Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
-Robert Browning, Andrea del Sarto
In 2018, Pastor Andy Stanley, son of the famous pastor Charles Stanley, presented a 3-part sermon series titled “Aftermath” that became infamous for certain assertions that had what many thought were clearly heretical qualities.
Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish Scriptures. -Andy Stanley (Aftermath Part 3 33:21)
Since that series aired, there have been many, many who have covered, discussed, or responded to Andy and this particular series. Most coverage has deemed to conclude it’s simply heretical and nothing of value was presented.
While I do sense some heretical tendencies I have always thought Stanley was onto a certain something, a hint of a something about our faith, our morality, and our freedom in Christ, even if his surface idea appears irreconcilable with scripture.
I will not necessarily be arguing against all or even any of Stanley’s points although I’m glad others have done that.
What I will be doing is latching onto one particular truth and investigating it towards an end I think is perplexing, profound, and paradigm shifting.
The ideas raised and the ramifications that result are intense and long-established beliefs are questioned all over again: Questions of what’s right and wrong? What’s moral and immoral? Do we still follow the Ten Commandments? Do we follow the Greatest Commandment? And how deep does this rabbit hole really go?
All of the ideas and questions raised above are raised by and summed up in Jesus’ words,
This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
If you haven’t listened to the sermons, already, it might be a good idea to listen to them now, at least the first part, before continuing here, so that you have some context for what I’m launching off from.
The “Unhitch” idea
Peter, James, and Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well. And I’ll tell you why. It’s actually the same reason they did: because we must not make it difficult for those Gentiles who are turning to God. They didn’t. We shouldn’t either. -Andy Stanley (Aftermath Part 3 37:52)
The context of the ‘unhitch’ controversy is a series of sermons in which Stanley is primarily making the case that “we must not make it difficult for those Gentiles who are turning to God”.
In Aftermath Part 1, he introduces the idea of distilling the nature of the Christian faith down to an “event” instead of a “book”. Stanley does this in the hopes of evading all of our modern, naturalistic, materialistic arguments against the bible, things like an ‘evil and maniacal God’, the problem of evolution for the biblical creation narrative, and more. Stanley hopes that, by focusing just on Jesus’s Incarnation and Resurrection, he won’t have to address skeptics’ questions.
The foundation of your faith and mine is not a book. It is an event. -Andy Stanley (Aftermath Part 1 31:23)
In Aftermath Part 2, he builds the case that the first century church, including the Apostles, themselves, were shown by God that they should not treat non-Jews as inferior: That they should not put up roadblocks to the Gentiles believing in Jesus. The Apostles are shown that they must meet with Gentiles face-to-face and they are even shown that the Gentiles receive the same Holy Spirit – yet they were not even circumcised (ie. following the Law of Moses) like the Jews. Stanley ends the scripture portion of Part 2 by presenting the dilemma of what to teach Gentiles who receive the Holy Spirit even without following the Law of Moses. He also leaves off with the very clear message that while the Old Testament (Old Covenant) is unlivable the New Testament (New Covenant) is irresistible.
It’s two fabulous covenants… and when you mix and match you get the worst of both – you’ll never get the best of either. -Andy Stanley (Aftermath Part 2 32:21)
In Aftermath Part 3, Stanley begins by introducing the three covenants (Individual – Abraham, Nation – Jews, Nations – Jews and Gentiles) and his belief how this is contributing to many people losing their faith in modern times. He continues onto the controversy of the very early church about which covenant, or which parts, the Gentiles must uphold. James and Peter declare that the Gentiles of Antioch should be held only to abstain from idols, sexual immorality, from eating things strangled, and from eating blood. Stanley argues that these were selected to make the peace and ensure unity between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians–a little bit of give and take on either side–and not to create a new Law for Gentiles.
The Old Testament, or the Law of the Prophets as they called it, was not going to be the source for any behaviour in the Church. -Andy Stanley (Aftermath Part 3 31:38)
Stanley concludes with his actual motivation citing from James concluding on the matter James and Peter talked about regarding requiring or not requiring the Christians of Antioch to follow Jewish customs:
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Acts 15:19
Is Stanley on to something?
Did the Apostles really ‘unhitch’ and deny that the Old Testament Law would be the “source for any behaviour in the Church”?
I will not be arguing for or against Stanley’s points. Instead, I will be spring-boarding from his ideas, one in particular, and digging into what that means for how Christians should live: That is, our moral behaviour.
I will not be pointing out something new or novel about Stanley’s sermons. Stanley said it bluntly, “You are not accountable to the Ten Commandments. You are not accountable to the Jewish Law.”
Now, to make this point…I was going to put a screen up here: “In other words, that means thou shalt not obey the ten commandments.” But I want you to hear me say it. Here’s what the Jerusalem council was saying to the Gentiles: You are not accountable to the Ten Commandments. You are not accountable to the Jewish Law. We’re done with that. God has done something new. -Andy Stanley (Aftermath Part 3 31:48)
Is this actually true?
And, if it is true, what does that mean for how we act out moral choices that involve things like telling the truth, or stealing, or killing in war?
Is it true?
If it’s not true then we can stop right here and go back to living according to the Ten Commandments and the Great Commission and call it a day.
But if it is true…
Then both fearful alarm and joyful wonder, and both at the same time, are appropriate feelings.
Fearful alarm because quite likely you grew up to obey the Ten Commandments, as did I, and every Christian must be alert for wolves in sheep’s clothing so that we do not fall into immoral living.
Yet joyful wonder at the possibilities and paradigm-altering importance that part of you hesitates to believe while the other part of you hopes that it might have been God’s plan all along.
So, is it true?
How does it play out in real life? What are the new rules? What’s moral and immoral anymore? What’s right and wrong anymore? What does the New Testament really say about the Old Testament?
That’s what I’m going to dive into in this series in Unhitched Part 2: A Man’s Reach Should Exceed His Grasp.
Again, it’s not my intention to argue for or against Stanley’s Aftermath series.
My intention is to highlight something I believe Stanley has hit on that modern Christianity has forgotten or at least not emphasized like other things. Perhaps Stanley knew what he was on to or perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps he had to craft a listener-friendly sermon which muddied the message. Whichever it was, I believe Stanley was perilously close to a truth that has ramifications for the moral paradoxes of every age.
Find out where this all leads in Unhitched Part 2: A Man’s Reach Should Exceed His Grasp.
This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.