The Evolution and Persistence of Marcionism


After five or six years of intermittent blogging I think I have finally found my niche. Once all of the hot takes have been written and shared, and then all of the frustrated responses to the hot takes have been posted, there is a sweet spot right in between the two where a ton of potential exists for fruitful dialogue. The latest dust up over Andy Stanley’s sermon regarding the way that believers should relate to the Old Testament is a perfect example of this. The most popular response I’ve read was Wesley Hill’s FirstThings article, in which he made the accusation of Marcionism. It wasn’t long after this that the “Can we stop calling everyone a Marcionite…” posts started filling my twitter feed. The funniest of which had to be Peter Enns’ personal blog post where he feigns contempt for being accused of Martianism. If you haven’t been following this debate or if you’re not familiar with Marcionism and you think this is just another obscure theological debate with little to no relevance in the real world, I would encourage you to do a little research into Marcionism, because the relationship between the Old and New Testament is vital to the gospel and to the life of the believer.

One of the things that shocked me the most about Andy’s message was his attempt to relate with those who were handed a bible early in their lives with little to no instruction as to how to read it. I suspect that Andy grew up in a church dominated by a dispensational interpretive method that was instrumental in instructing his reading of scripture whether he was aware of it or not. I have often thought that dispensationalism seems to be an evolved form of Marcionism where the God that Marcion rejected from the Old Testament is now embraced in an attempt to harmonize Old and New Testament revelation and preserve divine immutability. It seems to me that the system fails on both accounts, but that is a topic for another day. The reason I think that the charge of Marcionism “sticks” to Andy in some ways is that he seems to have embraced the dispensational idea of the violence in the Old Testament as being a divine “means to an end,” and therefore we must “unhitch” ourselves from the Old Testament in order to come to a deeper faith in God revealed through the New Testament. Some suggest that because Andy didn’t directly say that the God of the Old Testament must be rejected then the charge fails, but what is said implicitly is often as strong as or stronger than what is said explicitly.

I recently defended Brian Zahnd against the charge of Marcionism in a blog post because his attempt at harmonizing the Old and New Testament required a reinterpretation of the Old Testament rather than a distancing or a disconnection. And his method revealed a more Christ like God being active in the early history of Israel rather than his inspiration being a “stepping stone” to the New Testament. His teaching was also in accord with what I believe to be the “faith once delivered unto the saints” and handed on by the apostles. A great introduction to the methods the apostles used to interpret scripture is the Popular Patristic Series published by Saint Vladimir’s Press and edited by Father John Behr, and specifically On the Apostolic Preaching by Saint Irenaeous of Lyons. I would love to see discussions like this follow a natural progression from the specific topics to the general principles. This debate swirls around our interpretive methods and our fundamental understandings of the divine nature. As we discuss it we should be drawn unavoidably to the incarnation as the supreme revelation of God’s nature in history and allow it to be our guide in understanding these complex questions.