Friday, August 10, 2018
Friday, Aug 10, 2018
Tags: Andy Stanley, Audio, Germany, Marcionism, Twitter
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, August 10, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Andy Stanley, once again, makes an argument that subverts the authority of Scripture and casts doubt upon biblical Christianity
Once again, controversy concerning major theological issues, this time focused on a pastor of a very large church in Atlanta. We're talking about Andy Stanley. Eventually we learn to take an individual at his word, and Andy Stanley is a master communicator. He communicates very well and very often. His preaching and teaching often bring controversy, and he quite regularly makes comments that subvert the authority of Scripture and cast doubt upon biblical Christianity.
He returns regularly to certain themes and arguments, so regularly that we certainly get the point. He evidently wants us to understand that he means what he says.
Earlier this year, Stanley brought controversy when he argued in a sermon that the Christian faith must be unhitched from the Old Testament. He claimed that, and I quote, "Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish Scriptures, and my friends, we must as well".
Later explaining his statement, Stanley told Relevant magazine, "Well, I never suggested we unhitch from a passage of Scripture or a specific biblical imperative". "Again", he said, "I was preaching through Acts 15 where Peter, James, and Paul recommended the first century Church 'unhitch' my word", he said. "I'm open to an alternative, the Law of Moses from the Gospel being preached to the Gentiles in Antioch".
Indeed, in the sermon, Stanley did not argue that any specific Old Testament command should be nullified. Instead, he went even further and told his listeners that the Old Testament should not be seen as "the go to source regarding any behavior in the Church". In his view, the first century leadership of the Church unhitched the Church from the worldview value system and regulations of the Jewish Scriptures.
Again, controversy rightly erupted after those comments spoken earlier this year. But in recent days, Andy Stanley has returned to the same theme. This time in a conversation with Jonathan Merritt on his podcast Seekers and Speakers.
In this conversation, Stanley speaks about growing a childhood belief about the Bible and coming to understand what he presents as a far more complex reality. How complex? Well, Stanley argues that we must know that biblical references to the Scripture "did not mean the Bible". Note his words carefully, "This is something I'm trying desperately to help people understand, and every time I try to explain it, I get misunderstood. So here I go again". He continued, "There was no the Bible until the fourth century.
When we think about the Bible, we think about a book that contains the Jewish Scripture and the Christian writings and such a thing", he said "did not exist until after Christianity became legal and scholars could come out of the shadows and actually put such a thing together".
He continued, "So the early church, no one ever said in the early church, the Bible says, the Bible teaches. The Bible says, the Bible teaches because there was no the Bible, but the point of your question", he said "There was a Scripture, but every time we see the phrase, the Scripture or Scripture in the New Testament, as you know, we have to stop and ask the question, what was this particular group of people referring to? Because there was no the Bible, and there was no book that contained all the Jewish Scripture, because it was contained in synagogues, and as you know, virtually no one could read and write".
Now, wait just a minute. It is true that Jesus and the apostles did not have the Old Testament and the New Testament bound together in a book or Codex form. It is of course also plainly true that the New Testament did not exist until it was given book by book by the Holy Spirit to the church in the first century.
But it is not true that references to the Scriptures or the Scripture by Jesus and the apostles are any mystery to us. They are plainly referring to what we know as the Old Testament. There are references to Moses and the prophets such as Luke 16:29, and the law and the prophets, Luke 16:16.
But faithful Jews in the first century would emphatically have known exactly what the Scriptures are. As a matter of fact, Mark Hamilton has documented the fact that the Greek phrase to ta biblia the books was in his words, "An expression Hellenistic Jews used to describe their sacred books several centuries before the time of Jesus". The fact that the Old Testament Scriptures were at the time in scroll form in synagogues, rather than book form, is plain.
But the fact is that the Jewish authorities made their arguments on the basis of appeal to the Scriptures, and so did Jesus and the apostles. Both Jesus and the apostles did make their arguments according to the Scriptures.
See for example, Paul in First Corinthians 15:3-4. Consider Jesus preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, and I quote, "And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written. The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor". And then as Luke tells us, he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing". That's Luke 4:17-21.
Jesus was powerfully arguing the Bible says in a way that his hearers in the synagogue clearly understood. And that pattern is found throughout the New Testament. Geerhardus Vos underlines this fact when he states with reference to the Kingdom of God, "The first thing to be noticed in Jesus' utterances on our theme is that they clearly presuppose a consciousness on his part of standing with his work on the basis of the revelation of God in the Old Testament".
In John chapter 5:46 to 47, Jesus rebuked those who did not believe in him with these words, "If you believe Moses, you would believe me for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?".
Similarly, the apostles made their arguments for the Gospel of Christ with reference to the Old Testament and its testimony to Christ in the saving purpose of God. At no point in the New Testament is the Old Testament dismissed. Rather, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven". That's Matthew 5:17-19.
The pattern is promise and fulfillment, not rejection and repudiation. This is true even in the case of Acts 15 with the apostles citing the authority of Amos 9:11-12, and even citing the binding authority of Genesis 9:4 on the Gentile believers. Again, the pattern is promise and fulfillment.
Andy Stanley argues that the Old Testament should not be cited, as in his words, "The go to source regarding any behavior in the church". But the moral law of the Old Testament remains honored by the church and repeated, even intensified in the New Testament.
Peter, James and Paul did not unhitch the Christian faith from the Jewish Scriptures, nor can we. We are looking here at the ancient heresy of Marcion who argued that the Old Testament must be repudiated by the church. Marcion who lived about the years 85 to 160, taught that the Old Testament revealed a creator deity who is not even the same God who sent Jesus. Unsurprisingly, he also held to a heretical Christology.
The Old Testament deity was repugnant to Marcion who argued that Christianity must make a clean break from Judaism. The Old Testament he taught reveals a vindictive law giving creator deity who bears no resemblance to the merciful, redeeming God revealed in Jesus Christ.
As Irenaeus, one of the most significant church fathers, argued, "Marcion himself divides God in two, saying that one is good, the other judicial, and in so doing takes God away from both".
Marcion was embarrassed by the Old Testament and so are many modern people. Andy Stanley at the very least seems to fear that embarrassment in others, even if he does not identify with it himself. He spoke this way with Jonathan Merritt. "I'm convinced that we make a better case for Jesus if we leave the Old Testament or the old covenant out of the argument". So we can make a better case for Jesus than the case Jesus made for himself?
But the embarrassment comes through clearly in Andy Stanley's comments in the interview. He spoke of people who have lost their faith because they read the Old Testament and then said this, "It's the same God, but he was doing two different things. All that differentiating between those things is so important. Again, in this sermon, I said, hey, it's time we face the facts and unhitch our faith and our practice from some of those Old Testament values that we can appreciate in their original context, but we really don't have any business dragging them into a modern context".
To be clear, Andy Stanley does not endorse the full heresy of Marcionism, which was universally condemned by the early church. He actually appears to aim at the heresy of Marcionism and to aim his hearers in the same direction. He clearly reveals that God is the same God in both testaments, but he says that he reveals himself in two completely different ways.
Just like Marcion, he argues that the church must unhitch from the Old Testament. He actually says, "I am convinced for the sake of this generation and the next generation, we have to rethink our apologetic as Christians, and the less we depend on the Old Testament to prop up our New Testament faith, the better because of where we are in this culture". The church cannot unhitch from the Old Testament without unhitching from the Gospel Jesus preached.
Speaking of the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus said, "These are they that testify about me". That's John 5:39. Alarmingly in the podcast, Stanley questions whether Jesus actually meant his own references to Old Testament narratives to be taken as historical. He said, "Then a person has to decide, okay, well actually Jesus references the Garden of Eden, or he references in the beginning when God created the first two people. He references Jonah. Then you have to decide when the Son of God references these people and these incidences and these prophets, what did he mean? I'm comfortable", said, Stanley, "not everybody is, but I am comfortable letting the conversation go from there".
It is very instructive to remember that the most influential theological liberal of the 20th century, Adolf von Harnack chose Marcion as his theological hero. Why? Because like Marcion, he wanted to reduce Christianity to what he claimed to be its essence, the benevolent fatherhood of God. All the doctrines of Orthodox Christianity, including the doctrines concerning the divinity of Christ, were dismissed as either Jewish or Greco Roman incrustations.
By the way, I'm sure that Andy Stanley means no anti-Semitism in referring to the Old Testament as the Jewish Scriptures, but this use does have the implied effect of identifying those Scriptures only with the Jewish people, and not with Christianity. But the Christian identification of the Old Testament as the Jewish Scriptures has a dangerous pedigree.
In any regard, Adolf von Harnack must also be remembered as seeking to champion Marcion within German Protestantism, just as anti-Semitism was rising once again with deadly power in Germany. As Alister McGrath notes, "Sadly, Marcionism is a heresy that seems to be revived with every resurgence of anti-Semitism".
The issues actually reach deeper. In recent years, Andy Stanley has encouraged getting over, "The Bible tells me so". He actually claimed in 2016 that the church veered into trouble when it began to make its arguments on the basis of the Bible. He cited deconversion stories in which people told him that they lost their Christian faith when they lost confidence in the Bible. He said, and I quote, "If the Bible is the foundation of your faith, here's the problem. It's all or nothing. Christianity becomes a fragile house of cards religion".
In the podcast interview, he gives us yet another glimpse of what he means. "Now for you and me, it is much easier for us to embrace all those things as historical, primarily because of how we were raised. But I totally get", he said, "when a 25 year old or a 35 year old comes to faith in Jesus and then starts reading the Old Testament. They're kind of looking like, really? Well, you know that's difficult", said Stanley, "but that doesn't undermine my faith and I would never press somebody to say, well, if you can't accept all of it as historically true, then you can't really be a Christian". Stanley concluded, "I think that's a little bit absurd".
But another key question is whether one can be a faithful Christian while denying the truthfulness of Scripture. Jesus himself makes the point that without the Old Testament as the word of God, we really do not know who he is. Then what does it mean to be a Christian? As we sing, Jesus Christ is the Church's one foundation, but we cannot know him apart from the Bible.
In this latest interview, Andy Stanley also suggests that Christianity ultimately and eventually created the Bible. Well, that's consistent with Roman Catholic theology, but not with Evangelical Christianity. In the interview, Stanley affirmed again that affirmation of the virgin birth is not necessary. He had earlier stated, "If someone can predict their own death and resurrection, I'm not all that concerned about how they got into the world".
But the New Testament is very concerned about how Jesus got into the world, and if he was not conceived by the Holy Spirit, then he was conceived in some other way. Here we need to remember that the etymology of heresy is rooted in choice. A heretic denies a belief central and essential to Christianity, but heresy also takes the form of choice. You can choose to believe in the virgin birth or not, Stanley argues. He is not all that concerned about it.
Several years ago, I argued that Andy Stanley represents a new face of theological liberalism. In our day, he is playing the role that was played by Harry Emerson Fosdick in the early 20th century. Stanley may not intend to play that role. He sees himself as an apologist, so did Fosdick. He sought to rescue Christianity from itself, from its doctrines and truth claims. Fosdick cited his own de-conversion stories as justification for remaking Christianity in the beginning of the 20th century.
Fosdick also saw in his own way to unhitch Christianity from the Old Testament. In his famous 1923-1924 Beecher lectures on preaching at Yale, Fosdick called for a new modern understanding of the Bible, as he called it. This would require a jettisoning of what were for him and many others, the embarrassing parts of the Old Testament. He described the effort to retain much of the Old Testament as intellectually ruinous and morally debilitating.
To the young preachers of that day, Fosdick argued, and I quote, "The Old Testament exhibits many attitudes indulged in by men and ascribed to God, which represent early stages in a great development. And it is", he said, "alike intellectually ruinous and morally debilitating to endeavor to harmonize those early ideals with the revelations of the great prophets and the Gospels". Well, here's a bit of news. Now in the year 2018, here we go again.
A problem for feminists in Germany? Why the German language threatens the deeply ingrained trajectory in German culture
Next, we turn again to a very contemporary issue at the intersection of the sexual revolution and reality. But in this case, the reality is the German language. This is an interesting story. It was reported by USA Today on July the 11th. It's particularly interesting because Germany sees itself as such a progressive culture, but there is a problem for feminists, or at least feminists see a problem in Germany. And the problem is the German language.
You may remember that just a few weeks ago, we looked at a similar kind of story from France. French feminists and gender theorists were complaining that the French language with its gender specific nouns and forms of speech simply was going to have to be redefined. But that goes up against the French pride, the enormous intellectual and cultural pride of France, and thus you have an inevitable collision and no one knows exactly how that's going to turn out.
Germany's a bit different. It's not so much the kind of literary elitism as it is a deeply ingrained trajectory in German culture. As Austin Davis reports on USA Today, "Most Germans consider themselves in the vanguard of the gender equality movement. Exhibit A, their female leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, has been in power for 13 years. But then Davis goes on to report women's rights advocates contend that reality is that women lag men in the workplace, and that one of the biggest obstacles to their advancement is the sexist nature of the German language itself.
In English, we are told a doctor is a doctor and a lawyer is a lawyer. regardless of whether that person is male or female. Not so in the German language where professional titles and nouns reflect the gender of a person. The German words for a male doctor and a female doctor are different, though they share the same root.
Furthermore, there is a complaint about the fact that the German national anthem and German culture at large, refers to Germany itself as the fatherland. As you might imagine, that's sexist. As Austin writes, "As the MeToo movement hits Germany, the language has been catapulted to the center of a national debate about gender equality".
One person cited in the article, Luise Pusch, identified as a German linguist specializing in feminist speech said, and I quote, "Gender bias finds its way into every nook and cranny of society", and she went on to argue that the predominance of male nouns describing job openings means "Girls often have a hard time imagining that they also are being sought out. They're not only being shut out grammatically", she said, "but also through their own image of this profession".
Well, the great obstacle here is not just German pride. It is the deeply ingrained structure of the German language. It's not just male doctors and female doctors who have slightly different words. It is the fact that the entire language is based upon a differentiation in the gender of nouns. The entire structure of German literature, and for that matter, everyday colloquial German speech is based upon that distinction.
You can't make a slight alteration in the language to meet these feminist demands. You're going to have to change the entire structure of the language, and just consider what that would mean.
You may remember that I reported that in the face of this controversy in France, the French Academy, that's the most illustrious group of scholars in France, had decided that they were not able to agree upon a policy. Similarly, Germany's official Council for Orthography, which sets the official rules for the German language, it's also shelved the debate about the issue.
And we should note it's not just a matter of arguments about gender and sex when it comes to male and female. The big issue looming in the background is the entire revolution that is summarized in those letters, at least for now, LGBTQ plus.
As we saw yesterday on The Briefing with discussion of the new gender glossary, there is no language that can at this point handle this revolution, and the revolution continues to press on.
Ironically, those who want to change the German language have to use the German language as it is now even to frame their arguments about how they might demand the German language should be. But here as Christians, we also need to remember that as God made us as both cultural and linguistic creatures in his image, you can't change the language without eventually and directly changing the culture. That's the big issue here. Make no mistake.
The moral consequences of social media: Is what we grew out of in high school now what we lean into on Twitter?
Finally, as we go into the weekend, an interesting article appeared in the New York Times by Jennifer Senior. I even love the title of it and I quote, "A high school we can't escape". That high school we can't escape, Senior argues, is Twitter. You might generalize that to social media.
She reminds us of being in high school, the meanness in the corridors, the unfiltered opinions, the kind of constant monitoring of the self in comparison to peers. Senior argues that what used to be, what we grew out of in high school, is now what we lean into on Twitter.
Senior points back to the 1960's and 70's, and the psychology of the era in particular, David Elkind. He was a developmental psychologist who in 1967 wrote about what he called the imaginary audience. A phenomenon he said then in adolescence, the idea that teenagers, Senior writes, somehow see themselves as stars of their own productions, believing themselves to be watched by an eager if sometimes judgmental public. But then Senior writes, on Twitter you actually are living your life on a stage.
Mary Ann Underwood, a psychologist who studies adolescent aggression and Internet use, said, "It's the imaginary audience come to life". By the time Senior reaches the end of her article, she argues, "The problem is Twitter rewards us for our mistakes. It isn't designed to let us grow up. The time in our lives we were so happy to leave behind, the time cruelties were experienced with an especial intensity, we are living all over again. For all we know", she says, "the effects of the new unkindness we have sown may be just as hard to undo".
That's an interesting thought as we head into the weekend. A thought about the moral consequences of technology in general and social media in particular. But it's also a warning to us that concerns that used to be directed at adolescents, concerns that it was assumed adolescents would grow out of on the way to adulthood, now effect so many of us, so much of the time. That's perhaps the biggest warning here.