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Dan and Peter Wooding during the interview with Dr. Charles Stanley at NRB 2008
NASHVILLE, CA (ANS) -- Dr. Charles Stanley, senior pastor of the 16,000 member First Baptist Church of Atlanta, is one of the most recognizable figures on Christian television.
Today, the veteran preacher can be heard in every nation on earth via radio, shortwave or television broadcasts. In the United States, the In Touch television program is seen on 204 stations and seven satellite networks. The In Touch radio program is heard on 458 stations and via shortwave radio. The ministry continues to produce audio- and videotapes, CDs, DVDs, pamphlets, books and an award-winning daily devotional magazine, In Touch. He is also president of the Family Network which his ministry acquired a few months ago
Now Dr. Stanley has released his latest book called Landmines in the Path of the Believer: Avoiding the Hidden Dangers (Thomas Nelson) and he agreed to talk with us during NRB 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee, about these “landmines” and also his controversial divorce from his wife of over 40 years Anna J. Stanley in 2000.
We began our interview by asking him to define his preaching style, which we thought appeared to be definitely different to many flamboyant American preachers who are loud and dramatic.
“I think it’s different from most of what as you say you have seen in this country,” he said. “I’m just being who I am and I want to present the Gospel in a plain, clear, easily understood fashion, to everybody from an eight year old kid to an adult, so they can understand it. I want them to know how to apply it in their life and I always try to give people steps as to what to do now they have heard what I have said. I think that’s the biggest appeal and we have an overwhelming response to that.”
Dr. Stanley went on to say, “I’m an encourager. I want to encourage people to love God and to read His Word; to walk in His ways; to be obedient to Him and I know that’s truthful. The bottom line for me is to obey God and leave all the consequences to Him. When than is your principle and the bottom line of all your decision making, you can not fail, you can not go wrong.”
Cover of Dr. Stanley's new book
“So then there’s compromise; there’s sexual sin and all kind of things that people do… The reason I say it’s a landmine is because it’s hidden often times and landmines, and you don’t know it is there until you step on it and then you’re destroyed.”
We then raised with Dr. Stanley the touched subject of the “landmine” of his own divorce and how he and his church had responded to it.
He paused briefly and then said, “The interesting thing, which really was a surprise to me, was that God knew my heart in all of that [divorce] and I won’t discuss that except to say that I’ve never been angry with my wife; I may have had a few moments of anger, but I soon got over that. But she couldn’t tell you why it happened; why today things just happen to people.
“My church said to me, ‘You’ve been here for us when we needed you now we’re going to be here for you when you need us.’ That was their wonderful Godly response. Instead of hurting the ministry, it just flung the doors open. People would start saying to me, ‘I used to not be able to watch you because I thought you didn’t know about pain, suffering, heartache and loneliness, and all these things. But now I can listen to you because now I know that you understand how I feel and you can speak to me where I am because you’ve been there.’
“It’s God using a Romans, Chapter Eight, verse twenty-eight. He turns something absolutely tragic into something awesome and He just flung the doors of the world open. I hate to say this, but it did not hurt me. It’s like it God just opened doors of opportunity that I don’t know how they would have been open before.”
When asked how he kept on preaching while going through such a painful public experience that was so widely publicized at the time, Dr. Stanley said, “I never wanted to give up because I knew that I was doing what God had called me to do. I knew that I was doing it the way He said to do it and what sustained me really, as I look back, was that I knew every Sunday I had to be ready to preach the Gospel and there were no excuses, and this just kept me in the Word of God and kept me focused on His Word. It kept me dealing with what I had preached all those years and if I believed it, this was the time to demonstrate it. This was the time to trust the Lord and so it sent me to my knees. It kept me in the Word and those two things just kept me going.”
Did he ever feeling like quitting the ministry?
“I never thought about giving up,” he said. “I never thought about quitting or walking away. I said, ‘God, You said You’d cause all things to work together for my good if I love You and I do so I’m going to trust You and this is an awesome time for you to demonstrate what You can do in a very tragic situation.’”
When pressed about whether he had been angry with God over his situation, Dr. Stanley said, “I don’t think I got angry with Him because I didn’t blame Him for it. I saw where she [my wife] was coming from and her family and her father and so forth; you know things happen to people in their past that erupt later on in their life, and so I don’t blame anybody for those kind of things. I just saw what God was doing and it was very painful. I loved her [my wife] with all my heart and I’d do anything in the world for her today. There are some things in life you can’t explain.”
Dr. Stanley continued, “You know the people who were my biggest critics were not church members, but were other pastors who would write me and say, ‘Why don’t you get out of the ministry? Why don’t you quit preaching?’ I never said a word and I didn’t answer them. But it was real interesting that a little time later, some of those guys wrote me again and said things like, ‘I want to apologize for the things I said. My wife has left me now. I know how you feel,’ or ‘I’m living in a situation where she could walk out at any time,’ or ‘I’m so miserably married…’
“And the big question they would ask me is, ‘How do you keep preaching when your wife walked away?’ The answer is you stay in the Word of God and you stay on your knees and you keep focused on what God called you to do because nowhere in the Bible does it say if something like this happens, you quit doing what He has called you to do.
“Some people in the television industry would say to me, ‘You know, Dr. Stanley, we’ve been watching how you’ve responded and many of us have been where you are and it’s been a real inspiration to us to see that you didn’t walk away; you didn’t quit; you kept preaching what you’ve been preaching and trying to live it out and thank you very much for doing so.’ So you know Romans eight: twenty-eight is absolutely the truth.”
As we were conducting the interview at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention, we asked Dr. Stanley to give his views on the state of the Christian media in the United States.
“Well, I think here in the United States, there’s all kind of media going on and so much of it is rotten to the core,” he said. “My whole conviction about is that this is the first generation that has lived that has the opportunity to get the Gospel to the entire world. We have the privilege of getting the Gospel to the entire world if we will be faithful to our privileges and opportunities. So there’s always going to be trash, but Godly people have to stand firm and stand true and keep telling the truth and my feeling is He says that ‘grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever,’ and we will not just survive, but we will conquer and we will surpass all than and we just have to keep being faithful and true to God’s Word and it is making an awesome difference.”
We both shared then an experience of being in India and turning on the television and watching with embarrassment American Tele-evangelists with their expensive suits and wealthy life-styles begging for money from the poor of that huge country. We asked Dr. Stanley if he hurt him to seeing the Gospel being portrayed in such a way.
“Absolutely it does because we’re in India and we get a phenomenal response from people, because about forty percent of them can speak English,” said Dr. Stanley. “When I see, not just in India, but in any country, even in America, a lot of yelling and screaming and hollering, I know that turns people off because if I turn on the television and if that is all I saw about Christianity, I would just forget it.
“I’d never head in that direction at all. We are responsible to God not only for what we say but the way in which we do it. It should not be money, money, money! Here’s my conviction, and my staff can tell you that this is the way I operate, I never make a decision based on money, but I make a decision based on the will of God. If you believe the Word of God which says that He will ‘supply all of our needs’ and you obey God, He is going supply your needs.
“I’ve been a pastor for over fifty years and I’ve been on television about thirty-eight years, and nobody’s ever heard me spend one second or one minute of air time asking for money, because God told me not to do it. He said. ‘You trust me and I’ll work on the provision.’ So I have never asked for money and that’s opened many doors for us and God has supplied hundreds of millions of dollars to get the program all over the world. It’s like God said to me, ‘Don’t spend one moment of your time asking for money. I will provide what you need. You continue to work and I will decide how far and wide this ministry goes.’
“So when I see people begging and pleading and propagating all kind of bargains, it grieves my spirit because I know it’s not necessary and it says that somehow there’s a question as to whether they have faith that God would provide what they need.”
Dr. Stanley went on to say, “I remember on one occasion a gentleman, who was very famous at the time, let me fly on his plane with him to take me home because there was a big snow storm up Washington. While we were in the air, he said, ‘Charles, we’re number one.’ When he said that to me it was like God had shot an arrow straight into my heart. He then said, ‘If you don’t ask, you won’t get it.’ I said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just have to trust God and see what happens.’ He’s off the air and gone and all kind of things have gone on in his life. We just have to practice what we preach and trust God and watch Him work.”
Note: We would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
|Peter Wooding is senior news editor for the UK-based Christian radio network UCB UK. The son of ASSIST founders, Dan and Norma Wooding, he has traveled extensively reporting from places such as Croatia, Dubai, St Petersburg, Russia, South Korea, Zambia and Israel. He is also the director of ASSIST Europe, and last fall led his first mission trip with the ministry to Beslan in Russia. Previously Peter served as a missionary for five years with Youth With A Mission, where he met his wife who's from North Wales where they now live with their three daughters.
Dan Wooding is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. Wooding is the author of some 42 books, the latest of which is his autobiography, "From Tabloid to Truth", which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, go to www.fromtabloidtotruth.com. email@example.com. (Pictured: Dan and Peter Wooding)