Andy Stanley, Marcion, and the Bible


Andy's Stanley's recent suggestion (which is nothing new) to dismiss the OT (2/3 of the Scriptures) reveals a serious, ongoing problem within Evangelicalism, namely its view of Scripture. In the name of relevance and practical, down-to-earth application (gotta make the Bible real for people in their daily life), Evangelicals have viewed and reduced the bible to Aesop’s Fables. The OT, at best, is filled with nothing more than a compilation of moral stories with a moral lesson. Aside from that, Scripture, at least the Old Testament, has little to no use. And now, in the case of Andy Stanley, the time has come for the church, in the name of relevancy and efficacy, to “unhitch” itself from the shackles of the Old Testament. Stanley says, "Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well."

I suppose Stanley missed Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 when he wrote to the Corinthians and reminded them that he “3 delivered to them as of first importance what he also received, that Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES.” “ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES” means the Old Testament! Paul says the Old Testament gives to us the paramount truths of the gospel.

And of course there is 2 Timothy 3:16, “ALL SCRIPTURE (i.e., the Old Testament!) is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” According to the Apostolic witness, two-thirds of the bible is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. Peter, James, Paul (all the Apostles) appealed to the OT Scriptures as God’s inspired Word written and intended for Christians (to borrow a title from Graeme Goldworthy, “The Whole Bible is Christian Scripture,” Rom. 1:1-4; 4:23; 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11; 15:3-4; 2 Tim. 3:15-16, 1 Peter 1:10; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

I could go on and on as to how the NT writers appealed to the inspiration, authority and usefulness of the OT scriptures. We must not fail to take note of Jesus, Himself, who constantly pointed to the OT Scriptures as the inspired, authoritative Word of God and witness to Himself (e.g., John 5:39; 10:34-35; Luke 24:25-27). Graeme Goldsworthy observes, “The evangelical view of Scripture’s authority has rightly appealed to the evidence of Jesus’ attitude to Scripture (i.e., the Old Testament; Preaching the Whole Bible As Christian Scripture, 47). Goldsworthy, quoting Leon Morris, writes, “For the Christian the critical thing in this whole subject is the attitude of Jesus Christ. He is the norm for the Christian, and by definition the way He regarded Scripture (i.e., the Old Testament) is the Christian way” (Ibid, 47). Jesus constantly spoke of His role as fulfilling Scripture (i.e., the OT, Matt. 3:15; 5:17; 13:14; 26:54; Mark 1:15; 14:49; Luke 4:21; 21:22, 24; 22:37; 24:44-47; John 13:18; 15:25; 17:12). 

This brings me to a vital point concerning the problematic suggestion by Stanley (and there are many problems that could be pointed out). Stanley’s irresponsible dismissiveness towards the Old Testament is a gospel issue. As already noted, Paul, Peter, James, all the Apostles, viewed the Old Testament Scriptures as integral to the gospel. As J.I. Packer has written, “They (the Apostles) saw that the Old Testament is the first part of the story which their own message completes. Just as the Old Testament without the Christian gospel is a foundation without a building, so the gospel without the Old Testament is a building without a foundation. The Apostles therefore took care to ensure that the first Gentile Christians (i.e., Andy Stanley is a Gentle Christian) took over and used the Old Testament as Christian Scripture” (God’s Word, 33).

The Old Testament begins the story (promise) and the New Testament completes the story (fulfillment). Graeme Goldsworthy notes that Evangelical biblical theology accepts that Jesus and the Apostles “got it right and that the Scriptures give us a true and faithful account of this revelation” (Preaching The Whole Bible As Christian Scripture, 72-73). At the heart of the unfolding story of the bible (thus biblical theology) is the progressive unfolding revelation of God’s plan of salvation. Progressive revelation doesn’t mean (as Stanley misunderstands) that there are parts of canonical revelation that are irrelevant to us (Goldsworthy, 73). The unity of this unfolding story from Genesis to Revelation is bound together in its witness to the person and saving work of Jesus Christ. Jesus, Himself, tells us this is so:

“You search the Scriptures (i.e., Old Testament) because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.” John 5:39

  “25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. . . 44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Luke 24:25-27, 44-47

In view of Jesus' attitude toward the Old Testament Scriptures it is vital to understand that He did not see Himself as coming to eradicate the Old Testament and establish something new (Goldsworthy, 48). “The gospel event,” writes Goldsworthy, “is not de novobut is seen as the completion and fulfilment of all God’s saving acts and promises in the Old Testament. Jesus, the Apostles and all the New Testament authors clearly viewed Jesus as the fulfiller of the Old Testament Scriptures. They all teach that the Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) testify to Him, that Moses wrote of Him, “46 “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. 47 “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words” (John 5:46-47)?

So, one of the implications of Jesus’ attitude toward the Scriptures (i.e., Old Testament) is that it should lead us to realize (unlike Stanley) that the Old Testament (and New Testament) are primarily about God and His saving acts in Jesus Christ (Goldsworthy, 60). Hence, relevance, which Stanley is concerned about, must be assessed by the gospel (Goldsworthy, 62). For, unless felt needs (Stanley’s insistence on preaching toward) are redefined by the gospel, pastors and churches are in danger of reducing the Christian message to a pragmatic one of helping folks feel better or make the world a better place to live in and so forth (Ibid).

“Jesus,” writes Goldsworthy, “is the goal and fulfilment of the whole Old Testament, and, as the embodiment of the truth of God, He is the interpretive key to the Bible” (Ibid, 33). The covenantal structure of Scripture yields the truth that the Scriptures (OT and NT) are centrally a witness to Christ.

Thus, Goldsworthy notes that when Jesus says that He gives the Old Testament its meaning, He is also saying that we need the Old Testament to understand what He says about Himself. Jesus, Himself, drives us back to the Old Testament to examine it through Christian eyes, teaching us that it leads us back to Him (Goldsworthy, According To Plan, 54-55). Therefore, “The gospel will interpret the Old Testament by showing us its goal and meaning. The Old will increase our understanding of the gospel by showing us what Christ fulfills” (Ibid, 55).

Perhaps it would be good for Andy Stanley to learn the covenantal context and meaning of the Scriptures. For, he would discover that the covenantal structure teaches us that the whole Bible is about one thing: God redeeming a people for Himself through Jesus Christ to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:3-14; Michael Brown and Zach Keele, Sacred Bond, 69). Edmund Clowney wrote, “It is possible to know Bible stories, yet miss the Bible story” (Brown & Keele, 69). This is certainly true of Andy Stanley.

Stanley insists that “[First century] church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures. . .” Since, Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, Stanley argues the 21stcentury must as well. This is not at all what the Apostles did in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council. Failing to understand the covenantal context of the Scriptures, Stanley fails to understand the Apostle’s decision at the Jerusalem Council.

The heresy of the Judaizers was the issue at stake at the Jerusalem Council. The Council took up the question of “Who is in and who is out in terms of being a Christian?” The Judaizer’s answer was, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). The Judaizers insisted that Gentile converts become Jews in order to become Christians. They insisted that Gentile believers come “under Moses” (i.e., observe the old covenant) in order to be saved. The Jerusalem Council rejected this heretical teaching, which threatened the gospel and unity of the church.

The Apostles rightly understood that with the coming of Christ, the old (Mosaic) covenant had been abrogated as the author of Hebrews states, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsoleteand growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13). Paul makes the same historical redemptive argument in Galatians 3:24-25, “24So then, the law (old, Mosaic, covenant) was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian (i.e., old, Mosaic covenant). Christ was born under the old (Mosaic) covenant in order to fulfill all righteousness in our place (cf. Matt. 3:15; 5:17-18). As Paul says in Galatians 4:4-5, “4 when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” The old (Mosaic) covenant gave the Son the opportunity to perform, through His active and passive obedience, the righteousness that the law (Mosaic) and original covenant of works in Eden (Gal. 2:15-17) required (Brown and Keele, 117).

What then is “new” in the new covenant is new in relation to the old (Mosaic) covenant but not the Abrahamic covenant. Abraham is not Moses (Gal. 3:16-18). Thus, the Old Testament is not the old covenant, something Stanley fails to understand concerning the progressive nature of redemptive revelation. The continuity between the Abrahamic and new covenants is so strong that Paul calls all believers—Jew or Gentile—the offspring of Abraham (Gal. 3:29; Heb. 2:16; cf. Rom. 4:11, Brown and Keele, 137). Rather, they were “unhitching” Gentile believers from the Judaizing heresy, which insisted that they come under Moses for salvation, which Paul says is a deadly proposition, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Gal. 3:10; cf. Deut. 27:26). Thus, in seeking to make the Scriptures relevant and practical, Stanley has made them irrelevant and impractical because he has missed the Bible story completely.

The progressive unfolding story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is the story of the triune God’s loving redemption of disobedient rebels. The Scriptures move from promise to fulfillment. The Scripture is an unfolding drama from Genesis to Revelation in which we discover that it is ultimately one book, with one author, with one story, told on the stage of human history.

The Old Testament is an incomplete story demanding resolution. It is a promise without a fulfillment. The New Testament is the fulfillment that points us back to the promise it fulfils. As Vaughan Roberts has written, “We shall not make much sense of it (i.e., the New Testament) if we are not aware of what has come before (i.e., the Old Testament). What does it mean that Jesus is the Christ, the Passover Lamb, the Son of Abraham and Son of David, the true vine or the good shepherd? The answers are all found in the Old Testament” (God’s Big Picture, 20).

So, no Andy Stanley, the church doesn’t need to “unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures.” Jesus didn’t. The Apostles didn’t. The NT writers didn’t. What the church needs is to understand the Old Testament Scriptures in light of the gospel, which fulfills them and brings them their proper meaning and goal. And what the church also needs is to unhitch itself from Marcionites who corrupt the Scriptures and destroy its unified witness to Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, and risen FOR US AND FOR OUR SALVATION, which is IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SCRIPTURES (i.e., the Old Testament).