Originally published May 18, 2018
Oops, he did it again. Only it wasn’t an “oops”, it was quite intentional.
In a recent sermon, Andy Stanley declared that the modern church needs to “unhitch” the gospel from the Old Testament. He attempted to draw a parallel between James’ pronouncement in Acts 15 that Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism prior to becoming Christians with the difficulty some non-Christians today have with some of the gory, hard to understand, or otherwise distasteful (to them) passages of the Old Testament (for example: God’s various commands to Israel to utterly destroy all people in certain nations). The apostles cut out the requirement for circumcision to make things easier for Gentiles who wanted to come to Christ, he reasons, so the 21st century church should basically divorce itself from the Old Testament to make it easier for lost people who have a problem with certain Old Testament passages to come to Christ.
There’s only about a million problems with this line of thinking, and, honestly, the more I investigate what Stanley said and his subsequent explanations of why he said it and what he meant, the angrier it makes me. That a man with a master’s degree from a decent seminary, who’s a pastor of several churches, a best-selling “Christian” author, and a leadership and church growth guru to thousands of pastors across the globe should say, or even believe, such things is reprehensible. If he were generally doctrinally sound and this was the first “iffy” thing he had ever said, I’d be inclined to extend grace and give him the benefit of the doubt. But this is somebody with every theological advantage who should know better, yet still has been on a trajectory of attempting to deconstruct the New Testament church for quite some time now. (For more on Andy Stanley’s aberrant theology, click the “Popular False Teachers” tab at the top of this page.)
1. Andy Stanley is not an apostle personally commissioned by Christ to set up the New Testament church. James and those other guys mentioned in Acts? They were. Andy doesn’t have the authority to change New Testament ecclesiology, which is permanently and inextricably hitched to the Old Testament.
2. Acts is generally a descriptive book, not a prescriptive one. While there are certain principles we can learn from Acts and follow, it’s a history of the establishment of the first century church, not a step by step list of instructions to implement in today’s church. If there were a church today that was insisting Gentiles become Jews before they could become Christians, Acts 15 would be applicable. But I don’t know of any churches like that, do you?
3. The two church scenarios Andy is trying to make analogous aren’t. No church I know of requires unbelievers to understand, agree with, or even have read whatever Old Testament passages Andy thinks are problematic prior to becoming a Christian.
Furthermore, how many lost people are actually out there saying, “I recognize I’m a sinner in need of a Savior. I want to repent of my sin and place my faith in Christ for salvation, but I just can’t, because of 1 Samuel 15:2-3.”? People who bring up Old Testament passages like that when confronted with the gospel are presenting excuses for rejecting the gospel, not looking for ways to embrace it.
4. Shoving difficult passages of Scripture into the broom closet is not how God has instructed the church to handle His holy Word. We’re to be “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15b) We don’t get rid of challenging passages, we dive into them, study them, and explain them to others.
The Old Testament is absolutely essential to New Testament Christianity, and a rich blessing to the church, individual Christians, and lost people, besides. Here are six reasons you and your church should stay hitched to the Old Testament.
God says so
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. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
That should be the end of any discussion of ditching any part of Scripture for any reason. God could not have been clearer. “All Scripture” means all Scripture, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. And every single verse of Scripture is profitable. Even the genealogies. Even the inventories. Even the Levitical law. There is stuff in every single verse of the Bible that is useful and beneficial to us. God says so (and He says so in the New Testament, by the way).
You need the Old Testament
to understand the New Testament
Can you come to a saving knowledge of Christ by reading only the New Testament? Yes. But it’s kind of like saying, “I know American history,” when you’ve only studied the years 1900 to the present. The New Testament was birthed out of the Old Testament. The gospel is the culmination of Old Testament doctrine. Jesus Himself is the ultimate fulfillment of every Old Testament prophecy and covenant.
And then there are all the New Testament details that need explaining. Who are these Jews and how did they come to be God’s people? Why do they have such a problem with Gentiles? What are these laws the Pharisees keep talking about? If Jesus is the “second Adam”, who was the first Adam? What on earth is circumcision anyway? And…Hebrews? What’s that all about?
The Old Testament teaches how we CAN’T be saved
Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. Galatians 3:24 (NASB)
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. 2 Timothy 3:15
How was the Old Testament Law our tutor to lead us to Christ? How was it able to make Timothy wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus? It shows us the futility of thinking we can keep the law to earn righteousness. It shows us that right standing with God always comes by repentance and faith, not works. How many times have you shared the gospel with someone only to hear her say some variation of, “I’m OK with God and I’m going to Heaven because I’m a good person.”? Really? Take a stroll through the Old Testament, and watch how “good” God’s chosen people were. He spelled everything out for them, sent them prophets to tell them exactly what He wanted them to do, performed amazing miracles right before their eyes, and they still couldn’t be “good people.” And you, a pagan, think you can do better?
Remember the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”? Some smarty pants came up with the rejoinder, “Yes, but you can feed him salt.” The Old Testament is our salt. Its lessons in the futility of trying to be good makes us thirsty for the Living Water we find in the New Testament.
The Old Testament vividly shows us
God’s wrath against our sin
I’m not saying the Old Testament only shows us God’s wrath against sin, because it also shows us His compassion, mercy, and love. I’m also not saying the New Testament doesn’t show us God’s wrath. It does, but in a different way than the Old Testament does. In the New Testament, the main ways we see God’s wrath against sin is when it’s poured out on Christ at the cross, and the wrath of God that’s yet to come as it’s described in Revelation.
When it comes to God’s wrath against me, personally, for my individual sin, those demonstrations of God’s wrath can feel a little detached sometimes. But in the Old Testament, I see, in vivid detail, the horrific plagues God rained down on Pharaoh for his sin. I see the ground open up and swallow Korah for his rebellion. I see God immolating Nadab and Abihu for offering illegal worship. I see the once mighty and majestic Nebuchadnezzar forced out into the wilderness to live like an animal because he took God’s glory for himself. And when I know that God doesn’t change – that His wrath towards my sin as a lost person burns just as hot as it did toward those Old Testament rebels – well, it can hit a lot closer to home and convince me of my need to run to the cross and throw myself on the mercy of Christ.
The Old Testament teaches by example
The largest portion of the Old Testament is history and biography. Most of the New Testament is didactic. The New Testament gives us the subject matter we need to learn. The Old Testament puts flesh and blood on it and shows us what it’s like for real, flawed people just like you and me to walk it out. In the New Testament, we learn “by grace are you saved through faith.” In the Old Testament, we see just how God accomplished that in the life of Noah, who found grace in the eyes of the Lord. In the New Testament we learn what it means to repent. In the Old Testament, we walk with David through the loss of his child and his grief over his sin with Bathsheba. In the New Testament, we learn that the godly will face persecution. In the Old Testament, we stand next to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to bow to an idol, even if it means being burned alive. The New Testament gives the facts of the matter. The Old Testament says, “For example…”.
The Old Testament is a warning to the church
People are people. God’s people of the Old Testament are not significantly different from God’s people today. We’re all made in the image of God. We’re all tempted by similar things.
If you begin studying the Old Testament, you can’t help but notice some of the same themes running through the story of God’s people back then that run through our story today. Idolatry. Ecumenism. Doing what’s right in our own eyes. Going through the motions of religious activity without true repentance and faith. Depending on our own power and resources rather than depending on God. False prophets. Persecution and derision of those who stand firmly on God’s Word by those who claim to be His people. Fickle hearts and tickled ears. Oh sure, we might be a little more sophisticated and subtle about it, but, as Solomon put it:
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9
And because the Old Testament shows us more direct interpersonal interaction between God and His people, we get to see exactly how God feels about all of those things. We hear what He has to say about it. We see how He responds to it. And, if we’re wise, we take heed to those warnings, humble ourselves, and grow in our fear of the Lord and our desire to please Him with holy living and clean worship.
I could give far more than a mere six reasons why the Old Testament is so vital, a precious blessing, and such a spiritual treasure trove. It tells us where we, and the world around us, came from. It shows us the beauty and precision of worship. It extols the charm of Creation. It displays God’s power, grace, trustworthiness, mercy, justice, His plan for mankind, and all of His other attributes. And so much more.
Are there some passages in the Old Testament that are hard to understand or accept at first blush? Sure. But they’re not keeping anybody from coming to Christ. People reject Christianity, not because of difficult Old (or New) Testament Scriptures, but because they love their sin more than Jesus. And that’s no reason to unhitch anything or anyone from the beauty, the joy, and the benefits of the Old Testament.
How has the Old Testament been profitable in your walk with the Lord?