Now that the furor has died over Andy Stanley’s sermon about “unhitching” our faith from the Old Testament, I want to provide a specific reason why he is right on this. Previously, on my blog and social media, I had focused on why I thought criticism was unfair, calling out how his words were being interpreted out of context. The more I read and heard from his critics, the more I felt that way, as every criticism I saw was conditioned upon interpreting Stanley’s words to mean things that Stanley did not talk about in his sermon. However, I suggest that what Stanley was getting at was precisely correct if we read the Bible historically and not simply as a theological document of which everything said is of equal theological importance.
This starts centered around the word “faith,” which is pistis in the Greek. Both words can be used in two, interrelated ways. Firstly, it can be used to describe a relational trust in someone. I have faith that God has forgiven me of my sins. You have faith that your spouse honors you. Secondly, it can be used to refer to accepting some idea, or if we can get technical a proposition, is true. For instance, I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. You believe, if not even know, your spouse genuinely committed to love you at your wedding. Now, I say interrelated because these two senses are commonly related: our trust in a someone or something, whether it be God, your spouse, your friends, the car your drive, etc. is grounded upon what has happened. That is, my hopeful expectations for the future are grounded in what I believe to have happened in the past. In this way, the two interrelated uses of faith/pistis are related. However, these two different meanings can be flipped. Because I trust someone, I believe certain things. Because I trust God, I believe he will raise my body from the dead. Because you trust your spouse, you believe they will be faithful to you in the future. Here, the order is flipped: because I trust, I believe certain things are or will be the case. Hence, trust and propositional belief are tightly intertwined in both causal directions.
I bring up this distinction to make sense of 1 Corinthians 2. There, the Apostle Paul outlines his pedagogical practice with the Corinthians. in 2:1-5, he outlines how the only knowledge he wants people to ascribe to him is knowledge about the crucified Christ, which was have presumably included knowledge about the resurrection. He joins this knowledge with the powerful works of the Holy Spirit that provide a demonstrative clarity. For what purpose? That the Corinthians faith may be in the power of God, rather than in him as some teacher of wisdom. At the most basic point, Paul wants the Corinthians to have a trust in God’s power that is grounded upon the resurrection of Christ and the demonstration of the Holy Spirit, and how this power works in weakness through Christ’s death and the weakness of Paul. Here, certain propositional beliefs are the grounds for forming trust in God.
However, in 2:6-16, Paul’s framework changes. For the mature, there is wisdom to be taught. In comparing the language of glory here with the language of glory in 1 Corinthians 15, at least part of the wisdom Paul is teaching about the glorious nature of the general resurrection that is to happen in the future. Here, the trust in the power of God ground the basis for what one believes will happen in the future. What is significant though is that nowhere in 2:6-16 does Paul refer to faith/pistis. He refers to this as wisdom/sophia. Why? Because in (Roman) Stoic epistemology that would have been prominent at the time in Corinth, a Roman colony, one comes to wisdom by first apprehending what is known as a “kataleptic impression.” Without getting bogged down in the minutiae of it and possible oversimplifying, the kataleptic impression was some prerequisite understanding of what is true that was necessary to gain wisdom/deeper knowledge. In other words, for Paul, one had to have a kataleptic impression of the power of God before one could obtain wisdom/sophia.
In other words, for Paul, before one could get wisdom, one had to come to trust in God and His power, but in order to do that, one believed in the resurrection of Christ and perceived that work of the Spirit. To use Andy’s metaphor, faith was “hitched” to the resurrection of Christ, which Stanley did mention early in the sermon, and the Holy Spirit.
However, adding wisdom to one’s faith was not simply a matter of some sort of acquisition of more knowledge. Immediately following 1 Corinthians 3, Paul derides the Corinthians for being unable to receive this wisdom because they were acting in fleshy/spiritually immature ways. That they were focused on attaching themselves to certain teachers like Paul, Apollos, Peter, or even Christ showed that they had not truly gotten it. Whatever sense of faith they may have had in God was blurred and distorted by the sense of importance they were putting in entrusting themselves to certain teachers. The very practices they were engaged were the problem. Paul says something similar in 1 Corinthians 15:34, suggesting that the reasons the Corinthians have no real knowledge is because of their sin. What is the type of sin that is the problem? From 15:33, we see that the problem Paul is rebuking is rooted in one’s social relationships. In other words, the very reason the Corinthians were not ready for wisdom was that of their relationships. They set up a competitive atmosphere between the Christian teachers and apparently were willing to put their trust in anyone who had the appearance of wisdom.
In other words, for Paul, because the Corinthians are not loving their fellow disciples of Christ as they should, they are not able to grasp wisdom. Therefore, we can say the fundamental basis for being able to add wisdom to our faith in God is the love of others, particularly the love of one’s fellow Christian community. The problem of sin isn’t failure to adhere to a set of behavioral codes or rules; in fact Paul suggests part of the problem in Corinth is the nature of people’s moral scruples making them arrogant in 1 Corinthians 8. The basic foundations can be summarized by the loving trust in God and the love of one’s neighbors. No other foundations, such as Greek wisdom or Jewish Torah, were given precedence.
So what Andy Stanley accords with what we see in Paul in 1 Corinthians. One’s faith is not in the Old Testament; it is in the resurrected Christ, or as I would say in God through Christ, and the prime commandments to be followed is to love each other. This is not to suggest that the Torah is therefore invalid. Rather, it is to suggest the function of the Old Testament for Paul is to help bring further wisdom and insight, once the foundation of faith in God and love for the Body of Christ has been deeply established. It is in 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul attempts to teach the wisdom about glory, which pertains to the resurrection which Paul understands through reference to the OT story of Adam in comparison and contrast to Christ. For Paul, the Old Testament’s primary role is to bring wisdom; one’s faith was not in Torah.
The one place in 1 Corinthians that may seem to be exception to this point actually validates the overall point. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul talks about the death and the resurrection of Christ; in both instances, Paul says it was according to the Scriptures. Now, according to the standard narrative we tell due to the chronological order of history where Old Testament comes before Christ, we might be inclined to say “The Old Testament has prophecies that prove Christ is who he is.” Therefore, we might be inclined to say that the Old Testament validates Jesus and thus is important for faith. This is not entirely without merit in the NT canon; in John 5:39, Jesus ascribes the purpose of the Scriptures as being to testify to him. This, however, does not seem to be the purpose of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul is speaking to Gentile, many of whom presumably did not believe in the OT scriptures when Paul first evangelized to them. Instead of the OT being a validation for Jesus resurrection, it is the resurrection of Jesus that serves to valid the OT Scriptures to the Gentiles; Jesus died and was raised as the most basic point of belief for the Corinthians believers, and if you look and see that this was according to the OT Scriptures, the OT Scriptures are validated. When Paul seeks to validate the resurrection, he goes into detail about the various witnesses. When referencing the Scriptures, however, his references is only the most basic “in accordance with the Scriptures.” This generality is evidence that Paul is treated the death and resurrection of Christ as a ground to accept the authority of the Scriptures; the lack of detail undermines the interpretation that the OT is used to understand Jesus and/or validate belief in the resurrection. So, this sets up Paul’s comparison of Christ and Adam in order to understand the resurrection. In other words, it isn’t that one hold to Torah and then believes in Christ if you are a Gentiles; it is that you believe in Christ first and then the Torah opens up an epistemic source of further wisdom.
In other words, faith and wisdom must be distinguished in Christian theology if we want to take Paul as a normative prototype for how to do theology. Faith has its most basic essential beliefs about the resurrection of Christ and perhaps also the work of the Holy Spirit that grounds the trust in God. This is the necessary grounds to then move into wisdom about what the significance of all this is. There, Paul will incorporate the Torah and Old Testament. There, at the point of wisdom/sophia, or if we were to translate that more according to what it refers to, philosophy, we find the role of the Old Testament for the Christian church; the OT narratives and ethics are an important basis for building a Christian philosophy, depending on how it gets used.1 It is not, however, the fundamental starting point; the Old Testament is not some Archimedean point around which Christian faith starts and builds from. It is God made known in the crucified and resurrected Christ and in the powerful demonstration of the Holy Spirit. So our faith is not hinged to the OT; rather, it is our Christian philosophy that promotes a deeper understanding that relies so much on the Old Testament to understand the significance of Jesus and the Spirit and the work of new creation that God is accomplishing in them. Andy Stanley is right: our faith should be “unhinged” from the Old Testament because our faith is in God through what He has done in Jesus and Spirit and is not in a set of narratives from Israel’s past. The Old Testament does not serve as the foundation of our faith or our ethics; it is epistemic material that helps us to build on the foundation that is Jesus Christ. Whatever we might say about some Andy Stanley’s exegesis of Acts 15 or whether his view of discipleship would clarify the importance of the OT for spiritual maturity, he gets it right when it comes to faith as the New Testament uses faith. It is starts in the love of God and the love of one another that is grounded in the crucified and resurrected Christ. It is the belief in the crucified and resurrect Savior that grounds faith in the power of God, which then grounds further beliefs, which we call wisdom, about God’s power that pulls in the Old Testament, amongst others sources, to learn from.