No, Andy Stanley Isn’t a Marcionite by W. Paul Franks

Last week I witnessed one of the most bizarre things in the Christian-social-media-world (other than Christians dogmatically refusing to acknowledge President Trump’s various moral failures): Andy Stanley (yes, that Andy Stanley) has been deemed a “Marcionite.” Having listened to a decent number of his sermons over the years I found this hard to believe. After listening to the sermon in question, I’m now convinced that calling Stanley a Marcionite is so off the mark that it amounts to slander and so, these Christians should repent of it and ask his forgiveness.

The hot-takes on the sermon are numerous, and I don’t have the energy to address them all. Instead I hope to provide a counter to what seems to be the source of the comparisons to Marcion. That seems to have been an article at First Things by Wesley Hill called, “Andy Stanley’s Modern Marcionism.” (UPDATE: I’ve since learned that this post appeared the day before Hill’s, as did this tweet. So, while Hill may not have been the source of the charge against Stanley, given the prominence of First Things, it seems likely he played a substantial part in it becoming widespread.)

Marcion

To begin, perhaps we should start with a brief account of Marcion. So, from The Moody Handbook of Theology:

Marcion: A second-century heretic who rejected all Scripture except ten of Paul’s epistles and part of Luke. He distinguished between the Old Testament creator God, whom Marcion considered evil, and the God of the New Testament, who revealed himself in Christ.

The Thiselton Companion to Christian Theology tells us:

Marcion claimed that while the NT taught a gospel of love, the OT was to be rejected as teaching only law. Indeed, the “God” of the OT was a Demiurge, who had nothing in common with the God, the Father of Jesus Christ.

And, finally, the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says:

Marcion’s central thesis was that the Christian Gospel was wholly a Gospel of Love to the absolute exclusion of Law. This doctrine…led him to reject the OT completely. The Creator God or Demiurge, revealed in the OT from Gen. 1 onward…had nothing in common with the God of Jesus Christ…Utterly different was the Supreme God of Love whom Jesus came to reveal. It was his purpose to overthrow the Demiurge.

I’m sure scores of books have been written on Marcion, but the above should give us enough to capture some key components of his view.

1. The God of the Old Testament is entirely different from the God of the New Testament.
2. While the the God of the Old Testament was the creator, this God was not the Father of Jesus Christ.
3. One of the purposes of the God of the New Testament was to overthrow the God of the Old Testament.
4. The Old Testament should be rejected.
5. The God of the Old Testament was only concerned with Law, and not Love.

Everyone should be in agreement that Marcion had some pretty substantial problems with his theology. That is, after all, what we seem to mean in calling him a heretic. Given those substantial problems, I was more than a bit surprised to see Hill associate Andy Stanley with Marcion. Let’s consider his argument.

Hill’s Comparison of Stanley to Marcion

Hill says most of the sermon “can really only be described as an elaborate and educated flirtation with the old Christian heresy of Marcionism—the belief that the Old Testament is not authoritative in matters of Christian doctrine and morals.”

Before going any further we should stop here and note two things: (1) Stanley actually never denies that the Old Testament is authoritative and (2) what Hill has just described is a far cry from “the heresy of Marcionism.” Look again at the summaries above. In each we have much, much more than the denial of the Old Testament’s authority in matters of Christian doctrine and morals.

Now, to be fair, Hill doesn’t seem to believe that Stanley literally believes in two different Gods. Instead, he seems to qualify the accusation of Marcionism. He writes,

As the biblical scholar Francis Watson has noted, contemporary versions of the error of the early Christian heretic Marcion don’t usually take the form of positing two ontologically distinct divine beings, as the historical Marcion. They instead involve ‘Christian unease about the status and function of the Old Testament’ and a willingness to entertain the view that ‘the Old Testament is not to be regarded as part of Christian scripture.’

Without the rest of Watson’s argument it’s hard to know what to make of this. What is it that makes “Christian unease about the status and function of the Old Testament” and entertaining the view that “the Old Testament is not to be regarded as part of Christian Scripture” Marcionism? Once you set aside the bit about two Gods, that the Old Testament is to be rejected, that the New Testament God is not the creator of all things (and will destroy the Old Testament God), it’s not clear what’s left of Marcionism. Even more puzzling for those wondering how Stanley got mixed up with Marcion is Hill’s claim that Stanley’s error “is more subtle still.” That is, more subtle than the version of Marcionism that sounds hardly like Marcion at all. So, what is this yet even “more subtle” error?

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Source: Christian Post