Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Unhitched and Unhinged

It is important to grasp that Andy Stanley’s desire for believers to “unhitch” our Christianity from the Old Testament, a plea he articulates in his new book Irresistible, is not limited to how we preach the gospel. Stanley is calling for the comprehensive abandonment of the Hebrew roots of our faith.

This is what makes his idea such a poison pill. Those who swallow it will come to regret it.

All Things to All Men

If all Stanley’s concerns about the church could simply be addressed by us becoming “all things to all men” in our gospel preaching, I would have little to say to him by way of argument. As many Bible teachers have done over the years, Stanley compares Paul’s Acts 13 presentation of the gospel to Jews in Antioch with his Acts 17 presentation to Athenians and notes the absence of appeals to the Old Testament scriptures in the latter.

This is all well and good. Certainly we ought to present the gospel in the way our audience will find it easiest to understand and accept, rather than creating intellectual, cultural and spiritual barriers for them to jump over. This is part of being a responsible witness to Christ, sensitive to the direction of the Holy Spirit and the leadership of the Head of the Church. This is precisely what Paul is talking about when he refers to becoming “all things to all men”: in preaching the gospel.

Thus, unless the person to whom I am witnessing brings them up, I have no objection to leaving out of my gospel presentation things such as my belief in a literal worldwide flood, a literal Israelite migration to Egypt, and a literal fall of the literal walls of a literal Jericho.

Ditching the Dinos

I have no problem leaving out could-be-dinosaurs in Job, my opinion about the Nephilim and God’s controversial command to stone blasphemers in Leviticus. Unless the person with whom I am conversing absolutely insists upon it, I will happily keep mum about the reasons for the fiery judgment of the Sodomites and the alleged contradictions between Jesus’ teaching about divorce and Deuteronomy’s instructions on how to do it. (By the way, with this last example, which is one of Stanley’s, it becomes clear he is prepared to go to ridiculous and unworkable lengths to avoid giving offense to the unsaved. The same “contradiction” will still come up even if we stick to teaching Christ from the gospels only, because the gospels mention it, and Christ himself explains it.)

Anyway, that said, it’s all fine and dandy. Each of these Old Testament subjects is admittedly a distraction and an impediment on the way to getting to the sinner’s need for Jesus Christ. I’m good with the “become all things” approach in evangelism.

I Became as a Jew

But when Paul says he “became as a Jew in order to win Jews”, he is not at all saying that he continued to maintain the same chameleon-like approach with Jews after they had professed faith. Sure, he might have preached Christ to them without bringing up his “controversial” positions on circumcision, or feast days, or ongoing sacrifices. But do not imagine for a second that these subjects never came up again with Jews once they had been baptized and were going on in the faith. The book of Hebrews utterly falsifies that line of argument, demonstrating that all the things Jews traditionally valued had been eclipsed in Christ. “There is no longer any offering for sin.” That’s strong stuff, and it’s directed at converted Jews, some of whom would have had great difficulty accepting it.

Thus we need to understand Paul’s admonition to become “all things to all men” as a strategy for getting in the door, not his curriculum for ongoing discipleship. The “difficult” and meatier parts of the message had to come out eventually, despite the fact that it was always clear to the apostles some would turn away at points of crisis. Jesus himself taught the very same thing.

Unhitching Across the Board

And make no mistake, Andy Stanley is talking about unhitching New Testament Christianity from the Hebrew scriptures right across the board, not just when we seek to engage with those who have never heard the message of the gospel. In fact, his primary concern seems to be those who hear the gospel, nominally accept it, keep company with the people of God, and then later reject their professed faith for a variety of reasons.

Stanley wants to “unhitch” from the Old Testament when we disciple less mature believers:
“I’m concerned about folks who’ve lost faith and those struggling to maintain faith.”

“Millennials are walking away from the faith they grew up with in record numbers.”

“The de-churched exited church because they found the version of Christianity they grew up with unconvincing, uninspiring, and, ultimately, un — as in not believable.”

“In a post-Christian society, the majority have been exposed to Christianity (in our case, for generations) but are opting out for a different worldview — a different narrative through which to make sense of the world. In post-Christian society, people know the stories. They just don’t believe ’em. Or they don’t believe ’em anymore.”

“They’re not non-Christians in the way the church is accustomed to thinking about non-Christians. They’re post-Christians. That’s a whole ’nother thing. This group has been there, done that, and has a closetful of camp T-shirts to show for it.”

“Many walked away from faith because faith didn’t make them happy. The seemingly irrational, anti-science version of faith many were brought up on makes the departure that much easier.”
These are people who should have been fully and properly discipled and equipped to withstand the intellectual predations of popular culture, but for whatever reason have never sought out or received what they needed to stand for the faith. These are people who should have been taught what science is and is not; the questions it can legitimately answer and those about which it ought rightfully to remain silent since they are outside its domain. These are people who should have been taught that secular history is a morass of hotly contested, largely arbitrary expressions of opinion, which are invalidated by new discoveries every few decades. These are people who should have been taught to read their Bibles cover to cover repeatedly rather than simply given a few misunderstood and misapplied proof texts and an introduction to systematic theology — if they have even received that much.

Should have been, but they were not. Is it any surprise they go off to school and can’t handle the pressure?

Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth

Stanley’s solution is for young professing Christians to be taught to run away and hide from the so-called tough questions the Old Testament raises. He disconnects every book of the Bible from every other book in hope that a few of them may manage to stand on their own merits even as others take a tumble before the claims of “science” and “history”:
“As twenty-first century new covenant Jesus followers, we must break the habit of saying ‘The Bible says’ as the basis of our appeal. Instead, it’s much better, and more accurate to say ‘Jesus taught’ or ‘Paul wrote’ or ‘Peter declares’ or ‘According to the apostle John, who knew Jesus, peered into an empty tomb, and had breakfast with him on the beach.’ ”
It is absolutely true that “Jesus taught” and “Paul wrote” and “Peter declared”, but it is also true that “the faith” is a unity, not merely a collection of learned opinions from apostles that stand or fall on the credibility of their individual source documents. According to Jude, that faith was already completely delivered in the first century, not just in the third or fourth century once the church finally cobbled it all together into what we now know as “The Bible”. All the compilers did was eventually acknowledge an existing reality. They made “official” something that had already happened.

The Scripture Says

This was true of the Old Testament as well as the New. It was a unified, recognized, authoritative group of documents, not just a bunch of individual Hebrew books from various periods of the nation’s history whose credibility stood or fell on their own. This is how the New Testament writers speak of the Old, Christ included. The New Testament is riddled with references to what “the scripture” (the word of God from all over what we now call the Old Testament) says, not just the inspired individuals who wrote it:
“Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David?”

Scripture cannot be broken.”

“They did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”

“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.”

“For what does the Scripture say?”

The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham.”
There are at least 26 more like that. The scripture “foresees”, “says” and “cannot be broken”. It is “spoken beforehand” by the Holy Spirit in the mouths of men. It is living and active, and Andy Stanley would like to “unhitch” from it in hope of more effectively feeding Christ’s sheep. The very “Christ” of whom all these scriptures speak.

Devote Yourself to What?

The apostle Paul says to Timothy, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.” Yes, the Old Testament. There wasn’t yet any other “scripture” to read. He says it to a young man tasked with discipling Gentile believers. Andy Stanley says about this very same Old Testament, “Please unhitch from it. You might embarrass yourself.”

Do you figure Mr. Stanley’s likely to have a lot of luck with that approach? I don’t.

Stanley’s “run away” is the worst possible answer to incompetent discipleship. He may love the sheep, but his strategy is primarily motivated by fear of failure. We may run into the occasional difficulty explaining the culture of the Old Testament or rationalizing its principles to moderns, but the fact remains that God wrote it. And he wrote it to be used by Christians, not just Jews. “These things … were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” They are not ours to “unhitch” from or to abandon. They are HIS.

To disconnect from the Old Testament, not just in our original salvation appeal, but throughout the entire discipleship process that ought to follow it, leaving the new believer with only his New Testament in his hand and heart, is to deliberately throw away truths that Jesus and the apostles considered both authoritative and final.

That’s a bad, bad idea.

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