I absolutely love the Old Testament.
- Its unforgettable stories have fired my imagination and inspired my heart since I was a boy. Who is not mesmerized by the epic moral landscape found in the tales of Noah and the Flood, Joseph and his brothers, Moses facing down Pharaoh, David going mano a mano with Goliath, Jonah and the Great Fish, Daniel in the lion’s den, and on and on.
- I can’t count the times I have been comforted by drinking from the life-giving springs of the Psalms.
- The wisdom of the Proverbs have brought me out and kept me out of many a dead-end road.
- My love for Jesus, and the certainty I have in his Messiahship and his divinity is rock solid because of the dozens of prophecies he fulfilled and because of the astonishing way the Jewish feasts and ceremonial rituals prefigured his work.
- The New Testament is filled with puzzling references that make no sense without a proper grounding in the Old Testament.
- During times of difficulty and doubt, invariably I turn more to the Old Testament for comfort and guidance than the New Testament. Its themes of wilderness-wanderings and exile speak to the nagging ache of my heart for a life without suffering. And when I invariably do suffer and reach for a God I cannot see or hear, where better to turn than the book of Job?
Sure, there are difficult and puzzling aspects of the Old Testament to wade through. It comes with the territory of reading a collection of books that range from 2,400 to 4,000 years old. But choosing not to bother with the homework that’s required, or settling for ridiculous tropes that don’t withstand a moment’s scrutiny (such as “The God of the Old Testament is so mean and nasty compared to the God of the New Testament”), shows the weakness of the person, not the weakness of the Old Testament.
For a thousand years till the generation of Christ and his apostles, these sacred books alone were the “Word of God” that enlightened the minds and enriched the souls of God’s children.
It’s with these thoughts in mind that I was so very troubled, even angered, to read of a recent sermon preached by Andy Stanley, one of the most popular and influential preachers in our time.
His message, “Aftermath: Not Difficult”, laid out the idea that Christians ought to “unhitch” themselves from reliance on the Old Testament, because the “Jewish scriptures” (a disturbing descriptor of the Old Testament books he used several times) create unnecessary obstacles for a person accepting the simplicity of the gospel.
The following quotes from the sermon were provided in an article in the Christian Post shortly after he preached it:
- The Old Testament “should not be the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church.”
- “First century church leaders unhitched the Church from the worldview, value-system and regulations of the Jewish scriptures.”
- “Peter, James and Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.”
- “We must not make it difficult for those who are turning to God…It’s liberating for men and women who are drawn to the simple message that God loves you so much he sent his Son to pave the way to a relationship with you.”
- “Jesus’ new covenant, his covenant with the nations, his covenant with you, his covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures.”
- “The Bible did not create Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity. Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down.”
In fairness, I have not listened to the sermon itself yet. But sometimes just knowing the ingredients of a given dish are enough to know whether I should eat it or not. There is enough that is flat-out erroneous in these quotes alone that I doubt the sermon can make what is distasteful go away.
Before we address some of the specific arguments Stanley makes, consider first the impact that his words would have on the average person of average faith absorbing his teaching. A person hearing these quotes would come away…
- …with a greatly diminished view of the Old Testament and its value.
- …with a greatly diminished desire to read the Old Testament.
- …with a greatly diminished willingness to grapple with its complexity, so best to leave it to the professionals.
Stanley claims that his message is “liberating” for his hearers. But any message which “unhitches” a follower of Christ from the very Bible Jesus read, memorized, fulfilled, taught, and vanquished Satan with, is as far from liberty as you can get.
In fact, listeners who blindly soak up Stanley’s words will – consciously or unconsciously – find their faith in Christ horribly weakened, twisted and hollowed out, because following Stanley’s prescription leads to greater biblical illiteracy, a condition that automatically weakens a person and drives them further from God.
We know this is the case, because this isn’t the first rodeo for this particular fallacy (and I’m only being nice by not using another word). In the middle of the second century, a philosophical rock star named Marcion made a name for himself by advocating a heresy (oops, I’ve used the word) that the God of the Old Testament was a different and deficient deity from the God of the New, and consequently, the “Jewish scriptures” were to be tossed out. In fact, he found Jewish residue on all but the letters of Paul, which alone he thought to be useful.
Thankfully, the leaders of the second century Church vigorously defended the faith against Marcion’s attack. As is happening today, based on the push-back Stanley is receiving in response to his sermon (and similar to what happened in 2016 when Stanley preached another sermon echoing these same themes.)
Let’s briefly analyze Stanley’s words.
The Old Testament “should not be the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church.”
Yet, the New Testament tells us that “All Scripture [referring to the Old Testament] is inspired by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim.3:16). The apostles had no problem looking to the Old Testament as its “go-to” source for ethical instruction.
“First century church leaders unhitched the Church from the worldview, value-system and regulations of the Jewish scriptures.”
This is such a terrible, flawed sentence. And since Stanley carefully prepares his sermons, we know these words were intentionally crafted.
No one denies that the Church “unhitched” itself from many of the regulations that were part of Jewish ceremonial law and civil law. Not because these practices were deficient, or inferior, or barbaric, but because they were each fulfilled in Christ. The New Testament itself tells us what these things were (largely rituals attached to Jewish ceremonial law, such as food laws, circumcision, sacrifices, feast days, etc.), and gives us the rationale for why they ceased.
However to go on from there to add to his list the words “worldview” and “value-system” is irresponsible, or worse.
“Worldview”? Not on your life! The worldview of the New Testament swings on the hinges provided by the Old Testament. It’s become a cliché today when we speak of the “Judeo-Christian tradition.”
“Value-system”? The moral DNA of the Old Testament, most powerfully chiseled out – literally and figuratively – in the Ten Commandments, is transmitted to the New.
“Peter, James and Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.”
No. They unhitched the Christian faith from the specific group of ritual practices that were part of Jewish ceremonial law. And “unhitched” meaning, they no longer were compelled to practice them, not as Stanley means it – to chuck them overboard and forget about them entirely. To still learn of these ceremonial practices, and appreciate why God instructed the Old Testament saints to observe them, and to understand how these practices each pointed in some fashion to Christ will immensely deepen anyone’s faith.
The New Testament says plainly that there is never to be any “unhitching” from the Old Testament. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom.15:4).
And Stanley’s multiple use of the words “Jewish scriptures” must be questioned. It smacks of a very old, and very sinister language that Christians must repudiate. These are our scriptures, if I follow Christ. I am a child of Abraham, saved by faith, and these words are God’s gift to me.
“We must not make it difficult for those who are turning to God…It’s liberating for men and women who are drawn to the simple message that God loves you so much he sent his Son to pave the way to a relationship with you.”
I wonder why Stanley thinks that the message of Christ-crucified and resurrected is so simple for modern day people to understand. My Bible, my New Testament mind you, tells me that the message of Christ-crucified is considered absolute foolishness, even scandalous to the ears of Jew and Greek alike.
So let’s see if I get this right: a Jewish rabbi being tortured and splayed out on a splintered Roman cross 2,000 years ago proves God’s love to me and fills me with such warm fuzzies that I want to jump into the arms of that God and have a relationship with him?
And Andy Stanley calls that “simple”?
Truth be told, none of that can be properly understood at all without at some point in the conversation beating a retreat back into those Jewish scriptures, and then unearthing some hefty concepts like sin, judgment and righteousness.
“Jesus’ new covenant, his covenant with the nations, his covenant with you, his covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures.”
Well, yes it does. For the reasons just given. The crucifixion/resurrection (why does Stanley keep leaving the crucifixion out, just saying) needs a lot more than propping up.
Someone has said that The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. Neither can be fully understood or appreciated without the other. The crucifixion/resurrection is propped up, proven, authenticated, validated, foretold and explained by all that comes before it in the Old Testament.
Which is why as Jesus walked the road to Emmaus with two of his followers after his resurrection, he said, “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44). Clearly Jesus still was in the dark about those “Jewish scriptures” and how irrelevant and useless they were.
“The Bible did not create Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity. Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down.”
Wow. Just…wow. Such thoughtless, careless disparaging of holy words which David said, “revive the soul”, and “make wise the simple” and “rejoice the heart” and “enlighten the eyes” (Psalm 19). Of words which Jeremiah said “became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16). Of words which Ezra “set his heart to study…and to do it and to teach” (Ezra 7:10). Of words which Moses said were more life-giving than bread (Deut.8:3), and the psalmist said were sweeter than honey (Ps.119:103), and the prophet said were like fire (Jer.23:29), and of which Jesus said not one little speck or iota would pass away until all was fulfilled (Matt.5:18).
But no. Let’s just unhitch ourselves from the whole worthless thing. Let all of it come tumbling down.
That’s what I heard a guy say.