Recently Andy Stanley, the pastor of Northpoint church, landed in a bit of controversy over a sermon from his “Aftermath” series in which he suggested that Christians need to “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament. This week Jonathan Merritt interviewed Stanley on his Seekers and Speakers podcast about the controversy that resulted from his quote. From what I gather Stanley is presenting some level of a dispensational approach to understanding the Bible by stating that the Mosaic law is not binding on New Testament believers. From there he departs from mainline dispensationalism by suggesting that there are different value systems in the Old and New Testaments and that the less we depend on the Old Testament to support Christian faith, the better off we are. Stanley’s whole apologetic centers on the resurrection of Christ, which he regards as the sine qua non of Christian faith. There is a level of truth to this position; however, Stanley so much depends on the resurrection that he regards the virgin birth as superfluous to Christianity(1) and that all of Christianity can be built on the testimonies of two of the Gospels (he doesn’t specify which two) and 1 Corinthians. It seems that the main thing he is arguing against is the idea that in order to be a Christian one must embrace every jot and tiddle of orthodox teaching. “That’s absurd.”
But in addition to arguing against the extreme position that one must accept ALL of a particular set of Christian beliefs in order to be a “Real Christian”, Stanley seems to also want people to not have to be embarrassed by some seemingly unsavory aspects of Biblical teachings, particularly concerning the Old Testament. Sure, for a guy like him who grew up in the church, it might be easy to believe that a snake talked to a lady or that a boat held a bunch of animals, but for a well-educated twenty-something, that might be a bridge too far; Stanley doesn’t want those folks to be discouraged from the Savior for the sake of those secondary concerns.
There is some truth to Stanley’s position. “Believe in Young Earth Creationism and you will be saved” is not a Biblical statement. However, this common approach against accepting the historicity of the Old Testament, or, at least, against bringing up that you accept the historicity of the Old Testament is problematic. Last year I read and reviewed Adam and the Genome, where its author, Scott McKnight, listed “sensitivity to science students” as one of his four principles for reading the Bible.(2) Even in Tim Keller’s wonderful defense of the Christian faith, The Reason for God, where he acknowledges Darwinian evolution as presenting an alternative worldview to that of Christianity, he reveals that he personally believes “God guided some sort of process of natural selection.”
I have no idea how old Stanley thinks the earth is or why Keller relies on an easily refuted belief that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict (3) each other to conclude, “Genesis 1 does not teach that God made the world in six twenty-four hours days.” I do think it comes mostly from a good place of not wanting to cause people to stumble over secondary issues in one’s attempt to win them to Christ. One of my favorite anecdotes along these lines is found in a J. Vernon McGee study of Jonah. (4) McGee took the position that Jonah died in the great fish and was resurrected. As it so happens soon after he took this position he had a “chance” encounter with a college student who saw the teaching that Jonah somehow survived three days inside the belly of a fish as so unlikely that it prevented him from accepting other testimony in the Scriptures, particularly concerning Jesus. McGee walked the young man through the text to show him that it does not outright say that Jonah survived for three days and that, therefore, more than likely Jonah died and was resurrected. That was enough to remove the stumps and convince the young man to become a Christian. McKnight has similar stories in his book about how removing the so-called contradiction between “faith” and “science” have led people to Christ. Still, to me, the genuineness of the Genesis account is much more significant than the less clear interpretation of Jonah concerning his time in the fish. I mean, at least, McGee wasn’t denying the historical reliability of the book!
Still, as regards salvation, the issue is not the age of the earth, Jonah, or the geographic impact of the flood, it is Jesus Christ: Who He is and what He did! He is the Son of God, He did die on the cross for our sins, He was buried, He did rise again after three days. He does call all to trust in Him for salvation. But, what is difficult for me to grasp is that the death, burial and resurrection of a God-man for the sake of the sins of the world is just as unscientific a claim and just as outrageous a claim as young earth creationism. And all of the information comes from the same book! I mean, I do get that a whole worldview and scientific (so-called) edifice is built on an old universe and an old earth and a descent of species (including mankind!) based on natural selection, so, in that sense, the young earth claim is in many ways more directly subversive than just the offer of forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. But for a Christian who also is a serious student of the Bible to accept the one (the events surrounding Jesus) but deny the other (Biblical creationism) just seems strange. Furthermore, I do also understand that God is in the business of saving sinners and we sinners hold to all kinds of really crazy crazy crazy stuff. If we had to get rid of all of the craziness to be saved, the new heavens and new earth would be populated by one Person. My point being that God uses people with diverse views to shine light on the Savior to win people to Him. And the approach of not getting bogged down on secondary matters and even suggesting that smart Christians don’t accept a (so-called) flat, literal approach to Genesis does apparently help the Savior look more attractive to many people. BUT, for me (and I am not the only one), when I come to the Bible and start reading page 1 about this and that happening and it occurring on day one, then this other thing and that other thing occurring on day 2, then I read a little further and I (in my mind’s ear) hear God thundering over Sinai “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11 [NIV]), and then after that I am told that this does not mean that God made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them in six days and rested on the seventh, it causes a double-take.(5) This doesn’t mean what it says but several hundred pages later when the text gets to Jesus, that’s all of a sudden a record of actual events. Oh, I see, it’s poetry. Everything that happens to contradict a scientific structure built on the philosophy that spiritual things have no bearing on scientific inquiry and that even revelation from creation’s Creator should be disregarded when studying His very own creation! Everything, that is, except certain aspects of the life of Christ.
I do think that folks like Keller, Stanley and McKnight have a heart that is in the right place. But I also think that evolutionary ideas are so entrenched in modern thought patterns that many Christians actively seek approaches to the Bible that they do not have to be embarrassed by. Questions of origin can never be answered by science. Genesis is not a science book (though it has been well-noted that many Mosaic Law Code restrictions anticipate modern germ theory by thousands of years(6)), but it is a divinely revealed history book. More still, the only witness to the events in Genesis so happens to be the Creator God Who, according to the same Bible that tells us about Jesus, tells us that ALL Scripture is God-breathed. I may have a hard time remembering the specifics of events that occurred last year (or last week!) but God doesn’t. This same God Who showed His love by not sparing His only Son, also said straightforwardly that He created all that is in the universe in six days, which matches exactly what He also says in Genesis 1. If you’re going to be embarrassed it should be by worldviews that contradict this revelation.
(1) He even states (in the 26th minute of the interview), “If I didn’t believe in the virgin birth, do you think I’d tell anybody? That’s a career ending move.” He says that but never actually clarifies that he does believe in the virgin birth.
(2) He listed “the primacy of Scripture” as the last of his four principles. The “primacy” was last.
(3) See also: Gleason Archer Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pgs. 67-9.
(4) See page 16 of the linked document.
(5) The apparent correct way to interpret Exodus 20:11 follows: For in six days (allegorical, poetic, not-literal, etc.) the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them (literal–all Christians hold to God as being the Creator so this is okay), and he rested on the seventh day (allegorical, poetic, non-literal).
(6) See also McMillen and Stern, None of These Diseases.