Atlanta megachurch pastor Andy Stanley recognizes our post-Christian age. He’s culturally observant. Stanley’s remedy, however, is worse than the disease.

A confession before we begin: I hardly read Christian rags anymore. One of my sons brought to my attention Andy Stanley’s recent sermon. Stanley recommends Christians “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament. It’s his remedy for our post-Christian culture.

Let’s start with what Stanley gets right. American evangelicals are losing numbers and losing them quickly. We’re in a post-Christian society. My sense is few pastors recognize this (they wrongly assume if their church is growing, the kingdom is growing nationwide). Stanley doesn’t seem to think this way. He sees the bigger picture.

Stanley cites the Barna Group that “48 percent of Americans qualify as ‘post-Christian.’” This is different from “non-Christian.” Post-Christians view the faith as “been there, done that.” They suffer from a disease (disease in the original sense—a lack of comfort, or dis-ease, with something). Post-Christian people are uncomfortable with our faith. Stanley gets this.

It’s his remedy that’s troubling. Stanley calls for “a new approach to apologetics and evangelism.” Christians must “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament. This remedy is worse than the disease. Better minds than mine have suggested as much, including Wesley Hill’s thoughtful rebuttal. Here’s why I see Stanley’s remedy as woeful.

In 1954, C. S. Lewis noted the rise of a post-Christian world.[1] He based this on history as falling into three ages—“the pre-Christian, the Christian, and what may be called the post-Christian.” Pre-Christians have not heard. Lewis likened them to virgins. Post-Christians are like divorcees. They’ve heard and, like marriage, are so over the faith.

Lewis’ remedy wasn’t “unhitching” the faith from the Old Testament. He instead suggested we reframe it, “producing new metaphors or revivifying old ones.”[2] To revivify is to bring the Bible to life, reframing it in images and language accessible to all.

This has been my calling for over three decades. My work accelerated when a CEO asked for help 20 years ago. A Christian, he appreciated all that the faith-and-work movement had taught him but recognized he couldn’t talk that way in his company. “We have Jews, Moslems, agnostics, atheists, Christians. I can’t use religious language.” He asked me to reframe the gospel for his company. I did.

I started with the Old Testament, where all the church’s historic creeds begin, in creation. These creeds frame the gospel in four overarching themes: creation-fall-redemption-restoration. I reframed these four themes—revivified them—as ought-is-can-will. Made in God’s image (creation), we imagine how life ought to be. But we recognize life is not as it ought to be (fall). Redemption is what God could do to rectify this, so we are encoded to do what we can do to make things better. We dream of what will come of our work for God made us for eternity (the final restoration). Ought-is-can-will.

I understand Stanley’s remedy since we graduated from the same seminary (same year). Our school espouses what Matthew Fox calls a “Fall-Redemption” spirituality.[3] Focus on Jesus, the cross, salvation, the New Testament. These are important truths but lose much of their meaning because they’re “unhitched” from the Old Testament.

One example: Since God created all things, we are called to renew all things (Col.1:18-20). Renew is Greek for the Latin innovate. The innovation cycle is disrupt and renew.[4] It’s rendered take and eat in creation, in the fall (Lucifer’s lie—take and eat), redemption (Last Supper—take and eat) and the final restoration (wedding banquet—take and eat). Hitched to the entire Bible, the church espoused what social scientists now recognize as the innovation cycle, disrupt and renew. The Bible just uses different language.

Simon Sinek says great leaders and organizations start with why. Rather than ask what can be done in our post-Christian age, Stanley would do well to first ask why evangelical numbers overall are declining while religious “nones” are rising. Is it the result of the “Fall-Redemption” gospel focusing more on saving souls than renewing societies? It could be post-Christian people seek both. We can’t however offer the remedy (i.e., the creation-fall-redemption-restoration gospel) if we “unhitch” from the Old Testament.

 

[1] In November 1954, Lewis gave his inaugural lecture (titled “The Great Divide”) at Magdalene College, Cambridge University.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Selected Literary Essays, edited by Walter Hooper (HarperOne, 1980), 265.

[3] Matthew Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality (Tarcher/Putnam: 2000, 1983).

[4] Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change The Way You Do Business (Collins Business Essentials, 2002)

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9 Responses to “Worse Than The Disease”

  1. Lisa says:

    Thanks, Mike. Have you heard of the folks at The Bible Project? I love what they’re doing via video and podcast to reframe in “language and images accessible to all.” Grateful for your willingness to challenge when challenge is needed!

  2. John Seel says:

    You are correct that Stanley’s suggestion is symptomatic of his distorted and narrowed view of the gospel. If one disconnects the Creation Mandate from the Great Commission, one does not have a “why” to the “what.”

  3. marble says:

    I wonder if the recent clamor for Episcopalian Bishop (Archbishop?) Curry is applause for a “renew” focus – through “love” – curiously divorced from the “Fall/Redemption” aspect of the complete Gospel? Facebook is full of praise for his ‘gospel of love’ – and the comments full of those who say they are not religious who were “touched” by his sermon at the recent royal wedding. Humanists liked it, too, as did a lot of evangelicals I know.

    I’d love to hear your take on that one. . . .

    Based on your thoughts this week, I’m thinking that we might be in danger of falling off the other side of the horse, after having climbed back on after the error of unhitching from the Old Testament . . . . (to mix some metaphors here: yours, and C.S. Lewis’ drunken man sin metaphor)

  4. Mike Metzger says:

    Marble:

    Not sure Luther’s drunken man metaphor works here. The issue is a truncated version of the gospel (fall/redemption) vs the ancient “four-chapter” gospel (creation-fall-redemption-restoration). it’s not falling back and forth from a truncated form to a full form. We should be falling face first into the full expression of the gospel.

    I think Archbishop’s appeal to love resonates because it explains “why,” beginning with “why create us?” The answer? Love. The Father, Son, and Spirit live in eternal love. By definition, love is the enjoyment of another and the desire to expand the circle of love. How do Father, Son, and Spirit expand the circle (since they can’t create more Gods)? They create a bride–humanity (“let us make them in our image”).

    When we start with love, we better understand creation. Since everyone is created in God’s image, it is no surprise that eternal love would resonate with people of faith, no faith, different faiths–and even post-Christians. Love touches the deepest chords of creation.

  5. Stan Wallace says:

    Great post, Mike. I very much agree.

  6. Tim Jones says:

    Read your article and then watched the sermon.
    I’d love to hear your explanation on Acts 15 and more specifically why you feel James chose the laws he chose in verse 20. Thanks for messing with my morning.

  7. Fritz Schlabach says:

    Hello Mike,

    I read your articles and forward them often to my grown children and other believers who I believe might benefit from your writings. I am often challenged by your thinking and insight–and I view that as a good thing. I know that left alone, I too easily become a fan of my own thinking.

    Thus, hopefully establishing that I am not trolling your writing but in earnest, out of tremendous respect for you as a teacher, researcher, “exhorter” of my faith, would like your feedback to the following links:
    *https://relevantmagazine.com/god/andy-stanley-thinks-sermon-critics-curious/
    *https://www.facebook.com/leaddeepandwide
    *https://90.today/

    I am not trying to point out any issue, but honestly asking your feedback after you have had a chance to review Andy’s statements in depth about his position and exhortation about the next generation. Would you still write that “Andy’s remedy is worse than the disease” after you read these links or would you revise your review? You don’t know me and may wonder if this is a thinly disguised criticism of your commentary on Andy. Please believe me when I tell you it is not. I applaud your call for “Reframing.” I do not follow Andy. I follow Christ. I don’t know Andy’s heart, only what he says and believe it when he says that he would never suggest we “‘unhitch’ from a passage of scripture or a specific biblical imperative.”–I think careful reading of the links show this to be his stance.

    In full disclosure: For over 10 years we were at Andy’s church, serving as volunteers, participating in small groups, etc–i.e. active involvement. We didn’t come to Northpoint as “seekers” but felt led to be there, as “mature believers” (can any of us evaluate our own maturity?) from another church where we were also in active leadership. Due to current circumstances–family, stage-of-life, work–we are in transition to another church, but we do listen to Andy’s sermon series on occasion–and we did listen to this series.

    Again, Mike, I hope you take this with the spirit in which I write this and hear my sincere desire for your take after you have read the links–perhaps you have already read the links and still write this article. If so, would you help me by further explaining how you come to your current conclusion about Andy’s “remedy”–speak slowly and in picture because I grew up Amish and joined the Marines (this is true–i.e. that I grew up Amish and am a Marine–but I am kidding about speaking slowly and in pictures…).

    I very rarely write comments on what I read. But, because I have such a high regard for you (NOTE: Ray Padron is a good friend and he has met with you. I hope someday to meet you in person as well.), I am earnestly asking your feedback.

    In Christ,
    Fritz

  8. Mike Metzger says:

    Dear Fritz:

    We should bottle your irenic spirit and ship it around the world.

    I’ll buy a case!

    I love your spirit and took your advice. I went to the links you recommended. Andy is a good, good man. Good folks can disagree.

    Christians disagree on how the old covenant is fulfilled in the new covenant. Their disagreement is the basis for some divergent theological traditions or denominations. Andy comes from a theological framework that sees more discontinuity. Other traditions (Catholic, Presbyterian) see more continuity. In Andy’s tradition, he sees the New Covenant abolishing the Old. In other traditions, Jesus fulfills the Old.

    These frameworks admittedly require some faith assumptions going in. I have them. Andy has them. I’m not smarter than Andy, nor is he stupid (or naive). We simply disagree on what scripture says–but these disagreements are often based on assumptions that will likely never be resolved in this lifetime since we’re finite.

    Hope this helps!

  9. Fritz Schlabach says:

    Hello Mike,

    Thank you very much for your response. It does clarify the issue–although at first I thought you were talking about my Amish aunt Irene (kidding). I did have to look that up. It’s a new word I will use to try to impress upon my wife that I am smarter than I look. 🙂 All kidding aside, thank you for the concept–I like it. And thank you for looking at the links provided. Your comments about Andy are irenic as well.

    As to Jesus fulfilling the Old Covenant, I could see how in Matthew 5, especially vs. 17, it might be interpreted that since Christ has fulfilled the law, it no longer applies. On the flipside, I can also see that since Christ did not come to abolish the law and the prophets (i.e. Old Testament) but to fulfill it, that in Christ, and by the power of His Spirit, we can walk in the “law”–but the law of the Spirit. Even as I write those seemingly contradicting theological frameworks, I realize that my head is starting a slow spin and I am quickly in over my head. So, I back up, point to the cross, claim that Jesus paid it all and say with Paul, “…now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” 1 Cor. 13:12b …and trust that God will give me what I need to accomplish the work He set before me to do (Ephesians 2:10).

    I appreciate what you do, Mike. Thank you again for your response.

    Grace and peace to you and yours,
    Fritz

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