In Part 3 of his “Aftermath” sermon series, Andy Stanley just preached that Christians should “unhitch” the Old Testament from their faith in Christ. If you’re unfamiliar with this gentleman, Stanley serves as the Senior Pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. I’m quite certain that Pastor Stanley’s primary desire is that many come to Christ. It seems that he is attempting to make that easier by setting aside the parts of the Old Testament which he and others consider to be violent, disturbing, and offensive to contemporary sensibilities. In other words, if God’s actions as recorded in the Old Testament seem gross, then just don’t talk about them. They have nothing to do with faith in Christ today. Just preach the resurrection of Jesus, and go from there.
Here’s why I’m disturbed by this message. I’ll try to state this as succinctly as I can, and I’ll do this in the form of seven observations from my perspective as a pastor-teacher and a lover of God’s Word.
- God never changes. He is immutable. God’s immutability is a critical dimension of His character and nature as God. The earliest Christian heresies included attempts to draw hard lines between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. Marcionism was thrown out on its ear because it pitted the character of Jesus (mercy and grace) against the character of God (justice and wrath). I fear that Pastor Stanley is flirting with this error, and doing it in a very public and dangerous way.
- Historically, there is a sharp distinction between the errors of the Judaizers and the Scriptures of the Jewish people. One was a perversion of truth, but the other was And is truth. Legalism was (and is) a killer, and Jesus called it out. So Did Paul. So did the early church. But that’s not the same as “unhitching” from the Old Testament. Human pride prevented many Jews from seeing Christ’s gospel with clarity, but that’s not the fault of the Scriptures. The Jerusalem Council made it clear that Gentiles don’t need to become Jewish in order to follow Christ, but the Old Testament was never thrown out as irrelevant. Check out the Emmaus Road event in Luke 24, where Christ specifically uses the claims of the Old Testament to reveal Himself! From the call of Abram onward, God’s one plan of salvation has been woven together by Christ’s grace.
- Respecting the Old Testament does not make a person a rabid fundamentalist. I hope that goes without saying, but I feel the need to say it because Andy seems to suggest that the Old Testament breeds intellectually unsustainable interpretations of the Bible. What we need today is not a jettisoning of the Old Testament, but to teach our people how to rightly divide the Word. We need sound hermeneutics for both Testaments. We need to understand the Ancient Near Eastern world as best we can, as well as our own. We need the whole counsel of God’s Word, not less of it.
- I think that Paul, James, Peter, and Jesus would be horrified by the idea that we’re unhitching from the Old Testament. Christ said that He came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). There’s a huge difference. One erases redemptive history. The other makes its purposes clear. Had Jesus preached an “unhitched” message, He would have been immediately disqualified as the promised Messiah.
- The moral foundations of the Old Testament provide energy for the New. Paul uses Old Testament accounts to exhort us to holy living. The Ten Commandments given to Moses find their way into the New Testament practical instructions for marriage and family life. And on and on. Are we under the dietary laws anymore? Of course not. But, again, that’s a matter of sound interpretation – not rendering our past null and void. “The New is in the Old, concealed; the Old is in the New, revealed!”
- The Bible of the first Christ followers, both Jew and Gentile, was the Old Testament. Those promises about “all Scripture” being “God-breathed” were first made about the Old Testament; we now apply them to the New. Our “New Testament” is “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). Almost one in three New Testament verses contain Old Testament quotes or allusions. Three-fourths of Revelation draws directly on Old Testament texts. Why? Because the Bible is one story. Just one.
- We don’t have to undo the Old Testament in order to celebrate the newness of the New Covenant! You want to preach against legalism? You want to preach against stupid manmade rules and regulations? You want to preach grace? You want to preach CHRIST and His resurrection power in us? You’ll hear a hearty “Amen” from my corner. But please don’t toss out most of the Bible in order to make your point.
I do not mean to throw stones. I do not mean to cause trouble. I do mean to exalt Christ, and to honor and protect His Word. All of it.