Interview: Andy Stanley With Summary Questions

RC: First, I'd like to thank you for being approachable and understanding the need for that while being a pastor of a large church that affects many areas of America. Further, seeing the need to be able to answer questions about a topic that is, well, provocative in nature. I understand that you have a congregation that's very large, in fact, I attended your church while I was in ATL several years back. I've read your book, I've listened to your expository sermons, and so forth. I'm with you and for you, I am not here to oppose you. However, I am here to defend the Gospel, the inerrancy of the Word and what I feel God is calling me to do. 

Andy: Good! We certainly need as much of that as we can get. 

RC: Let's dive in: "Peter, James and Paul elect to unhitch the Old Testament (Jewish faith) from that of the New Testament (Christian faith)." This type of remark is clearly not primarily a theological statement. I think that your entire sermon angle was application primary and theological secondary. 

Andy: Yes. Thank you. You are correct, and as you know, that one observation alone casts this conversation in a completely different light. My terminogy is “approach.” I’m talking about…or I was talking about…an approach to talking about the Old Testament. The Sinai Covenant in particular. The folks in my churches get this. Why? Because I talk this way all the time. And…and they know I’m talking as if their unchurched friends and family members are in the room. We have a motto: Assume they are in the room! Interestingly enough, every time I stretch in this direction I get hammered…not by non-Christians…but by my evangelical brothers and sisters.

The other reason the folks at my churches didn’t freak out is because I teach from the Old Testament all the time. Including this past Sunday (6/24). They knew I wasn’t suggesting we cut ourselves off from the OT. But…I can certainly understand why my comments were confusing to someone who does not listen to me on a regular basis, who did not listen to the entire series and who does not like me. Ha! And there are a lot of folks who love it when I stumble. That’s okay. Makes life interesting. And…and it usually gives me more opportunities to have important conversations like this one. All that to say…thanks for being curious rather than critical. 

RC: (1) This type of thinking isn't necessarily wrong in the base nature of it. Andy, were you thinking primarily from the standpoint of "I constantly get bombarded with Old Testament questions, it's a hindrance to people, that cannot grasp it etc"?

Andy: Sort of. The primary editor of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is also the person that introduced me to the Classical Apologetic method. Dr. Norman Geisler. That framework has informed my preaching and teaching for 30 years. I don’t teach apologetics. But I try to preach and teach apologetically. Ten years ago I ratcheted things up a bit after I saw how easily the New Atheists and others like them undermined the faith of those who were leaning in that direction already. In Classical Apologetics confidence in the Old Testament is at the tail end of the process. I say it this way, The Old Testament is at the beginning of our book but it’s at the back of our apologetics. Most Christians don’t know this. Many would deny it. But the only reason we take anything in the OT seriously…is not because it’s part of our Bibles. We take it seriously because Jesus did. If it were not for Jesus nobody would believe a man built a boat and saved the animal kingdom along with human kind because a god decided to flood the earth. Nobody. Most Jews don’t even believe that story. Or any of the fantastical stories found in our OTs. Historically, Gentiles became fascinated with the Old Testament after they became fascinated with a particular Jew. I have three kids in their 20’s. When they were in high school I told them, “If anyone ever asks you if you believe anything in the Old Testament in an effort to minimize or criticize your faith you say this, “I do believe that because Jesus did. And I figure if a man can predict his own death and resurrection and pull it off…I go with whatever that man says.”  The folks in my church have heard me say that a hundred plus times.  Again, it's my way of preaching apologetically. 

RC: I teach Apologetics to a great number of people who, most of which, have these types of concerns when dealing with the Old Testament. "How do I handle Genesis?" "Why is slavery permitted" and so forth.  The issue then becomes something I always call "due diligence" within exegeting scripture. Because, I too, care about these people and want them to grasp this concept of the Old Testament being fully part of God's word, fully inerrant, fully inspired, fully faithful. 

Andy: That’s a great way of saying it. “Due diligence.” And…for someone who is willing to do their due diligence there’s plenty of evidence to debunk the mischaracterizations of the OT stories, plotline and outcomes. But in the market place…the classroom…where attention spans are short and time is limited…that becomes a challenge. That’s why I love any response that throws it back in the direction of Jesus. Sorry…I think I interrupted you. 

RC: (2) Would you deny that the Old Testament contains those things? (fully inerrant, fully inspired, etc)? 

Well…what I’m about to say is so easily misunderstood. You’ll get it. Christianity stands whether the entire Bible is inerrant or not. An inerrant text is not the foundation of our faith. It never has been. I’ve documented my embrace of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy elsewhere. So my view is not the issue here. I hope! My point is, the foundation of our faith is an event. The resurrection of Jesus. I don’t need the Old Testament to substantiate that event. We don’t even need the entire New Testament. Any two gospels along with 1 Corinthians and we have firm ground to stand on. And if Jesus rose from the dead, game on! And if Jesus is who he claimed to be…we should all embrace HIS view of the Law and the Prophets. 

RC: There are many avenues of taking Genesis literally: ie, John Lennox presents this in his book. There are specific uses of slavery: the slavery in the OT was self-service for protection, it does not hold the same definition today. There are answers for the Old Testament because it IS God's divinely inspired Word. 

Andy: Yep. But none of that matters unless Jesus is who he claimed to be.  Unless one is building a case for Orthodox Judaism. I love John Lennox by the way. Everybody should read Seven Days that Divided the World. When I say, “None of that matters” my point is on this side of the resurrection us Gentiles  don’t need the Old Testament to prop up or substantiate our faith. We have three much better and more substantial footings to build on. I’ve mentioned one, the resurrection. Secondly, the most amazing fulfilled prophecy of all time…one I’ve never heard a sermon about…other than my own…Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple. Are you kidding me? Forty years later, the only power on earth that could accomplish such a thing, accomplished such a thing. The thing was earthquake proof. Thanks to Herod. When preachers get to Jesus prophecy of the destruction of the temple next thing you know they are talking about the end times and Revelation. That’s a big miss. Jesus predicted in unbelievably graphic detail what Josephus would later describe in that same detail as an eye witness. Every pastor should read Josephus: The Jewish War. I’m telling ya’…if Jesus actually predicted the destruction of the temple everybody on planet earth needs to sit up straight and pay attention. That’s way more compelling anything any of the OT prophets prophesied. In my opinion anyway. Heck, every time I visit Jerusalem I can’t help but look at the Temple mount and think…wow…just as he predicted. Not a single stone left on top of another.  The third footing for us is the survival of the church.  Crushed between Empire and Temple, the church should have been buried right alongside her founder. But here we are. Just as He predicted: “I will build my ekklesia…”

RC: Now, again, I understand the desire to want to focus on the cross of Jesus Christ because that is the crux of everything that we believe. It should be noted with great eagerness that the cross of Jesus Christ started in the Old Testament, was prophesied in the Old Testament, and so forth. Read John 5:46-47 Jesus uses the Old Testament definitively to prove who He is. This happens repeatedly by Jesus, in every Gospel. 

Andy: Jesus was talking to Jews. Remember, he was born under the law to redeem those under the law. He was the hinge. He was living through the transition. He was wrapping up one covenant and introducing another. His behavior and words make perfect sense when understood in that context. But…I’m not opposed to anyone leveraging the OT to build a case for Jesus. If that has traction with folks, go for it. But in my experience…that approach has less and less traction with more and more people. Peter and Paul leveraged the prophets when preaching to Jewish audiences in Acts. But there’s a lot less of that on Mars Hill and at Cornelius’ home. As Paul said, whatever it takes to win some and save some. His phrase: “by all possible means.” 

RC: Read Romans, Galatians, 1-2 Corinthians. Paul uses the Old Testament as a foothold for the Gospel. He preached the Gospel via the Old Testament. 

Andy: Yep. But if he’s been around in 71 I would bet you anything he would have leaned on that event every bit as hard as he did the words of the prophets. The church fathers weren’t shy about bringing it up. 

RC: (3) Christianity launched because Christ fulfilled the Old Testament and the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached from the Old Testament. Would you agree?

Andy: No. Christianity launched because nobody expected no body and on Easter morning there was no body. But nobody believed Jesus rose from the dead until they saw his resurrected body then everybody who expected Jesus to do what dead people normally do found a level of courage, insight and conviction they lacked before the resurrection and the next thing you know they are facing down the VERY same group who had Jesus crucified and instead of running for their lives like they did in the garden they accusing the most powerful men in Israel of crucifying the author of life. Sure they used the OT. They were talking to Jews. But these guys believed the Law and the prophets the night they abandoned Jesus. 

 

RC: I hope this is the start of a conversation, not a rebuttal and cross-examination. As I have said, I am for you. I am not here to call you a Marcion or anything like that. I am here to clarify statements so that I can adequately respond to people who have come to me about your sermons and teachings. 

Andy: Thanks. The Marcion thing…that was…ridiculous. Oh well. 

 

RC: I'd like to solidify, If you remove the Old Testament you must also remove much of the New Testament. 

Andy: I’m not advocating removing the Old Testament. I’m not sure what you mean by that.  

RC: If you unhitch the Old Testament, you unhitch the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Andy: I see what you’re getting at. When I talked about unhitching our faith from the OT I was referring to unhitching our apologetic and…and this may be another conversation for another day…I was referencing unhitching our orthopraxy from the Sinai Covenant. I made a couple statements to that effect in that particular message. And…I’ve been teaching that at our churches for a long time. So again, I didn’t belabor the point. But, I understand how those statements came across to someone who dropped in for a single message. So as not to be more confusing. I advocate unhitching our orthopraxy from the Sinai Covenant BECAUSE of what Paul taught and modelled. He rarely set his application ball on an Old Covenant tee. There are three times where it looks as if he is…but read those verses in context and you’ll discover that’s not the case. We take our behavioral cues from Jesus new command: We are to love as God though Christ loved us. New Testament…post gospel…imperatives are simply applications of that one single command. That’s the way I read it, anyway. And that’s the way I’ve been preaching it for a long time. Folks bet nervous sometimes. They feel like that opens the door to all kinds of errant behavior. But it doesn’t. Actually, it closes all the “What does the Bible say about…” loopholes.  The New Covenant is less complicated but far more demanding. 

 

RC: However, there are answers to these tough questions, I've spent the greater part of a decade answering them. Others, multiple decades. Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Christopher Hitchens had one thing in common: They did not take the time to understand the Word of God and the logical end of their own arguments. 

Andy: Correct. And you make an very very very important point that I don’t want your readers to miss. The New Atheists crafted their attacks on Christianity assuming what the vast majority of Christians assume. An assumption I want to spend the rest of my life correcting. They assume or assumed that as the Bible goes so goes the Christian faith.  That is NOT true. But most Christians think it is. There was no such thing as ta biblia / The Bible until the fourth century. Scripture, yes. But as you know there was no consensus around exactly what constituted Scripture for a looooong time.  I argue that Christianity made its greatest strides before there was a The Bible and before there was an officially recognized Canon and way way way before most Christians could read and of course centuries before anyone would own their own personal copy of The Bible. My point? The foundation of our faith is not a text. It is an event. An event that was documented. But the document is secondary to the event. When people came to the hospital after my children were born they weren’t interested in the birth certificate! They wanted to see the baby. When people are convinced the baby of Bethlehem is who He claimed to be…it’s amazing how quickly they become interested in the back story. So…let’s get better at showing off the baby. 

RC: Thank you for your time, I look forward to our second summary discussion. 

Andy: No, thank you for your interest. Thank you for being curious. We may not agree on approach. We may not even agree theologically. But we agree on what’s most important and that is what’ most important.

 

Summary Questions: 
 

 

RC: Andy, let's summarize the assertions and questions from our last talk/thread. I'll go through some of your resposes and quotes. Let's begin: 

"the only reason we take anything seriously in the OT is because Jesus did." Correct, in part. Wouldn't you say that the Old Testament is relevant because it holds the first segment of our faith? "why did God have to become a man?" "why are we here?" "what are the covenants Jesus and the disciples speak of?" much of the New Testament is explained through the Old Testament, which I am sure you agree?

Andy: Yes. But Christianity doesn’t depend upon it. I’m in no way trying to diminish it’s importance or it’s divine origins. I’m just trying to help Christians understand it’s role in OUR faith. It’s the back story. It’s the precursor. It’s the cocoon. It’s fabulous. But the gospel is this:
 

 1    Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2    by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3    For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4    and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5    and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6    After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7    then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8    and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also 9    For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

 

Most evangelicals insist “The Scriptures” refers to the OT. That’s an interpretation. Besides, as you know, the GK term/phrase (τὰς γραφάς) was not a religious term. It simply meant writing  or the writings. Our English term Scripture is not a translation. It’s an interpretation. But we are stuck with it. Like the term church. William Tyndale got it right. Then he got executed.  As much as us Christians want it to, the Old Testament  does not state that the Messiah would die for our sins and be buried then rise on the third day. Now, for the folks who exegete that out of Isa.  and other places. I’m not going to argue. Obviously the Messiah was destined to suffer. My point here is that  Paul gives  us a stand alone, post resurrection gospel. To put it another way. If he had left off “according to the Scriptures” it wouldn’t change what he was saying. By the time was written there were some written accounts depicting Christ’s death and resurrection. I’m confident of this because there were already songs or sayings floating around. But admittedly, this too is an interpretation. My argument doesn’t hinge on what we pin his use of Scripture to. My argument hinges on the stand alone nature of Paul’s gospel. The same gospel, by the way that most Christians responded to as children. 

 

RC: In your response, you say that our faith isn't predicated on the verification of the Old Testament events, even some of the New Testament. "We don't need the Old Testament or even part of the New to know Jesus died and rose again" in basic knowledge, of course. 

Andy: Yes. And it’s the basic, historical, sequential sense that I’m focusing on. 

RC: However, the diligence of God has verified much of the Old Testament (archaeology) and extra-biblical content has verified much of the New Testament. That is actually a massive faith booster, in my opinion. Right?

Andy: Right! But...and this is important…but Christians don’t need to freak out when archeologists  or historians point out things that stand in contrast…or appear to…to the Biblical text. If the Old Testament was indisputably correct in all its historical and scientific claims…but there was no resurrection…there would be no Christianity. 

RC: Now let's go into "unhitch the Old Testament from our Apologetics" So, that may be super safe in the realm of your church and I would be silly to criticize that because it was preached in your church, to your congregation, not to the whole world through a book or anything else. 

Andy: Well…since you brought it up. I have a book coming out in September entitiled, Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the world. I talk about all of this in detail. I really want the church and specifically church leaders to reclaim our resurrection / event apologetic. I think the faith of the next generation depends upon it. 

RC: However, in the scheme of Apologetics, we cannot unhitch the Old Testament because that would be unhitching the messianic Jews, unbelieving Jews, Islamist and so forth. You would affirm this, yes? 

Andy: You are correct as it relates to Jews who take their text seriously. Peter and Paul leveraged the Law and the Prophets when confronting 1st century Jews with the gospel. The only Jews I know who take the Law and the Prophets seriously are Messianic, Jesus following Jews. My two close Jewish friends who are not Christians have embraced a purely secular view of our Old Testament. They appreciate it. They don’t believe it’s true and they aren’t looking for Messiah. But yes, for some Jews, the OT is the place to begin. 

RC: Further, I'd like to present a scripture for the comment that we didn't have "scripture until the 4th century AD" 

Andy: What I said was there was no ta Biblia / The Bible until the fourth century. This is a very important distinction. Before the 4th century there were texts considered sacred. But the first time the Jewish texts were combined with sanctioned New Testament texts was in the 4th century. At least that’s the first record we have. Which makes sense because there was no way for mammoth project like that to take place until Christian scholars could come out of the shadows and work in public. And, it was expensive. But by then Constantine had flooded the church with wealth and access. And, he wanted an officially sanctioned text for political purpose. At least that’s the theory. My point is, the church did not explode on the back of preaching that declared “The Bible says!” There wasn’t one. So, inspired texts? Yes. The Bible, no. Not yet. Big difference. 

RC: But focus on the scripture; Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:3738, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” { Paul knew he was writing scripture } The writer of the book of Revelation, John, makes an express claim to divine inspiration. At the beginning of the book, John writes that what follows is a revelation that he received from God through an angel. He then writes, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3). John commands the reading of this book out loud and the keeping of what is written in it. By doing this he equates his writing to the law of the Old Testament. God commanded the Israelites to read the law in the hearing of all the people, so that they could keep what was written in it (Deuteronomy 31:1113) {John knew he was writing scripture} "Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:15,16). {Peter affirms that Paul is writing scripture} Scholars would agree that we had a firm canon of Paul, Peter and John (and the Gospel narratives) to be used as scripture prior to the 4th century. [You can even see them quoted in 1-2 century extra-biblical epistles as Scripture]. Would you agree that the entirety of Scripture is important and should be used as encouragement, study, growth, etc for believers? (2 Timothy 3:16-17) 

Andy: Yes. But if you want to know what Paul meant in 2 Timothy 3:16… watch how he actually applied his own statement. 

RC: It's difficult because clearly, you are of great importance, otherwise, these people wouldn't bother criticizing you. Your impact is great enough to spark a shockwave in American Christianity; for that, you should be thankful and proud. In today's climate people are able to criticize anything everything. Timothy Keller's tweets get bombarded with this every day. 

RC: I would like to also point out to you and the readers or whoever, that these types of criticisms are more shameful than anything. In fact, Dumb and Dumber, I mean Pulpit and Pen wrote an article basically calling you a horrible preacher and heretic because you were quoted saying that "going verse by verse is cheating" which if you want to explain what you mean by that, it would be helpful to people. They criticized you by saying that you "hate" exegesis, even though, they themselves don't realize exegesis works multiple ways. ie, "find scripture on the holy spirit" or "verse by verse" or "find scripture on doctrine x" etc...

Andy: I exegete the text all the time. That’s why I use the plasma screen. So I can go word for word. Verse by verse. The statement you are referring to was in an interview with Ed Stetzer years ago. It was tongue and cheek. 

RC: I assumed as much. So I want to defend you and allow you to defend yourself as well. I think the bombardment you receive is unwarranted and a large distraction not only to you but to many believers as well. It comes strongly from one camp, cage stage, and I think they need to become more aware that belief in a certain theological system doesn't give you the weaponry to attack fellow believers and teachers. Thank you for engaging with me and allowing yourself to be open to these chats. 

 

RC