Andy Stanley is back in the religion headlines. This time for suggesting Christians "unhitch" the Old Testament from their faith, as reported by the Christian Post's Michael Gryboski.
Stanley's provocative comments came during an April sermon series titled "Aftermath," which is mostly a plea to people who've rejected the faith to reconsider. The sermon videos are posted online along with the following summary:
If you were raised on a version of Christianity that relied on the Bible as the foundation of faith, a version that was eventually dismantled by academia or the realities of life, maybe it's time for you to change your mind about Jesus. Maybe it's time for you to consider the version of Christianity that relies on the event of the resurrection of Jesus as its foundation. If you gave up your faith because of something about or in the Bible, maybe you gave up unnecessarily.
During the third installment in the series, Stanley told his North Point Community Church congregants that "the Bible did not create Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity." He is correct, of course. But for some reason, Stanley goes on to assert, "Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down. The question is did Jesus rise from the dead, and the eyewitnesses said he did."
Here's the broader context of Stanley's "unhitch" comments:
It's disturbing perhaps for people like me, like you who received our first Bible with no instructions. But I'll tell you who it's liberating for. It's liberating for men and women who are drawn to the simple message that God loves you so much he sent his Son to pave the way to a relationship with you. It's appealing and liberating for people who need and understand grace. Who need and understand forgiveness. And its liberating for people who find it virtually impossible to embrace the dynamic, the worldview, and the value system depicted in the story of ancient Israel.
Peter, James, and Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish Scriptures. And my friends we must as well. Because we must not make it difficult for those Gentiles who are turning to God. They didn't. We shouldn't either.
Stanley makes some valid points. He wants to emphasize Christ's crucifixion and resurrection as the crux of Christianity. He's right. These events redeemed us back to God as the perfect, necessary sacrifice. I simply can't understand why Stanley went on to belittle the Old Testament in the process.
It seems that in Stanley's attempt to repackage and simplify Christianity for non-believers, he's only created more confusion. Or as well-known Messianic Jewish apologist and professor Michael Brown aptly wrote, "In [Stanley's] zeal to reach the lost, he has dangerously overstated his case."
How many times did Jesus quote and affirm the Old Testament? In Matthew 5:17, Jesus bluntly said he came to fulfill the law of the prophets, not to abolish the law.
How does God relate to and speak to His people? Through His divinely-inspired Scriptures, both Old Testament and New Testament. How do we understand the prophesied significance of Jesus Christ's birth, death, and resurrection? By reading the Old Testament. It makes it hard to understand and follow Jesus if you throw out the totality of Scripture or pick and choose between Scriptures. You cannot take Jesus out of God's big-picture plan relayed to us in the Old and New Testaments and comprising of the Creation, the Fall, Resurrection, and ultimately Redemption.
The Old Testament message points towards the significance of the Messiah. If lost people are hostile to the Old Testament's message, then that is a spiritual battle they are entangled. It's not a license to downplay the role of the Old Testament.
If I asked him, I believe Stanley would agree and accept all this to be true. Stanley even states he believes the Scriptures are "divinely inspired." As I've watched the full sermon series, it appears the motivation behind Stanley's controversial message is an effort to confront the hostility from our post-Christian culture with an acceptable softened version of Christianity. However, we at the Institute on Religion & Democracy have seen what happens when Christian leaders refashion Christianity to appease broader culture. Local churches merely win society's applause without adding many congregants.
I will say that Stanley is right in noting young Christians are often handed a Bible with no instruction. This prompts them to draw their own conclusions. Plus, secular society tries hard to convince younger Christians to denounce the Bible's authority. As I've previously emphasized, an hour of Sunday school each week does not prepare young Christians to defend their faith against hostility to the Gospel. So perhaps it is not so much a problem with the nature of the Old Testament, but a lack of discipleship from our local churches and parents. On this, I think Stanley and I would agree.
Stanley is a popular megachurch pastor. A Baylor University study lists Stanley as one of the most effective pastors in the English-speaking world. He is often quoted as making provocative statements in an effort to freshen his ministry approach to reach the lost. It's one thing to refashion our Christian teaching style. However, it's a whole other thing to refashion Christian teaching.
What do you think? Is Andy Stanley only refashioning his teaching style or does he cross the line of refashioning Christian teaching?