Does the Old Testament really hinder the Gospel? Discussion has swirled about a recent sermon delivered by Andy Stanley and its relationship to the value of the New Testament. Admittedly, I have not had the chance to listen to the sermon, but what concerns me is that a mindset may be growing which influenced some of the remarks in the sermon. In the minds of many, the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, are problematic in view of modern thinking. I would like to briefly examine two things: are the Hebrew Scriptures a hindrance to proclaiming the Gospel, and does it matter if the Hebrew Scriptures may be unsuited to modern thinking?
Andy Stanley may have had noble intentions by pointing out that the central message of Scripture is Messiah Jesus. His desire to see Jesus proclaimed is a right and good desire, and those of us who value the Hebrew Scriptures would concur with this noble aim. However, in the mind of Stanley, the Hebrew Scriptures are a hindrance to the proclamation of the Gospel - or at least, that is the impression that may be given. This sort of argumentation would fall into a category of fallacy called ‘a false dilemma.’ First, let us look at just one passage of Scripture. John 1:29 states, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” What does this phrase, “Lamb of God,” even mean if we remove it from the context of the Jewish Scriptures? Clearly, this title refers to both the Passover and the binding of Isaac, or the Akediah. Without the background of the Hebrew Scriptures (which John’s audience clearly would have had), this reference would have made no sense, and would have told them little to nothing. John clearly did not believe the Hebrew Scriptures were a detriment to the Gospel, but rather that they were the correct way of presenting the Gospel.
If Jesus is the center for the believer, and the One he or she is to proclaim, perhaps we should look at Jesus’ own attitude towards the Hebrew Scriptures and their relationship to the Gospel. The very context of the famous John 3: 16, which someone like Andy Stanley would use to proclaim the Gospel, contains clear reference to the Hebrew Scriptures. We read in John 3:14-15, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” In the mind of Jesus there was no John 3:16 without the Hebrew Scriptures contained in Numbers 21. Jesus makes clear use of the Old Testament to share the Gospel, even in this verse which is used in evangelism more than any other. Clearly, Jesus does not agree with Andy Stanley’s analysis of the problematic nature of the Old Testament. Jesus does not believe that the Hebrew Scriptures hinder the proclamation of the Gospel at all!
But what about the problem that the Hebrew Scriptures are inconsistent with modern thinking? Given the nature of modern thinking, which tends towards materialistic or postmodern explanations of the world, the Gospel itself and the New Testament are both inconsistent with modern thinking. To argue that the Old Testament should be untethered from the church to accommodate modern thinking is tantamount to arguing that the Gospel should be changed in its essential truths to make it more palatable to the mainstream worldview of our culture. Many of the doctrines which are central to our faith, such as blood atonement, are archaic to modern society. I doubt the folks from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (P.E.T.A.) find the sacrificial system of the Hebrew Scriptures acceptable - yet they are key to the doctrine of blood atonement in understanding the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins.
The fact that the modern mindset does not understand the thinking of the Scripture’s original audience does not mean that the Scriptures need to be changed, but rather that they need to be explained. It is always a bad idea to mistake pragmatism for wisdom. When we deal with the essentials of the faith, I am not saying that other doctrines are not important, but on those things which are clear and repeatedly displayed under the Perspicuity of Scripture¹, we must stand firm.
One of the driving forces and part of my passion that the mission of Zionsbanner is to uphold the idea that the Scriptures, which include the Hebrew Scriptures as a vital part, are one story testifying to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Ministries like Zionsbanner, which I am so excited to be creating, serve the vital purpose of connecting the big story - which is integral to the Hebrew Scriptures - with the presenting of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world.
1 The Perspicuity of the Scriptures refers to the doctrine that the Scriptures in their central message are clear and that, while there are sections of Scripture which may be hard to understand, the central things of the word of God can be understood clearly and are made plain.