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. 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.” 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. 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. 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.
 In November 1954, Lewis gave his inaugural lecture (titled “The Great Divide”) at Magdalene College, Cambridge University.
 C. S. Lewis, Selected Literary Essays, edited by Walter Hooper (HarperOne, 1980), 265.
 Matthew Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality (Tarcher/Putnam: 2000, 1983).
 Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change The Way You Do Business (Collins Business Essentials, 2002)