Michael is an Author, Eagle Scout, and M.Div. graduate from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He enjoys classic literature like Ann of Green Gables as well as popular fiction like the Odd Thomas series. His hobbies include writing poetry and hymns, and spending time outdoors.
Many of you may have heard Andy Stanley’s statement that Christians must “unhitch” from the Old Testament. CBN, Charisma News, and the Gospel Coalition were all quick to write pieces labeling him as a Marcionite (see the New World Encyclopedia), but others, such as the Theologist Podcast, have claimed that “Andy Stanley is not wrong, just misunderstood,” and that he was taken out of context. So, which is true? Is Andy Stanley just misunderstood, or he is a Marcionite?
Below is a 15-minute excerpt from Stanley’s message and as you are watching, take notice of how he uses Scripture as a springboard into his own opinions about the text. Stanley gives absolutely zero supporting verses for any of his points, and this message is simply his own commentary on Acts 15 rather than actually the preaching of the Word. Whatever this is, it is not preaching the Word.
Andy Stanley errs from the beginning of this excerpt in speaking on Acts 15:19, saying that “God’s arrangement with Israel should now be eliminated from the equation.” Yet, the text is actually saying the exact opposite, James basing his conclusion on God’s arrangement with Israel. The problem is, Stanley overlooks the fact that the verse begins with “Wherefore.”
Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
Although, most newer translations such as the NIV render the verse to say “therefore,” the two words are not synonymous. This is most clear in that the translation committee for the KJV used both words at various times in the translation; there is a subtle distinction between the two. The word wherefore looks to the past and could be rendered “which is why,” emphasizing what has been said much more than the conclusion. The word therefore, however, primarily emphasizes the conclusion of what has been said much more than that which led up to the conclusion.
Thus, the verse could be rendered, “Which is why my sentence is…”, directing the people’s thoughts to what James had just said previously in verses 13-18 in which he quoted the prophet Amos (9:11-12) in the Old Testament as the basis for his conclusion. Stanley very subtly changes the conclusion by focusing on verse 19, placing a period at the end, and then focusing on verse 20 later. Yet, if you read the text carefully you will notice that the two verses are a single sentence, James’s focus on three particular things from which Christians should abstain. This is important because Stanley titled this sermon “Not Difficult,” thereby crafting the theme around a subordinate clause. The main sentence of this text reads:
Which is why my sentence is… that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
The context of the church’s meeting was in relation to circumcision; that is, the Gentile relationship to the ceremonial and civil laws of the Old Testament. James’s statement “that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” is in relation to the ceremonial practices of Israel, particularly in this specific case, circumcision, but is to applied to the ceremonial and civil practices as a whole, such as the question of the Sabbath, the dietary laws, the feast days, etc. It should never be taken as an elimination of the moral law because such is a reflection of God’s very nature and pertains to our relationship with God and each other, and such an interpretation like Andy Stanley’s contradicts the entire teaching of the apostles elsewhere in the New Testament.
Paul clearly declared to the Roman Christians, a primarily Gentile congregation, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). The apostle John also wrote to Christian believers saying, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). If we do away with God’s moral law, the next logical step is to do away with sin itself and any need to confess to God anything. The moral law does not save, but is the practical guidebook in the living out of the Christian life.
The Lord Jesus did not die to do away with the moral law, Galatians 3:13 saying, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” He has redeemed us from “the curse of the law,” and since the curse of the law has been silenced by the Gospel, we no longer have anything to fear from the law which continues to inform us about good works and leads us to repent when we sin. The Gospel and the grace of God motivates us in the keeping of the law in ways that we were totally incapable of doing on our own.
Andy Stanley asserts that the four imperatives in James’s conclusion “had nothing to do with keeping the law of Moses” and “everything to do with keeping the peace in the church.” Now, that sounds nice and perhaps would make a good viral post on Facebook or Twitter, but the question needs to be asked, where does the text actually say that? Yes, the latter two about food do seem to be concessions that the Gentiles are being asked to make, but since when is abstaining from idolatry or sexual immorality mere suggestions to keep unity in the church? Stanley even declares that the phrase “sexual immorality” is a subjective term, asking:
If I were to hand everyone a 3×5 card and I were to say, Tell me what this means [i.e. sexual immorality] or what this means to you, how many different answers would I get? About as many answers as there are cards.
Andy, part of the problem in churches today is what you have just described: asking people what something in the Bible means to them. Any particular text of Scripture only has one meaning, though it may have a variety of applications in life. Sexual immorality is never to be defined subjectively, but in accordance to what God has said it to be from His Word. Yet, Stanley asserts that since this is talking to Gentile believers who did not have the moral law, the term was only a subjective concession. This is very strange as it essentially negates the logic behind Stanley’s first point, that the church was made up of both Jews and Gentiles and that the ruling of the church at Jerusalem was to keep the peace between Jew and Gentile. It also very strangely assumes that the Gentile believers were not being catechized at all by the teachings of Paul and Barnabas, both of whom were pastors in the Antioch congregation. Yet, even if these two assumptions are made, all humans instinctively know that sexual immorality is wrong; just consider a young man like Joseph, who, 400 years before God gave the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, knew that adultery was a sin against God and a sin against his neighbor.
Furthermore, the apostles clearly defined in their writings what sexual immorality is and always connect it back to the Ten Commandments. Yet, Andy Stanley asserts:
This was a general call to avoid immoral behavior, but not immoral behavior as defined by the Old Testament, or the law and the prophets, because they didn’t have one; they weren’t Jewish.
This is patently untrue, though, because, as has been shown from Romans 3, without the law and the Old Testament there is no knowledge of sin. Yet, even if it was a totally Gentile congregation (which would refute Stanley’s first point), that still would not mean that they had no concept of what sexual immorality was based on God’s Law. Romans 2:14-15 says clearly:
( … For when the Gentiles, which having not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
The human conscience is a gift from God that keeps portions of His law perpetually with people even if they lose access to His Word. For Andy Stanley to say these Gentile believers would have had no concept of what sexual immorality is or how it is defined by the Old Testament Law is very strange, suggesting that the Ten Commandments have nothing to say to Christians today.
Yet, Stanley then brings up the apostle Paul, who had been teaching in Antioch for at least two years, and he says, “Do you know what the apostle Paul consistently tied sexual behavior to? Not the Old Covenant, not the Ten Commandments.” This is completely false, though, Paul stating clearly in Romans 13:8-10,
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that is loving another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
The Ten Commandments and God’s moral law are stated very clearly throughout the New Testament. For any theologian to even suggest “Thou shalt not obey the Ten Commandments because they aren’t your commandments,” he is opening the door for the affirmation of sins like cohabitation or homosexuality. This is particularly evident in Stanley’s comment:
You need to take Paul’s teaching on moral purity seriously because that has the potential to divide you as well because you have different religious customs when it comes to moral purity.
So now moral purity is subjective, different for each person. According to Andy Stanley’s reasoning, we need to just get rid of the Old Testament’s stringent laws about sexual immorality and simply be loving of people with different ideas of moral purity. According to Andy Stanley’s reasoning, church discipline as the Lord Himself outlined in Matthew 18 cannot be carried out because “moral purity” is subjective; who are we to say that a couple is wrong for cohabiting before marriage? Who are we indeed, apart from the authority of God’s Law.
Yet, Andy Stanley further asserts:
Paul tied sexual behavior to Jesus’s new commands… The old covenant law of Moses was not the go-to source regarding sexual behavior in the church. More importantly, the Old Testament was not the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church.
It is interesting the way Stanley juxtaposes the moral law and the teachings of Jesus in the words “old” and “new.” Jesus’s “new” command, “Love one another” (John 13:34-35), is not new in the sense of recent or different because it itself is from the Law (Leviticus 19:18). The word “new” used in John’s Gospel is the word καινος, kainos, which implies “freshness.” The Lord is presenting this old command in a fresh way; it is a summation of the moral law, and specifically, a summation of the Ten Commandments, the first five pertaining to one’s relationship with God while the last five pertain to one’s relationship with others. The key word, however, is that it is a summation of the Law. The Christian life can be summarized as a life of love for others, but such is only a summary, not an exhaustive statement. This is best explained in the apostle Paul’s words about the members of the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:9-11):
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [i.e. homosexuals], nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye were washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
This list of sins is word-for-word from the Law and the Law is the foundational authority for why such practices are wrong. Furthermore, the majority are not only from the Law, but are from the Ten Commandments. Idolatry is the result of an unloving spirit toward God; adultery is the result of an unloving spirit toward one’s spouse; fornication of any kind, including pornography, is the result of an unloving spirit that sees others as mere objects for personal gratification; thievery, covetousness, reviling, and extortion all boil down to an unloving spirit toward other human beings, and drunkenness is the result of a masochistic spirit, lacking in love for one’s self. The Christian life is a life of love in the simplest terms, but what does that mean in practical living? The Christian life is a life that shuns any and all kinds of unloving behavior, including all forms of idolatry, all forms of sexual immorality, thievery, coveting, reviling, extortion, and drunkenness.
Andy Stanley, therefore, is completely wrong when he says that the Old Testament is not the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church. By the way, the Old Testament was the Bible of the early churches during the Acts period, the New Testament in the process of being written. The quote may be a nice platitude that may make for a good viral post on social media, but doctrinally, it is completely false from the apostle Paul’s teachings throughout the New Testament. Contrary to this teaching by Andy Stanley, Christians are accountable to the Ten Commandments; the moral law does not save, but it convicts the Christian of his or her sin, leading to confession and repentance. This teaching by Andy Stanley is not merely Antinomianism; this is Marcionism, which is Antinomianism on steroids. Tertullian, who wrote 5 volumes against this heresy during the early days of Christianity, must be rolling in his grave.
Yet, you may ask, what’s the big deal? After all, he declared the truth of the gospel toward the end, affirming Jesus’s bodily resurrection from the grave. Why are you attacking a fellow believer? Well, first of all, it is very important regarding God’s desire for us to strive after holiness, even as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). However, what most Christians do not realize about the preaching of the gospel is that it is possible to preach the truth of the gospel in a wrong manner. The world will always ridicule the preaching of the gospel and regard it as folly: the Pharisees hated it in the Lord Himself, the Jews hated it in the apostles, and the Greeks in Rome hated it in the apostle Paul.
The message of the gospel in one sense is simple – Christ died, was buried, and rose again – and yet, the preacher of the gospel must be careful in how this message is proclaimed. The preacher of the gospel must declare Who this Jesus is that died and rose again, that He was born in total poverty in a stable because there was no room in the inn, that He grew up in a small town and trained as a humble carpenter, and was crucified in apparent weakness, having made exalted claims about Himself, while the mob was jeering at Him, “Thou who savest others, come down and save thyself if thou be the Christ.” That is the Messiah Who we proclaim as the God of Creation and Savior of the World: a poor carpenter who died upon a cross in the most humiliating fashion and yet, He condemns all of their sin and charges everyone to repent and believe only in Him. This is the Gospel of which Paul boldly said, “I am not ashamed” (Romans 1:16). Do you see why the Greek mind sees the true preaching of the gospel as “foolishness”? (1 Corinthians 1:23). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always offensive to the natural man and will always be ridiculed and held in contempt, and such is the true test of any exposition of the gospel. Does the message offend or annoy the natural man? If it does not do that, there is something wrong with the message somewhere, and it is possible to preach the cross while not offending anyone.
Yes, Andy Stanley said at the end that Jesus rose from the dead, but in such a way so as to appease the natural man’s skepticism of the Bible and particularly of the Old Testament. He describes the Old Testament as merely “the back story for the main story,” waxing eloquent in painting in almost Marcionite “dualist” terms an almost mythological portrayal of God as both “the Founder” and “the Father.” Stanley describes God “the Founder” as heroically on the move through violent ancient times playing by the rules of worldly kingdoms to establish a kingdom not of this world, then sending a King unlike any other king who would lay down his life for his subjects and introduce them all to God “the Father.” According to Andy Stanley, this means:
Jesus’s new covenant, His covenant with the nations, His covenant with you, His covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures. They were a means to that end. … The Bible did not create Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity. Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down. The question is did Jesus rise from the dead? And the eyewitnesses said he did.
Now, this sounds simply wonderful, but it sounds wonderful because it depicts God in heroic language that caters to human sensibilities. This gospel portrays a Christ who is far different from the poor, humble carpenter of the New Testament. The world likes a heroic Christ because they like to follow great leaders and model their lives after them. Thus, Christ is presented as a hero for the world to rise up and go after if they will only put in the effort to do so; the Old Testament does not have to be believed in totality in this gospel because after all, it is just “the back story for the main story.” Yet, when Christ is preached as One Who cannot be imitated, Who is a lowly carpenter Who died in weakness and Who condemns all people, then they will show their teeth and hate the preacher. And yet, that is the true gospel, bringing people to a personal understanding that, “I am so damned, lost, and hopeless that if Jesus had not died for me, I would never know God or be forgiven.”
Yes, the Old Testament is a bloody, violent book, but it is also a totally accurate record of how the world came into existence, where humans came from, where sin and death originated, and of the consequences of sin, and to reject it is to also reject either the need for a Savior or that sin matters to God. If the “whole house of Old Testament cards” tumbles down, the resurrection will go with it because the Old Testament prophets declared it and the autographs of the eyewitnesses are gone. The Bible must either be believed in totality or rejected in totality, for the apostle says that the saints “are built upon the foundation of the apostles [New Testament] and prophets [Old Testament], Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). Christianity was not launched at the Lord’s Resurrection; Christianity was launched when God first said to the serpent in the garden after man sinned, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). The Bible is one book, not two.