On May 9, 2018, an article was placed on The Christian Post entitled, “Christians Must ‘Unhitch’ Old Testament From Their Faith, Says Andy Stanley.” The article discusses a recent sermon where Andy Stanley encourages his people to “unhitch” from the Old Testament since it is not the “go-to source regarding behavior in the church.” He says that “Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.” Stanley goes on to say:
“Jesus’ new covenant, His covenant with the nations, His covenant with you, His covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures….The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity. Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down. The question is did Jesus rise from the dead? And the eyewitnesses said he did.”
Not long after these comments were published online, evangelicals responded with a swift rebuke. A few examples…
“What an absolute theological trainwreck. ” – @wesleyhill
“If Jesus did not “unhitch” himself from the Old Testament, neither should we. Period.” – @andrewtwalk
“This should sound as strange to us as it would to the apostles, who constantly preached Christ from the Jewish Scriptures.” -@jaredcwilson
Even Rachel Held Evans chimed in, “Lest you think I only pick on the Reformed guys, I agree that Andy Stanley got this one very wrong” -@rachelheldevans
David Prince offered a lengthier response.
I agree with these concerns. The idea of “unhitching” or teaching the irrelevance of the Old Testament for the Church is a false teaching. Without the categories, patterns, covenants, and kingdom development of the OT, the arrival of the Messiah would make no sense. In this way, the NT is uniquely dependant on the OT for its clarity and purpose. My favorite preacher Alistair Begg says it perfectly: “We cannot really understand Christ without the Old Testament, and we can’t understand the Old Testament without Christ.” That sentiment echoes my position, which necessarily means we cannot “unhitch” the Old from the New.
Even more insidious is the idea that Stanley’s comments were designed and delivered in such a way as to separate himself and his teaching from the doctrines of God’s wrath and justice. In this way, Stanley’s comments would land well with those who believe the God of the Old Testament could never be the God of the New Testament. I do not know if Stanley desires such a thing, but Kevin DeYoung noted the historical similarity to Marcion’s heresy of the 2nd century.
Although these clear affirmations of disagreement with Stanley’s comments are important, more needs to be said. In rightly pushing back against this teaching, I wonder if enough is being said and clarified concerning the glorious good news that the New is, in fact, better than the Old. What we do not have in the covenants is a means of relating to God that is different but equal. Praise be to our Lord, New Covenant Christians do not approach a structural temple and perform daily animal sacrifices and look to a human high priest for intercession. All of these have been fulfilled in the true and better temple, the true and better sacrifice, and the true and better priest. Thus, the New Covenant is better in every way. (Hebrews 8:6).
But the key word is “fulfilled.” Jesus did not break from the OT, rather he fulfilled the OT. As John Piper has said, “…all the precious history and forms and structures and offices in the Old Testament aren’t merely thrown away. They are consummated. They are filled up in Jesus.”
I’ll use the Ten Commandments as an example. Should Christians obey the Ten Commandments? Andy Stanley said he was tempted to put up a slide saying, “Thou shall not obey the Ten Commandments.” That would, of course, fit in well with his language of the NT being “unhitched” from the OT. So, is he right? Should we stop obeying the Ten Commandments?
No, we should not stop obeying the Ten Commandments. But, the reason we obey them is important and germane to this discussion. We do not obey the Ten Commandments because they are binding on us as part of the Mosaic Law. We obey them because they are affirmed in the NT as part of the “Law of Christ” (1st Corinthians 9:21, Galatians 6:2).
We must emphatically teach that the law of the Old Covenant is dead to New Covenant Christians. A few examples:
“…you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4)
“by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two…” (Ephesians 2:15)
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:21)
“But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6)
“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15)
In just a few verses I listed of many in Scripture, we are taught that we have been released from the Old Covenant law and it is dead to us, abolished, and powerless.
Now, combine this with the teaching of Jesus. Here’s one example – “He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.” (Luke 5:36-37).
Making commentary on this passage, R. Kent Hughes says, “Judaism, as good as it was, had become an old, worn-out garment. It could not be patched with a few things taken from Christ’s gospel…..The gospel of the New Covenant is simply too dynamic for the Old Covenant structures.”
I could make an inexhaustible list of conservative evangelical leaders, pastors, and scholars who have emphatically and correctly taught the superiority of the New Covenant and the inability of the Old Covenant to do what only Jesus can do. Tim Keller has become famous for repeatedly emphasizing how Jesus is the “true and better” everything.
And then there is the book of Hebrews. Having recently preached through this jaw-dropping book, I came away even more in awe of what God has done through Jesus Christ that the law could never accomplish. We are now drawn near to God through the blood of the New Covenant.
None of this is an excuse for Stanley’s comments. The only way we can understand the superiority of Christ is by its link with the Old Covenant. They cannot and must not be separated. But the New is better than the Old. And Christians, especially new believers, need clarity on that point. We must emphatically teach the greater and better Christ while remaining faithful to our commitment to the entire counsel of Scripture.