There's a self-described evangelical mega-pastor in Atlanta sorely in need of my upcoming book, "The Gospel in Every Book of the Old Testament."
His name is Andy Stanley, and he is teaching a disturbing new form of "replacement theology" – the misguided notion that the Christian church has "replaced" God's covenantal promises to Israel.
Worse yet, he suggests Christians don't need to bother with the Hebrew Scriptures that represent about three-quarters of the Bible, not to mention its very foundation, without which Jesus cannot be fully appreciated, nor His plans for the world in the future understood. Pastor Stanley seems to be the living, breathing, fast-talking personification and embodiment of that point.
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I had never heard of Stanley until I read that he was telling his flock at the North Point Community Church in Georgia to "unhitch" the Old Testament from their faith. That's not to denigrate him in any way. I'm sure he's quite a popular teacher. I understand he is the son of the legendary Pastor Charles Stanley. But as the author of an upcoming study called "The Gospel in Every Book of the Old Testament," I was eager to hear what he said.
Watch Stanley's sermon on "unhitching" the Old Testament:
To say it was disturbing, shocking and very disappointing would be an understatement.
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Though Stanley speaks very fast and my reporter's shorthand is not as good as it once was, here's what I took away from the sermon.
Stanley: The Roman Empire under Constantine was actually practicing biblical Christianity and had "outlawed" paganism.
Farah: This is a historical period I've spent quite a bit of time of time studying, and his assessment is flatly untrue. Constantine was a sun-worshiping pagan and merely syncretized his own beliefs with some of those in the popular new church to keep peace and harmony in his empire. Constantine also embodied the essence of anti-Semitic "replacement theology" and set forth oppressive laws to divide gentile believers from messianic Jews.
Stanley: Though he considers the Hebrew Scriptures "divinely inspired," he says they should not be "the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church."
Farah: I wonder if that includes the Ten Commandments, the prophecies about the coming of the Messiah, the prophecies about the return of Jesus, the rich redemptive and restorative Gospel messages that literally fill the Old Testament, revealing the entire Bible as one fully integrated message from beginning to end.
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Stanley: Pointing to Acts 15, he says: "Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and, my friends, we must as well." He says this must be done because many Christians are turning away from the faith because of certain passages in the Hebrew Bible, adding "Jesus' new covenant, His covenant with the nations, His covenant with you, His covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures."
Farah: To begin with, all Scripture – Old Testament and New – were written by Jews under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Peter, James and Paul all preached only from the Hebrew Scriptures. When they preached, there were no other Scriptures, no New Testament. They never renounced or took issue with or "unhitched" themselves from the Old Testament, which they revered as the only Holy Writ, without error, and never preached any message in contradiction with it. If you think they did, then you are misunderstanding what they were saying. The Bible cannot be in contradiction with itself, because God cannot be in contradiction with Himself. In addition, in Acts 15, James, the brother of Jesus and the head of the church in Jerusalem, does not renounce the commandments for the new Gentile believers. Instead, he assures the apostles that these new believers will hear the law of Moses preached every Sabbath in the synagogue, suggesting that they need not be expected to understand all the law on the day they decide to follow Jesus – seemingly a common-sense idea.
Stanley: "The Bible did not create Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity. Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down. The question is: Did Jesus rise from the dead? And the eyewitnesses said he did."
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Farah: The Old Testament is not a house of cards, and it will never come tumbling down. It is, in fact, in the Book of Genesis, the Garden of Eden, that we first learn of God's redemptive plan for the fall of man. That Jesus came as the "Son of Man," or the "Son of Adam" (Adam being Hebrew for man), to save the world and restore it to the way He, Jesus Himself, created it (John 1) is apparently lost on Stanley. Peter explained in Acts 3 that all the prophets pointed to the restorative work of Jesus. Apparently, Stanley thinks this is not worth understanding, nor are the law and the prophets worth studying. By attempting to disconnect the Old Testament from the New, he is knowingly or unknowingly following in the blasphemy of the heretic Marcion.
Stanley: The pastor apparently recognized his message would be disturbing to some, like me, but is pleased with it nonetheless because, he says: "It's liberating for men and women who are drawn to the simple message that God loves you so much He sent His Son to pave the way to a relationship with you. It's liberating for people who need and understand grace, who need and understand forgiveness. And it's liberating for people who find it virtually impossible to embrace the dynamic, the worldview, and the value system depicted in the story of ancient Israel."
Farah: The God of the Old Testament, the One who walked in the Garden of Eden, who etched the commandments in the stone tablets with His finger, the One who spoke from the burning bush, the One who created everything (John 1), the One and only Mediator between God and man, (1 Timothy 2:5) is the self-same Jesus who died on the cross. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
Stanley: "If you were raised on a version of Christianity that relied on the Bible as the foundation of faith, a version that was eventually dismantled by academia or the realities of life, maybe it's time for you to change your mind about Jesus. Maybe it's time for you to consider the version of Christianity that relies on the event of the resurrection of Jesus as its foundation. If you gave up your faith because of something about or in the Bible, maybe you gave up unnecessarily." His message for them is simple: "Start with Jesus! He came to introduce something totally new."
Farah: The Bible has never been dismantled by academia or the realities of life. If that's what you think, you are mistaken. Every word of the Bible is true. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16) Nor am I persuaded that Jesus introduced new doctrine.
Stanley:, "Jesus' new covenant, His covenant with the nations, His covenant with you, His covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures."
Farah: The New Covenant is first explained in Jeremiah 31. It is not a covenant with all nations. It is a covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. Gentiles are grafted in to this New Covenant through their faith in Messiah Jesus. (Romans 11) One who does not comprehend and acknowledge God's special covenantal promise to and relationship with the children of Israel, "the apple of His eye" (Deuteronomy 32:10 and Zechariah 2:8), should probably not be teaching in an evangelical mega-church.
Stanley: What Jesus meant when He said He had not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17) was that He came to "replace it." He insists Jesus' words should be interpreted: "I am in fact replacing. I'm not going to change what you've always been taught. I'm going to challenge you to abandon what you have been taught."
Farah: Let me give you the dictionary definition of the world "fulfill": "to carry out, or bring to realization, as a prophecy or promise; to perform or do, as duty; obey or follow, as commands; to satisfy (requirements, obligations, etc.)" What did Paul say in Romans 3:31? "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law." Amen to that! And what did Jesus say? "If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15) Did Jesus write two sets of commandments?
Stanley: "The Law and the Prophets, the old covenant, had an expiration date."
Farah: Did God make a mistake? Or, is the New Covenant described accurately in Jeremiah 31 where it says: "After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." Where is the conflict between old and new?
Stanley: The Gospel of Jesus "is completely detached … from everything that came before. … God has done something through the Jews for the world. But the 'through the Jews' part of the story is over, and now something new and better and inclusive has come."
Farah: Jesus preached a different Gospel than the one preached by Stanley. He called it "the Gospel of the Kingdom." What is the Gospel of the Kingdom? It's the message of His return. Do you know to where He comes back? The Mount of Olives – in Israel, in Jerusalem, where He will reign as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over the entire Earth, fully restored before the fall of man. (Zechariah 14:4) Of course, if you don't study the Old Testament and consider it outdated, a plan gone wrong, then you might miss these details. Jesus still has a destiny to fulfill beyond offering salvation to those who love Him and follow Him. But if you don't understand Jesus' destiny, you might not be following His Gospel of the Kingdom. By the way, does Stanley know Jesus was a Jew? Does he know all the apostles were Jews? Am I uncomfortable with the way he uses the word "Jews" so disdainfully and disrespectfully? Yes, I am.
Stanley: "God's arrangement with Israel should now be eliminated from the equation."
Farah: God has other ideas. That's why he has brought the children of Israel back to the land as He promised through His prophets. He will be their King. He is just waiting for them to say, as Jesus explained in Matthew 23:39: "Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." You can be sure all Israel will say just that. (Romans 11:26)
In closing, when I wrote my new book, "The Gospel in Every Book of the Old Testament," I didn't consider it controversial among evangelicals nor most biblically grounded Christians. It has been praised by Catholics, Calvinists, fundamentalists. But I understand why it will not be well-received by supersessionists – those who think God made mistakes in the Old Testament and Jesus came to the rescue in the New. I thought the Good News, first found in the Hebrew Scriptures, would be good news indeed. One of my great hopes would be that Christians would use this study to find new relevance in the Old Testament, where the true foundation of all our faith can be found. I thought it would be good news that the Bible is consistent in theme and essence, proving itself miraculous and fully divine.
Am I grievously wrong, or is Pastor Stanley?
I would be happy to send a gratis copy of my new book to Stanley to see what he thinks. If anyone has a connection with him, let me know and I will rush it to you before more believers and would-be believers are deceived.
Find out more about "The Gospel in Every Book of the Old Testament":