Does Andy Stanley have a problem with the Old Testament? The senior pastor of Atlanta’s North Point Community Church (and one of the 12 on Baylor’s Most Effective Preachers list) stirred up the already tumultuous evangelical waters when he told Christians to “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament.
According to The Christian Post, “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.’"
Stanley’s sermon centered around Acts 15, which gives account of an important conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Should these Gentiles be circumcised, abstain from pork and shrimp, and be obligated to observe all the other laws of Moses in order to be saved?
Here’s a quick overview of what happened in that Scripture passage:
Paul, Peter, James, and others met together at what’s known as the Council of Jerusalem to settle the matter.
“The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:6-11).
Stanley said this meeting defined “a Gentile’s relationship to the law of Moses (Old Testament).” He referred to the outcome as a “seismic shift” from the Old Testament idea that “God loved Israel more than any other nation.”
“God has thrown open the doors to outsiders and has done something through the Jews for the world,” Stanley said. “Part of the story is over, and now something new, better, and inclusive has come. What was once reserved for the Jews is now available to everyone, apart from what Moses taught.”
It’s completely true that God chose Israel to be his set-apart people group through which would come the Savior of the world – Jesus. And it’s also true that the gospel of Jesus is way better than trying to meticulously follow the law. But three explanations that Stanley gave for why Christians need to “unhitch” from the Old Testament are disturbing.
1. There’s not much grace in the Old Testament.
He referred to Acts 15:11 (“We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved.”) and said this:
“When you read the Old Testament, the old covenant – when you read the story of Israel [and] the prophets of Israel, you don’t see much of this.”
As in – you don’t see much grace in Old Testament stories. But God demonstrated grace and love for the nations since the beginning.
When Abraham’s Gentile slave, Hagar, was hurt and alone, God saw her, cared for her, and loved her. God honored the amazing faith of Rahab, a Gentile prostitute, and saved her life. And God provided for Ruth, a gentile enemy of Israel, including her in the royal lineage of King David and Christ Jesus. Also, in the Old Testament, God showed grace, compassion, patience, and love to a pagan city drenched in sin – Nineveh. He sent the Jewish prophet, Jonah, to tell this Gentile nation to repent and turn to God. They listened, and God spared them.
Stanley said the Old Testament and the Abrahamic Covenant were essentially all about: “‘I will, if you will.’ That was God’s contract with the nation.”
This “I will, if you will,” idea certainly comes across as lacking grace But even before God gave Moses the 10 Commandments and told Israel to, “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” (Deuteronomy 6:5), He knew they wouldn’t be able do it. Still, he graciously chose to love them.
Are these not stories of God’s grace and love for the nations?
2. The Old Testament isn’t about Jesus.
“When the Church launched, the foundation of the faith of the early Christians was not a book (they didn’t have one), it wasn’t the Bible (there wasn’t one), and it wasn’t the Old Testament – what they called the Law and the Prophets – because that didn’t tell the story of Jesus. The foundation of the early church was an event – the resurrection,” Stanley said.
Here Stanley talks about Christ’s resurrection like it’s a separate thing that sparked a new religion, rather than linking the resurrection event to the rest of the grand narrative of mankind’s redemption, as told throughout the whole Bible.
Also, Jesus is woven throughout the Law and the Prophets. So much so that Jesus used those Scriptures to explain himself:
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself,” Luke 24:27.
Paul agreed on the value of reading these Scriptures in Romans 15:4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us...”
“The Jewish Scriptures are the back story for the main story,” Stanley said. He affirms the Old Testament as an “important backstory” and “divinely inspired,” but he seems to suggest that values and the worldview God gave Israel through Moses in the Old Testament are somehow contrary to the New Testament values God gave the Church through Jesus’ and the Apostles’ ministry.
But Jesus’ New Testament command to love others as yourself is also commanded in Leviticus 19:34, including showing love for Gentile immigrants. In Leviticus 23:22, the Law shows God’s heart for the most vulnerable in society by requiring the wealthy to be generous with the poor. That command sounds a lot like the heart behind James 1:27.
3. The Old Testament makes it difficult for people to have faith in God.
The Christian Post reported, “Stanley's sermon was the third part of a series titled "Aftermath," in which the pastor was trying to appeal to individuals who left Christianity over what they were taught the Bible said about certain things.”
After listening to Stanley’s 40-minute sermon, hoping for clarity among the context, it’s still confusing what these “certain things” are.
People abandoning faith in God because of something weird they were taught about the Bible is a reality, and it’s sad. Stanley could have talked about specific stories or values that he sees are commonly being taught incorrectly. Instead, he was vague. And rather than encouraging people to dive into confusing Old Testament stories and seek God’s heart, he advised Christians to chuck over half of the Bible. If we take this advice, we will miss out on stories that reveal God’s holy nature as well as mankind’s sinful nature.
Stanley shared his heart for people who may struggle with their faith because of something in the Old Testament:
“People are losing faith because of something in the Bible. Once they see something as not true in the Old Testament, their whole faith collapses,” he said. “Because they were taught: it’s all true – it’s all God’s Word, and if you find one part that’s not true, the whole thing comes tumbling down.”
This sounds more like a challenge for parents, teachers, preachers, and pastors to do a better job at leading people in understanding the whole Bible, not to “unhitch” from over half of it.
You can also learn more about an edition of the Bible that highlights Old Testament passages that refer to Jesus.
Photo courtesy: Flickr.com
Publication date: May 11, 2018