A Lot of Evangelicals Have “Unhitched” From the Old Testament

Andy Stanley’s recent sermons contending that we must “unhitch” from the Old Testament in order to get to know Jesus brought a wave of response from the Christian online world. Some were supportive, noting that he was just trying to introduce his hearers to Jesus. Others recognized in his words the ancient heresy of Marcionism, which celebrated Jesus and Paul, and dismissed the entire Hebrew Bible. My first response was that of the latter group, but I also realized that in the Evangelical congregations of which I’ve been a part over the last four decades, I have seen less-overt (but no less toxic) versions of Stanley’s teachings in all of the following ways:

  • Speaking as though the God of the Old Testament had a different, much angrier personality than the God of the New Testament
  • Speaking about the Law as though it is completely irrelevant
  • Insisting the Old Testament is just for the Jews
  • Insisting that only the Ten Commandments are relevant, and really meaning that only nine of the ten are binding on Christians’ lives today. (This one? Maybe not so much.)
  • Using the Old Testament in sermons only anecdotally if at all, rather than teaching or preaching from it on its own merits
  • Calling the Old Testament “legalistic”
  • Treating the Old Testament, particularly the book of Genesis, as a tool to be used in apologetics debates that are more about scoring points than they are about pointing people to their Creator and Redeemer
  • Claiming that all the promises God made to the Jewish people in the Old Testament now belong to the Church
  • Praying promises (such as the trusty graduation card favorite, Jeremiah 29:11) completely out of context, and using them as though they were intended for an individual
  • Speaking about the Law as though it is the enemy
  • Using the Pharisees to represent the Old Testament, insisting that the way Jesus spoke to and about them “proves” his feelings about the Law
  • Not preaching or teaching regularly from the Old Testament
  • Preaching or teaching from the New Testament as if it exists in a vacuum, rather than recognizing that as much as a third of its texts reference the Old Testament (chart)

Andy Stanley didn’t wake up one day and decide to start talking about “unhitching” Jesus from the only Bible Jesus had during his lifetime – a Bible Jesus obeyed to the letter, and about which he told his followers he came not to abolish, but to fulfill. Stanley is a product of an Evangelical culture that has treated the Old Testament as something to be used when it is convenient, and ignored when it is not. And frankly, it’s mostly treated as an inconvenience instead of a gift.

For all those who are decrying Stanley’s teaching, I’d suggest this might be a teachable moment and an opportunity for some self-reflection. Pastors, don’t assume your congregation understands that you value the Old Testament if you don’t preach from it. Teachers, don’t keep leaning on the same parts of the Bible you know well without ever demonstrating that you’re willing to be a student of the parts you don’t know as well. If you say you love the Bible, then please, please make it your goal to love the whole Bible.

 

Photo by Nathaniel Shuman on Unsplash

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4 thoughts on “A Lot of Evangelicals Have “Unhitched” From the Old Testament”

  1. Andy Stanley is not antinomian (another words he is not against the law of God ) Andy Stanley does not make void Or preempt any part of the verbal plenary inspiration of the 39 books of the Old Testament. In point of fact Andy believes the same thing that Jesus believed when he was on the road to Emmaus walking with the two disciples after he was resurrected.
    Jesus very carefully took the two disciples back to the beginning of God’s word from Genesis all the way up through Malachi and endorsed the entire Old Testament and showed that the Old Testament pointed to Jesus.
    In this particular case this is a matter of emphasis. When we see a Pastor emphasizing certain aspects of the scripture we should not judge them if they are trying to note The Power of One passage over the teaching of another Passage… we must be careful as to how we discern and judge what a Pastor is saying.
    I respeectfully ask you to reference Romans Chapter 2 verses 1-3 in the Amplified version… trying to discern an entire Ministry takes the wisdom and the gifts of the Holy Spirit so be careful in drawing conclusions that may be taking a pastor out of context
    the end result of his total Ministry using the Old and New Testament is to see dear Souls come to Christ.

    * PS what I have observed is through the blessings of the Outreach of the On-line Ministry from Andy Stanley
    Prayers from Wisconsin

  2. I’m so glad you wrote more extensively on this subject, Michelle. I was quite interested in (and in some cases surprised by) the many responses to Stanley on Twitter etc. I listened in full to only that last one of his sermons, the one that had raised the most discussion. I was especially concerned by his words about “God the Founder” “playing by the rules of the kingdoms of this world” in order to bring a better kingdom – because it really did make it sound like the Jews were a necessary evil that God condescended to work through to get stuff done.

    I’m not a theologian or church historian or Bible scholar or anything, yet that fact itself may make it easier for me to imagine how the average person in the pew might take this. Some of the things I hear Christian friends/acquaintances say about the Jews, Judaism, and the OT are
    – the Jews are (or were) just a means to an end
    – Jews don’t understand grace; they are all about works
    – “Every religion that isn’t centered on Jesus is the work of Satan” (direct quote – when I asked person if he would include Judaism he said yes)
    – “Judeo-Christian” = Christian
    So I worry that these attitudes would be entrenched, rather than softened, by Stanley’s teachings. I think we have a lot of work to do (and a lot to learn) in these areas, so I particularly appreciate your last paragraph.

  3. Rachel –
    I agree with you that Stanley was focusing on evangelism in these messages. I did listen to about half of the message (the third in the series) in question before I had to turn it off. I actually believe we all do judge – and should judge – everything we’re hearing from the pulpit. Accepting everything a particular preacher has to saw without questioning it is a recipe for indoctrination at the least, and cult-ish thinking at the worst. I am troubled by the emPHAsis Stanley used in his messages. It is more than just highlighting one verse rather than another. It is, in fact, a wholesale discount and disconnection from the Bible Jesus read. Thanks for your feedback.

  4. Jeannie -You are correct in that Stanley’s words do nothing to challenge the poor theology you already see in action. And I especially liked “Judeo-Christian = Christian”. Yep. I think that’s what a lot of Christians hear when they hear that phrase. 🙂

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