Marcion was one of the most memorable heretics of the ancient church. He taught that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament were different gods. The God of the Old Testament, the Creator, was evil, whereas the God of the New Testament, the Redeemer, was good. This rather bizarre doctrine had some appeal in the Greco-Roman culture at the time, but it was rejected by the church and has not had much of a following.
You will be hard-pressed to find a real Marcionite—someone who holds to Marcion’s teachings—today. But, unfortunately, there is a certain resonance of this ancient heretic’s way of viewing the Scriptures that is all too easy to find. That is, in certain settings we see Christian (or ostensibly Christian) teachers who dislike the Old Testament or find it immoral, or think that these earlier Scriptures do not give us an accurate revelation of God.
Pseudo-Marcionites are quite readily found among liberal Christian clergy. They have a lot of problems with the teachings of the Old Testament, and dismiss it not by positing an evil God of the Old Testament per se, but by a doctrine of Scripture that makes room for the Old Testament writers to be profoundly wrong about God’s character and actions. ‘That is what they thought God was like,’ such clergy say, ‘but we know better now.’
This is not surprising, of course. Liberal theology is driven by the ideas and standards of the world; when your doctrine of Scripture allows that the Bible may be wrong in what it teaches, nothing could be more likely that the interpreter will soon become the standard of truth rather than the Scriptures.
It is more concerning to see Pseudo-Marcionite teaching coming from places you did not necessarily expect it. But that is just what we are seeing lately. From within broad evangelicalism we have Andy Stanley, whose attitude towards the Old Testament ought to concern anyone impacted by his ministry; Al Mohler has drawn attention to the ghost of Marcion in Stanley’s comments here. Regarding Stanley’s motivation, it is very important to effectively communicate the gospel; but throwing the Scriptures under the bus is surely not the way to go about it.
From another direction, we have Pope Francis and his work at the helm of the Roman Catholic church. Francis has not (to my knowledge) expressed disapproval of the Old Testament. But his recent codifying of opposition to the death penalty carries definite Pseudo-Marcionite implications. He may be entirely unaware of this, for all I know. Yet it is not hard to see: if, as Francis says, execution is unjust because it transgresses the “inviolable” dignity of a human being, then we are forced to conclude either that God commanded people to engage in injustice and codified it in the Old Testament Law, or that the writers of the Old Testament got it wrong. We have our pick, in other words, of Marcionite or Pseudo-Marcionite theology. Neither, of course, is acceptable for Christians. God is righteous, and God’s Word is true.
The ghost of Marcion haunts contemporary Christianity. But, like so many heresies, it can be put to flight by clinging to the truth. The whole Scriptures, Old and New Testaments alike, are God’s Word to us, entirely truthful, and they tell us who God is. God has spoke so that we may know Him. We dare not reject His gracious gift.