Well, he’s done it again. Andy Stanley has managed to get himself into trouble with the online guardians of orthodoxy who have once again sharpened their polemical pitchforks and set flame to their torches in order to protect The Truth™. This is not the first time this has happened. Back in 2016 Stanley riled the feathers of conservative Christians with his (excellent) “Who Needs God” sermon series. I responded to the controversy back then, you can read about it here.
This time the comments causing such a stir came from his most recent (and, again, excellent) sermon series “Aftermath.” In the series, Stanley examines the formation of the Christian church in the early years following the resurrection of Jesus. He rightly demonstrates that the resurrection was the solid foundation upon which the church was built. He also rightly demonstrates that within a matter of years the church began to expand beyond its Jewish roots, forcing it to make some tough decisions regarding just how Jewish Gentiles had to become if they were to become Christians. The series culminates with an exploration of Acts 15, in which the Jerusalem Council made the monumental decision that Gentile converts would not be required to keep the law, forever changing the way Christians would interact with the Hebrew Scriptures. For Christians today, this concept is relatively straightforward and uncontroversial, but it was not that way in the first century.
The controversy has arisen largely because of a poorly-headlined article in the Christian Post that took some of Stanley’s comments about the Old Testament out of their context, causing even usually reasonable Christians to overreact. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people accuse him of Marcionism, which is utterly ridiculous. Marcion, for those who don’t know, was a second-century heretic who believed that the deity of the Old Testament was a different deity than Jesus, one who was both inferior to Jesus and even evil. On that basis, he rejected the entirety of the Old Testament and portions of the New Testament as well. Stanley has done nothing of the sort. He has repeatedly stated that he believes the Old Testament was divinely inspired and very good and useful for its purpose. He likens the Old Testament/Covenant to “a divinely-inspired cocoon” that prepared the way and gave birth to the New Testament/Covenant that Jesus initiated.
Just like in 2016, this whole controversy is much ado about nothing, as anyone who has actually listened to the entire sermon or sermon series will readily realize. Also, just like in 2016, this sermon series is designed to be apologetic in nature. His goal is to help people understand that they can still believe in Jesus EVEN IF they don’t think they can fully accept everything in the Old Testament because Christianity is founded on the resurrection of Jesus, an event that is historically and intellectually defensible. Within his greater body of work, Stanley actually makes the case for belief in the Old Testament based on Jesus’ own high regard for it. From my own perspective, I believe the work Stanley is doing to re-center Christianity on its original, unshakable foundation—the resurrection—is vitally important for the faith of my generation and beyond. Perhaps instead of throwing stones, people should sit down and take notes.