UPDATED: A Brief Review of the Unbelievable? Debate Between Andy Stanley and Jeff Durbin

(After having more time to think about this issue, I’ve come to a conclusion which I think is more accurate than my original take as represented below. Please read below and then my updated take after that.)

The “Unbelievable?” broadcast with Justin Brierley recently hosted a debate between Christian pastors Andy Stanley and Jeff Durbin about how Christians should think of the Old Testament in their theology and in their apologetics. I recommend you view the discussion in its entirety (here) so that you can make up your own mind on the matter and can weigh my comments accordingly.

 

*SPOILER ALERT*: Whereas I understand and respect Jeff Durbin’s opinion, I still tend to agree with Andy Stanley on this issue. Now that my bias has been admitted up front we can move on to the discussion.

 

The scope of my review will not be the entire discussion. I aim to make plain what I believe is the crucial point of disagreement and why I agree with Andy Stanley. If you want an in-depth, point-by-point review, this post will not suffice for you; this will be quick and to the point.

 

I think the crucial point of disagreement was made very clear in the point of the debate at which Andy asked Jeff (at about 43:20 in the YouTube video): “What is the foundation of your faith? Why do you believe what you believe?” Jeff, in his typical quick and confident manner, replied: “The Word of the Living God!” Andy apparently wasn’t adequately prepared to reply to this answer and responded with a weak, “Ok…”. (It is even worse if you are watching the YouTube video because he follows up with a shoulder shrug and a smirk…) Unfortunately, Justin Brierley either didn’t grasp the significance of this point or thought some other point was more urgent because he quickly redirected the conversation.

 

Now, this was very disappointing. As I said, I think this is “where the conflict really lies” in the words of the renowned philosopher Alvin Plantinga. I wish Andy would have been more quick on his feet than he was. I’m not trying to be overly critical. I understand it can be difficult when you are in the middle of a heated discussion to keep your wits about you. Overall, I think he did a good job presenting his position. I just think this significant point was underdeveloped and such a good opportunity to make his case shine was lost.

 

I think Andy should have immediately replied to Jeff by saying something like this:

“Jeff, I agree with you there. The Word of the Living God is the foundation of my faith as well. And, I think, most Christians would agree. But, the question that needs answered, and which it seems we answer in significantly different ways, is: ‘Why believe that the Scriptures are in fact the Word of the Living God?’ It seems like you believe they are simply self-attesting, that, there is nothing more necessary for proving that the Scriptures are the Word of God than that they claim, or more correctly, certain people claim, that they are. In contrast to this, I would say that I believe the Scriptures are the Word of God because I believe Jesus is the Word of God. And, I believe that Jesus is the Word of God because He claimed to be so and was raised from the dead as God’s vindication of this radical self-understanding. Therefore, when He said that the Old Testament Scriptures were the Word of God, I believe Him; when he commissioned His Apostles to lead the fledgling Christian movement and write the New Testament, I believe them.”

I think the hypothetical response I’ve offered would be consistent with what Andy Stanley believes and I think it presents a better epistemological foundation for Christian theology and apologetics than the one offered by Jeff Durbin.

 

The fact that this epistemology is centered on the resurrection of Jesus reverberates throughout Christian theology and apologetics. I think these reverberations are perfectly consistent with the thought of the Apostle Paul. In I Corinthians 15, Paul makes it very clear that the resurrection of Jesus was the foundation of his faith. Throughout the book of Acts, we see that in evangelizing unbelievers, Jew and heathen alike, the resurrection of Jesus was central to his presentation of the Gospel. I think Paul would have been in agreement with this summary: “We believe in the Bible because we believe in Jesus; we don’t believe in Jesus because we believe in the Bible.”

 

Therefore, I personally fall more in line with Andy Stanley than with Jeff Durbin. I think that Christians shouldn’t feel burdened with the Old Testament when evangelizing unbelievers; the person and resurrection of Christ should be the core of both our theology and our apologetic. Getting people to put their faith in Christ is the most urgent goal not getting people to understand and believe everything in the Old Testament. After the conversion of the unbeliever, the Church through solid discipleship can and should explain the Old Testament and its relationship to New Testament Christianity.

UPDATE: If by “unhitching Christianity from the Old Testament”, Andy Stanley means to make a theological point, then I think he is wildly off the mark. We cannot even understand the New Testament without the Old Testament. The Old Testament was leading us to the New Testament. We need to view the Old and New Testaments as a unified revelation from God and build a theology by harmonizing them both not elevating one over the other. However, if he means to make a point about apologetics and evangelism, then I think I can agree. A Christian doing the work of evangelism and apologetics should not feel burdened with defending or explaining the Old Testament; the critical issue, it seems to me, in evangelism is the person and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Christ rose from the dead, a person should place their faith in Him, full stop.

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