Reformed Theologian: 'Paul Did Not Unhitch the Christian Faith From the Old Testament'

Ray Ortlund, senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and the president of Renewal Ministries, gives remarks at The Gospel Coalition's West Coast Conference on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. | (Screenshot:

A Reformed theologian told a conference centered on the Bible book of 2 Timothy that it's wrong for Christians to "unhitch" their beliefs from the Old Testament, something megachurch pastor Andy Stanley had exhorted earlier this year.

Preaching from 2 Timothy 1:3-8, Ray Ortlund, senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and the president of Renewal Ministries, pointed out that when the Apostle Paul was writing to Timothy in the epistle, he stressed his religious heritage through Judaism.

"Paul looks back into his own deepest roots. He goes back to David, to Moses, to Abraham. He reveres the faith that came down to him even filtered through Jewish tradition," Ortlund said Tuesday at the Gospel Coalition's West Coast Conference, held at EvFree Fullerton in California.

Ortlund then alluded to comments that Stanley made in a sermon back in late April, without naming the Georgia pastor.

"Unlike some preachers today, Paul did not 'unhitch' the Christian faith from the Old Testament," said Ortlund, his comment getting some laughter from the audience.

"And for him personally, Christian conversion did not take his Jewishness away. It made Jesus the Lord over his Jewishness and over his conscience, both of which, he continues to honor."

When preaching his sermon in April, Stanley had expressed concern that many Christians were turning away from the faith because of certain passages in the Hebrew Bible. He argued that the early church showed that there was a need to move past the Old Testament for the sake of gentiles to join and that the resurrection of Jesus was enough. 

"Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well," Stanley said. "[W]e must not make it difficult for those Gentiles who are turning to God." 

Later, Stanley defended his comments in an interview with Messianic Jewish author and radio personality Michael Brown in July, saying that criticism of his "unhitch" statements needed better context.

Stanley reaffirmed his belief that the Old Testament was divinely inspired, but noted that this was part of his effort to reach out to those who reject biblical authority.

"I told my kids growing up, if anyone ever asks you 'do you believe Adam and Eve are real people?' here is how you are to answer: do not say 'yes because the Bible says Adam and Eve were real people,'" commented Stanley.

"You say this: 'I believe Adam and Eve were historical characters because Jesus did. And when somebody predicts their own death and resurrection and pulls it off, I go with whatever they say.'"

In response to Stanley, Brown drew a parallel to a video he made on the question of "Can You be Gay and Christian?" noting that he used different apologetic methods for different critics.

"I'm trying to give the biblical evidence to those that accept the scriptures," noted Brown. "But the level of criticism and attack coming in about 'our Bronze Age God, our Bronze Age faith' ... obviously, if I'm trying to reach those people, I'm going to approach it from a little different angle."

The theme of this year's Gospel Coalition's West Coast Conference is "Enduring Faithfulness," centered on the issues addressed in the New Testament book of 2 Timothy. 

In his address, Ortlund also stressed the importance of modern-day believers, arguing that their influence on other Christians will continue well after they have passed away, stating "dead fathers in the Lord still live in the courage of their spiritual sons."

"Stop thinking of your life in such a small category. You matter more than you know it. You're going to matter to people who aren't even born yet," he said. "Your faithfulness will still be making an impact long after your expiration date." 

In addition to Ortlund, other scheduled speakers include Kevin DeYoung, author and senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina; Bobby Scott, a pastor at Community of Faith Bible Church and podcaster; and Ligon Duncan, chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary and president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, among others.

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