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Andy Stanley and the Dismissal of the OT

Earon James

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a message by Andy Stanley, the senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. It was the third installment in a series entitled “Aftermath.” Pastor Stanley told the congregation that he wanted to speak to those who were lost or had lost faith due to something in the Bible, specifically the Old Testament. As a pastor myself, I preach and teach to God’s people from God’s Word on a weekly basis, so I was very interested to hear this pastor encourage his people and maybe even be encouraged myself.

Unfortunately, as I listened, I felt everything but encouraged. I found Stanely’s message to be deeply troubling.

Something New?

He spoke from Acts chapter 15 which details how the leaders in Jerusalem responded to the gospel spreading to non-Jewish people. The main idea was that the Old Testament Scriptures are basically obsolete and have no bearing on the lives of Christians in the new covenant. Pastor Stanley made the point that the apostle Paul did not tie sexual immorality to the OT. He said, “The old covenant was not the go-to source regarding sexual behavior for the church…The Old Testament was not the go-to source for any behavior for the church.”

He went on to say, “Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish Scriptures.” Concerning the Ten Commandments, Stanley remarked, “You are not accountable to the Ten Commandments, we’re done with that. God has done something new.”

There is not enough space for me to deal with every point of his message. For the purpose of this post, I contend that his line of reasoning goes against the testimony of Scripture itself and diminishes the significance of the OT in the proclamation of the gospel. It is a betrayal of Jesus’ view of the OT and exposes a serious level of cultural illiteracy in regard to the critical role the OT has played in the history of marginalized people and black people in particular.

I write these words with a heavy heart and with the conviction that this teaching is not in accordance with sound doctrine. It does harm to the people of God and misrepresents the kingdom of God. It must be exposed and publicly refuted.

The Testimony of Scripture

Sacred Scripture testifies concerning itself. The testimony of the Bible is what discredits Stanley’s argument. He made the point that the OT bore no authority on the ethics of the church sexual or otherwise, but what about Paul’s instruction to Timothy? Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 CSB).

In this passage, Paul affirms the divine origin of the OT and its definitive relevance to the life and ministry of Timothy and the church at Ephesus. Paul encouraged the Christians in Rome to live at peace with one another and forsake personal vendettas by using teaching from the book of Proverbs (Prov. 20:22). Hebrews 11 is packed with OT allusions that illustrate lives of faith. Peter employed several OT passages when reminding the faithful exiles of their identity as the people of God (2 Peter 9-10). James leaned on the book of Job and the prophet Isaiah when he highlighted concern for the orphan and widow as marks of true religion (James 1:27). In fact, the NT Scriptures quote the OT well over 200 times and the number is significantly higher if you count the allusions to the OT.

The Old Testament and the Proclamation of the Gospel

The OT was absolutely essential to the proclamation of the gospel and remains so even today. Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost was saturated with it. He showed the people that what they were witnessing was a fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken through the prophet Joel (Acts 2:17-21). He also used the Psalms to proclaim Christ as Lord and the reality of his bodily resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:25-36).

Stephen preached prophetically from the OT before he was martyred (Acts 7) and Philip used the words of Isaiah to preach Christ to the Ethiopian Eunuch who subsequently professed faith in Jesus and was baptized. The apostle Paul made it a point to let his readers know that the promises of the gospel were made previously through the OT (Romans 1:1-7).

The author of Hebrews took great care to explain from the prophet Jeremiah that the law of God is written on the hearts of God’s people (Hebrews 8:8-12) as promised beforehand.

When the gospel was proclaimed in Berea, they examined the OT in order to prove the veracity of the message (Acts 17:10-12). The OT did not become less important as Stanley asserted, it actually became clearer. All of Scripture speaks to the great redemptive work of God and testifies to his amazing grace.

Jesus’ View of the Old Testament

Jesus had a high view of the OT. He wielded OT passages as he overcame the temptations of Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). The Lord responded repeatedly, “It is written…” He referred to the OT when he taught on the sanctity of marriage, the tragedy of divorce, and sexual ethics (Matthew 5:27-32; 19:1-12). When Jesus was questioned about the greatest commandment, he quoted the book of Deuteronomy (Matthew 22:34-40). The commands to love God and neighbor did not replace the Law and the Prophets; these commands actually rest on the Law and the Prophets.

Perhaps, the Lord’s greatest affirmation of the OT came after his resurrection. On the road to Emmaus, he used the writings of Moses and the Prophets to explain his person and work to two of his disciples (Luke 24:25-27). He later appeared to the whole group and said, “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Jesus view of the OT is clear and we would do well to esteem the OT as he did.

Cultural Illiteracy

As I listened to the entirety of the message, I was perplexed by the level of cultural illiteracy on display. As someone who was nurtured as a child and discipled as a young man in the black church, the thought of dismissing the OT as a roadblock to the faith is inconceivable. It makes me wonder if Andy Stanley really knows or even cares about the great narrative of black people.

I can recall sermon after sermon preached from the OT text. We were encouraged, we celebrated, we prayed and interceded, and we lifted our voices with shouts of praise and adoration to the God of heaven and earth as he was proclaimed from the OT.

There is also a greater historical factor than my personal experience. Many of our ancestors who were forced to endure the evils of race-based chattel slavery for centuries looked to the God revealed in the book of Exodus to set them free one day. It is no accident that the great liberator Harriet Tubman was referred to as Moses.

In “The Bible in History: How the Texts Have Shaped the Times,” David Kling writes: [pullquote position=”right”]“Not surprisingly, no other group has appropriated the Exodus theme so often and in so many diverse ways as African American Christians. The biblical Exodus is their story…Exodus themes permeated the consciousness of African American slaves, shaped the outlook of free blacks, and, in our own time, retain a powerful hold in the African American community.”[/pullquote]

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once echoed the voice of the prophet Amos as he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. He said, “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Space and time prohibit me from listing more examples, but history is replete with them. The OT is vital to Christian faith, ethics, and gospel proclamation. It is a well of encouragement that we can return to repeatedly to quench our thirsty souls. Neglecting it would leave our faith anemic, our preaching shallow, and our theology incomplete.

15 thoughts on “Andy Stanley and the Dismissal of the OT

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  4. Marty

    Stanley has let the “success” of NP go to his head, and he’s learned the narcissistic modus operendi that “all publicity is good publicity.” I used to truly appreciate his message. But in the last few years he’s let his own dubious view of his self-importance to the modern church go to his head (e.g. small churches are selfish, etc.)

  5. Brian Jackson

    Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
    “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58)

    This teaching by Andy Stanley is tantamount to saying that God is not the same yesterday, today and forever. That cannot stand. This has been weighing on me since that sermon.

    God has been clear about his promises to entire world from the beginning. The original covenant with Abraham says as much “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).

    This prophecy from Daniel is so clear and absolutely nothing here has changed in the New Testament:
    “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13–14).

    I am encouraged by your article and I had to respond. I hope others are encouraged and at least made curious to read for themselves to understand who God is.

  6. John T. Hardie

    First to Adam Shields, thank you. Secondly, to Mark Kindle, if you see my post from May 14, I indicated there that I think Andy was “up to something slightly more nuanced than what many have described.” To cut to the chase, I think you are right, Mark. However, I think for those who care about taking the Bible more seriously (not less seriously), there are good reasons to re-read some of the biblical texts we have taken for granted – and I mean by “we” those of us who have trafficked in conservative American evangelicalism for decades. So, perhaps not so ironically, I think both Adam is right and Mark is right; Adam is right to point out the context of Andy’s specific comment – a comment which surely should not be absolutized to the exclusion of decades of Andy having taught and preached from the OT with extraordinary commitment to the authority of Scripture. So Andy’s “unhitched” comment does not render Andy a Marcionite – that’s a half-baked absurd judgment foisted upon a man who has done everything other than what someone like Paul Tillich did in trying to formulate a Christology wholly uninformed by the Hebrew Bible. However, without question, if Andy had asked me (he didn’t), I would have certainly recommended different, more helpful language, such as, we are “unhitching” the OT from moralistic, conservative forms of religion, to which white American evangelicalism has been unfortunately culturally captive for decades. And instead, we are hitching the OT to Christ – we are going to try to read the OT the way Jesus himself illustrated in what he did with OT texts in Luke 24. Notice that Luke makes the point twice – the OT points us to Christ – that has to become our primary theological lens for reading Scripture. It is the way the NT writers themselves read the OT. Take a look at how the writer of Hebrews reads OT texts thru Christological ‘types’ of prophet, priest and king. This is not new – but it is brilliant – and it’s the way Calvin explicitly taught how we should read OT texts for the benefit of helping folks understand, see and experience Jesus Christ giving himself to us via the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures (WCF I:10). But to Mark’s point, I think he is also right – I think Andy is up to something more nuanced. My sense, in trying to be a faithful reader of biblical texts, as well as understanding the centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ as the telos or end goal of all of the Scriptures, especially the OT (even though Andy did not express that the way I think most helpful), at the same time, I sense Andy is doing what all pastors faithful to biblical texts need to do – to re-examine exactly how the church uses the Bible, ask very difficult questions which many if not most may be averse to doing – and then begin to see the church reformed according to Scripture, since it is the case that Scripture is the only unquestionable authority. That is what the Reformers meant by sola Scriptura – Scripture alone is the only unquestionable authority. Couple that with semper reformanda – the church is to always be being changed according to Scripture, and you have in that couplet of theological commitments every justification for questioning the faithfulness of any pastor not committed to doing what Andy strikes me as wanting to do, whether or not he pulled it off perfectly or not. So while I think Mark is right, I do not share the same pejorative projection of negative judgment upon Andy’s motives or intentions or the very project he may be up to. I want to be clear: I don’t care how safe and secure one thinks one’s reading of Scripture stands supported by the vast majority of white conservative American evangelicalism, the task to which I suspect Andy has set himself is absolutely the task that must be taken up by every single person and especially pastor who wants to be faithful to Scripture. Of course the other option is to simply come clean that one has forgone commitment to Scripture as the only unquestionable authority (sola Scriptura) and one is not really committed to the church being continually changed according to Scripture (semper reformanda). One may eventually differ with where Andy ends up, what he eventually might say – not to mention where I may end up or what I might say – but to conclude that commitment to authority of Scripture precludes one from honestly wrestling with such hair-raising, scary as you-know-what questions, questions that question our most basic assumptions and commitments, that is the greater issue to be concerned about. For some reason, both conservative leaders in conservative churches, and conservative pastors, think they already have all the answers to some of the vexing questions being put on the table right now. As clear as I can say it, because I care about the Bible being taken more seriously, they don’t.

  7. Mark Kindle

    As a former member of Northpoint, let me fill you in on the context for that sermon. Check out his infamous “Gracie and Truthie” sermon of a year ago. It deals with the participation of homsexuals on the Northpoint staff (a problem). Knowing this background, the following is my remarks to a friend and also former member of Northpoint of what the “Aftermath” sermon means.

    Andy Stanley made two key statements in that “Aftermath” sermon:

    1. The Ten Commandments and the OT law should not be our go-to source for morality.
    2. In the Book of Acts, the gospel was made more INCLUSIVE.

    Where do you think he is leading Northpoint? If you deny that the OT law is the norm for defining morals, you open the door for “new” relationships. If you spout “inclusiveness” aren’t you opening the door wider for other types of relationships?

    There are “theologians” now (like Matthew Vines) that are saying Christians can be homosexual if they have a committed homosexual relationship. Andy Stanley has invited speakers such as Jen Hatmaker to Northpoint – she has come out in favour of gay couples.

    I think Andy Stanley is opening the door to Northpoint for this…subtly preparing the congregation to be more “open” and “inclusive” for all types of relationships WITHOUT EXPLICITLY SAYING SO.

    If that ever happens, I wonder how the other ministers on his staff will react? In fact I’m wondering how comfortable some of them are with that sermon he preached? Surely one of them must be having second thoughts about Stanley’s direction???

    Notice how subtle his approach is – he cannot admit homosexual relations in the church while his famous father is alive (with whom he did have a rupture for a decade). So he hints at “inclusiveness.” What do you think “inclusiveness” and a denial of OT morality as a church basis WILL LEAD TO???

  8. Toviyah


    “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.” (Deuteronomy 32:7)


  9. h l munsey

    i’m not surprised at all seeing as how his daddy preaches. daddy tries to ‘soften’ the WORD as so to not hurt peoples feelings. he never digs into the (reality) of HELL. and people love this. that’s why he and his ministry is worth over 40 million dollars. and daddy stanley says one can go to heaven if one doesn’t love GOD. and he also teaches that GOD doesn’t want anyone to be ill, sick. he intertwines his preaching with the emphasis on ‘self-esteem ‘ and humanism. he doesn’t fool me. he’s a ‘slickster’. his preaching is DEFINITELY HUMAN CENTERED. so i’m not surprised that his son is on the same path. not only do i feel sorry for him and his son, i feel very sorry for the people that embrace what they teach and preach.

    thank you for the good informative article.

  10. Adam Shields

    I am a member at Buckhead, one of the North Point sites and where Andy Stanley is primarily preaching from now. I was at this sermon and heard much of the larger context and I have been a member here for nearly 12 years now.

    So I have a bias to support Andy Stanley, or I would not still be a member. I do think he overly hyperbolic at times, but I do think that the majority of takes on this sermon have missed what his point was. I do think that there is a point of how and why we use the OT as this critique points out. But Andy isn’t saying that the OT isn’t important, he isn’t staying it ins’t divinely inspired, he isn’t saying that the OT should be wholly rejected.

    The focus of the sermon, and the three part series was ‘what now’. After Christ’s resurrection, what has changed?

    The first session was primarily about the second commandment and how it is not the starting basis for our ethics as Christians. It isn’t that the OT doesn’t have a way to speak into our lives as Christians, but we are no longer Jews, but followers of Christ. The OT law doesn’t save us, Christ does. Our faith is influenced by the fact that Christ was Jewish and that the story of Israel is a story of faithfulness of God in the midst of unfaithfulness of Israel.

    But now, the second commandment is the way that we illustrate the first. We know that we love God because we love others. So as Christians our ethics are rooted not in OT cultural and liturgical law, but on Jesus’ summary of what it means to illustrate our love for God.

    This third sermon then is primarily about what it means for Paul to teach non-Jews what it means to be Christian. The answer in Acts 15 is that non-Jews did not become Jewish. It isn’t that Stanley is saying that the OT is irrelevant to our modern faith. But that the OT was not the basis for faith in the early church, Jesus Christ was.

    Stanley isn’t rejecting the OT as non-Christian, but as something that is informative of our Christian faith, but not the root of our Christian faith.

    I think part of the context that is necessary to understand the sermon is in your discussion of your learning about the OT as a child. The vast majority of those that are coming to faith at the Northpoint campuses are people that either have no Christian background or have a difficult legalistic background and they are coming back to faith after previously rejecting it.

    I think this is partially illustrated by the discussion about the world Evangelical. The word has come to mean while cultural/political conservative. And there are still many that are political and cultural conservatives within the church. But many within the church were taught that white cultural/political conservatism and were taught that the belief in that conservatism, often with heavy reliance on OT systems of ethical development and political theory (God is the God of America, If my people will repent and call upon my name then I will save them, and by them I mean Americans that were a chosen people).

    As we eventually move out of the train wreck that is the White Evangelical world and its support of Trump, there will be a whole generation that will have to be retaught what Christian ethics means and how they are developed. I honestly think that some of Stanley’s rhetorical method is too hyperbolic. But I think the evangelistic intent is basically right. Our ethics is based on the table and the commitment to our brothers and sister in Christ (and those that may become brothers and sisters in Christ) not on fulfilling commands abstracted from understanding the imago dei of the other.

    Andy frequently says (a bit more than I am comfortable with honestly) that you don’t have to be a Christian to benefit from the ethical teaching of the OT and the wisdom of proverbs and the model of OT figures as illustrations of how to live. He believes that there is benefit to following the law. It is that he doesn’t believe we should be placing our cultural understanding of the law on new Christians that do not have a background in the cultural understanding of it. And I think that is true to Paul and Luke’s description of the events of Acts 15.

  11. Wesley Baker

    It sounds as if Mr. Stanley is embracing something called New Covenant Theology (I’ve had a few champions of this line of thought speak at my church). Among its distinctives are a dismissal of the Ten Commandments (with an emphasis on sabbath), a rejection of all commands given before Jesus was resurrected as binding, and a strong preference for the Pauline epistles. A common theme is that we, as new covenant believers are no longer under the law of Moses, just the law of love. The new covenant to them, was inaugurated with Christ’s resurrection, and, therefore, everything in the Bible before the resurrection is old covenant and is dead (including the sermon on the mount and large parts of Jesus’ teaching). Its Marcionism in new clothes with familiar words. There have not been many rebuttals of this view that I have read, and I especially appreciate an opportunity of understand importance of a full biblicism to the African American experience.

  12. Ben Puckett

    Great article! Although it’s unfortunate that you and many others responding to Stanley have to say these things. It seems like common sense to me that the OT is important. If it causes people to lose faith then preach from it so that your congregation can understand it better. People think God is mean in the OT and loving in the NT. God’s grace, patience, and love permeate the pages of the OT. It’s everywhere, maybe not explicitly stated and easily seen such as in passages from 1 John.

    I think your last statement sums this up very well and if anyone asks me my thoughts, I’m just going to quote you!

  13. John T. Hardie

    I appreciate your piece. I’d want to put an emohasis on the Luke 24 passages you brought up. The reason is because the OT has enormous value for Christology – for instance reading prophet, priest, and king motifs in the OT as finding their greatest fulfillment in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. I think Andy Stanley was up to something slightly more nuanced than what many have described, but suffice it to say, without the prophetic, priestly, and kingly aspects of the Person and work of Jesus Christ we would be left with an incredibly impoverished Christology

  14. Bruce Knowlton

    You’re so right. Apparently neither biblical nor cultural literacy are necessary to make it big in mega-church ministry anymore. More importantly, you’ve articulated why a truncated, foundationless gospel is bad news for everyone, black and white alike.

    Here’s a technical point you may want to address to strengthen your argument further: the commands to love God and neighbor don’t in fact rest on the law and prophets. Jesus said “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” That is, the law and the prophets are in service of the greatest commandment. At first glance, this may seem to undermine your point, as some people, Stanley perhaps among them, have taken this to mean “Ignore all that law and prophet stuff; just love God and neighbor, and you’ll be fine.” But this reversal actually strengthens your argument. Jesus’ “summary of the law”was not a new thing at all, but echoed other Jewish scriptural scholars, who themselves didn’t think they were offering anything new, but just stating the obvious. Also, as you’ve already pointed out, we know Jesus didn’t mean to “unhitch”from the OT, because he continued to exposit it regularly. So we must conclude that for Jesus, knowing the great stories, including the Exodus, knowing the commandments, and knowing the prophetic rebukes and promises are all part and parcel of striving to obey the greatest commandment.

    Thanks for writing this great piece. You’ve given me much to think about.

  15. Ted Hall

    This is a well-reasoned rebuttal, brother. Stanley speaks of unhinging ourselves from the Old Testament; I think that it’s Stanley himself who is unhinged!

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