Andy Stanley takes the easy way out
A review of Irresistible by Andy Stanley
Published: 6 December 2018 (GMT+10)
Parts of the Bible are hard to understand. As even the Apostle Peter found some of Paul’s letters difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:16), there is no shame in admitting that parts of the Bible may initially not make sense to us. When we are confronted with passages that seem violent, counterintuitive, or just gross, we have two options. We can do the hard work to understand the passage in its context and figure out what the appropriate application is today, or we can do what Andy Stanley models in Irresistible.
Irresistible repeats the message that Stanley preached in 2018 in a series of messages titled Aftermath, which we responded to at the time. Stanley argues that many people are rejecting Christianity because they are basing their faith on an inerrant book, and that’s unnecessary because we were never meant to base our faith on a book.
Clever wordplays with no substance
Stanley is a wordsmith. Unfortunately, he seems to take pride in pithy wordplays with little regard for sound theology. For instance, in multiple places in Chapter 2 he calls God “mobile”. He means that God isn’t tied down to one place. But he gets it almost precisely wrong. God isn’t tied down to one place because He is omnipresent, not because He can easily go from one place to another.
He is also too cavalier when talking about God. Case in point, his ‘conversation between the Father and the Son’ starting on page 115 should horrify any Christian, where Stanley apparently imagines God the Father as a cross between a Harvard MBA and a used-car salesman, and Jesus as the ambitious but clueless go-getter. It’s appalling to hear any pastor be so irreverent.
There’s such a one-dimensional lack of interest in even trying to understand what the text is actually saying. There’s an appeal to pernicious individualism in saying that the parts of the Bible that are hard for us to understand happen to be precisely the parts that don’t matter anymore.
He imposes this onto the apostles Peter and Paul, where he imagines how they might respond to the New Atheists (pp. 287–289). Anyone who has ever read their speeches recorded in Acts will be very confused as to how they became suddenly agnostic about things like the age of the earth (as good Jews, and good Christians, they would believe the Old Testament as history), and their sudden adoption of 20th century modern categories of speech.
Unhitching from more than the Old Testament
Stanley asks, “In light of what’s at stake and who is at stake, would you consider unhitching your teaching of what it means to follow Jesus from all things old covenant?” (p. 315). But he’s actually asking us to unhitch from a lot more. It’s unhitching from how Jesus and the Apostles viewed and spoke about the Old Testament. It’s also unhitching from how Christians have viewed Scripture for 2,000 years.
Stanley claims that this suggestion is motivated by a heart for people who have unnecessarily walked away from the Christian faith, and for the children and grandchildren of church-goers who are at risk of rejecting the faith of the previous generations. “I say it’s worth any change necessary to ensure the version of faith passed on to the next generation is the enduring version—the faith of our first-century fathers.” (p. 315).
But Stanley is making a dangerous assumption—that unhitching our faith from the Old Testament will result in a stronger faith that will be more appealing to young people. But the fate of almost every mainline denomination in the 20th century shows that is precisely what doesn’t work. As CMI’s Fallout! shows, and decades of CMI speakers’ experience ministering to churches around the world corroborates, people become more confident in their faith and are more excited to share the Gospel with others when they know the Bible can be trusted from the first verse.
The Bible says, “The Bible says!”
Stanley argues that we shouldn’t say “The Bible says”. But the Bible itself refers to the Scriptures in that way.
Matthew 21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
John 7:38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
John 19:37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
Romans 10:11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Romans 11:2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?
Galatians 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
1 Timothy 5:18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
James 2:23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
James 4:5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
For Jesus and the NT authors, “The Scriptures say” was the final word. They didn’t tell us about this fascinating guy Moses, who has this really compelling story about killing an Egyptian and then meeting God in the midst of a burning bush. What made Moses authoritative is that God spoke through Moses, not that Moses had some great experiences.
Furthermore, when Jesus and the earliest followers of Jesus explained the Gospel, they did so on the basis of the Old Testament Scriptures:
Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Acts 8:35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
Acts 17:2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.
Acts 17:11 Now the Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
Acts 18:28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Not only did the Old Testament Scriptures form the basis of the Gospel, they are of enduring value to those who believe in Jesus—not just because they tell us some compelling stories about people who believed in God, but for our instruction, reproof, even correction!
Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
In contrast, I cannot find one verse that advocates ‘unhitching’ our faith from the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus reserved some of his harshest rebuke for the religious leaders of his day who refused to believe the Old Testament, linking their rejection of the Old Testament to their rejection of the Jesus as the Christ.
John 5:46–47 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?
Jesus even affirmed the complete inerrancy and infallibility of the Old Testament to the letter and taught that it is relevant for all believers today—even affecting our eternal destiny!
Matthew 5:17–19 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
What then does this say when Andy Stanley says we shouldn’t use this language? Is he saying that Jesus got it wrong?
The power of a unified, infallible book
Stanley displays a contempt for the sort of argumentation that rests on the foundation of the Bible as an infallible book. But when we dig in and do the hard work to understand what the Bible teaches, we see that the Bible can stand up to any challenges anyone has been able to throw at it.
When people hear that God really did create in 6 days, around 6,000 years ago, like Genesis teaches, and that the Bible—all of it—can be trusted, they don’t need the watered-down message that Stanley preaches.