By Chris Turner
TBMB Communications Director
Reading the New Testament without the context of the Old Testament is like arriving late to a movie. You need the first part to understand the rest.
North Point Community Church (Alpharetta, Ga.) Pastor Andy Stanley, son of iconic Southern Baptist Pastor Charles Stanley, is once again under fire for provocative statements he made in a recent sermon. It’s not the first time Stanley has said something that churned the theological waters, and given his track record, it likely won’t be the last.
In the third sermon of a three-part series rooted in the book of Acts titled, “Aftermath: Not Difficult,” Stanley tells his congregation, “(First Century) Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament). Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.”
Some are accusing Stanley of Marcionism, the belief that the Old Testament is not authoritative in matters of Christian doctrine and morals. I watched the 39-minute sermon (you can too if you search YouTube with, “Aftermath: Not Difficult.”) and I believe Stanley’s teaching overly minimizes the Old Testament in an effort to emphasize his point. I get what he’s trying to do, but in the process, he walks a thin line of creating a dangerous dichotomy between the Jesus of the New Testament and the God of the Old Testament. I also believe Stanley fuels doubt in the minds of his listeners as to the relevancy of the Old Testament.
However, I do believe the issue raises a legitimate question: Is the Old Testament relevant for contemporary Christians and for today’s modern man? The answer is an unequivocal and resounding yes, it is.
Stanley references people who walk away from their faith because they trip over what is seen as the harsh legalism of the Law of Moses and cultural aspects of ancient societies. Stanley locates a tree, but he misses the forest. He fails to zoom out and explain the overarching narrative of Scripture and the context the Old Testament provides. He ushers his people into the movie theatre 15 minutes late.
To understand the Bible’s storyline, you’ve got to arrive at the beginning. Here are seven reasons (among many others) why the Old Testament is not only relevant for today’s Christian and modern man, it is imperative if we are to fully appreciate the New Testament and rightly understand the gospel.
The Old Testament:
- Establishes God as the Creator of all things. Hopping into the story in Matthew fails to establish God as the ultimate authority over creation. How is one to reconcile Romans chapters 1 through 3 without the anchor of Genesis 1? Man’s problem is that he denies the authority of God. “Unhitching” oneself from the Old Testament feeds man’s belief that he is his own ultimate authority.
- Establishes God’s intended plan for humanity. The Old Testament explains what this life should have looked like. By starting in Matthew, the death of Christ makes no sense if it isn’t in relation to everything that precedes it, especially “The Fall.” No Old Testament context relegates Jesus to the role of martyr rather than Savior.
- Establishes the root cause for our separation from God and the consequences of our sin. Every person has a moral conscience and senses they’ve miss “the mark” even if they don’t know what that mark is. How is one to apprehend the source of their moral failure without the Old Testament? Romans chapters 5 and 6 are nonsensical divorced from Genesis chapter 3.
- Establishes the redemptive plan of God for all humanity while repeatedly revealing His grace extended to humanity. Jesus in the New Testament was not the initiation of God’s redemptive plan or His grace; Jesus was the culmination of it. Remember, He came to fulfill the law not abolish it (Matthew 5:17).
- Establishes God’s sovereignty over all human history and activity. God could have chosen to send Jesus as Eve’s first born to restore order, but He didn’t. He chose to reveal His sovereignty throughout history in fulfilling thousands of years of prophecy. Satan repeatedly attempted to thwart God’s redemptive plan. However, God established that plan “before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9) and He tells us – in the Old Testament – that He “declares the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purposes’” (Isaiah 46:10).
- Establishes the nature and character of God. The Old Testament teaches us that God is faithful, good, loving, holy, uncompromising, powerful, gracious, provider, disciplinarian, unequaled and so much more. Without the crucifixion taking place in the shadow of thousands of years of the revealed nature and character of God, then Brian McLaren’s heretical teaching in his book “Generous Orthodoxy” would be right. He calls the crucifixion of Christ “divine child abuse.” However, the Old Testament frames why it was a mind-blowing, history altering expression of extravagance.
- Establishes the Great Commission and the responsibility of the believer to make God’s name known among the nations. The Great Commission was actually first given to Abraham when God told him He was going to bless Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. That shared blessing was supposed to reveal YAHWEH to all who passed through the Promised Land, strategically located at the ancient world’s crossroads of commerce. Jesus’ Matthew 28:18-19 commandment to “go and tell” was a restatement of the expectation God established in the Old Testament.
Those who believe the Old Testament is irrelevant to modern man simply aren’t reading it in the context of a much larger story where God is the lead character. Granted, walking into Matthew and reading the story of Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles makes for a pretty amazing story. However, if you catch the story from the very beginning, you’ll realize you’ve walked into a blockbuster.