For years I’ve heard lay Christians attempt to distance the faith from the Old Testament. In Bible studies, I’ve heard explanations like “the Old Testament was God’s first try, and the New Testament was his second”. It seems one pastor has adopted this theology wholeheartedly.
Andy Stanley, an Atlanta pastor and leadership speaker of some sort, made some headlines when he preached to his congregation that the Old Testament was old news, and should be politely excused from its role in modern Christianity. An article from the Christian Post tells it like this:
In the final part of a recent sermon series, Stanley explained that while he believes that the Old Testament is “divinely inspired,” it should not be “the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church.”
To justify this, Stanley preached last month about Acts 15, which described how the early church decided that Gentile converts did not need to strictly observe Jewish law to become Christians.
“[First century] Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures,” said Stanley.
“Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.”
Whether Stanley’s theological arguments are sound or not, his view reflects what many Christians have accepted, perhaps only practically; that the Christian faith should be unhitched from the Old Testament. Since the time of the early Church, Christians have debated how to view the Old Testament. With many laws that are not practiced and stories that seem contradictory to the New Testament, there is much that seems foreign to the Christian faith and difficult to apply. So it is understandable that questions arise. But Stanley’s response to these questions is the most extreme of the responses.
Improving the Image of the Christian Faith
Wesley Hill reminds us that Stanley’s response is not new. Marcionism, in the second century, posited that there were two distinct gods; one of the Old and New Testament. Marcion rejected the Old Testament and many books of the 27 book New Testament canon that carried Jewish ideas. But while Marcion’s view of the gods of the Old and New Testament rested on gnostic understandings of the universe and the Good, Andy Stanley’s sounds to be more of an attempt to control the image of the Christian faith.
First, he attempts to rescue the Gospel from its public perception. In Stanley’s own words:
“If you were raised on a version of Christianity that relied on the Bible as the foundation of faith, a version that was eventually dismantled by academia or the realities of life, maybe it’s time for you to change your mind about Jesus… Maybe it’s time for you to consider the version of Christianity that relies on the event of the resurrection of Jesus as its foundation. If you gave up your faith because of something about or in the Bible, maybe you gave up unnecessarily.”
It is obvious that Stanley believes the Bible has lost its credibility in the public mind. Why else would he use the phrase “dismantled by academia” to describe the Bible? It also seems that he does not have a high view of the validity of Scripture in general, as he describes it as being dismantled also by “the realities of life”. We will see what “realities” he is talking about in a moment, but its easy to sense the lack of desire to be faithful to the Bible. This doesn’t sound like a coherent theological change of opinion, but more like a politician changing his views on same-sex marriage as he gains more constituents. Stanley has given up his commitment to a historically foundational piece of the Christian faith.
Second, Stanley aims to bring people back to church and the Christian faith by lowering the entrance fee:
“It’s liberating for people who need and understand grace, who need and understand forgiveness. And it’s liberating for people who find it virtually impossible to embrace the dynamic, the worldview, and the values system depicted in the story of Ancient Israel.”
I agree, perhaps only partially, that there is a side of Christianity that is tough to swallow. Brokenness, sin, death, punishment, and atonement are ugly things; but they are real things nonetheless.
This is what is produced from a form of Christianity that wants to be unsubstantially warm and cuddly. It reminds me of this obnoxious art display/experience called “Happy Place“; all colors and rainbows and all for show. Come to think of it, our entire culture seems to be one big “Happy Place” art display/experience. We have more entertainment and leisurely activities than one could handle, yet nothing of any substance.
Anyways, for those willing to adhere and subscribe to the Christian faith, there is no need for a shallow slaphappy version of it. The Christian faith, including the Old Testament, puts the ugliness of life into its proper perspective. There is sin and death and a moral blueprint that aligns with the will of God that his people must be obedient to. There are consequences to sin; both temporal and eternal. And more importantly, there is a remedy for sin, a helper for obedience, and a hope of glory to come.
Love is All You Need
It becomes obvious where Stanley’s view is all headed. Stanley explains the first-century church’s call to abstain from sexual immorality like this:
This was a general call to avoid immoral behavior[,] but not immoral behavior as defined by the Old Testament … [rather,] as defined by the apostle Paul. … The apostle Paul was explicit and specific about sexual immorality but he did not tie it to the Old Testament. … The old covenant, law of Moses, was not the go-to source regarding sexual behavior for the church. … The Old Testament was not the go-to source regarding any behavior for the church.
So when Paul talked about relationships, he said stuff like this: “In your relationships to one another … have the same attitude as Christ Jesus. Any questions?” Huh, that kinda covers it, doesn’t it? It means I gotta put people before me, yeah. “In your relationships with one another, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. And so is hers. And so is his. Any questions?” No, I think that about covers it.
Again, rather than a coherent shifting of theological understanding, Stanley is redefining the founding of the Church so that it falls in line with the contemporary socially-acceptable brand of Christianity that supports diverse lifestyles of human sexuality.
Wesley Hill explains in his article for First Things how his interpretation of the book of Acts and the Old Testament’s applicability is simply bad exegesis. More than that, he also explains the danger of a “Love is all you need” Gospel:
This is true as far as it goes—Jesus and Paul both agree that the heart of the law is love and that the whole law can be summed up in the twofold command to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves—but it misleads by what it leaves out. In a fallen world, talk about love can mask a kind of relativism. This is why the catechetical tradition of the Christian churches has been united in its use of the Ten Commandments: precisely because it has recognized that we Christians so often fail to discern what real love amounts to, and we need the Old Testament’s commandments to shine a spotlight on our slippery self-justifications. We may intend to treat a sexual partner as God in Christ has treated us, we may try to act toward them out of self-giving love, but the distorting effects of sin mean that we must be told what love looks like in action if we’re not to get it wrong. That divine telling, sadly, is what Andy Stanley’s sermon would keep us from hearing.
The Modern Church and the New Evangelism
Stanley’s “evolution” into abandoning the Old Testament is an easy path to fall into. Especially for someone in his position, where his perception and the perception of his mission can gain or lose customers — I mean parishioners. I only half joke about “customers” because Stanley also leads some kind of leadership group that helps leaders “go further faster”, which sounds an awful lot like a business mentality.
This is the direction of the modern church; willing to compromise on its core beliefs for the sake of its image, willing to sacrifice good practices for more entertaining ones, willing to mingle with the anti-Christian world to look hip and relevant.
The reason for this article is not only to examine the misguided practices of a mega-church leader, but to remind you that decisions like these will come to the life of every Christian in the western world. You too will feel the attraction of a more palatable Christianity that doesn’t lower your social standing. You will consider the brand of Christianity that is okay with any lifestyle as long as you “love Jesus”. You will be tempted to adopt the Christianity that doesn’t get you labeled a bigot, a homophobe, ignorant, or antiquated. It is much easier to follow a Christian faith that doesn’t have as much expectation of commitment, allegiance, and faithfulness as the classic Christian faith. When that day comes, I pray you are given the strength and resolve to remain unbreakably faithful.