Andy Stanley recently penned this piece on the use of the Law for the New Testament believer. While he doesn’t explicitly signal this is what he is writing about, it undoubtedly is – but more importantly, he is undoubtedly wrong and makes several categorical errors. Now, this is certainly not the first time Andy Stanley has made comments about the Old Testament that are inherently problematic. I’ll actually go a step further and say I earnestly sense Andy’s knowledge of the Old Testament to be incredibly shallow and fundamentally rooted in Marcionism.
I previously had my doubts that he had strayed so far into this heretical belief that disavows the Old Testament – that perhaps he had misspoken to a degree and did not necessarily intend to portray these things in light of the logical conclusion thereof. However, I simply can’t extend that same measure of deference any longer. In this post, I am going to key in on some of the fundamental misunderstandings Andy Stanley has leveraged in his blog post, and then briefly demonstrate why these are rooted in Marcionism.
Andy begins his piece by reflecting upon the inconsistency of Christians who fight for monuments of the Ten Commandments as opposed to the Sermon on the Mount. While it is rather interesting that all Andy has to do is read the Sermon on the Mount in its entirety to see Christ Himself affirm the precise opposite of Andy’s current understanding of the Law, I digress. While disagreement is held in regard to the second and fourth commandment, the Decalogue that Andy keys in on as his example, find direct reinforcement from Christ Himself in the NT. But I digress again.
Andy focuses on “the one commandment” Christ gave:
“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
Well, the problem with this is that it simply is not the one command Christ gave. Take a quick look at this list which compiled 335 commands from Christ. It’s not even the sole command Christ gave that is all-encompassing, as Stanley states. One that might be applicable in this conversation is drawn from Matthew 22:37-40:
“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depends the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Interestingly enough, Stanley bypasses these verses in his discussions, though I have a feeling he would explain them away and disregard that they are drawn from Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18, which are legal texts in and of themselves given to Israel. Furthermore, it is plainly stated in the text itself, these are a summation of the Law and Prophets. It is rather interesting to find that though we have these statements in the midst of legal literature, God still saw fit to explicate precisely what this summation ought to look like in practice for the Israelites.
He furthermore denounces the reality that the Decalogue finds repetition in Christ’s commands in the gospels and instead appeals to the death and resurrection of Christ to effectively argue these acts replaced the Law. I am truly baffled at this point and have been for some time. I don’t quite know what to make of Stanley’s Christology simply by virtue of his desire to “unhitch” it from the OT, namely, because the death of Christ satisfied the Law and His resurrection demonstrated His authority over that same Law. Until he can reconcile his statements, I am left with assuming he either doesn’t understand those implications, or he is conscious of them and simply doesn’t care.
I believe the latter to be true on the basis of this statement:
“The justifications Christians have used since the fourth century to mistreat people find their roots in old covenant practices and values.”
This not only fundamentally misunderstands the nature of God, but essentially claims He has instituted a means of oppression and ill-begotten values in the Old Testament. In other words, the Old Testament is only the foundation of violence, oppression, and so forth, rather than revealing the character and standards of God. Let me be quite frank, Andy is about as close as one can get to saying the God of the Old Testament is different than the New Testament without explicitly stating, “The God of the Old Testament is different then the God of the New Testament.”
Back to the matter at hand though: Andy continues to build off of this “one new commandment” encompassing love. I’ve already demonstrated above how this is just bad exegesis, but it becomes painfully bad exegesis momentarily after Stanley speaks toward this commandment replacing the whole of the Law. The reason being? He summarily dismisses the whole of the New Testament’s witness with regard to its own commands.
He writes, “Participants in the new covenant (that’s Christians) are not required to obey any of the commandments found in the first part of their bibles. Participants in the new covenant are expected to obey the single command Jesus issued as part of his new covenant: as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Wait…what? So New Testament Christians are only obligated to obey this one commandment in the NT? Let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that Stanley means this commandment is a summation of all the other 1050 commands found in the NT. This is still incredibly problematic because it fundamentally makes a categorical error in the nature of the NT commands, as they find themselves rooted within many of the OT commands. However, this is also where a discussion on the nature and use of the Law would actually be beneficial.
But Stanley has effectively neutered any such discussion by claiming the Law has no place in our dialogue – so he can’t effectively make a distinction to say that we ought to understand a principle of general equity in the Spirit of the Law in some cases. He also can’t affirm that the Law reveals our sins and misconceptions of God, and thusly instructs us more clearly in righteousness and right belief. Nor can he claim the Law reveals the character and nature of the God of the Law, and it is profitable for teaching, exhortation, rebuke, and correction (indeed, as all Scripture is; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
It is obvious that some commandments found within the Law’s corpus pertain to a specific geographical location and people; it is in the style of a Suzerainty treaty, which lays out conditions and benefits to one party from God, so long as they maintained said stipulations. Yet again, Andy Stanley can’t make a distinction to demonstrate the nature of the Palestinian Covenant here deals exclusively with the land promises to Israel, but still principally serve us, and that love itself binds us in a greater sense than any one, exclusive law.
Thus, the “contractual obligation” of modern Christians to put a parapet upon their roof was fulfilled in Christ – yet we might still learn principally from such a law and require passengers in our cars to wear a seat-belt, or we are quick to shovel and de-ice our sidewalks, because we love them and are required to do what is in our power to keep them safe from harm. But, of course, as Andy Stanley affirms in his piece, we need to stop mixing the old with the new – because the blended model is responsible for all the ills of Constantine, the Crusades, the Reformation, and so forth.
As an aside, I’m glad to note Stanley is not only fond of unhitching from the Old Testament, but seemingly, to the historic faith as well. All snark aside, my point in that line is to demonstrate how foolish it is to make such grand-sweeping statements – regardless of the church’s warts.
Andy Stanley also asks, “Dear Christian Reader: Why? Why? Why would we even be tempted to reach back beyond the cross to borrow from a covenant that was temporary and inferior to the covenant establish for us at Calvary?”
I want you to pay particular attention to his choice of words here; notice Andy doesn’t explicitly refer to what he is speaking about here in particular. Any orthodox Christian would affirm, per the saying of Paul in Galatians 3, that any Christian seeking to be justified by the Law is bewitched and foolish. But Andy isn’t saying this. Andy isn’t referring to those who are seeking to align themselves with God by meritorious works of the Law. Andy Stanley is actually referring to those who adopt the teachings of the Old Testament as their own.
What’s more than this is that Stanley is not referring to those who have disagreements on the applicability and usage of the Law (speaking in terms of continuity and discontinuity). Again, he is directly inferring that those who have “engaged” with the Old Testament have inevitably participated in unchristian behavior. More clearly, it’s a statement that lumps in all stripes of Christians who, by virtue of their understanding of Scripture, who “mingle” the Old with the New.
Instead, he appeals broadly to Paul for the foundation of his understanding of the Law – even though Paul himself did not unhinge himself from the Law. Paul’s use of the Old Testament is absolutely astounding, though arguably, one must know their Old Testament well to catch this. However, this is precisely where Marcion comes in to play.
What is rather interesting is that Marcion rooted his theology explicitly within the content of Paul’s epistles and the “red-letters” of Christ. Secondly, Marcion explicitly taught that the teachings of Christ were in stark contrast to that of the Old Testament. While Andy Stanley has differed from Marcion by seemingly affirming the other gospel witnesses of the New Testament, his statements are tantamount to the same expression of Marcionism.
“The justifications Christians have used since the fourth century to mistreat people find their roots in old covenant practices and values. Imagine trying to leverage the Sermon on the Mount to start an inquisition, launch a crusade, or incite a pogrom against Jews. But reach back into the old covenant, and there’s plenty to work with.” – Andy Stanley
Furthermore, Marcion believed that any who held to the Old Testament’s teachings was opposed to Christ and falling away from the faith. It is abundantly clear that Andy Stanley believes the same thing and in fact actively encourages people to stay far, far away from it. Again, we’re not talking about a carefully worded, precise manner of saying, “Don’t be so foolish and deceived to think that you can go back to the Old Covenant! Don’t be bewitched into thinking personal righteousness merits your salvation! We have a better covenant!”
That isn’t even remotely what Stanley has advocated for and the careful reader and listener will see that. There is a reason why people are taking exception to what Stanley has been saying, and it isn’t due to the fact that they don’t download and play all of his sermons one-by-one. No, it’s the content of what he keeps peddling as accurate, biblical teaching.
At this point, my only argument would be that you shouldn’t unhitch yourself from the Old Testament. You should study it deeply and come to see its beauty reflected all throughout the New Testament. You should grapple with understanding the Law, because regardless of what Stanley advocates, it is profitable for New Testament Christians in multiple ways. Yet lastly, when someone argues you ought to unhitch yourself from any portion of Scripture, perhaps you ought to just unhitch yourself from them.