uses for homosexual behavior and transgenderism to serial-unrepentant incest, polyamory, adultery, stealing, economic exploitation, and racism.

If Stanley doesn’t think that Jesus drew lines, I would like to introduce him to the Six Antitheses that open the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:17-48), where Jesus closed loopholes in the law of Moses and tightened the ethical demand of God, paraphrasing: “You used to be able to get away with the following, but I say to you: No longer, I am closing that loophole for my disciples.”

Two of the six antitheses have to do with sex (adultery of the heart, 5:27-28; and adultery in the form of remarriage after divorce, 5:31-32), in between which two sayings Jesus exhorted his followers to cut off (metaphorically) offending bodily members, for it is better to go into heaven maimed than to be sent full-bodied to hell (Matt 5:29-30). Jesus didn’t dilute God’s commands for sexual purity; he deepened them. That is line-drawing for his disciples.

Matthew 18:15-17 traces back authorization for church discipline to Jesus himself. Church discipline is certainly about drawing lines, isn’t it?

“If your brother sins …, go, challenge him [or: correct or reprove him, show him his fault; Gk. elenxon] between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained [or: won over] your brother (for the Kingdom of Heaven). But if he does not listen, take with you still one or two (more brothers in the Lord)…. But if he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as if he were a pagan and tax collector (i.e., an outsider and egregious sinner).” (my trans.)

Accordingly, Paul, a faithful follower of Jesus, when dealing in 1 Cor 5 with the case of the incestuous man who “called himself a brother (in the Lord),” instructed the church to regard the offender as someone at high risk of being excluded from God’s kingdom (compare the offender lists in 5:10-11, which prohibit association, with the similar one in 1 Cor 6:9, which declares such will not inherit God’s kingdom). He demanded “in the name of our Lord Jesus” that they put the offender out of the community as a temporary, remedial measure, “not to associate with” him, “not even to eat with such a one,” in the hope that the offender’s “spirit might be saved on the Day of the Lord” (5:4-5, 9-11). Paul asked rhetorically: “Is it not those inside (the church) you are to judge?” (5:12).

“Jesus closed loopholes in the law of Moses and tightened the ethical demand of God.”

In the first century Christians adopted a clear approach, based on Jesus’ teaching: On the one hand, those who were not disciples of Jesus were actively sought out and invited to repent and believe in the gospel. On the other hand, those who professed to be believers in Christ, yet persisted in intentional egregious sin, were put on church discipline. This is a distinction that Andy Stanley and the “Embrace the Journey” folk have roundly rejected.

Much is at stake. When Jesus warned the woman caught in adultery, “From now on, no longer be sinning” (John 8:11), he implied “lest something worse happen to you,” that is, loss of eternal life (compare John 5:14 for the parallel). Jesus wanted the adulterous woman to understand that she could not persist in adultery and call herself a follower of his, much less inherit eternal life. Jesus’ loving response in holding in abeyance the Mosaic law’s capital sentence on adultery (stoning) was aimed at getting her to stop her adulterous ways.

The story about the “sinful woman” in Luke 7:36-50 is similar. Had she persisted in her immorality, Jesus would not have told her, “Your faith has saved you” (7:50). Her extraordinary gesture of washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair signaled in a most dramatic way her repentance from such sin. The gratitude she experienced from God’s forgiveness of her “greater debt” (7:40-43) obviously impelled her to a life away from egregious sin.

Jesus didn’t draw lines? Consider Jesus’ instructions to his disciples about what to do with towns that did not repent of their sins after witnessing Jesus’ deeds of power:

“Whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, as you go out of that town, shake the dust from your feet. I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day [of judgment] for Sodom than for that town. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.” (Luke 10:10-15 par. Matt 11:20-24)

That certainly sounds like drawing lines to me, but your ‘mileage may vary’ if your ideology of wanting to affirm homosexual relations and transgenderism gets in the way.

“Jesus went further than anyone else in insisting that God’s intentional creation design of “male and female” as sexual counterparts was the basis for limiting marriage to a sexual-binary bond.”

What accounts for this distinction in Stanley’s thinking, where he would still draw lines for some sins but not for homosexual behavior and transgenderism? Stanley simply does not think that homosexual practice and transgenderism are egregious sins that could get offenders excluded from the kingdom of God (if even he thinks of them as sins at all). Yet that is not how Jesus or the apostolic witness to Jesus viewed these sins.

Jesus went further than anyone else in insisting that God’s intentional creation design of “male and female” (Gen 1:27) as sexual counterparts—in sum, a two-sexes prerequisite for sexual unions—was the basis for limiting marriage to a sexual-binary bond (Gen 2:24), which in turn was the basis for limiting sexual unions to two persons, whether concurrently (no polygamy) or serially (no revolving door of divorce and remarriage, at least for any cause; so Mark 10:2-12; Matt 19:3-9).

For Jesus, the male-female prerequisite for marriage was thus the very foundation of his sexual ethics, the standard from which other sexual-ethics standards are constructed. Homosexual practice is obviously a direct assault on Jesus’ male-female foundation for sexual ethics, making it a particularly egregious form of consensual sexual immorality.

Paul understood the logic of Jesus’ remarks when he included “men lying with a male” and “soft men (i.e., men who feminize themselves to attract male sex partners)” in a list of offenders who would not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10; also 1 Tim 1:10). He also likened homosexual practice to idolatry as a form of sin that grossly suppresses the truth about God and the way God made us, a truth accessible to even pagan rational minds through the transparent material structures of creation (Rom 1:24-27).

Because Paul, following Jesus, understood homosexual practice as a violation of the foundation of sexual ethics established in Gen 1:27 (echoed in Rom 1:26-27) and Gen 2:24 (cited in 1 Cor 6:16), there is no question that Paul would have treated a homosexually active or transgender “Christian” the same way he treated the incestuous man “who calls himself a brother” in 1 Cor 5. He would have insisted that such a one be put on church discipline as a remedial wake-up call to prevent eternal exclusion from God’s presence.

Stanley’s three rules of sexual ethics

In his Sunday sermon after the so-called “Unconditional Conference,” Stanley proudly declared that his church still teaches children about “New Testament sexual ethics,” consisting of three rules: (1) “Honor God with your body”; (2) “Don’t be mastered by anything”; and (3) “Don’t sexualize a relationship outside of marriage.” He boasted that his church teaches young people not to have sex outside of marriage. Good. But what if the marriage is a “gay marriage”? Stanley didn’t say. He seems not to realize that his three rules for sex kick in (and indeed make sense) only after one embraces the foundational male-female prerequisite for marriage, everywhere presumed in Scripture.

Indeed, homosexual practice is depicted by Paul in Romans 1 as a violation of Stanley’s rule 1: the premier example of an “indecent” or “shameful” “dishonoring of their bodies” (Rom 1:24 27; also “dishonorable passions” in 1:26), specifically, dishonoring the God-assigned biological sex stamped on the human body (Rom 1:24-27). Likewise, homosexual sex violates Stanley’s rule 2: The language of “handing over” to sexual “impurity” (Rom 1:24, 26) and of being “enslaved to impurity” (6:19) indicates that homosexual desire is a severe instance of being mastered by sin. As for Stanley’s rule 3, homosexual practice by definition is sex outside of marriage, for the foundation of marriage in creation is defined as a union of sexual counterparts, “male and female.” But Stanley does not draw these obvious conclusions.

As we shall see, Stanley even commends men “married” to men as living lives of commitment to Christ that are exemplary for children and adults with same-sex attractions. So obviously his teaching about “New Testament sexual ethics” rings hollow.

II. Circles, Lines, and Stanley’s Confusion of Outreach to Unbelievers with Embrace of Egregious Sin in Self-Professed Believers

My second point about “circles” and “lines” is that Jesus drew expansive “circles” of outreach, not expansive circles of discipleship that ignored or allowed egregious serial-unrepentant sin.

Stanley does not appear to understand the difference between an expansive call-to-repentance outreach to persons who are not followers or disciples of Jesus, on the one hand, and an expansive acceptance of people as followers or disciples of Christ who are still unrepentantly engaging in egregious serial sin, on the other hand. Jesus engaged in the former, not the latter. Stanley misinterprets Jesus as doing the latter.

Jesus’ expansive “circle” of outreach to unbelievers did not blur the “line” between non-disciples and disciples. Jesus did not treat his circle of outreach as a more inclusive circle of disciples that gave less attention to sin, much less as a repentance-free zone. If anything, Jesus actually narrowed the “circle” of discipleship by intensifying God’s moral demand.

Yes, Jesus ate with, and generally fraternized with, sexual sinners. But he did the same thing for exploitative tax collectors. Yet no one today contends that this indicates that Jesus was soft on economic exploitation. Tax collectors had a justly deserved reputation for collecting from fellow Jews living on the economic margins many times more than they were supposed to collect, pocketing the excess for themselves. Liberation theologians today would have a field day criticizing these tax collectors.

Clearly, Jesus’ fraternization with the tax collectors did not imply that they were his followers or disciples, much less communicate Jesus’ acceptance of economic exploitation. Jesus’ teaching is full of condemnation of exploitative use of “mammon” (wealth). He did not shy away from such condemnation, even as he reached out to the biggest violators.

“Jesus’ expansive “circle” of outreach to unbelievers did not blur the “line” between non-disciples and disciples.”

In fact, the condemnation of such materially exploitative behavior as leading to exclusion from the Kingdom of God was part and parcel of what motivated the tax collectors to repent. A case in point is Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10, to whose house Jesus invited himself. Zacchaeus had heard enough of such condemnations by Jesus. It induced him to commit to Jesus to pay back four times whatever he had defrauded others of, and to give half of his ill-gotten possessions to the poor. Only then did Jesus assure Zacchaeus that “today salvation has come to this house.”

Obviously, then, Jesus’ fraternization with sexual sinners, like his fraternization with exploitative tax collectors, did not signal his embrace of them as his disciples or followers. They were still going to hell unless they repented of their wrongdoing. Mark summarizes Jesus’ proclamation as: “The Kingdom of God has come near: Repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15). What is repentance about if not the drawing of lines?

Those who fail to repent, especially as regards egregious sexual sin, do not inherit the Kingdom of God. That Paul understood this principle from Jesus is evident from his vice or offender lists, which typically put sexual sins either second after idolatry or even first (1 Thess 4:2-8; Gal 5:19-21; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 2 Cor 12:21; Rom 1:18-32; Col 3:5-10; Eph 4:17-19; 5:3-6; 1 Tim 1:9-11).

“Exclusion has as its aim the recovery of the lost, headed for destruction. It is remedial and, hopefully, temporary.”

Stanley trumpets his “new approach” to the rest of the church. Yet who is saying that Christians should not reach out to, and fraternize with, unbelieving, homosexually active or transgender seekers to bring them into the Kingdom of God? Who is saying that such persons are not welcome to attend our churches?

The church can and should give loving teaching about the struggle that we all have with internal desires to do what God forbids, and about how the grace and love of God helps with those struggles. Contrary to what Stanley claims, the shame felt by those with homosexual or transgender desires over who they are, while distinctive, is not unique to the human experience of sin.

At the same time the church should avoid treating homosexually active or transgender persons as believers in Christ, or at least as believers in good standing. Indeed, if such offenders profess to be believers while persisting in egregious immorality, refusing to heed the admonition of the church, then the prescribed procedure of the church, according to Jesus (Matt 18:15-17) and Paul (1 Cor 5), is to exclude them temporarily from the life of the community in the hope of future repentance.

Otherwise, as Paul put it, the sexually immoral “leaven the whole batch of dough,” the whole church, with the corrupting influence of sin, communicating to all concerned the message that sexual purity and gross immorality are no big deal (1 Cor 5:6-8). This is Paul’s message regarding the toleration of a case of incest in a church’s midst. The same would apply, and more so, to a matter of homosexual practice. Exclusion has as its aim the recovery of the lost, headed for destruction. It is remedial and, hopefully, temporary.

III. Stanley’s Hollow Claim to Still View Homosexual Practice and Transgenderism as Sin

Andy Stanley claimed in his Sunday sermon after the conference:

“We affirm all three of the apostle Paul’s statements on the topic of same-sex sex: Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1…. What the apostle Paul called sin then and it’s sin now…. We teach about marriage the same way Jesus and the apostles did. Every instruction in the Bible regarding marriage references or assumes a husband and a wife, a man or a woman. So biblical marriage is between a man and a woman. We’ve never shied away from that…. We aren’t condoning sin, we are restoring relationships, and we are literally saving lives.”

This looks to the untrained eye like Stanley is affirming the orthodox biblical position on homosexual practice and marriage. Yet it more likely is an instance of gaslighting by Stanley, where Stanley deceptively misleads his audience to a false assumption about his beliefs while giving himself the wiggle room to have a different view.

If Stanley understood Paul as indicting only exploitative and promiscuous forms of homosexual practice, not committed homosexual relationships, then he could say that “we affirm the apostle Paul’s statements on the topic of same-sex sex” and “we teach about marriage the same way Jesus and the apostles did,” while he (Stanley) at the same time tacitly promotes “gay marriage.” The statement that “biblical marriage is between a man and a woman” could be taken as a merely descriptive statement of what the Bible says or assumes rather than as a prescriptive statement that implicitly prohibits committed homosexual unions. The biblical view of marriage, Stanley could argue, was formulated without knowing about the kinds of committed same-sex relationships that we experience. “We aren’t condoning sin” would then mean, “We aren’t condoning premarital, extramarital, exploitative, or promiscuous behavior on the part of either heterosexuals or homosexuals.”

I know that this sounds like a cynical reading of Stanley’s words, but it is typical of the gaslighting on this issue that Stanley and other pastors have been doing for years to move Evangelical congregations to a pro-homosexuality position. At the very least, Stanley certainly doesn’t view homosexual practice and transgenderism as egregious sin on the order of, say, incest. He declared that “for many” same-sex-attracted persons, celibacy “is not sustainable, and so they choose a same-sex marriage.” “Not sustainable”?

Every demand for righteousness coming from God appears “unsustainable” to those who choose to violate the standard. Jesus’ call to discipleship, namely, to “deny oneself and take up one’s cross, and … lose one’s life for the sake of me and of the gospel” (Mark 8:34-35) looks “unsustainable,” apart from the Holy Spirit.

“Jesus’ entire call to discipleship looks “unsustainable,” apart from the Holy Spirit.”

Stanley insisted that “it’s their decision” to enter same-sex marriages. “Our decision is to decide how we respond to their decision.” For Stanley that decision is one where homosexual offenders are embraced as full members of the church, genuine believers in good standing, capable of holding office, even if they continue in their sin. Our decision is allegedly not to call them to repentance for their decision, because for Stanley the sin is not egregious, certainly not one that could lead to exclusion from the Kingdom of God.

Truth be told, Stanley probably personally does not believe that such behavior is sin at all. Here’s how Stanley in his sermon referred to two homosexual men who spoke at the “Unconditional Conference” (and in fact, per Stanley, had previously spoken at Stanley’s church), each of whom is “married” to a man:

This is why Justin [Lee] and Brian [Nietzel] were invited, the two married gay men at the center of all the controversy. And I’m sure that you’ve read all about that. And here’s the thing about Brian and Justin: their stories and their journeys of growing up in church and maintaining their faith in Christ and their commitment to follow Christ all through their high school and college and singles and all up to the time that they were married, their story is so powerful for parents of gay especially kids, that it’s a story gay parents and gay kids need to hear.” (my emphasis)

Did you catch that? Two men, each of whom are “married” to other men, are described by Stanley as “maintaining their faith in Christ and their commitment to follow Christ” in exemplary fashion. Yet from a biblical standpoint they are engaging in a form of adult-consensual sexual immorality so egregious that the most proximate analogue in Scripture would be an incestuous union. Even adult-consensual incest, however, is not an assault on the very foundation of Jesus’ sexual ethics, unlike homosexual sex.

How can such men be exemplars of commitment to Christ when their unrepentant homosexual activity is already an act of high immorality and rebellion against the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Again, as the closest analogue, imagine a pastor referring to man who is “married” to his mother or sister in an adult-committed relationship as being a role model for faith in, and commitment to, Jesus. Such a pastor would be immediately defrocked. Imagine Jesus or Paul, or any positive protagonist in Scripture, speaking like this. It is absurd.

“Far from “saving lives,” Stanley’s approach leads to exclusion of many from eternal life in the Kingdom of God.”

Stanley’s Past Pattern

Still, it should not be terribly surprising to those who have noted Stanley’s slide for some years now. Already in a talk that Andy Stanley gave eleven years ago (April 2012), Stanley found fault not with a male homosexual relationship in his church, but only with the fact that one of the “partners” had not yet finalized his divorce from his wife. Until it became evident that the “partner” was still legally married to a woman, it was okay for the two men to serve on the “guest services team.” Last May he spoke about how some self-affirming “gay Christians” have more faith and love toward God than many straight Christians. The fact that they were committing highly immoral sexual acts was of no consequence to Stanley.

Stanley’s endorsement of “Embrace the Journey”

That same-sex intercourse and transgenderism is not sin per se is also the view of Greg and Lynn McDonald whose organization “Embrace the Journey” Stanley hired to put on the so-called “Unconditional Conference.” Stanley repeatedly extolled the McDonalds in his sermon. The McDonalds encourage parents to not criticize a child’s homosexual behavior or transition to the other sex, but instead to “embrace the journey.” In their book they encourage parents to be happy for their children when they enter homosexual relationships (including “gay marriage”) or transition to a “transgender” life.

The only literature that the McDonalds recommend to parents with “gay” or “transgender” children comes from writers who not only promote homosexual practice and transgenderism, but also teach that the “clobber texts” (a deprecating reference that the McDonalds and Stanley do not apply to biblical texts that condemn other sins) don’t really condemn such behavior per se. Likewise, the only speakers at the “Unconditional Conference” were persons who advocate that homosexual practice and transgenderism are not sins, let alone egregious sins, including the two men in “gay marriages” noted above.

In their book Embrace the Journey, the McDonalds express happiness that those in the “gay” life no longer have to hide their embrace of such a life, and that “gay marriage” is legal. They celebrate the fact that “every day new bridges are being built between the LGBTQ community … and the church,” alluding to those churches that no longer speak out against homosexual behavior and transgenderism (pp. 213-15).

As an example of how given over the McDonalds are to the “LGBTQ” agenda, they even encourage full parental support of a child’s faux transition to the other sex:

“For many years [a couple we’ll call Cindy and Norm] struggled with the idea that their daughter was gay, but that was nothing compared to the confusion that came when their child … explained that he [sic!] was actually transgender. Over time, … their fear turned to … thriving. They eventually supported their child’s transition and built a new, stronger-than-ever relationship with their son [sic!]. Today, the family is crazy in love with each other, and each of their relationships with Jesus is deeper than ever. Cindy and Norm have discovered the same passion that we did to help other families learn from their mistakes.” (p. 198; my emphasis)

Need I say more? Although the McDonalds present themselves to parents as not taking a stance on the rightness or wrongness of homosexual practice and transgenderism, it is obvious where their own views lie. Stanley knows this. Yet he has them put on a major conference for his church, excluding as speakers anyone who embraces the scriptural view that a male-female requirement is foundational for sexual ethics.

Stanley’s false restoration

Stanley claims that his approach is simply to “restore relationships.” But the relationships “restored” between parents and children come at the cost of parents “embracing” the homosexual relationships or transgender conversions of their adolescent or adult children. This is relational extortion.

A “restored” relationship also comes at the cost of violating Jesus’ teaching that “the one who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37), or that “if anyone comes to me and does not (in comparison to loving me) hate … his (or her) own children … is not able to be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). For “whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:38) and “is not able to be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

Ironically, supporting a child’s (or friend’s) homosexual or transgender life also comes at the cost of loving one’s child (or friend). It produces “functional hate,” for it promotes, rather than deters, the loved one’s self-dishonoring or self-degrading behavior, marring the image-bearing on which the Creator has stamped maleness or femaleness.

Stanley speaks of what he is doing as “literally saving lives,” as if Jesus and the apostles did not both reach out in love to violators and warn about sin leading to eternal destruction. Stanley’s muting of the call to repentance and the prospect of divine judgment, as well as his encouragement of parents to “embrace” their child’s journey into homosexuality or transgenderism, is a functional declaration that these patterns of behavior are not really sinful. Far from “saving lives,” Stanley’s approach leads to exclusion of many from eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

“A full-orbed understanding of love includes rebuke and reproof.”

Jesus was extraordinarily gracious in validating the genuineness of a confession of repentance after a ridiculously high number of violations. What he could not allow is a shirking of responsibility to rebuke, or a failure of the offender to repent at all, for that would result in the offender’s exclusion from God’s kingdom, which would not be an act of love. Thus:

“If your brother (generically understood) sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. Even if he sins … seven times a day and turns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)

Note here that Jesus is echoing Leviticus 19:17-18: You shall not “hate,” “take revenge on,” or “hold a grudge against” your neighbor. And if your neighbor does wrong, “you shall reprove your neighbor, lest you incur guilt yourself” for failing to warn your neighbor. And “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” A full-orbed understanding of love includes rebuke and reproof. Failure to do so is not an act of love, whatever your personal affect may be.

Jesus believed that rebuke was a major facet of what the second greatest commandment meant. Undoubtedly Stanley and the McDonalds of “Embrace the Journey” believe the same for sins that they still regard as egregious. But, contrary to Jesus and the whole of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, they do not include serial-unrepentant sins of homosexual practice and transgenderism in their list of egregious sins. Therefore, Stanley and the McDonalds, in their treatment of homosexually active or transgender persons who profess to be believers, are not acting in love.

Stanley’s theology in practice

Stanley claims: “This is not about changing my theology but about changing my approach.” Well, Stanley’s “new approach” in the “Unconditional Conference” has led more people to embrace homosexualism and transgenderism. That is still a success story for Stanley and his crew, but it is not a success story for Jesus.

Stanley’s “new approach” is incompatible with the fact that Jesus viewed homosexual practice as a violation of the very foundation of sexual ethics. It contradicts the “approach” of Paul in warning his converts that serial-unrepentant homosexual practice and transgenderism, like incest, puts the offender at risk of being excluded from God’s kingdom. An orthodox theology on sex precludes Stanley’s “new approach.” There is no way that Stanley can believe what Jesus and Paul have said and at the same time take this “new approach.”

Stanley thinks that he can excuse his heretical approach by saying: “This was not a theology conference. It wasn’t a Bible conference. It was a pastoring conference.” Contrary to what Stanley apparently thinks, pastoring cannot be divorced from theology. Pastoring is about putting into practice good theology. If you believe that a person’s behavior puts him and others at risk of not receiving eternal life, you will have one pastoral approach. If you don’t believe that, you will have a quite different pastoral approach.

Pastoring cannot be divorced from theology. Pastoring is about putting into practice good theology.”

IV. Conclusion: Don’t Be Fooled Because God Isn’t

Don’t be fooled by what Andy Stanley and “Embracing the Journey” are doing. As the apostle Paul said to the Galatians,

“Do not be deceiving yourselves: God is not to be mocked, for whatever a person sows, this also he (or she) will reap, because the one who is sowing to his (or her) own flesh will, from the flesh, reap (a harvest of) destruction, but the one who is sowing to the Spirit will, from the Spirit, reap (a harvest of) eternal life. And let us​ not be bad in doing what is good for in due time we will reap (our harvest), if we do not slack off” (Gal 6:7-9; my trans.).

Don’t take Stanley at his word that he and his church still hold firmly to the conviction that homosexual practice and transgenderism are sins. Look at what he does to find out what his true theology is.

If Stanley does consider these behaviors to be sins at all, it is on the order of the sin of gluttony or questionable exceptions allowing for remarriage after divorce. He certainly does not take the biblical view of regarding these offenses as even worse than adult-consensual incest and (non-homosexual) polyamory. But I don’t think that Stanley and his crew hold even this massively diluted view of homosexual practice and transgenderism as relatively minor sins.

“Functional support for homosexual practice and transgenderism is not only anti-scriptural, it is anti-Jesus.”

Homosexuality and transgenderism are at most for Stanley and his church disorders that (if you can believe it) parents and friends should support in numerous ways, including attendance at “gay weddings” and use of false transgender pronouns and names, so as not to trigger (allegedly) self-harm and suicide. The question of eternal inheritance in the Kingdom of God is not a consideration for Stanley and his crew, as it would be in the case of consensual incest.

For Stanley and company, rebuke of, or even express reservation about, homosexual or transgender behavior is off the table. Abhorring such behavior as God does is out of the question. It should not be a factor in preventing such persons from participating as representatives of the church in a ministry capacity, including perhaps in leadership positions. Those who are struggling with these sins are sent for advice to literature, conferences, and people who affirm such sins.

This is functional support for, and embrace of, homosexual practice and transgenderism. It is not only anti-scriptural. It is also anti-Jesus, a rebellion against Christ’s Lordship over his church, pulling the rug out from Jesus’ creation-based sexual ethics. Stanley’s claimed adherence to the biblical view of marriage is an adherence in name only, and that for the sake of optics in the Evangelical world.

The Jesus who truly gives rest

The only scripture text that Stanley explicitly cited in the entire sermon occurred at the end of the message: an appeal to Jesus’ words in Matt 11:28-29: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…. rest for your souls.” This verse does not justify what Stanley and his crew are promoting. Jesus promises rest for those who surrender themselves and their will to him, not for those who continue to live in egregious immorality.

This is the same Jesus who just got done reproaching the Galilean cities that did not repent after seeing his deeds of power with a fate on the day of judgment worse even than that of the cataclysmic destruction of Sodom (Matt 11:20-24). This is the same Jesus who goes on to tell his followers that his true family consists of “whoever does the will of my Father in the heavens” (Matt 12:50). His followers must deny themselves, take up their cross, and lose their life (Matt 10:38; 16:24-25).

This is the same Jesus who previously, at the start of the Sermon on the Mount, closed the loopholes in the law of Moses in order to intensify God’s demand in the Six Antitheses. Two of the six had to do with sex; spliced between them a warning about cutting off offending members lest the whole body be thrown into hell (Matt 5:17-48).

This is not the Jesus that Stanley wanted anything to do with in this sermon.

Stanley’s succumbing to the spirit of secular culture is not the first act in a partial Evangelical slide into apostasy. However, given his visibility as a prominent “Evangelical” pastor, it will hasten the slide. The faithful must exercise boldness of speech in exposing this deception of the church, and do what it can to accelerate the education of an increasingly impoverished body of Christ.

Do not be deceived. Wake up and have the mind of Christ, who is in the business of doing the hard work of redemption from sin, whatever the prevailing cultural mindset may happen to be, and whatever the cost for remaining faithful to the Creator.

Robert A. J. Gagnon is the author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon) and numerous other publications. He has a B.A. from Dartmouth College (highest honors in History), a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary (magna cum laude). He taught as a professor of Bible first at Middlebury College in a one-year position, then for almost a quarter of a century at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and for the past five years (till July 2024) at Houston Christian University.

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