By Gregory R Reid
As a Christian researcher and minister, I approached the reading of Andy Stanley’s book Irresistible with an account of Andy Stanley’s message to the Southern Baptist Convention that helped me to understand Stanley’s core belief concerning the Scripture. He had told the gathering at the SBC, “I would ask preachers and pastors and student pastors in their communications to get the spotlight off the Bible and back on the resurrection.” Along with similar statements, it was clear to me that Stanley was not strong on the necessity of the Scriptures in our call to preach the Gospel and build up the church.
Stanley’s book Irresistible did nothing to take away that perception. In fact, it appears that Stanley has doubled down on his assertion that Scriptures are not all that necessary in our commission.
Stanley begins the book with the idea that the church used to be irresistible but now people are walking away from God in droves, and he believes it is largely because of the Bible being preached the way it is. He asserts that we change our language and our assertions about the Bible, and that will make us more irresistible somehow.
Stanley spends a great deal of time explaining away his controversial assertions. On the one hand, he will declare that the Old Testament is obsolete, and on the other, he tries to explain that it is still good to have for history, stories, etc.
The first part of the book is Stanley’s effort to prove that the Old Testament, the law, etc., is obsolete and has been replaced by the New Covenant. In effect, there are some of Stanley’s assertions that are correct. But it is not all that he says, and therein lies the problem. Like so many new emergent ministers, the tendency is to try to weaken, eliminate or downplay those parts of Scripture that are troublesome or appear to be in opposition to current cultural mores and lifestyles.
Although there are many true things in Stanley’s book, the number of bones one must throw out to find the chicken is rather overwhelming. His ideas in the second part of the book that we must follow Jesus’ command to love others and that will be our motivator and decider on how to handle people is right, and we would all benefit by understanding that love is the fulfillment of the law, and it is the reason why we do what we do.
But many of Stanley’s conclusions as well as his assertions are problematic on many levels. Here are just a few:
- He reduces the Hebrew Scriptures to stories and history and does not feel we should put any authoritative stock in it for ourselves as New Covenant believers.
- He uses the phrase “replaced” and “replacement” of Israel and the law several times, raising a concern that he may subscribe to the evangelical movement of “replacement theology” that believes God is through with Israel as a nation and simply replaced them with the church.
- Stanley spends a great deal of time planting seeds of doubt as to the accuracy, scientific and archeological and even moral authority of the Scriptures.
- Stanley asserts that the reason we are not irresistible to unbelievers is that we keep using the term “the bible says” and that the reason most “nones” walked away from church is that they lost faith in our Bible stories that simply got torn apart in college. And while it is true that many church kids lose their faith in college under the brutal attacks from secular and atheistic professors who are able to argue circles around them, the answer is not to further weaken young people’s faith in the Scriptures but rather to fortify and arm them with the truth of the accuracy, historicity, and spiritual power to transform hearts and lives through the Scriptures. I would further suggest that the reason many, many church kids fall away in college when their faith in Scriptures is undermined may be because they did not have a personal saving encounter with Jesus Christ to begin with.
- He asserts that we would become irresistible if we simply stopped using language like “the Bible” and stopped using the Old Testament and the law and ten commandments as our authority or proof of our faith.
- Stanley continues to subtly suggest that the Old Testament was contradictory, flawed, and at odds with science and archeology. I suggest the lack of apologetic facts here is very dangerous to young audiences. It leads them to believe that even though there are flaws and mistakes and errors in Scripture, it does not matter, because our faith isn’t based on Scripture. While partially true that our salvation is based on Jesus and His resurrection, it is a grave mistake to suggest that Scripture does not play an extremely significant and crucial part in our faith – not our salvation, but our faith and spiritual growth as we seek to be conformed into the image of Christ. And, we must realize that Scripture is the frame work of our faith.
- While Stanley seems to suggest neither Jesus nor the apostles based much on the Scriptures, the fact is that they were all committed to “the Word of God.” The Hebrew term was “Torah observant.” When Jesus said, ‘They have kept your word” (John 17:6), that is what it meant.
- Much of Andy’s theology is based on the idea that the Old Testament is obsolete and only good for stories and history. On the other hand, Jesus Himself said, “Sanctify them through the truth. Thy Word is truth”(John 17:17). What Word? The Hebrew Scriptures. When Satan contended with Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”(Matthew 4:4). What Word? The Hebrew Scriptures.
The real crux of the matter is that Stanley spends far too much time weakening people’s confidence in biblical accuracy as well as telling them they have almost nothing to gain from reading the “Old Testament.” But while there may be old and new covenants, there is really just one book. Jesus affirmed both the accuracy and God-breathedness of the Hebrew Scriptures, as did Paul and Peter. Basic theology taught us that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. But more than that, the truths contained in the Hebrew Scriptures are God’s truth.
Perhaps Stanley’s problem is that he does not believe there is any more to the Scriptures than stories and history. But those who have taught and preached and carried the Scriptures throughout history and were used to produce some of the greatest revivals in history did so carrying the whole weight of scriptural authority with them, not deeming half of them obsolete. In fact, in the book of Acts, almost every major public preaching message, whether by Peter, or Paul, or Stephen, was literally a retelling of the Hebrew Scriptures, from prophets to history to wisdom and Psalms.
Perhaps Stanley’s other issue is that he does not believe in the AUTHORITY of the Word of God. Those of us who have lived by it and preached by it for our whole lives can attest that it is not “just a book,” but the Word of God is powerful on multiple levels.
He sent forth His Word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. (Psalm 107:20)
Thy Word have Ihid in my heart that I might not sin against thee. (Psalm 119:11)
And perhapsmost central,
Thou hast magnified Thy Word above all Thy Name. (Psalm 138:2)
If God so glorifies His Word, we should be very careful not to lessen its place or importance.
It is also not accurate to say that if we dosome of the things Stanley suggests, we will suddenly become irresistible to the world. Jesus, in fact, made it plain that the world would largely hate believers, not find us or our message irresistible (Matthew 10:22).
While some of Stanley’s suggestions are valid, the repeated undermining of respect and acknowledgement of the power and authority of the Word of God, both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, as well as pointing out several times how indefensible many of the Old Testament things are, can only serve to get new believers to disregard the Old Testament altogether – especially since Stanley deems them “obsolete.” This makes the book a dangerous book heading in a dangerous direction. As with the former evangelical Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis, which Irresistible closely resembles, it has the effect of being a systematic tearing down of faith in the Scriptures, and whatever good things are said will not be sustained without a solid scriptural foundation to enable the reader to walk in truth.