Before condemning or affirming someone, we should listen to the source (I am looking at myself here!). In light of that, I listened to the sermon in which Andy Stanley speaks of unhitching the Old Testament from our faith. here are a few thoughts.
Notes on the Sermon
- Stanley argues that Christianity was based on an event (the resurrection). And that early believers held on to the Old Covenant but broke that habit eventually to adopt the New Covenant. These mixed covenant Christians thought people had to keep the law of Moses to be saved (see Acts 15:1).
- Stanley sees Acts 15’s as central to understanding how the New Covenant should replace the Old Covenant.
- Stanley does not call the Old Testament “the Old Testament” but the Jewish Scriptures.
- Stanley claims that the OT was not the go-to source for any church behaviour (in the NT). He cites the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.
- Stanley says that the Jewish Scriptures (he doesn’t call it the Old Testament here) are the backstory to the main story. So the story about Jesus does not need propping up by the Jewish Scriptures.
- Stanley says that the resurrection, not the Bible, created Christianity.
- Stanley’s point is that the Old Testament can come crumbling down, but that doesn’t matter because Jesus rose from the dead.
- Stanley claims that the OT Law should be unhitched from Christianity because Jesus fulfills the Jewish Scriptures.
Thoughts on the Sermon
Stanley teaches what many evangelicals teach, namely, that the Old Testament points to the New Testament but does not have ethical authority or direct Christological meaning. So his approach to the Bible is not unique to him.
At the same time, he uniquely pushes the borders of what evangelicals can or do say about the Bible. That we should unhitch the Old Testament from our life today goes beyond what most would explicitly say.
Still, he represents the conclusion of an uneasy alliance evangelicals have with the authority of Scripture and the historical method. In other words, evangelicals affirm the Bible’s authority for life but sometimes struggle to understand how the historical meaning of the Old Testament can help Christians today.
Why does it matter if Israelites were supposed to build a parapet on their home as Deuteronomy instructs? How can it help that Israel destroyed the Canaanites? For many, the Old Testament is already devoid of direct application and rarely does it speak of Christ or the church.
Stanley simply believes these things and comes to a possible conclusion on their basis: the Old Covenant pointed towards and was the foundation for the New Covenant, or Jesus. So it’s no longer directly applicable because we have the New Covenant.
Stanley’s embrace of the historical also leads him, I suspect, to call the Old Testament “The Jewish Scriptures.” Certainly, this is not wrong to say. Yet it suggests that the first part of the Bible is something that belongs to Judaism, something that is not part of the one Christian book that we call the Bible.
The historical and pragmatic approach of Stanley, however, falls short because he adopts a secular way of viewing history. History is not mere facts; it is not merely a chronology. History (or creation) comprises visible signs that lead as back to a reality, and that reality is God.
The Old Testament, despite being prior to the New Testament, records stories, parables, allegories, proverbs, poems, and history in order to point to Christ, to point to God. God did not somehow come to exist in Matthew 1; the Trinity was not something invented in the New Covenant.
God always was. He was always one Father, one Son, one Spirit. And so he always worked triunely even in the Old Testament. Certainly, his moving was concealed until Christ came. Yet now that he has come, we come to see that Christ was always there. He was always the treasure hidden in the field of the Old Testament, to borrow a phrase.
Such a sacred view of history seems to be nowhere in Stanley’s thinking. Yet this kind of thinking, this way of viewing the world, formed the Christian imagination for 2,000 years and still does outside of America (and even among many in it!).
It’s not so surprising then to see Stanley’s message fall into line with the philosophy of pragmatism. He wants to reach people for Christ. Yet he cannot see history in a sacred way; he cannot see Scripture as a unified witness to the triune God.
The Old Testament is the Jewish Scripture. It prepares. But it is not the New Covenant. On this way of thinking, it makes good sense to only offer the New Covenant to people today. After all, history is secular. Nobody will find it plausible for the Old Covenant to speak to Christians today.
And so I am left disappointed with Stanley’s message. The Bible is unity, and the message of both Old and New Testaments can reach people today. May Amos roar forth in pulpits across the world:
For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name! (Amos 4:13)