Is Andy Stanley a Marcionite?

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.

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Is Jesus Like God or is God Like Jesus?

JesusAlthough I agree that Jesus is God (John 1:1), I have something specific in mind when I ask if Jesus is like God or God like Jesus. Traditionally, people have looked at Jesus and identified divine attributes and used this as ways to demonstrated that Jesus is God.

But some theologians sees this as a backward process.

There is a growing trend to start with Jesus and to use him as the measure to determine what is truly God. I have seen this in the writings of Greg Boyd and have heard similar things by Scot McKnight and Brian Zahnd. I will admit that I have not read Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God, although I hope to in the near future. But I have read such statements in Boyd’s other books.

This is a convenient hermeneutic for Boyd and other (mostly Anabaptist) scholars. There are some troubling passages in the Old Testament where not only does God perform acts of violence, he also commands his people to use violence. This can be difficult for Christians who are committed to nonviolence.

What Boyd is able to do is to look to Jesus and then measure descriptions of God in the Old Testament by that standard. Anytime we read a description of God, we should ask, “Could we see Jesus doing that?”

So when God in the Old Testament command people to care for the poor, that is consistent with Jesus and so is an accurate description of God. But when God in the Old Testament calls people to attack and destroy a city, that is inconsistent with Jesus and so is an inaccurate description of God.

I have not read enough of Boyd to know how he explains those troubling passages. I would suspect he would say that the Israelites misunderstood what God wanted or tried to impose their own agenda with a theological foundation.

While I can see the attractiveness of this view, I have some serious concerns.

The first is that it makes interpretation of the Old Testament very difficult. Just because the Old Testament quotes God in saying something, doesn’t mean that God actually said it. The Old Testament is a mix of accurate and inaccurate accounts, some divine revelation mixed with mistaken ideas about God. This theory prevents us from reading the Old Testament in anything like a straightforward (I purposely avoid literal) manner.

The other problem is that I don’t think this theory takes seriously diversity within the Trinity. They look to passages like, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3) From this it is argued that since Jesus is exactly like God, God is exactly like Jesus.

However, I suspect that if you asked the author of Hebrews to summarize Israelite history, he would have include the warrior images of God and the God-ordained invasion of Canaan. Probably all of the apostles would have understood the Old Testament as accurately revealing the words and actions of God.

I believe the author of Hebrews was trying to describe Jesus in such a way the demonstrate he was far greater than the angels or Moses. I don’t think he was trying to redefine God as being more Christ-like.

I don’t see why belief in the Trinity requires the Father, Son and Spirit to act in exactly the same way. Each person of the Trinity had different roles and I don’t think the earthly ministry of Jesus revealed everything about the Godhead.

Here is an example from the New Testament. In Acts 5, we find the deaths of Annias and Sapphira. It seems to be the Holy Spirit who is responsible for their deaths. Do we find Jesus killing people during his earthly ministry? No. Does that mean that the deaths of Annias and Sapphira was not divine judgment? No again.

I agree that there are some troubling passages in the Bible and that we need to wrestle with them. But I am not convinced that using the earthly ministry of Jesus as the standard of what is really God is the way to go.


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