“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”
I recently finished a 15 week in-depth study of the book of Hebrews and at first I dreaded it because it is such a strangely written book (I’m used to digging into Paul’s letters). But towards the end of it, I grew to really appreciate it. The primary focus of the book was the unknown author urging the Jewish (Hebrew) readers to put away their ideas of abiding by the old Jewish customs, covenants, and laws and to embrace Jesus. The author points out that in addition to being the fulfillment of those things, Jesus is also superior to all of that. He is superior to the angels, to Moses, to the Law, to the Levitical priesthood, to all of their practices. He urges his readers to shift from focusing on the old ways, and to instead focus on THE way, Jesus.
While reading this I was reminded of a phrase that pastor Andy Stanley as used in several books and sermon series.
In the third part of his “Aftermath” series in 2018, the Atlanta Pastor said that First Century Church leaders “unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures,” He went on to say that, “Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures. And we we must as well.”
The next thing you know, people are blasting him all over the internet with headlines like “Getting ‘Unhitched’ from the Old Testament? Andy Stanley Aims at Heresy”, “Why We Can’t Unhitch from the Old Testament”, “A Debate of Biblical Proportions: “Unhitching” the Old Testament?”, “No, Pastor Stanley, We Should Not Unhitch Ourselves from the Old Testament”, and “Once Again, I Ask Andy Stanley to Resign”. The titles and the content of those articles make it quite clear that the authors and the people who attack him didn’t actually listen to the whole series or even the whole sermon. They heard one phrase, out of context, assumed they understood what he meant, and added that as a reason for their hatred and desire to “cancel” him.
Stanley has said many times, “I approach a message series like a single sermon. I don’t try to cover everything in 35 minutes. I’m not that good. So, if you want to criticize my approach to preaching, fine. I would love to talk about that. But don’t criticize a statement in a sermon if you aren’t willing to spend the time necessary to appreciate the context.”
If the attackers actually took the time to listen to what he had to say and listen to the sermons or the series, they would find that the message Stanley was trying to convey actually says the opposite of what they claim. They act and write as though Stanley rejects the Old Testament (the 39 Hebrew books we now call the Old Testament). If they had listened to the whole context, they would see that he was speaking of the old covenants (laws & practices) that are found throughout those Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, the English word “testament” comes from the Greek term meaning “covenant.” In Hebrew, it means “agreement,” “covenant,” or “contract.”. Stanley even briefly touches on that so that there wouldn’t be any confusion. His point is that we need to “unhitch” ourselves from the old covenants and laws because those are not required to come to faith or to follow Christ.
Stanley cites Acts chapter 15 and the Council of Jerusalem as the basis for “unhitching” from the old ways. The passage has in view the fact that Paul and Barnabas are mainly preaching to the gentiles, non-Jewish people. Paul attests that “some men came down from Judea and were teaching the (gentile) brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”” (Acts 15:1). This is clearly seen and addressed in the Paul’s letter to the church of Galatia. In the council meeting, Peter says “why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke (requirements of the Jewish Law) on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.””(Acts 15:10-11).
After that, Jesus’ brother, James speaks the final decision saying “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God…For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden…”(Acts 15:19 & 28).
As Stanley puts it “Believers belong to Jesus, not the old covenant. Believers are accountable to Jesus, not the old covenant…If that makes you uncomfortable, it’s because you have unwittingly embraced the version of Christianity the Jerusalem Council declares unnecessary – the version Paul spent his ministry warning against. You are attempting to straddle two incompatible covenants.”
The book of Hebrews clearly and repeatedly backs up the decision of the Jerusalem Council. Those who were not raised in the Jewish customs/laws/covenants/testaments didn’t need to follow them because they had something way better: Jesus.
“If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.“
“The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless, for the law made nothing perfect, and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath,but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’” Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. ”
In Hebrews 8:6-7 the author tells the readers that “the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” He then quotes from Jeremiah 31:31-34 where it foretells the coming of a new and better covenant or testament. “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13).
Stanley echoes what the book of Hebrews says on the superiority of Christ to the old covenant, “The promises found in most of the Old Testament are not your promises. Yours are better…Everything promised between Exodus and Malachi is promised within the context of a bilateral suzerainty treaty between God and a nation. It should all be interpreted within that context. Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes were all written within the context of an ‘I will if you will’ arrangement between God and a nation. An arrangement, by the way, that promised no afterlife…Every promise you need today is found within the context of Jesus’ new covenant. It’s a better covenant. If you can’t find it there, don’t go looking elsewhere. You’ll just get yourself in trouble. God’s promises to Israel are not his promises to you. Again, yours are better. Much better.”
New Testament scholar, NT Wright beautifully puts it this way, “The Torah [law of Moses at Sinai] is given for a specific period of time, and is then set aside – not because it was a bad thing now happily abolished, but because it was a good thing whose purpose had now been accomplished.”
A few years ago at the church summer camp I work at, I taught a class on the different Dispensations in the Bible and how God dealt with different people in different places at different times. I touched on the concept of the Law and how it was good for a certain people and time, but it was no longer required or encouraged in the church age. To explain this on their level, I used the illustration of an old Nokia phone and the latest iPhone to describe the covenants. The old Nokia phone was a great phone, it did everything it needed to do in the time period in which it was made for. But a new phone came along that was so much better. It accomplished everything the old phone did, but it was designed for a different people in a different time and it is loads better.
Andy Stanley gets a lot of flack from people online because he refuses to take sides on political matters and social matters from the pulpit. He has stated numerous times that even though he is morally conservative and is more right-leaning politically, he is convicted that he shouldn’t take political sides from the pulpit because of the impact it would have on his congregation. Unlike many who attack him, his congregation has a diverse mixture of people (being in inner city Atlanta). There are people of different races, nationalities, cultures, and socioeconomic classes in his congregation who have different political views that stem from those very things. Instead of saying things about politics, candidates, or political issues, and risk alienating them, he focuses on teaching about Jesus and encouraging others to live their lives in a way that reflects what Jesus taught.
Due to his lack of being political at the pulpit, his opponents label him as “soft”, “liberal”, or “progressive”. They speak of him in the same sense as they speak of actual morally, theologically, and politically liberal/progressive pastors who support or affirm drag shows. All of the accusations are completely void of any proof or substance from anything Stanley has preached. They are just just charged words used to express their anger towards his lack of politics in church, his literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutics, his grace-based soteriology, or his style of preaching. Stanley is by no means perfect or above others on a pedestal, there are things about him that I am not fond of, but of all the “well-known” pastors I’ve listened to over the past decade, he is one of the very few who has remained consistent in his message of grace and focusing on Jesus and hasn’t fallen into man-made theological teachings or consumed themselves and their messages with politics.
“Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.”