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.