Andy Stanley has recently caused a stir by comments in a sermon about the Old Testament. Many people are concerned about his remarks. Some are even calling him a Marcionite.
What is a Marcionite? A Marcionite is a follower of Marcion. Isn’t that helpful?
Marcion was a second century Christian heretic. What made him a heretic? He taught that the God of the Old Testament was not the Father of Jesus Christ. The God of the Old Testament was an evil God and should be rejected by followers of Jesus. Marcion completely rejected the Old Testament. In fact he came up with his own New Testament canon that only included Luke’s Gospel and Paul’s letters. Even then he edited them to remove all the Old Testament references.
So what does this have to do with Andy Stanley? Stanley preached a message where he said that Christians should unhitch their faith from the Old Testament. Before accepting some critic’s summary of Stanley’s remarks, you should listen his message directly. Here it is.
The first thing that we need to remember is that Stanley is preaching specifically with non-Christians in mind. He is really an evangelist at heart. All that they do at his church is aimed at removing all obstacles to faith among seekers. You can disagree with this approach but we should interpret his comments within this context.
Some critics have drawn a parallel between Marcion’s rejection of the Old Testament and Andy Stanley’s supposed rejection of the Old Testament. Are Marcion and Stanley trying to do the same thing?
The reason that Marcion rejected the Old Testament is that he thought it presented a different God. Marcion was teaching a proto-Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that matter was evil and if the God of the Old Testament created matter, he must have been evil. The problem came down all to the nature of God.
That is not what Stanley is trying to do. He is not saying that the Old Testament God is a different or evil God. Rather he has observed that the Old Testament has been an obstacle to some people in coming to faith. Stanley rightfully sees the key event to becoming a Christian as the resurrection of Jesus.
Now, I need to make it clear that I disagree with what Stanley says about the Old Testament. I don’t believe we need to reject the Old Testament to become followers of Jesus. But that doesn’t make Stanley a Marcionite. A Marcionite was much more than just rejecting the Old Testament. It was a complete reinterpretation of the nature of God and Stanley doesn’t do that.
Having said that, I have seen what I consider to be semi-Marcionitism among some pastors and theologians. Greg Boyd would be an example of this. Boyd sees Jesus as the full revelation of who God is. When we go to the Old Testament, we need to ask every passage that says something about God if we could see Jesus of Nazareth doing what that passage says God did. If the Jesus who preached the Sermon on the Mount couldn’t have done that, it was not God.
Unlike Stanley, who doesn’t reject Old Testament descriptions of God (he only rejects their usefulness in bringing people to Jesus), Greg Boyd rejects some Old Testament passages that seem to clearly describe the words and actions of God and he rejects them as accurately representing God.
That is still not Marcionitism. But it is getting much closer to what Andy Stanley is saying about the Old Testament.
Since I originally posted this, Andy Stanley had the opportunity to address concerns on the Unbelievable? podcast.