Andy Stanley Responds to Concerns Over 'Unhitch' Comments, Says Critics Need to Understand Context

Andy Stanley, North Point Ministries founder, speaks at the Drive Conference on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga. | (Sara D Harper Photography)

North Point Community Church Senior Pastor Andy Stanley has responded to critics of a recent sermon he preached, explaining that those concerned with his comments need to understand the context of his remarks.

"I approach a message series like a single sermon. I don't try to cover everything in 35 minutes. I'm not that good," Stanley said in an interview with Relevant Magazine published Tuesday.

"So, if you want to criticize my approach to preaching, fine. I would love to talk about that. But don't criticize a statement in a sermon if you aren't willing to spend the time necessary to appreciate the context." 

Stanley explained that critics needed to better understand the context of his comments, noting that people "who listened to all three parts of the series probably understood the point I was making." 

"Whenever someone like me—or anyone for that matter—begins talking about the Bible in unusual or new terms we should all pay attention and ask lots of questions. But throwing stones after listening to one sermon seems a bit premature." 

The megachurch pastor garnered controversy for a sermon preached last month in which he stated that he believed Christians should "unhitch" their faith from the Old Testament.

He argued that the early church apostles "elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures" and Christians today must do the same in order to "not make it difficult for those Gentiles who are turning to God." 

The sermon was the third and final part of a sermon series titled "Aftermath" that was centered on reaching out to individuals who lost their faith because of something in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, which he admitted was "violent" and "disturbing."

Stanley explained in the sermon that while he believes the Old Testament is "divinely inspired," it is only the "back story for the main story" and should not be "the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church."

To justify this, Stanley cited Acts 15, which described how early church leaders decided that Gentile converts did not need to strictly observe Jewish law to become Christians.

"[First century] Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures," said Stanley.

"Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well," he preached.

"The Bible did not create Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity. Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down." 

Some accused the megachurch pastor of advancing the early church heresy Marcionism, which maintained that the God of the Hebrew Bible was not the God of the New Testament.

"[Stanley's sermon] can really only be described as an elaborate and educated flirtation with the old Christian heresy of Marcionism—the belief that the Old Testament is not authoritative in matters of Christian doctrine and morals," wrote Wesley Hill of Trinity School for Ministry in a column for First Things. 

Stanley reaffirmed to Relevant magazine that he did indeed consider the Old Testament just as divinely inspired as the New Testament, noting that he maintained his support for the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

When asked by Relevant if he would change anything about his sermon to add nuance or to add clarity, given the recent criticism, Stanley stood by his message and said he wouldn't change anything.

He explained that modern Christians should "embrace the decision" of the early church to allow Gentiles to join without them needing to convert to Judaism first.

"... we should not add old covenant imperatives, old covenant contract language or old covenant promises made to Israel to the new covenant God established with us through Jesus," said Stanley

He also noted that he "never suggested we 'unhitch' from a passage of Scripture or a specific biblical imperative" that people don't like.

When asked by Relevant about what message he would like to send to all his critics, Stanley asked them to "come together so we can do more."

"We have far more in common than not. Help me. Email me your concerns. Call me. Follow me on twitter and direct message me. I certainly don't want to mislead anyone," he said.

Explaining his ministry mission, he stressed, "Like James, Peter and Paul, I want to remove every unnecessary obstacle to faith in Jesus."

"To my critics I would say, let's come together so we can do more. The faith of the next generation depends upon it. We are stewards of the Church for our generation. Let's get it right. And let's honor Jesus' prayer in John 17 and get it right, together."

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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