In a recent sermon at North Point Community Church, Senior Pastor Andy Stanley made some controversial remarks about the Christian's relationship to the Old Testament.
Accordingly to Stanley, though the Old Testament is “divinely inspired”, the church today must “unhitch the Christian faith from the Jewish scriptures”.
In a previous sermon, Stanley taught that the early church didn’t build their faith around the Old Testament because it “doesn’t tell the story of Jesus”. Instead, they built their faith around an event - the resurrection of Jesus. Though the latter is true, the former is not. Stanley could not be more wrong that the Old Testament doesn’t tell the story of Jesus - it is the first 3/4 of the story of Jesus!
Stanley argues that the Old Testament is simply “the backstory for the main story” - the necessary context for us to understand the part that really matters, the New Testament. “If you have lost or are losing faith because of something in or about the Bible, especially the Old Testament, perhaps you’ve lost or are losing faith unnecessarily.”
At one point he even refers to the gospel message as “completely new and detached from everything that came before” in the Old Testament.
Admitting that his teaching may be a little disturbing to some, he argued that it should be “liberating” for others to put away the difficulties of the Old Testament in favor of dwelling solely in the New.
Now, to be perfectly fair - I admit that I understand Stanley’s argument and reasoning. First, that as Christians, we have indeed been set free by Jesus from the demands of the Law for salvation, and second, the Old Testament can be scary and confusing - especially for new believers or unchurched people.
The Old Testament can be difficult to comprehend in conjunction with the truths of the New Testament. Time and time again I have encountered this - Christian people terrified, intimidated, and confused by the Old Testament so much so that they ignore it almost completely and dwell exclusively in the New Testament. It would be a whole lot easier, in some ways, to do ministry and preach in an Old Testament-less church. But to do so would be disastrously dangerous.
While Stanley is obviously correct that the resurrection launched Christianity and the Old Testament is in many ways “the backstory”, it is so much more than that. It is so much more than just context; so much more than divinely inspired but outdated reference material. It too is the timelessly relevant and living word of God.
Bible scholar Alec Motyer has something to say about this in his wonderful little book (which I highly recommend and can be bought here) called “A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament”. He says:
“Suppose we went to the Lord Jesus Christ and said to him, ‘Please tell me why do you keep quoting from the Old Testament?’ He would say, ‘The old what? I don’t know what you mean. What do you mean the “Old Testament?’ In the long run, the Lord Jesus would say to us, ‘Oh, I see. You mean the Holy Scriptures’…Jesus would not have known what we meant by ‘the Old Testament’. He would have said, ‘The Scriptures’, ‘the Word of God’, ‘the Law’. Without the Old Testament, we could not know Jesus properly. Does that not make [The Old Testament] supremely important for us?”
Elsewhere, he says, “I find the dividing page [between Malachi and Matthew] a waste of paper and print. It is separating the inseparable, dividing the indivisible. The Bible is one book.”
Neither Jesus or any of the New Testament authors would have seen any such thing as “The Old Testament” or “The New Testament”. All that they saw was “the Scriptures, the Word of God”. When Paul wrote to Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”, he was speaking of the Old Testament Scriptures.
To cast aside the Old Testament for any reason is to cast aside more than 75% of God’s written Word and revelation of himself to his people. How can it possibly be healthy for the Christian to ignore such a huge portion of God’s revealed character and identity?
Jesus himself taught that he did not come to abolish the Old Testament, but to fulfill it - Matthew 5:17-18 - “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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
Not even the smallest part of God’s word has passed out of relevance, purpose, or importance. Jesus came to complete the Old Testament, to make it full, to perfect it. There is no such thing as moving on from the Old Testament or being “liberated” from the Old Testament. Jesus is not detached from the Old Testament and neither is the gospel.
If we cannot properly know Jesus without the Old Testament, how can we possibly justify joining Stanley and declaring it mere reference material? Or even more practically, as many do, cast it aside in our daily Scripture reading?
The Bible is one book telling one story about one God. To unhitch from the Old Testament is to unhitch from the full identity, character, and revelation of God as well as the fullness of the gospel message. Ironically, this was the ongoing struggle of God’s people throughout the Old Testament - something we’ll never learn from or realize if we unhitch from it! Often the people of Israel “forgot” God or latched only to portions of his commands and character. If we too succumb to this temptation, we will end up worshipping the God we imagine in our finite little heads instead of the true God, the God of the whole Bible.
Don’t hide from the Old Testament. Don’t cower in fear. Don’t avoid it. And definitely don’t unhitch from it. Latch onto it, read it, study it, and fall in love with the God who reveals himself through it.
“The Old Testament is our book. We should never find ourselves saying ‘They came out of Egypt’ The Exodus redemption is my prehistory and yours. And what we call Old and New Testament is one magnificent story of God working out his age-long purpose of salvation, making promises and keeping them, inspiring predictions and fulfilling them, taking and preserving a people for his name and glory.” - Alec Motyer
In other words Mr. Stanley, you’re wrong. The Old Testament does tell the story of Jesus. The Old Testament is not detached from Jesus and the gospel because Jesus and the gospel are the fulfillment of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is not just historical reference, it’s my history, our history with God.
*Quotes from Andy Stanley’s sermon - available here to hear for yourself - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pShxFTNRCWI