It has been sad to observe Andy Stanley incrementally abandoning the evangelical Christian faith in favor of old-school theological liberalism. Stanley is a uniquely gifted communicator and successful organizational leader who has had tremendous influence within Evangelical Christianity. A recent article in The Christian Post (May 9, 2018) titled, “Christians Must ‘Unhitch’ Old Testament From Their Faith, Says Andy Stanley,” led me to listen to his recent sermon, Aftermath, Part 3: Not Difficult (you can watch it here).
Stanley professes to still believe the Old Testament is divinely inspired but argues, “[First century] Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish Scriptures.” According to him, Peter, James, and Paul “unhitched” the Christian faith from the Old Testament. He describes the message of the New Covenant as “completely detached” from what came before, arguing that “something new and better and inclusive has come.” Christians, according to Stanley, must “set aside the traditions, the Scriptures they grew up with.”
Stanley uses the Acts 15 account of the Jerusalem Council as the basis for his assertions. The Jerusalem Council was called to decide whether non-Jewish believers must submit to all the requirements of the law of Moses, especially circumcision, in order to be accepted as members of the church. The decision of the council was that they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles because it is by grace alone that they are saved. Since no further restrictions are imposed by God, we must not impose any. Conveniently, for his argument, Stanley does not point out that James grounds the council’s pronouncement in the Old Testament text of Amos 9:11-12 (Acts 15:16-17; see also Jer 12:15 and Isaiah 45:21).
Stanley attempts to co-opt the fact that the Bible comes to us as progressive revelation to meet his own agenda of severing the teachings of the New Testament from the Old Testament. James, contrary to Stanley, did the opposite. James grounds the declaration of the council by showing that the position of the council was in continuity with God’s authoritative revelation in the Old Testament. The inclusion of the Gentiles was promised in the Old Testament, and the apostles are in full agreement with the message of the prophets. The restored kingdom of David will include the Gentiles (Acts 15:16-17). Rather than unhitching or completely detaching from the Old Testament, the apostles saw the Gentiles as the living fulfillment of the promise of the Old Testament.
Stanley summarizes his view of the Old Testament by saying he thought about putting up a slide that read, “Thou shall not obey the Ten Commandments,” but decided against it in fear that people would take a screenshot of it to post online. He might as well have posted the screenshot himself because that is exactly what he is arguing. Stanley contends that the sexual ethic of the New Testament is severed from the teaching of the Old Testament and is simply to “treat others as God in Christ has treated you” and that “Paul is explicit about morality but does not tie it to the Old Testament.” Of course, the New Testament says far more about sexual ethics than Stanley suggests and what it teaches is in complete continuity with the Old Testament.
What is going on here? It is tragic, but simple. Stanley is adapting his message to the changing culture that rejects many of the Bible’s teaching about origins and ethics. He is not offering a new approach to the Bible but rather an old one which positions us as judges who pick and choose what really matters in the Bible. That old approach has a name: it’s called theological liberalism.
According to Stanley, embracing the truth of Jesus’ resurrection does not mean you must also accept all that the Bible teaches. The resurrection, for him, is the only truth you have to believe, allowing you to reject the rest of the scriptural witness because the resurrection is the only thing that matters. However, severing the Scriptures from the resurrection is the very thing that Jesus said could not be done, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Paul told Timothy, “the sacred writings” are “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15).
By attempting to sever the authority of Christ from the authority of the Bible, Stanley is functionally rejecting the authority of Christ who said “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and that the Scriptures bear witness to him (John 5:39). Jesus also said, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46-47). Jesus is emphatically repudiating anyone who would attempt to “unhitch” him from the message of the Old Testament. Stanley is not defending the authority of Jesus; he is defending the authority of the spirit of the age, which is always a path away from Christ and towards destruction.
Stanley is traveling a well-worn path of declension: the whole Bible is the authoritative testimony of God and is about Jesus, Jesus vs. the Old Testament, Jesus vs. the Old Testament and Paul, Jesus vs. the Old Testament and the apostles, Jesus only (red-letters only), historical Jesus only, and finally, me only. The Bible is the word of God, given to us by the Spirit of God, and bears witness to the Son of God. The only way we know who Jesus is and what his resurrection means is from the biblical testimony—Old Testament and New. Any attempt to sever Jesus from the entirety of Scripture amounts to fashioning a Jesus for your own purposes, one that changes with the times. But that Jesus is not “the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6).