Christianity "Unhitched" From Biblical Authority

Recapping the Controversy

For those not familiar with the most recent controversy over Andy Stanley, let me get you up to speed. Andy Stanley, an evangelical mega-church pastor, recently in a Sunday sermon, made controversial comments like these:

“[First century] Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures.”

“Peter, James, [and] Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.”

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    Many Christians criticized Stanley for attacking the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures. In response, Stanley dismissed the criticism as coming from people who did not understand the full context of the sermon. Stanley said he would not change anything about the sermon and responded directly to critics saying, “Let’s come together so we can do more. The faith of the next generation depends on it.” His only response to the theological issues raised by his critics was a reaffirmation of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy

Understanding Stanley

    First, let’s respond to what pastor Stanley appeared to be saying in his sermon, and then we will respond to what I think he intended to say. It certainly sounded like pastor Stanley was playing around with the old heresy of Marcionism. Marcion essentially lopped off the Old Testament from the Christian Scriptures. When Stanley called for Christians to “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament, he sure sounded like a follower of Marcion.

    Unfortunately, many Christians today may not understand what is so wrong with Marcionism. Simply put, the New Testament doesn’t allow for such a division between the Old and New Testament’s “worldview[s], value system[s], and regulations,” to use Andy Stanley’s chosen terms. Just think of 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, where Paul says 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.” Every reputable commentary says that Paul was clearly referring to the Old Testament text, as well as to the burgeoning New Testament writings. How could the Old Testament’s “worldview, value system, and regulations” be unhitched from the Christian faith, when Paul declares such a profound usefulness for the Old Testament in the Christian life? We could also point to Jesus’ comments on the relationship of the new covenant to the old in Matthew 5:17-19 or to Christ’s own use of the Old Testament law in his battles with Satan (Luke 4:1-13). All this to say, Marcion’s dismissive view of the Old Testament text is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. If Andy Stanley has any affinity with Marcion, he is playing with fire.

    Even while plenty of Andy Stanley's statements could be fairly construed as sympathetic to Marcion, I don’t think pastor Stanley is explicitly embracing Marcionism. I take Andy Stanley at his word when he aligns himself with the Chicago Statement's high view of the Old Testament. Let me paraphrase what I believe Andy Stanley is trying to say in the following paragraph. Remember, I could be wrong, but please listen to pastor Stanley's full sermon before you decide either way. 

    Hey there young educated person who is having trouble buying all of the supernatural, harsh sounding, historically unverifiable, and judgmental stuff in the Old Testament; I have great news for you! Even though I, Andy Stanley, believe all of the stuff in the Old Testament, you don’t have to in order to be a Christian. You don’t even have to believe all of the stuff in the New Testament, though again, I Andy Stanley certainly do! You just need to believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and was resurrected from the dead. Now, I know that sounds unbelievable too, but there is a very rational, historical, and a-biblical, argument to be made for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

The Danger of Apologetics Unhitched From Biblical Authority

    So, if indeed my assessment is correct, what’s the problem with what Andy Stanley is doing? Isn’t he simply lowering the bar of the Christian faith to a belief in the crucified and resurrected Jesus? I’m sure pastor Stanley would even say that a person will likely come to embrace the entire biblical witness, once they have time to mature in the faith. There is something true to all of this. No, a person does not need to have every doctrinal duck in a row or every doubt exorcised before becoming a Christian. Here, however, is the problem: Andy Stanley’s gospel proclamation is unhitched from biblical authority.

    As I said, pastor Stanley’s personal theology appears to be right in line with biblical orthodoxy on the issue of Scriptural authority. Andy Stanley’s apologetic and evangelistic approach, on the other hand, is not. Pastor Stanley does not approach the unbeliever like pastor Paul on Mars Hill who unashamedly proclaims the truth of creation (Acts.17:24, 25), of the historicity of Adam (26), of the importance of image-less worship (29), of the depth of humanity’s sinfulness and of God’s judgment through the resurrected Christ (30, 31). Most of these doctrines are found in the Old Testament text! These beliefs were incredibly offensive to the philosophers of the day, to whom Paul was speaking. The most offensive and unbelievable teaching, however, was the resurrection! Even in the days of the eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Christ, Paul’s hearers particularly mocked him for teaching “the resurrection of the dead” (32). 

    Stanley wants so badly for children of modernism and post-modernism to embrace the resurrected Jesus. He longs to tear down all unnecessary stumbling blocks; for this, I commend him. But to strip the gospel proclamation of its biblical authority, its “god breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) and “from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4) character, is to empty the gospel of an essential element. The gospel is an authoritative declaration by God, in His Scriptures, through the mouths of Christians, concerning God's gracious work in history, and culminating in Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4).  It is exceedingly untenable, then, to wrench Jesus' resurrection from the context of God's entire, authoritative work and Word, just as pastor Stanley finds it untenable to wrench isolated statements from the greater context of his own sermon.   

    The result of Andy Stanley’s apologetic is, I believe, one of two outcomes. Pastor Stanley’s preaching will either produce hardened unbelievers or anemic Christians. It will produce hardened unbelievers, because those who reject Stanley’s gospel will think they have rejected the most rational and defensible form of Christian belief, stripped of all its religious dogma. It will produce anemic Christians, because if the biblical text isn’t all that important for entering the faith, it couldn’t be all that important for remaining or progressing in the faith either. An apologetic unhitched from biblical authority can only produce a Christianity unhitched from biblical authority. As it has often been said - what you win them with, you win them to.  

What Do People Really Need to Hear Today? 

    I don’t think it’s even an arguable claim to say that pastor Stanley’s sermon fails to leave the listener with a greater appreciation for the necessity, the authority, the sufficiency, the coherency, the clarity, and the majesty of the biblical text. I have no doubt that pastor Stanley holds to such a doctrine of Scripture. I wonder, though, if our apologetic and evangelistic methodology shouldn’t, at least strive, to communicate that doctrine. Certainly on a Lord’s Day morning, the people of God need to be pointed away from their own autonomous judgments and directed back to the very standard and wellspring that defines and fuels their faith. They need a pastor who will stand against the tides of culture and say, as the Bible says hundreds of times, thus says the Lord.