The Daily Wire’s Paul Bois has already dealt with the megachurch pastor Andy Stanley who is encouraging Christians to disregard the Old Testament. Paul’s piece is well-stated but I feel the urge to offer my two cents as well.
Stanley, who pastors the massive North Point Ministries congregation, has been on a crusade against the “Jewish Scriptures,” as he calls them, for a while now. Early last year he made headlines when he urged Christians to “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament. He declared that the first three or four dozen books of the Bible should not be a “go-to source regarding any behavior,” explaining, inaccurately, that the early church “unhitched” itself from the “worldview” and “value system” of those ancient texts. He warned that those Christians who still strive to follow Old Testament moral law are standing on a “house of Old Testament cards” which comes crashing down in the face of resurrected Christ.
In various interviews, he has betrayed some embarrassment in the Old Testament and suggested that it should be “left out” of the apologetic argument. When confronted with the fact that Jesus quoted the Old Testament regularly, and certainly did not leave it out of the argument, Stanley pretends that Jesus may have meant something completely different when he spoke of Scripture. As Albert Mohler quotes him in the previous link:
… there was Scripture but every time we see the phrase “the Scripture” or “Scripture” in the New Testament, as you know we have to stop and ask the question, what was this particular group of people referring to because there was no “The Bible” and there was no book that contained all the Jewish Scripture because it was contained in synagogues and as you know virtually no one could read and write.
This week, he wrote an article criticizing Christians who erect monuments to the Ten Commandments. He implies that the Ten Commandments don’t “actually appl[y]” to us. He goes further, announcing that Christians “are not required to obey any of the commandments found in the first part of their Bibles.” He lumps moral edicts in with dietary regulations and animal sacrifice, concluding that all of it is now moot. They’ve been “replaced,” he says repeatedly. Jesus issued only one commandment, according to Stanley, and that commandment “replaced” every law ever written before it.
In the latest article, he doesn’t return to his “unhitch” phrasing. Instead, and possibly worse, he says that the church should “disengage” with the Old Testament. Stanley is desperate to find a word that essentially means “reject” but still affords him some plausible deniability when the heresy charges start flying. Perhaps next he’ll try “extricate” or “disencumber.”
Why is it so important for Christians to reject — sorry, disengage with — the Old Testament? Well, he says, in part because a long list of alleged Christian atrocities, such as the Crusade and the Inquisition, came about due to an overemphasis on the Old Testament. Actually, the Crusades happened as a response to 400 years of Muslim aggression and the Inquisitions were an attempt by the Church to put a legal process in place for those accused of heresy (rather than summary executions carried out by angry villagers, which is how things worked before the Church’s intervention). Stanley is not only biblically confused but historically illiterate, which, of course, hasn’t stopped him from attracting tens of thousands of followers. It never does.
Now, where to begin in addressing this jumble of theological perversions? I suppose I’ll have to make a list:
1) The good pastor makes a lot of dramatic assumptions about Christ’s intentions but rarely quotes Him to support them. The one citation he provides is distorted so abruptly and unsubtly that I actually laughed out loud — a real life lol — when I first read it. Here’s Stanley:
But how many times have you seen Christians trying to post the text of the sermon on the mount in a public place? Or the all-encompassing commandment Jesus gave us?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” —John 13:34
The one commandment!
Did you catch that? He quotes Jesus saying “A new command I give you” and immediately changes it, in the next line, to “the one commandment.” That’s not what Jesus said. He said “a new command,” not “the one command.” The difference, of course, is that “a new command” allows for other commands. “The one” command means that there is only the one and no others. Jesus doesn’t say the latter, so Stanley simply pretends he said it and proceeds with the rest of his article as if He did. This, in micro, is how he treats the entire Old Testament. He finds the text “violent” and “disturbing”, wishes on a shooting star that it didn’t exist anymore, and — poof! — it’s gone, like magic.
As for Jesus, He says that He “did not come to abolish the law” (Matthew 5:17). He is not replacing anything, in other words. He is fulfilling. When it comes to moral laws, that fulfillment means a clarification of, and expansion on, the ancient moral laws. In some cases, Christ’s clarification actually makes the original law stricter. The prohibition on adultery now includes lustful thoughts (Matthew 5:28). The rule against murder now includes hatred (Matthew 5:22). Oh, and by the way, you’re not allowed to get divorced anymore (Luke 16:18).
Wait, I thought Jesus only gave us one commandment? I’ve already mentioned three. In fact the Sermon on the Mount, which Stanley says should be made into monuments instead of the Ten Commandments, is a whole long and awfully challenging list of edicts and commands.
Jesus does pinpoint two laws as “greatest,” but look at the context from Matthew 22:37-40:
Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”
These are not the only commandments. They are the greatest. “Greatest” and “only” are so far apart as to almost be opposites. A thing cannot be greater if there is nothing for it be greater than. Also, these two “new” commandments are not new. Jesus is quoting the Old Testament. The first and greatest is from Deuteronomy. The second is from Leviticus. If Jesus thought that the Christians “aren’t required to obey” any Old Testament commandment, it seems odd that He highlights two Old Testament commandments as the greatest.
Why are they greatest? Because, as He says, the Law and the Prophets depend on them, depend on love. Love is the foundation of moral law. That does not mean we are free to disregard moral law if we have love. On the contrary, it means we cannot have love if we disregard it. Love does not replace morality; rather, it serves as morality’s foundation.
2) Stanley doesn’t seem to understand a basic Christian theological point that most children learn in Sunday school: not all Old Testament law is the same kind of law. There are moral laws, which are eternal and binding for all time because moral truth is written into the very fabric of existence and can never be changed. Then there are ceremonial laws — don’t wear mixed fabrics, etc. — which were (and are) particular to Jews. Then there are civil laws which deal with the governance of Israel. Obviously we Christians are not bound by the third group. Paul makes it explicit in his letters that we are not bound by the second. The first, though, remain in place. Which is why Christ, far from overturning them, quotes them and elaborates on them extensively.
3) What Stanley espouses is just a reheated, slightly more palatable version of Marcionism. 1900 years ago, a man names Marcion founded a heretical Christian sect that, like Stanley, rejected the Old Testament. Marcion taught, like Stanley, that the Old Testament did not apply to Christ followers. The difference is that Marcion outright denounced the Old Testament God as a wrathful tyrant.
Stanley doesn’t go that far, at least not explicitly. He claims to believe that the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. Despite this hedging, though, Stanley’s theology separates the Son from the Father. He makes distinctions between what Jesus said and what God said, as if they are different gods entirely. The orthodox Christian understanding draws no such distinction. God’s commandments are Christ’s and Christ’s commandments are God’s. When God issued the Ten Commandments, so did Christ. They are and have always been one. From a Trinitarian perspective, it is totally meaningless to say “we don’t have to obey the Ten Commandments, we only have to obey Christ.” You might as well say that you don’t drink water but you love H2O.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” says John. Stanley wants us to disengage from the Old Testament, but first he’s going to have to disengage the Word from the word. I think his efforts will be unsuccessful. But if you are a member of his church, it’s probably best not to stick around watching him try.