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.
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.
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: “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.”
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.