“Unhitching” from a Misused Old Testament

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On Wednesday, The Christian Post ran an article about Pastor Andy Stanley’s recent sermon where he stated that, “Christians need to unhitch the Old Testament from their faith.” The Internet went crazy.

I’ve taken three days to think and process before I respond. Because, while I disagree with Pastor Stanley, I also agree. I believe that we do need to abandon the Old Testament in a way…just not the way he suggests.

Stanley expressed concern that the Old Testament has caused people to leave their faith, and he wanted people to reconsider a Jesus without all the baggage of the the “Jewish Scriptures.” Unfortunately, while that’s really sweet, it doesn’t exactly line up with 2 Timothy 3:14-17. Paul is talking to his young disciple, Timothy.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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.”

Since Timothy grew up while the New Testament was being written, all he had were the Old Testament Scriptures. He learned them from childhood and they gave him wisdom to understand salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Wait! Aren’t these the same Scriptures Andy Stanley is worried will push people away from faith?

Paul very clearly tells us that all Scripture has been breathed out by God. Peter confirms this in 2 Peter 1:20-21.

“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Again, since the New Testament was still being written, both Peter and Paul are referring to the “Hebrew Bible” as Pastor Stanley called it.

Can I make a bold statement?

The problem isn’t with the Old Testament itself. The problem is what Evangelical Christianity has been doing with it, often with the very best of intentions.

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Well meaning pastors, Sunday school teachers, and college professors teach the historical stories and add opinion and explanation that just isn’t in Scripture. It’s not always wrong, but that doesn’t make it right.

I’m reading Judges right now in my morning Coffee & Jesus time and I’m in shock. Half of what I assumed was in there just isn’t. There are no cute morals, or mysterious formulas, or detailed exposes. It’s just history. Stories of God and people. The thing that is hitting me the most is the utter lack of condemnation. The people are messed up, and God patiently uses them anyway with abundant grace. Maybe He’s always been like that.

Why do we feel the need to add a moral or a formula to every Bible story? Why do I have to find a way to apply them to my life? I don’t apply George Washington to my life! Can’t I just read these stories of real people, observe their successes and failures and be awestruck by God’s absolute faithfulness?

The Old Testament has also been horribly misused across Christianity. It gets distorted in an attempt to control people all the time. Where did my old cult leader get most of his ideas? By using the Old Testament out of context. In fact, just about every strange group or slightly-theologically-off person I’ve ever come in contact with was was basing their beliefs on the Old Testament.

We need to acknowledge a fact. The number of people who have been spiritually abused by a misapplication of the Old Testament is devastating. Which is why I agree with Andy Stanley that we need to unhitch ourselves from the Old Testament…just not from the real one.

Instead of unhitching from the Old Testament, let’s ditch the one we think we know and start over. Let’s read it correctly and in context.

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  • If it’s a history book, then enjoy the stories of God interacting with His precious creation. Watch for the hints that a Savior is coming, and marvel at the appearances of the pre-incarnate Jesus.
  • If it’s a law book, then stand in awe of the fact that it was never actually about those laws. It was always pointing us to Christ and our need for a Savior. Remember that Jesus came and fulfilled every bit of that law for us.
  • If it’s a book of prophecy,  then be struck by awe and slight terror as God describes Himself. Rejoice at the fact that Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies when he came to earth. (Side note: we have GOT to stop trying to apply those prophecies personally. Most prophecies are specific to Israel and have already been fulfilled.)
  • If it is a book of songs, then experience the beautiful, raw emotion of an intimate relationship between a human being and their Creator.

And if we are confused or have a problem with something as we read the Old Testament, let’s wrestle with it. Dive into Biblical culture and the customs of the day. Dig, seek, and ask questions. But please don’t read someone else’s blog (even this one) and just believe their opinion.

We need the whole Bible to get a accurate picture of God, ourselves, and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We can’t trash parts because they are confusing or uncomfortable. But we can take the time to wrestle through them for ourselves. That wrestling will bring us face to face with an unexpected God who is patiently waiting to reveal Himself to those who seek.

The real Jesus is worth it! But don’t take my word for it. 🙂

“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” John 4:42.

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14 thoughts on ““Unhitching” from a Misused Old Testament

  1. One of this things I love about your blog is that it is fascinating to watch your journey away from your former cage (you know what I mean!) and out into freedom. This post signifies another step along that path. Keep wrestling with things, Christy; I do believe Father expects nothing less 🙂

  2. So true. The entire bible is God inspired and profitable for learning. It’s main goal and purpose is to point to Jesus. Yet so often we mix the old and new covenant by being saved by grace and trying to live by law. That part of the old covenant we need to unhitch from without throwing out the history of God relating to humanity. You are so right, the institutional church has misused the old covenant over the years and it is time we unhitch from that way of thinking. Good article.

  3. Another great post! Might I add that the very same factors apply to misuse of the New Testament as well? I continue to see the look of horror on well-meaning faces whenever I try to gently suggest that because there is ‘only on truth’ does not mean that you, I or anyone else has all the answers. Or that everyone else should interpret scripture exactly in the way we do.

    I believe the problem, as your lovely post points out, is when often well-meaning people are led to believe that the bible is something other than it is. (I know, them’s fightin’ words to a conservative inerrantist! I used to argue about it into the wee hours of the night with ‘liberal’ friends.) But the fact is, conservative christians have been led down a false path, with promises to protect their children from the evil culture, save the unborn and – my least favorite – ‘make America great again’.

    They allow themselves to be brainwashed into trusting whichever authority they happen to be under, which assures the that they understand ‘the truth’ of scripture. As if the problem of sin is that for centuries people just didn’t get it like they do. In reality, truth is something to which God has to very, very patiently open our hearts, minds and eyes – and it is done on a one on one basis.

    God does not tell me the truth to be delivered to my family and friends. Nor does he do so with our favorite pastor. He works with each of us, individually, as we each have a unique set of baggage, weaknesses, personality factors, needs, goals and situation. There is no one size fits all, just apply this bandage to sin, anymore than there are magic pills that make years of abuse to our body disappear.

    Here’s the thing: even as God does gently lead me into greater understanding, I cannot then turn around and push it down the throats of others. I have to allow God to be God, and do with them as he is doing with me. If I am a parent, I have to allow my adult children to learn their own lessons, make their own mistakes and choose their own flavor of relating to God. Too many parents desire to spare their children the pain they experienced, but, I’ve got bad news: it can’t be done.

    Each one of us has to walk our own walk, and we can neither demand or expect that our children’s walks will look just like ours. And in a broader, life-giving sense, we must understand this to be true of others as well. The church does not need to produce cookie cutter christians who all believe the orthodox ‘truth’ of that particular institution. They need to incite a passion and hunger for God, and challenge each person to trust his ability to lead them in the paths he knows they need to take.

    • I love this! We have to “allow God to be God…” Beautiful! We also have to understand that our understanding of “truth” changes as we get to know the heart of God better. And that’s okay!! It’s not about having the perfect doctrine or theology; it’s about having a living relationship with Jesus. 😊

  4. My wife and I have just watched all three of Andy’s sermon in the “Aftermath” series back-to-back without stopping. We agreed with everything he said and I think he would agree with you, too, Christy.

    I understood him to say that the OT is valuable but it is not the foundation of our faith, which many have tried to make it.

    You wrote, “We need the whole Bible to get a accurate picture of God, ourselves, and our Savior, Jesus Christ.” I agree, and I think Andy would agree too. But we need to understand what he stated so clearly, that the OT is the covenant with the Children of Israel, not with us. We have New Covenant that is open not just to one nation but to the whole world. We need to read the OT as it leads in to the NT, but not to use it as a rule book. The NT is a better covenant as the book of Hebrews points out time and again. It’s better, simpler and more difficult at the same time.

    The Old Covenant was conditional: keep the rules and I’ll bless you; break them and you’re off to exile, amongst other things. The New Covenant is founded on Jesus’ death and resurrection. His love for all the world is unconditional, and that’s the Gospel. It replaces the Old Covenant. We have only to respond to it.

    As James, the brother of Jesus, said ending the early Council at Jerusalem (see Acts 15: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+15&version=NIV), “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”

    Neither should we!

      • BTW, thanks to this blog post, my wife and I are now watching Andy Stanley on YouTube every evening (recent talks at Northpoint Community Church). He’s an excellent communicator and we love the way he reaches out to the unchurched and those losing faith. He also makes it so clear how shocking many of the things Jesus said would have been to his Jewish listeners.
        So we owe you for putting us on to him; it’s doing us an eternity of good!

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