Deep and Wide, by Andy Stanley (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 350 pp., Hardcover $24.99
Endorsed by everyone from Rick Warren and Bill Hybels to Dave Ramsey, Steven Furtick and Jeff Foxworthy, Deep and Wide reveals Andy Stanley’s “secret sauce” (p. 17) which he believes makes his church not only great but a model others should adopt. Stanley’s goal has been to create a church that unchurched men, women and children love to attend (p. 11) and by all accounts he has succeeded. The first of five sections tells the story of the birth of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, first as an extension of his father’s (Charles) church, then as a split, in which several thousand people eventually left the mother church to join Andy’s. Andy knows this is not the best way to start a church, but is honest and transparent enough to admit that this is what happened. Conflicts with his famous father were inevitable and Andy chronicles those as well.
Deep and Wide promotes the seeker-sensitive, market-driven approach of “doing church.” There is virtually nothing in the book that hasn’t been said or done by his “hero” Bill Hybels and others that teach the paradigm. From basing North Point’s programming on surveys and secular management (p. 14), to seeing people as consumers (p. 16) and a target audience that must be attracted and pleased (p. 15), to erroneously believing that the unbeliever should like us because they liked Jesus (pp. 12-13), to virtually every aspect of what they do, Stanley is parroting the philosophy of Hybels. Ironically this model is the same one that Hybels and Willow Creek recently admitted did not accomplish their goal of making followers of Christ (see my book This Little Church Had None, pp. 23-35).
Of course, the real issue is not whether something works, but if it is biblical. Therefore, in section two, Stanley attempts a scriptural justification for his church model. This is easily the most disappointing aspect of the book as Stanley, who has a master’s degree from Dallas Seminary, makes no attempt to engage the key Scriptures dealing with the doctrine of the church. His only venture into biblical exegesis is a feeble, terribly flawed and out of context examination of the counsel at Jerusalem in Acts 15 (pp. 85-91). Stanley comes up with a strained interpretation of the text because he uses what some call rhetorical hermeneutics in which Scripture should be interpreted based upon the characters actions, not their words (pp. 86, 90-92, 298-299). Using this interpretative method, Stanley believes, “Everything [Paul] taught should be defined within the context of what takes place in Acts 15.” And since the conclusion drawn by the council was minimalistic: “You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell” (p. 91), the church today should require very little as well (p. 92). Wrapping (or, better, ignoring) everything else in the New Testament pertaining to the church around this concept, Stanley offers this strained understanding as the biblical foundation for the local church.
Stanley is attempting at this point to address two important questions and, because he turns to culture, pragmatism and a marketing model, he fumbles the answer to both. The questions are, “What is the church and who is it for” (p. 55)? He rightly states that the church is not a place but a people (p. 39) but he does not grasp the ekklesia as the people of God. This of course skews his answer as to who is the church for? To Stanley, the church is an evangelistic center in which the focus is on the unchurched, as he calls unbelievers. Stanley will do virtually anything to attract non-Christians and retain them. This includes putting new Christians and even unbelievers into positions of ministry and leadership (pp. 79, 94-95, 127-130). A person can even join North Point online, without talking to anyone (p. 81). And North Point has virtually no classroom instruction as teaching of Scripture is consistently belittled throughout the book (see pp. 111-116, 190). Relationships, especially through small groups, are dominant. These groups, sometimes led by new Christians and even unbelievers, are obviously not centered on Scripture or even Christ, as biblically understood, but on relationships. This is hardly the model found in Acts 2:42-43. Too bad Stanley did not choose Acts two, rather than Acts 15, to develop his ecclesiology.
Section three showcases North Point’s “secret sauce” for spiritual formation (p. 17). There are five ingredients to this sauce and, importantly, Stanley admits that none of them is found in Scripture (pp. 107-108). The importance of this admission cannot be stressed enough. Having laid a foundation for the church on the arbitrary selection of Acts 15 he now builds his church on five ingredients not found in Scripture. From where then are these ingredients drawn? From the “faith stories” of people and his experience (p.107). The five ingredients for Stanley’s “secret sauce” are:
Practical teaching (pp. 111-116). Here Stanley claims that no one is on a truth-quest (p. 115). People are far more interested in what works than in what is true (p. 114), so pragmatism, not truth, should be at the heart of our teaching and preaching.
Private disciplines (pp. 117-123).
Personal ministry (pp. 124-130).
Providential relationships (pp. 131-136).
Pivotal circumstances (defining moments) (pp. 137-149).
When the sauce is stirred and cooked, the product (people) come out with at best a superficial understanding of the Word of God, but strong relationships in small groups and dedication to a “church unchurched people love to attend.”
The fourth section of Deep and Wide promotes the creation of irresistible environments (pp. 157-192). While some helpful ideas can be found, Stanley is once again reading from Hybel’s playbook. The church is turned into a production at every level in which the question at the end of the day is whether or not the presentation was engaging (p. 172) and met felt-needs (p. 185). Bottom-line, Stanley and his staff are after a “win” in everything they do (p. 194). Their short-term wins are based on attendance and other external factors such as people desiring to invite friends to come to North Point (see pp. 331-335). A win is when they create a weekend experience in which they can say, “Wow, we killed it” (p. 195). A long-term win is life change (p. 197) although, given the overall philosophy of Stanley, what life change looks like is questionable.
The final section of Deep and Wide is devoted to transitioning a traditional church to a seeker/market/consumer-driven model. Stanley knows this is volatile and potentially destructive (p. 198), but he believes it is necessary. His arrogance in this regard is clear (pp. 258-259) as he attempts to intimidate those using a different approach. He proudly proclaims his program has worked; his church is huge; he is changing the world, so everyone needs to get on board. This means women are allowed to minister at every level (p. 269); churches don’t need pastors, they need leaders (p. 294); unbelievers are placed into ministry and even those living in openly gay lifestyles are as well (this is alluded to in the book – see p. 70, but more recently has been made explicit (see www.christianpost.com/news/pastor-andy-stanley-alludes-to-how-christians-should-treat-gays-74445/).
Deep and Wide offers nothing that has not been said before by seeker-sensitive leaders. This philosophy of ministry which first gained traction in the 1970s via Robert Schuller and Bill Hybels has changed the church in the Western world. The unsaved consumer is now king, marketing strategy sets the direction, and pragmatism rules. And the system works, at least numerically, for many like Andy Stanley. But is this God’s design for the church? A careful examination of the New Testament would shout “no!” God should get the first word, and the last, on what He wants His church to be. This reviewer would encourage readers to use real discernment when encountering materials such as this one.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel