The latest Andy Stanley controversy

May 11, 2018

Wasn’t it just this past Monday when my friend and brother Grant Essex wrote the following in the comments section of this post? (I’ve italicized the part that pertains to today’s post.)

This is difficult doctrine but, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Law is no longer relevant. Jesus held the Law in great regard. After all, it came from God.

Matthew 5:17-20

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Or, Luke 16:17

17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

I believe that what Jesus did was nail the condemnation, or curse, of the Law to the cross. He saw that the Jews had created a theocracy, under which the Law became not just a way to live, but also a system of judgement. No one could fulfill it all, so He did, thereby satisfying it in the true sense it was intended.

The Law cannot save us. We are no longer slaves to the Law. But, if we are saved in Christ, then a great deal of the true meaning of the Law will be reflected in our behavior.

I do agree that the “ceremonial” aspects of the Law are no longer applicable to us. We are saved by the blood of Jesus, and by nothing else.

To this comment, Tom Harkins and I heartily agreed.

As if on cue, however, a new controversy has arisen this week over something that pastor Andy Stanley preached concerning the Christian’s relationship to the Old Testament. You can read all about it here. Here are some Twitter comments I re-tweeted or liked:

This was a reference to United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton’s infamous “three buckets” approach to the authority of scripture.

Finally, below are some words I wrote in reply to a Facebook friend—a defender of Andy Stanley’s sermon—who said the following: “I’ve yet to hear why what he said is wrong, or anything different from what anyone here would probably say or actually believe.”

Off the top of my head, I would say that he misunderstands the purpose of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. He fails to distinguish ceremonial from moral law, the latter of which remains binding on Christians, even as it plays no role in justifying us. He’s wrong in saying that belief in the bare fact of the resurrection, divorced from its context within the biblical narrative, is sufficient for Christian faith or discipleship. To wit, in perhaps the church’s earliest creed (as relayed in 1 Corinthians 15:3), the resurrection was proclaimed “in accordance with the scriptures.” He’s wrong in saying that Gentile Christians didn’t have a Bible—they did: it was the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Paul’s letters, written mostly to Gentiles, are replete with direct references and allusions to the Old Testament; and it was this same Old Testament that Paul called “God-breathed,” among other things (2 Timothy 3:16-17)—a principle we can rightly apply to the New. Or see Paul’s warning (using the analogy about Israel in the wilderness) in 1 Corinthians 10:6: “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.”

Also, it’s incomprehensible to me that Jesus, who warned that “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished,” would agree with Stanley that the Old Testament can collapse like a house of cards and we would still have Christianity. We simply don’t know who Jesus is, why he came, what he accomplished, and what’s at stake in believing in him apart from God’s revelation of himself in the Old Testament. Consider Jesus’ words to the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” It would have taken at least a couple of hours to walk that distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus: the Old Testament has a lot to say concerning Jesus.

Moreover, while I know that Stanley’s ultimate goal is apologetic—here’s why you don’t have to believe all those scary, strange, violent things in the Old Testament in order to be saved—what problem has he really solved by pitting the New Testament against the Old Testament anyway? As I’m sure you know, Jesus talks about final judgment and hell more than anyone. Andrew Wilson deals with this question nicely in this short blog post: http://thinktheology.co.uk/…/the_jesus_lens_or_the…

I can anticipate the pushback: Yes, but Stanley isn’t saying that the Old Testament ought to collapse like a house of cards, only that it can in order for people to become Christians in the first place. Indeed, I know Stanley has affirmed inerrancy in the recent past, and he believes in scripture’s inspiration. But what would he tell his new converts about the Old Testament as soon as they became authentic disciples? “Actually, guys, this is a really great book! You should check it out! Let me exegete and interpret those difficult passages to help you understand why they don’t mean what you think they mean. Let me show you why, despite what you think, the God revealed in the Old Testament is really the same God revealed in Jesus Christ.”

That seems like bait-and-switch to me. It seems like something less than the full truth. It seems like a dubious way to make disciples—sowing seeds of doubt about the authority of God’s Word before these would-be disciples have even started being disciples! It feels like he’s selling the gospel to the lowest bidder, doesn’t it?

It’s understandable, perhaps, that from Stanley’s Christian tradition, which tends toward legalism and self-righteousness (whereas mine tends toward Pelagianism; all traditions tend toward something bad), he doesn’t perceive this problem. But speaking as an evangelical in a Mainline tradition, which often lightly regards the authority of scripture, I certainly do perceive the problem!

Moreover, while I love Christian apologetics and believe they can play a useful and necessary role in conversion, ultimately it isn’t Stanley’s job to argue anyone into God’s kingdom. The gospel itself has its own power, through the Holy Spirit, to convict, convince, and convert God’s elect (cf. Romans 1:16). I would encourage Stanley to be committed to telling the whole truth and let God do the heavy lifting.

3 Responses to “The latest Andy Stanley controversy”

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    Wow! I just listened to “Aftermath – Part 3”, and I’m blown away by what Andy is doing here. To put is simply, I think he is unnecessarily “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”.

    It simply is not necessary to deny the value and importance of the OT, in order to make Christianity appealing to non-believers. He says it’s not “Jesus and,” but rather, “Jesus instead of”, and that’s wrong. It’s actually “Jesus in fulfillment of”, if you want to play phrase games. You can’t even begin to understand why our LORD had to die on the cross without the OT.

    There are so many things said in this message that create more problems than they solve. He mentions “the creation myth” of the OT. He says that the Ten Commandments are “REPLACED by one new Commandment”. He implies that God has abandoned the Jewish people who do not convert.

    I personally think it would be hard to really see the breadth and depth of the NT writings without a knowledge of the OT. Andy seems to think you could have a perfectly good version of Christianity without it at all.

    Again, all I can say is Wow!

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    I agree, and particularly with the misguided notion of “mak[ing] Christianity appealing to non-believers,” as you note, Grant. As far as I can recall, nowhere in the Bible are we taught that we should make Christianity “easy to accept.” I seem to recall a reference to a “rock of offense.” Christianity is seen as “foolishness” to nonbelievers, but “the power of God” to those who accept. Jesus says, “Count the cost.” He says, relatively speaking, few will be saved. The false prophets were condemned for “ear tickling.” We are required to accept “sound doctrine.” Indeed, we are to “deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus.” None of this suggests we are to go out of our way to make Christianity “palatable” so more people will “sign up.” So, Andy is simply offtrack from the get-go here.


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