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Should you stop Saying ‘The Bible Says’?

In his book Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, Andy Stanley makes the case that pastors should stop saying ‘the Bible says’ when quoting Scripture. His argument is not theological, but stems from evangelism as a goal. He states people have to believe Jesus as the Son of God before they have to believe the Bible is the Word of God. The phrase ‘The Bible says’ could make them tune out and prevent them from ‘meeting’ Jesus. In that sense, using that phrase could be a stumbling block for people to come to Christ.

It’s an interesting argument—and certainly a challenging one, considering the popularity of this particular phrase amongst pastors (a phrase that became widely popular because of Billy Graham’s use by the way). Understandably, Stanley’s plea has met fierce opposition and sparked a lively debate.

Billy Graham

Millennials and the Bible’s authority

But for youth pastors, there’s even more reason to study this issue. The Bible’s authority is far from an accepted fact amongst millennials. Barna’s recent research shows that Christian millennials view the Bible as the actual or inspired Word of God (96%). These are the millennials who view themselves as Christian, state faith is extremely important to them, and go to church at least once a month.

Non-Christian millennials hold completely different views however—and this is the group Stanley encourages pastors to take into account. They see the Bible as ‘just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice’ (45%). Only 27% of non-Christian millennials say the Bible is the inspired or actual word of God.

From an evangelism point of view, this is important information. If your goal is to speak to non-Christians in your talk, using the phrase ‘The Bible says’ may just disengage a large portion of your targeted audience. That’s something to think about.

On the other hand, bowing to this criticism is in some way bowing to subjectivism as well. Stanley suggests saying something like ‘Paul says’, or ‘Jesus says’. In the second case, it wouldn’t be an issue since Jesus is God. But in the first case, do we really want to make a distinction between what Paul said and what the Bible/God said? Isn’t that giving in to the infamous postmodern tendencies of deconstructivism, relativism, individualism and probably a few more –isms I can’t think of right now?

It’s an interesting discussion and there’s something to be said for both points of view. Where do you stand? What arguments can you think of to support one view or the other? Could it hurt to use this phrase that’s been used for decades by the church (another argument—though admittedly, not a valid nor convincing one)?

[Sources: Barna, Christianity Today July/August 2014]
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2 thoughts on “Should you stop Saying ‘The Bible Says’?

  1. I think there is a lot of validity to this. It’s not that the bible doesn’t have weight in and of itself but it surmises that the person receiving it sees the bible as a valid source. We don’t need to use that qualifier for the words to hold their own weight. When ministering to non-believers I tend to leave scripture reference out of it until we’ve established some sort of understanding/respect for what the Bible is and why they should believe there is anything to it.

    1. I agree with you completely Sean. I think in Billy Graham’s time the Bible still had that authority and was seen as a valid source, but that’s definitely not the case anymore.

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