I can’t decide if Andy Stanley is just being needlessly provocative, or if the doctrine he believes is just running off the biblical rails.
A year ago Stanley caused a ruckus by teaching that Christians need to “unhitch themselves from the Old Testament”, which he referred to as the “Jewish scriptures”.
Now he’s written an article titled, Why Do Christians Want To Post The Ten Commandments And Not The Sermon On The Mount? where he says, “If we’re going to create a monument as a testament to our faith, shouldn’t it be a monument of something that actually applies to us,” then adds, “The Ten Commandments are from the old covenant…Participants in the new covenant…are not required to obey any of the commandments found in the first part of their Bibles.”
For Stanley, Jesus’ new commandment from John 13:34 to “love one another as I have loved you,” is all that applies to believers on this side of the cross.
The Ten Commandments are so last covenant.
Wow, is this slippery language, careless even, and potentially dangerous.
There’s no question that for Christians one of the thorniest theological brambles to untwist is the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Right behind questions like “Why is there suffering?”, skeptics and seekers will quickly get round to asking why God commanded genocide and permitted polygamy in the Old Testament. And church history is replete with Christians who have used Old Testament passages to endorse everything from slavery to Crusades.
There’s no question that for Christians one of the thorniest theological brambles to untwist is the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.
A man named Marcion in the second century found so many Old Testament teachings and stories incompatible with those of Christ, that he threw out the entire thing. Marcion’s teachings quickly spun out altogether into outright heresy, and the early church leaders had no choice but to repudiate him.
Stanley’s not there yet, but his language and assertions are close enough to generate some Marcionic static electricity.
I understand his burden. For the sake of connecting with modern listeners, Stanley is trying to do an end run about these conundrums by coming up with a way to say to people, “But the Old Testament has nothing to do with us. Let’s talk about Jesus and his resurrection, and go from there. Those were the Jewish scriptures.”
But that’s not true. Those are our scriptures, and Jesus’ Scriptures, part of the “all scripture” that God has inspired and has given for our teaching, correction and training in righteousness (2 Tim.3:16-17). If you have a weird Uncle Bob in your family, the simplest thing might be to disavow him to your friends, and swear you never knew him. It’s far more complicated to have to admit your relationship, and try to explain his behavior.
And the Old and New Testaments are intricately, intimately related. There’s a saying that says it well: The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.
The point was to get to Jesus – and once Jesus came, much of the Old Testament no longer applied, because those parts were meant to proclaim his coming and prepare for his coming. Jesus “fulfilled” them (Matthew 5:17). The key is to know which bits fall in that category.
This is where Stanley goes way too far in asserting, “Well, it’s the whole thing.”
It’s just not that simple, but thankfully the New Testament and the early church give us specific clues to know how to interpret the transition between Old and New Covenants properly.
Now taken one way, what Stanley says is right. Christians aren’t “required” to obey God’s laws. Christians are not under law but under grace, Paul says in one part of Romans, because Christ is the end of the law, he says in another (Romans 6:14, 10:4).
That means several things.
First, we’re not “required” to keep God’s laws to be saved. Because we can’t. We’ve all broken God’s laws, so if getting right with God comes through my obedience, game over, I’m toast (Galatians 2:21).
Second, not being under the law means I’m no longer under the condemnation of the law (Romans 8:1-2). Even though I’m a lawbreaker, I’m guilty, and I deserve judgment, Jesus took all that on himself when he died for me. His obedience counts for me. His death counts for me. I’m declared righteous because of him. (You’ll hear no better news today than that, I promise you.)
Third, not being under the law means that from here on out, as I try to do the right thing and grow in holiness, I don’t have to do this on my own steam. Christ is with me through his Spirit to train me (Romans 8:3-4).
But the fourth way in which the law ended with Christ is what we said a moment ago: because of Christ’s death and resurrection, he fulfilled the parts of the Law of Moses which pointed to him, and so they no longer apply to us. And the New Testament tells us what those things are. Things like food laws, and keeping the Gentiles out, and the animal sacrifices, and the need for priests, and feast days and sabbath days, and the use of violence as a way of expanding God’s kingdom.
But the Ten Commandments, the core of the moral law of God, that has ended with Christ? They no longer apply? Here is where Stanley misses the mark.
The New Testament tells us, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). Why? Because God’s moral laws reveal God’s changeless character. And as I learn those laws, guess what? I learn right from wrong. If God hadn’t revealed his laws to us, we wouldn’t know what sin even is (Romans 7:7).
It’s all well and good to say as Stanley says that all we need to do is “love one another as Christ loved us”, but love is such a vague word. All you need is love. Love makes a family. You can twist the word love to make it say anything you want. Here’s where the moral law of God comes in to teach us. To give us moral boundaries and our moral bearings; to demonstrate what love specifically looks like at street-level.
It’s fascinating how each one of the Ten Commandments finds corollaries in what are called the virtue lists and the vice lists that fill the New Testament (e.g. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:3-6, Colossians 3:5-15, Galatians 5:19-22.) The apostles didn’t just tell Christians to “love one another”. They spelled it out in specific detail what Christ-like love looked like. And if you didn’t do these things, then guess what – you wouldn’t inherit the kingdom of God. You were inciting God’s wrath.
The Ten Commandments – part of what believers through the centuries have called the moral law – didn’t come in with the Law of Moses. They existed from the very beginning. Because they’re reflections of God’s own character. There couldn’t have been a Great Flood if the moral law wasn’t in place. God couldn’t have judged Sodom and Gomorrah if the moral law wasn’t in place.
And after Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses – specifically the civil part of it, and the ceremonial parts of it – with his death and resurrection, the moral law continued. When Jesus refused to condemn to death a woman caught in adultery, he disavowed Israel’s civil and ceremonial laws which demanded it. But then he commanded her to go and sin no more. God’s moral law remained in operation. (John 8:1-11).
In fact, the moral law deepened and widened far beyond what the Old Testament ever required.
So Andy, you want to use the Sermon on the Mount Andy instead of the Ten Commandments? Sure. Go ahead. The Ten Commandments said, “Don’t commit adultery.” The Sermon on the Mount tells me not to lust after someone in my heart. The Ten Commandments said, “Don’t commit murder.” The Sermon on the Mount tells me not to me angry with my brother or call him a fool, or I’m guilty of breaking that law.
Under the law of Moses, not one of the 613 commands that have been identified in the Old Testament tell me that I should take care of mugging victims that I find on the roadside. But now, under grace, under the law of the Spirit, if I come across such a person, like the Good Samaritan did, now there’s an obligation on me to do something about it as a follower of Christ.
So the Spirit of Christ in my heart takes the moral laws that I have learned, and read, and studied and meditated on – and helps me to live them out in spirit and in truth. Not rigidly, or legalistically. But the real way God intended. From my heart.
But if I do what Andy Stanley tells me to do – unhitch myself from the Old Testament and unhitch myself from the Ten Commandments (and he doesn’t really explain what he means by that, so what’s likely to happen is that the people who respect him as a pastor and teacher are likely to think to themselves, “Well I don’t need to read that part of the Bible,” “I don’t need to learn the Ten Commandments”) well guess what’s going to happen?
Their knowledge of the true faith, and their practice of the true faith, is going to be weakened and hollowed out. They’re not going to be stronger Christians because of it. They won’t hold the line when culture comes along with its siren song and says, “Did God really say that?”
People who listen to Andy Stanley in this area won’t understand how the New Testament’s truthfulness is supported by and proven by the Old Testament. They won’t grasp how the reason we know Jesus is who he said he was, isn’t only because of the resurrection, but because he fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, he was the Perfect Sacrifice to which all the others pointed, he was the living embodiment of the Old Testament feasts and festivals, and he was the pinnacle of the Old Testament priesthood.
All of these things found in the Jewish Scriptures point to Christ. (And please Andy, you need to stop using this language. It’s needlessly incendiary. Are you trying to insert a racial barb there?) And in knowing these Scriptures, my confidence in Christ and my determination to follow him grows stronger.
The reason we know Jesus is who he said he was, isn’t only because of the resurrection, but because he fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, he was the Perfect Sacrifice to which all the others pointed, he was the living embodiment of the Old Testament feasts and festivals, and he was the pinnacle of the Old Testament priesthood.
I know you think you’re helping people Andy, with this clever teaching of yours, but you have to do better than this. “We who teach will be judged with greater strictness,” wrote James, the Jewish Christian. You need to take this theology of yours back to the laboratory. The Church is biblically illiterate enough without you giving your followers a reason to avoid more than half of our Bibles.
Unless you truly believe this teaching of yours. In which case, that points to another problem altogether.
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. His blogs and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon.
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