Off the Cliff
This is a maddening book. It has been said that the best deceptions are ones that have a good amount of truth mixed in. It may be said of Stanley that best heresies are the ones that have a good amount of sound doctrine mixed in. As I read this book I am constantly fighting with this question: does Stanley know what he is doing? Did Stanley just not pay attention in hermeneutics class when he was at Dallas Theological Seminary? Did he have a poor teacher? Is he only just now realizing what the church has known for centuries: all the narrative of Scripture is a cohesive story that points to Jesus? For as long as he has been in the pulpit, this is a disturbing thought. Not as disturbing though, if he knows what he is doing and is doing it on purpose. I honestly can’t tell so I will give him the benefit of the doubt.
The next section of Stanley’s book is his attempt to walk us through the narrative of Scripture. He counts on the reader knowing very little about the story of the Bible. He regularly reminds us:
“As a child I was told the Bible was God’s Word, that it was all true, and not to set anything on top of it. If you grew up in church, you were probably told something similar. And you believed’em. You believed what they told you about the Bible even though you hadn’t read the Bible. If you’re like most Christians, you still haven’t read the whole thing. Chances are the folks who told you it was all true hadn’t read it all either.” (93)
“I’m guessing when you received your first Bible no one told you any of this.” (102)
These kinds of jabs are sprinkled all throughout book. There is almost a gnostic undertone to how Stanley presents his version of the biblical story: this is what ekklesia, this is what the temple, this is what testament, this what bible, really means. Stanely knows what your pastor has been keeping from you all these years.
Chapters 3-9 have Stanley setting out to give us the real version of the story. The one that no one has told you about. He starts with Abraham and walks through the Old Testament. In this summary he has some interesting commentary:
- God was fine staying in the tabernacle: Stanley makes a very strange argument that God reluctantly moved into the temple and that he would rather have stayed in the tabernacle. He misses completely the significance of Jerusalem as God’s city (aren’t we waiting for the New Jerusalem?), and I think has a pretty shallow view of God’s sovereignty here. God just gave in? He was just really trying to make his point (or Stanley’s) that this whole Old Testament thing was suppose to be temporary so that it could be cut away. Too bad no one was listening.
- Ekklesia, the Greek word translated church in our Bibles doesn’t actually mean a building but it means assembly. I’ve been aware of this for most of my mature Christian experience. We get the church is a people and not a building. It isn’t a miss-translation when you realize that a word can have a variance of meaning. Yes, there is another meaning of the word church which refers to a building. Remember that conversation that Stanley had with the little Chinese girl? She, and he, used it that way.
- Jesus was okay with the Roman Empire: “Roman rule didn’t seem to bother him in the least…” I mean all that stuff in John about how images from Rome are connected with the Beast and Babylon probably doesn’t represent his true feelings, right? Not sure if Stanley is aware of the typology of Babylon as the rebellious anti-God civilization throughout the story of the Bible. Jesus was not impartial towards Rome.
- Brief overview of Tyndale and the Reformers: An odd example connected with his point on ekklesia. I also get the sense that Stanely, even though he quotes the five Solas, doesn’t understand what they mean. Many of them contradict his thesis, namely Sola Scriptura which is connected to the sister doctrine Tota Scriptura. As in (all) Scripture is the final authority of rule and faith for the church and all of it is necessary to life and godliness. Not to mention his soteriology places him on the wrong side of the Tiber River. Does Stanely understand what the connecting strand is through all of the five Solas? It is God’s sovereign election of the believer. I don’t think he gets that (more on this later).
- Testament and the concept of Covenant: Stanley gets hung up on these two terms as well. He really emphasizes that no one in American Christianity has taught what these things mean. Not to mention bring up the cutting, separating, and splitting points again here. He questions why the OT has been set along side the NT. He complains, “Why do we give children a copy of. The old covenant bound with the new without teaching them the difference.” I think what Stanley might be beginning to realize is the failure of his style of church. The seeker church model has been about making the barrier to entry as low as possible. This means one would not teach how the OT relates to the NT to children because that would be boring. People don’t come back to a boring church, right?
Much of Stanley’s summary of Scripture is just that, a summary. He often uses his own words to quote Scripture and doesn’t always give full references. There is no real hermeneutical care given to the text. There is very much a, “just trust me on this” way about it. I thought this was the very thing that has gotten the American church off track? Just taking pastors at their word.
It would be much more refreshing and helpful if Stanley taught the tools of how to read the Bible. Teach a man to fish and all.
Fulfillment vs Replacement
All of the digressions aside (there are so many more we could touch on), all of this work that Stanley has been doing is to get to his apologetic point. Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament so that means it has been replaced. Follow that thought out one more step: since it has been replaced, we can lovingly, reverently, set it aside.
“Jesus came to fulfill and replace much of what was in place. New things don’t generally bother us until we realize it means letting go of old, comfortable things. This explains why you kept your old couch after you purchased a new one.” (71)
In conflating the two terms, Stanley tips his hand.
Stanley views the testaments as part 1 and part 2. The first part was important, but only as a means to get to the second. Now that we have the second, we should set aside the old. That is not fulfillment. That is replacement.
Contrast with the idea of biblical fulfillment. From the very beginning Father always willed that the Son would die for his people. Genesis 3:15 is the summary verse of the entire Bible, “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The OT is the story of how the Father unfolded the mystery of the incarnation of the Son who would defeat the serpent by giving his life. As a master story teller, the Father wove history together bringing many threads to the point of Christ. God is the master of foreshadowing. He is perfect and purposed in his story telling. He doesn’t write bad lines or useless plot points. Everything points to Christ.
Let’s pull on one thread, was it really the blood of animals that took away the sins of Israel? Or was everyone of those sacrifices a picture of what the Lamb would do for his people? Paul is clear:
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” – Romans 4:1-2
Abraham was justified, not by works, but because he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness all the way back in Genesis. What did he believe in? A gospel that he only saw dimly. A gospel that had not been fully revealed.
Paul drives this point home further:
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he has passed over former sins. – Romans 3:23-25
So the Father applied justification for his people (I mean individual not ethnic) in the OT by faith, looking forward to Jesus who would accomplish this justification by enduring their sin on the cross. Of course, this where the miss on the Solas comes in. By God’s sovereign election of his people.
This isn’t two halves but one whole continuous story. This isn’t old wine skins but a sunrise that gradually grows to noonday. The Lord of the Rings isn’t a better story because you chop off the Fellowship of the Ring! It is a better story because plot threads are pulled to a climax and fulfilled in the ending. Justification by faith alone is a truth taught throughout Scripture and fulfilled in Christ. We would be far worse off as Christians to relegate Genesis to the basement.
There is much more that I need to say on this, for the objection that comes next is: “so you think we should obey the OT law? Should I stop eating pork and go check the composition of clothes?” I will touch on this in the next post.