Andy Stanley and the Old Testament: A Few Concerns

In a recent sermon, Andy Stanley, the Senior Pastor of North Point Community Church in Georgia, preached that Christians need to “unhitch” the Old Testament from their faith. I recommend watching the sermon so you can actually know what he says. Things start to get pretty wild around the 33-minute mark and this just ramps up around 36 minutes until the end. Watch it. Read my thoughts below and then let me know what you think!

Why does Andy preach this sermon?

Put negatively, Andy is trying to prevent people from losing their faith by removing any obstacles that might trip them up. Put positively, Andy is trying to remove any barriers to someone coming to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is, to quote the Biblical text from which he’s preaching, attempting to “not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” This is a noble aim for a preacher and I commend him for it.

The main thing he mentions as being difficult for folks is the Old Testament with its often violent, disturbing and offensive content. He says many people have lost faith because the Old Testament contains things that trouble our modern sensibilities. Now, I don’t listen to much of Andy Stanley but from what I understand, he’s an effective preacher. I support his desire for the proliferation of the gospel but I think the solution he offers – ditching the Old Testament (OT) – is just not great.

Here are a few questions or concerns.

1. Is his perspective on the Old Testament a form of Marcionism?

**I want to be clear that I’m not labeling Andy Stanley a heretic. What I am doing is asking a question about the views he shared in one sermon. In a similar way to there being a big difference to saying something is not true rather than calling someone a liar, I am suggesting that Andy’s perspective – in this particular instance – sounds like Marcionism. This is not the same as calling him a heretic.**

Marcionism is one of the oldest (and most persistent) heresies of the Christian church. Briefly, this view draws a very hard line between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament assuming they are not the same. The God of the OT is a God of wrath and anger while the God of the NT is a God of love. The Marcion heresy also rejects the Hebrew Scriptures and any “Jewish” ideas and maintains much of the New Testament (as if it was possible to some how “keep” Jesus without his Judaism). In essence, Marcionism is the notion that the teachings of Jesus (full of grace, love, and mercy) are incompatible with the depiction of the God of the Old Testament.

There are a few lines that are particularly questionable:

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.(35:26)

Peter, James, and Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from the Jewish Scriptures. And my friends, we must as well. (37:53)

Listen to the sermon and see what you think.

2. He throws the baby out with the bathwater

In this sermon, I think one error Andy makes is that he conflates the Jewish worldview of Jesus’ time and the Judaizing Heresy with the Old Testament Scriptures.

The worldview of Jews in Jesus’ day was not homogenous. It was complex (and the scholarly discussion seems even more complex!). It cannot be boiled down to legalism but it had much to do with the Law and faithful obedience to the Torah as the means through which God would set the world to rights (can you hear the influence of NT Wright?). One of the problems with the Jewish worldview was that it was ethnocentric. As the Chosen Nation, they looked down on the Gentiles. This was a gross misunderstanding of the Old Testament. They mistakenly understood themselves to be the chosen instead of the nations when, in reality, they were chosen for the sake of the nations. This, at least, is what the Old Testament Scriptures seems to clearly point to. The Jewish worldview, it could be said, prevented Jews from seeing what they should have seen in the OT: that God’s plan was from the very beginning the salvation of the world and that this plan was to be accomplished through Israel.

Moving on to the Judaizing Heresy. This is felt all over the New Testament, especially Paul’s epistles. Proponents of this heresy essentially argued that in order for a Gentile to be a proper Christian, they had to become Jewish. To be a Christian meant Jesus plus all these other things. That is, they had to follow the Law, be circumcised, observe dietary restrictions, etc. Fortunately, James, Paul & co. made it very clear that one need not become Jewish to follow Jesus (see Acts 15, Galatians, etc.). This view was clearly rejected.

What I think Andy does in this sermon is conflate the errors wrought by a myopic worldview (the worldview of Jews of Second Temple Judaism) and the Judaizing heresy with the Old Testament scriptures themselves. It is clear from the Jerusalem Council (as it has come to be known) and Paul’s letters, that the gospel is for the whole world and Gentile Christians don’t need to be Jewish to follow Jesus. Not requiring Gentile Christians to follow the law/Jewish custom is precisely how the leaders of the Christian church in Acts 15 responded. The Old Testament law is no longer binding. But this is not at all the same as unhitching from the Old Testament (as Andy argues). The Old Testament was not jettisoned. Their solution is not to ditch the Old Testament. This is because the Old Testament, despite its challenges, is not a hindrance to the proliferation of the Gospel. As the early church shows us, it was actually the primary means by which the gospel was preached.

3. He sets up an unnecessary binary

A second error I think makes is setting up an unnecessary binary. Andy seems to suggest that in order to avoid losing one’s faith, we are forced to choose between a rigid and unsustainable fundamentalism or drop the Old Testament.

Among the central dogmas of American fundamentalism is the strict, literalistic interpretation of the Scriptures (e.g. a literal 24-hour reading of Genesis 1). Andy Stanley rightly acknowledges that this system is a house of cards. Not only does our understanding of the world through science render many interpretations unsustainable, so too do advances in our understanding of the Ancient Near Eastern/biblical world. Granting the weakness (and harms) of fundamentalism, Andy’s so-called solution simply does not follow.

It’s not at all clear to me why Andy imagines two options: 1) either being a fundamentalist or 2) drop the Old Testament. How is this a workable solution? It certainly doesn’t seem to be a biblical one. It is difficult to deny that the Old Testament raises lots of difficult questions and poses challenges. Instead of just dropping it (as Andy claims James, Paul, and Peter do… when, in fact, they do not), why not slowly but surely work through the questions and challenges in a reasonable way? There do exist reasonable interpretations to the knottiest passages of the Old Testament. I think this is the approach most churches take.

At the end of the day, Andy wants people to come to have a relationship with Jesus. Amen. He wants sinful people to know the love and grace of the Father who sent his Son as the sacrifice for their sins. Amen. The trouble is, these words lose much of their meaning when divorced from their context, which is the Old Testament. If you ditch the Old Testament, I think you end up ditching Jesus too.

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  • Johnny Davis

    Good old fashioned Antinomianism showing its ugly head again. Sorry you can’t deny most of scripture and say your are ok because you profess belief in the resurrection. Jesus is the World of God – to deny any part of it is to deny him to be ashamed of part (most of it in Andy’s case) is to be ashamed of Christ. BTW – the Cross will always offend the world so the Cross will not pass Andy’s test of avoiding anything that offends the world.

  • Carlos Santiago

    We are not unhitched from the Old Testament. We(Gentiles) are however unhitched from the Old Covenant. Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah”. At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, a group of Judaizers opposed Paul and Barnabas. Some men who belonged to the party of the Pharisees insisted that Gentiles could not be saved unless they were first circumcised and obeyed the Law of Moses. Paul made the case that, in Christ, there was no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile, for God had purified the hearts of the Gentiles by faith (Acts 15:8–9). He said it plainly in Galatians 2:16: “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” To add anything to the work that Christ did for salvation is to negate God’s grace. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, not by returning to the Law. Paul reiterated “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21). If your still hung up on fulfilling the over 600 laws consider Matthew 7:12 Jesus tells us “In everything, then, do to others as you would have them do to you. For this is the essence of the Law and the prophets. Again Paul says; Romans 13:8 Be indebted to no one, except to one another in love, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law. Matthew 22:36-40 37 Jesus admonished: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Isaiah 43:19 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Revelation 21:5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” We must stop simply reading words on paper like the Pharisees that killed Christ, and start trying to understand God’s intentions, instead. For further clarity read Paul’s declaration; 2 Corinthians 3:6 “And He has qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”. Praise God that he does.

  • Bobby Valentine

    That is the worst interpretation of Acts 15.21 in my life. James point is that the authority binding these certain matters on Gentiles is in fact that they (Gentiles) have had the Law read to them. The claim that Paul never binds OT morality is simply absurd … Romans 13.8-11 (etc). Then the appeal to the “image of God” … well hello that is an “OT” image and teaching. Perhaps Andy does not realize that the sermons in Acts are summaries of the historical narrative of the Hebrew Bible (Acts 2.14-36; 3.11-26; 13.16-43) and Paul calls the gospel “the hope of Israel” (Acts 28.20). This sermon is simply misguided and unstudied and betrays a massive lack of interaction with contemporary NT scholarship. He needs to read Christopher Wright’s Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament and N. T. Wright’s Simply Good News or for that matter Simply Christian.

  • Pilgrim

    In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. Hebrews 1. The two are connected alright. Isaiah 53 is a picture of Jesus Christ. There is a temptation in media driven messages to come up with something new to stir viewership, etc. Like you said, what’s new is the New Covenant. thx.

  • kantlitz

    Great points and those are excellent book suggestions for folks interested in learning more about how the Old Testament is the key to understanding the New. I would also add Michael Goheen’s The Drama of Scripture (https://amzn.to/2rBAHZI). The Old Testament can be confusing but there are loads of resources that help make sense of it.

  • Jeff Tomes

    Consider the whole production. The stage the lighting, flat screens. Language and delivery like he is talking to 3rd graders. Multiple cameras.
    The media is the message.

  • Glenn Gilbert

    Kevin, I think your reading way to many implications into what Andy Stanley was saying. This is a simple sermon, not a theological treatise. Take it for what it is: a simple statement of the New Covenant. We are saved by grace and not by works. Praise the Lord!

  • Liz Eph

    Hiya, I’ve come across this blog through Patheos. Thank you for your helpful thoughts on this subject.

    I’ve not heard the original that you’re commenting on so can’t discuss specifically, but I think we have a big and somewhat hypocritical approach to parts of the Old Testament. Although they make the basis of our religion these amazing documents found the basis of the history of a people group and sometimes nation. As such some of it is a statement of what WAS not what should be done.

    Some of it is expressly NOT to be copied, for example the behaviour of the majority of the kings; the institutionalised and socially acceptable ill treatment of poor, needy, solo children and women, that leads to the exile.

    If we distance ourselves from faith in Christ because of the behaviour of some of his ancestors between a thousand and 500 years before he was born so, in order to avoid all hypocrisy, people should surely distance themselves from us because of our ancestors who committed many and worse atrocities even in the last century with even less justification except capital gain.

  • I too am guilty of not listening to the original sermon. I do get annoyed with folks who fail to differentiate between the Old and New Covenants and plunge into the OT finding all sorts of rules for Christians. Also, the song writers who toss all of scripture into a pot and pull up whatever they want from the one pot. While it is all Scripture, it is not all equally applicable to Christians.

  • Jesus is God

    Heb 8:13 – By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

  • Jesus is God

    In Christ we are not under the curse of the Law

  • Jesus is God

    Jew or Gentile, both are under a curse under the law

    In Christ both are freed from the curse because God no longer counts our sins against us

  • Dale

    Did you hear something in this sermon that I missed. The bases of our faith is the resurrection of Jesus the Christ which is what Andy said in this sermon. It is not Sola Scriptura. Yes we are to trust what is written in the bible, it is the word of God, but knowing what the bible says will not save you. Peter said it very well “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you,” 1Pe 3:15. That is what Andy was getting at. So the question is, what is the hope that is in you?

    When you talk to someone about salvation do you make sure they know all about the history of the Jews or do you tell them about what Jesus has done for them so that their sins can be forgiven?

  • Doc Wakefield

    Andy (and many who survived SBC’s “Battle for the Bible” in the 1980s) see grace (relationships) and truth (Scripture and doctrine) this way: ‘Grace on the outside, truth on the inside.’ Past generations have indentified and acted as If they were Jews; under both covenants. We indentify with the Gentiles and their covenant in Christ, yet by grace we honor and benefit from studying the older covenant. The Jerusalem Council outlines the Gentile covenant—walk in the Holy Spirit and be sensitive to the scruples of others. Perhaps the stripped down version of what is “required” is the thief on the cross—had he survived, how would you have counseled him?

  • I agree with all of it, except that reading Gen 1 as literal days is to be dismissed as wooden fudamentalism. Surely you could have come up with a better example.

  • Jesus is God

    Rom 8:1 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

  • Barrie Beaumont

    Carlos would you please use paragraphs because it would make your post much easier to read.

    I give up after line five.

  • C. Lee

    An Antinomian always contradicts himself (as Stanley appears to be). He contradicts himself when he says the O.T. “should not be the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church” when the O.T. was the foundation of all moral, civil, and separation (unto God) codes that ARE “behaviors” to be followed as New Covenant believers.
    Jesus amended much of the O.T. due to his ministry on earth and applied a higher covenant, but His ministry doesn’t “do away” or “abolish” the foundation of the Teaching and guidance of the Old Covenant. Jesus didn’t contradict Himself when he said in Matt. 5:17-19, 7 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Torah or the Prophets! I did not come to abolish, but to COMPLETE or to MAKE THE MEANING FULL. 18 Amen, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or serif shall ever pass away from the Torah until all things come to pass.” Christians take the meaning of the word “fulfill” translated to mean abolished, when it actually means “to establish.” When Jesus just said He did not come to “abolish,” He wasn’t going to contradict Himself by saying it is abolished! Besides, heaven and earth has not passed away! The word “fulfill” is a technical term of rabbinic augmentation (meaning correctly interpreting Scripture).

    Stanley contradicts himself by saying “how the early church decided that Gentile converts did not need to observe Jewish law to become Christians” when the very scripture he is referring to in Acts 15:20 & 29 states the very “requirements” the Council in Jerusalem were asking the Gentiles to observe are in the Torah [Jewish law]! Scripture is replete in the N.T. giving references of the Torah starting with Jesus and then the epistles of the apostles.

    Stanley is speaking as a False Teacher if he says “Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures.” Totally false! Neither Peter, James, John, and Jesus have anything in their writings that appear on the surface to say the Law or Torah is done away with!
    He is a false teacher if he says “the Bible did not create Christianity.” Jesus is a Jew, he was born from a Jewish mother, the apostles were Jewish, the Bible is a Jewish book! You can’t get around that fact! Christianity is based on our Jewish roots of the faith. If anybody denies it, then they are anti-Semitic.

    There is another false teaching permeating our church society called “hypergrace” that Stanley is suggesting. It implies anybody has license to sin without repentance and not face any eternal consequences. Stanley contradicts himself when he says, “the Jewish scriptures are the backstory for the main story. They’re an important backstory. They’re divinely inspired…” as he double-speaks saying the “Jewish scriptures should be unhitched”! Very conflicting messages.

    Did you know that Christ is in the Old Covenant defined as “Christophanies”? It was those unsought, intermittent and temporary, visible and audible manifestations of God the Son in human form, by which God communicated something to certain conscious human beings on earth prior to the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus appeared in human form in many other places in the Torah.

    Did you know that the word “Torah” means “Teaching or instruction” in Hebrew, not “Law” that the Greeks mistranslated it? It is the true teaching of God’s justice. This sheds new light on the inaccurate concept of “law versus grace” which makes no sense when the word “teaching” is substituted for “law.”

    How is the Torah (Teaching) related to the New Covenant? The Torah is written on our hearts (Jer. 31). Following the Torah becomes natural to us because we are new creations in Messiah. Through the Messiah’s sacrifice, the “Law” or Teachings moved from the outside to the inside, from tablets of stone to the human heart. Does obedience to the Torah lead to personal salvation? No. Jesus’ death and resurrection brought an end to the need for believers to try to earn God’s favor through the system which results from perverting the Torah into legalism.

    There has been a great deception in the church’s identity through the false teachings of Gentile churches throughout the ages from an anti-Semitic spirit. There has been a great misconception of scripture concerning the “Law” “Teachings” “Torah.” Christians always question by saying, “we are not under the Law.” We say, since we are not under the Law, does that mean we can murder anyone we disagree with? Can we commit adultery anytime we feel the urge? If you are under the Law, then sin has dominion over you, you are without faith, and you are in need of redemption. The terminology the apostle Paul used for “under law” meant teaching against legalism–the attempt to earn, merit, or keep one’s salvation through obedience to law.
    Other Christians give the excuse that we would need to “stone” people for breaking certain O.T. commandments. Someone would say that without having the historical and cultural understanding of the day. The Laws concerning the death penalty were sentencing guidelines for the judges of the land. Vigilante justice was never commanded or expected. Jesus amended the Laws by instituting Grace for the types of sins through repentance (however, spiritually one may still experience reaping what has been sown).

    Stanley talks about false liberty, when actually we understand that a relationship with God is solely on the merit of God’s grace, rediscovering the hebraic heritage of Christian faith is a “perfect Torah of liberty” (James 1:25) that frees us by equipping us for every good work that the Hebrew scriptures teach and permits us to go on to maturity in Christ. Eph. 4:13

    Those who choose to live as though God’s Law does not exist will suffer terrible eternal consequences (Matt. 13). They are agreeing in spirit with the one coming who will proclaim a world free from God’s Law.

  • Everett Kier Jr

    As a pastor I am concerned with the harm he perpetrates under the umbrella of the good intention of getting people to saving faith. I pray his “good” intentions will survive the freedom he seems to unintentionally provide for the growth of antinomianism. In my experience a simplistic explanation of this type provides fertile soil for a people who want a religious experience that provides the warmth of religious feeling while leaving the “convert” open to do what they want and feel. I am thankful I don’t have the responsibility he has….accountability can be a bear.

  • SamHamilton

    Where you not entertained?!

  • Paul Clarke

    I concur with your response. To properly understand the New Testament you must know the Old Testament. That was the Bible Jesus used in his discourses and in his battle with the devil.

  • Robert Limb

    Well, I knew I had to make an in-depth study of the Jerusalem conference, for several reasons. But I never would have dreamt that someone could so totally misunderstand Acts 15. I’m willing to accept that his motivation is laudable, but that is not enough. Someone who knows this fellow well, someone he trusts, should sit him down and just tell him he needs to review the basics of exegesis and hermeneutics. The sad part is that he has not solved anything. What does he say to the guy who tells him he cannot accept that Jesus walked on water? “Oh, don’t worry about that: Jesus rose from the dead, just hold on to that.” But it’s easier to talk about unhitching the Gospel from the Tanakh than from the…gospels.

  • Robert Limb

    It’s a simple sermon – it doesn’t matter it’s wrong and wrong-headed? A very contemporary attitude, but if anything goes, everything will go. West.

  • Kenny St.John

    Andy just keeps the hits coming. The virgin birth was not important, expository preaching is cheating, small churches are selfish, the Bible is not the reason we believe Jesus loves us, and now, the Old Testament needs to be “unhitched” from the New Testament. One thing you have to admit; Andy is not going to let the Bible get in the way of a cool sermon. The folks at North Point better start thinking about what their favorite lol-aide flavor is. He has not landed yet, there will be more to come. Can’t wait.

  • I wonder if Andy Stanley has read “Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us” by Preston Sprinkle…turned on plenty of light bulbs for me regarding the OT. Highly recommend.

  • Bradley Davis

    This may be old news by now in this arena, but Andy has addressed some of the questions raised here…
    https://relevantmagazine.com/god/andy-stanley-thinks-sermon-critics-curious/

  • gman1946

    Why not approach Stanley directly with questions about his sermon, as he invites folks to do, instead of raising them with others whose only knowledge of Stanley is what you tell them. This is the typical nonsense where A has a beef with B and asks C to be the judge. But C only gets A’s version of what B means. Let A and B hash it out and then post the result so others can see both arguments. All we have here is veiled accusations, disguised in sweet talk. “Andy is not a heretic” yeah, right, puuleese.

    ps I watched all the sermons in this series “Aftermath” as well as the previous three months from Northpoint on the Life of Jesus to which “aftermath” refers. That’s the full context if you really want to debate.