5. He posits that the Old Testament has been completely fulfilled.
Stanley is correct that the church has at times incorrectly understood the Old Testament and in some cases has used the Old Testament to subjugate and coerce others. Rather than discussing the hermeneutical mistakes and complexities that led to abuses, Stanley simply posits that the entire Old Testament is now fulfilled and should be detached from the New Testament.
He incorrectly argues that the mere appearance of fulfillment formula in the New Testament refers to complete, exhaustive fulfillment of all Old Testament promises and prophecies. He repeatedly cites the Abrahamic promises as being completely fulfilled, since Abraham was blessed by God and since Christ came through Abraham’s lineage. Stanley writes that Jesus uses the fulfillment formula as His way of saying “God’s conditional, temporary covenant with Israel was coming to an end, the intended-from-the-beginning end” (109). Meanwhile, Stanley ignores the unconditional land promises given to Abram and his descendants (Israel) that have not yet been fulfilled. He ignores all the future unfulfilled promises in the prophetic literature. And he discredits the Song of Solomon as well, since the writer had over 300 wives.
At times the writers of Scripture use the New Testament–fulfillment formula to confirm that a New Testament incident agrees with the Old Testament. At other times they use it to explain a point given in the Old Testament or to draw a parallel between a New Testament event and an Old Testament one. Sometimes the New Testament writers indicate complete exhaustive fulfillment, while at other times they point out that only one aspect of a prophecy was satisfied. Stanley fails to acknowledge any of these New Testament uses of the Old Testament complexities. The context of a New Testament use of an Old Testament passage must always be compared to the Old Testament historical text to validate the New Testament’s type of usage and fulfillment. (See my “Literal Interpretation and Theological Method: What Is It and How to Do It?” Ariel Ministries, December 2017, 18–23.)
Furthermore, Stanley incorrectly declares that Jesus’ prediction of Daniel’s future “abomination of desolation” in Matthew 24 does not refer to the last days, but rather was fully fulfilled in the destruction of the Jewish temple in AD 70 (62–65). Stanley develops this incorrect interpretation to support his view that Judaism and thus the Old Testament authority ended in AD 70. This promotion of preterist eschatology ignores the actual context of Matthew 24. Jesus qualified His prediction through universal, global, cosmic language. He described this future abomination of desolation as the worst tribulation “such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21), and He links the termination of this Great Tribulation to His own second coming (Matt. 24:27–31). Stanley, on the other hand, decontextualizes the “abomination of desolation” description, a common practice by evangelical preterists in their attempts to answer liberal and skeptical critics who oppose predictive prophecy.
Stanley also uses replacement nomenclature, suggesting some agreement with reformed theology that the church has permanently replaced Israel. Additionally, he incorrectly argues that Deuteronomy’s genre alone proves its complete conditionality. (For an extensive critique and rebuttal of some of these views, see David A. Mappes and H. Wayne House, “A Biblical and Theological Discussion of Traditional Dispensational Premillennialism,” The Journal of Ministry and Theology [Spring 2013]: 5–56.)
6. His view of objectors’ skepticism is incomplete.
Stanley is correct that some previously successful apologetic methods are less effective in this postmodern era and that the church should be open to rebranding some of its apologetic methodologies and ministries. He argues that the majority of people he has talked to who have abandoned their faith have lost faith in Jesus “because they lost confidence in . . . the Old Testament” (110). Stanley is to be commended for talking with those who have rejected their faith; however, most apologists point to a lack of Christian charity and church integrity as leading to stumbling and rejection. Stanley fails to acknowledge that most of the Old Testament truths people find objectionable are also repeated or affirmed in the New Testament. Furthermore, skeptics who deny Old Testament events often also deny miraculous New Testament events. Meanwhile, Stanley provides no examples of New Testament writers suggesting that the Old Testament is less than historically accurate, nor does he provide any examples of New Testament writers depreciating the Old Testament.
The skepticism of objectors is never only an intellectual issue but always has a spiritual component. Removing embarrassing, difficult challenges does not create in a nonbeliever a neutral interest in what the believer has to say. A far better method entails continually pivoting to the gospel message and respectfully explaining Biblical-theological doctrine in addition to living an authentic Christian lifestyle.
To summarize, Stanley is creating an apologetic that accommodates the Scriptures to the views of the “nones” and the “deconverted” that he is attempting to reach. He recasts Biblical inspiration and the authority of Scripture. He also excludes the Old Testament as a viable apologetic and theological source. Additionally and sadly, he hints at the classic liberal view of differentiating and distinguishing the angry God of the Old Testament and the loving God of the New Testament.
7. His characterization of God is irresponsible.
Incredibly Stanley asserts that God’s loving nature is unique to the New Testament, saying, “God is love is a uniquely Christian idea” (223). Stanley indicates that in the Old Testament God loved only His covenant people (Israel). Stanley also describes the God of the Old Testament as angry, judgmental, and mad, “putting everybody in time-out” (251).
To caricaturize the Great “I AM” through this kind of rhetorical wit is simply irresponsible in any setting and for any reason. Consider what Stanley says when describing the ancient world warfare: “The gods of the ancient world were human rights violators. . . . This was standard fare . . . [so that if] the God of [the] Jews was going to establish a nation for himself, he would have to wade into the fray and play by the rules of the day” (163). Stanley is implying that God necessarily had to accommodate Himself to the horrific actions and lies of the ancient Near Eastern world and pantheon of gods. Then he implies, contrariwise, that in the New Testament God did not accommodate Himself to the vile notions of the Greco-Roman worldview. This kind of cherry picking denigrates the uniqueness of the Scriptures as God’s Word and distorts God’s nature. The Great “I AM” of the Old Testament is the same Lord of Lords that was revealed in the New Testament. To suggest otherwise is not orthodox.
Furthermore, Stanley fails to interject that the New Testament is replete with references to both God’s love and His wrath. Interestingly, when discussing Hell, Stanley discusses the vice of being judgmental but does not address the reality of Hell. Certainly the wrath of God is seen throughout the New Testament in references to eternal damnation and the substitutionary atonement.
8. He undercuts the inspiration and authority of the entire Scriptures.
Stanley undermines Biblical inspiration and the authority of Scripture, including the New Testament. First, he insists that the Scriptures are not inspired but that the writers were inspired (a grave error). Second, he argues that the foundation of someone’s faith is not the Scriptures, but God Himself (300–304), thus separating God from His Scriptural Self-expression.
Additionally, Stanley incorrectly argues that since the term Bible did not exist during the writing of Scripture and since New Covenant believers are no longer under the authority of the Old Testament, believers must not appeal to the Bible’s or the Scriptures’ authority. Stanley further bolsters his case by clever wordsmithing as he promotes an errant view of canonicity, writing, “The Bible did not create Christianity. It’s the other way around” (111).
In the strictest sense, the actual term Bible may have not been used until the canon was fully discovered and put into the collected manuscript form; however, the apostles repeatedly referred to both their writings and the Old Testament as Scripture. Before the canon was fully recognized, church fathers also spoke of both Testaments as comprising Scripture. Long before the full canon, and based on the Old Testament as Scripture, the church fathers fully rejected both a works-righteous legalism and gnosticism.
Stanley writes that the “credibility of our faith is not contingent upon our text being infallible or inerrant.” It rests securely in an “event” (the resurrection, 306). He ignores that the Scriptures both teach and theologize the resurrection.
Astonishingly Stanley says the Christian faith doesn’t “teeter on the brink of extinction” or collapse based on the archaeology, history, historicity, credibility, or “even the believability of the Old Testament” (290). Further, he does not adequately address that approximately 10 percent of the New Testament quotes the Old Testament and that up to 28 percent alludes to the Old Testament. Stanley’s position is illogical: The resurrection of Christ authenticated Jesus’ person, work, and words, including His belief in the historicity of the Old Testament. Every New Testament writer appeals to the historicity and accuracy of the Old Testament. In fact, in 2 Peter 2, Peter uses the Old Testament to prove the promise of future judgment at Christ’s return.
Stanley is correct that churches add unnecessary components to the gospel. He also correctly reveals the importance of engaging those who are doubting or are outright skeptics. Believers do need to learn the art of recrafting conversation and debate, thereby leading people back to the gospel. But recrafting a conversation does not entail recrafting, dismissing, or accommodating truth. Ministry leaders are called to equip the church to understand, practice, and defend the historical, Scriptural truthfulness of Christianity. Stanley’s clever wordsmithing and methodology serve to undermine legitimate apologetics.
Stanley’s call for this novel apologetic reveals an anemic theological method that has resulted in denying what the Scriptures teach about themselves. This denial then leads to confusing contextualization of the faith with cultural accommodation. But Christian truth cannot be adequately contextualized or defended unless there is clear understanding at the exegetical and theological level. Unfortunately Stanley is making the Bible resistible in order to make his “faith dialogue” and ministry appear irresistible.
David Mappes (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary) teaches courses in New Testament and theology at Liberty University, Clarks Summit University, and Temple Baptist Seminary, and is director of Noble & Knowable Truth Ministries.