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.
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.
- 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.