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 On the one hand, he will declare that the Old Testament is obsolete, and on the other, he tries to explain that it is still good to have for history, stories, etc.
The first part of the book is Stanley’s effort to prove that the Old Testament, the law, etc., is obsolete and has been replaced by the New Covenant.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.
I appreciate this article and all of these comments so much. Andy Stanley’s perspective seems to fit in well with the new emphasis on “The Presence”, hyped up by music, emotion and teachings such as his. Utter confusion and a further drifting into new age thought will be the final result.
Yes, he is an example of the many who have substituted God’s redemptive plan for eternity, with a pragmatic approach to bring life change in the here and now.
You’ve put into words what I’ve been thinking for quite some time. I would add that I think things are getting worse because we live in the time when people are increasingly “lovers of selves.” Self is becoming the reference point, the standard — not Jesus (as either the living word, or the written word.) “Do I not believe something? Well, clearly God is being unreasonable to expect me to believe that point. Why should I cry out for help with my unbelief like the man in Mark 9? If I don’t have faith, it’s not my responsibility to listen to God’s word so my faith will grow. This is just how I am. God is unfair to expect otherwise. I know — I’ll make God/the gospel over in MY image! Genius!”
Although few are blunt as that, I think that’s what’s happening in many cases. About 15 years ago I was in a Bible Study at my church, and someone spoke up and derisively said that he didn’t believe “that,” and declared he was probably the only person in the study who was being honest. I was shocked at his arrogance, his certainty that he was entitled to disparage those who did believe the point he was rejecting, and his declaration that he was the standard. All these years later I am no longer shocked when I hear people identifying themselves as Christians say these things.
Matters of faith and unbelief are not being addressed appropriately by leadership. We need to be encouraged to know what to do as we realize areas we struggle with unbelief, and not step out into heresy and eisegesis. It’s so grievous when leadership does not pastor the flock effectively in this area, and develops unsound doctrine and eisegesis itself.
I believe a problem occurs when Christians approach the Bible with a personal, preconceived agenda, and then rework their interpretation of scripture to fit that agenda. Scholars have given it the fancy name eisegesis.
For example, a theology that labors on the question “how can a loving God possibly sentence anyone to eternal torment?” inevitably gives birth to doctrines like annihilationism and universalism. A theology that labors on the sovereign omnipotence of God, at the expense of human freedom, leads to Calvinism. Charles Taze Russell’s consternation at being unable to understand the concept of the Trinity eventually led to the emergence of the Watch Tower society.
Back in the early 1990s, I attended an address by Rev Jack Shelby Spong when he visited New Zealand, and subsequently read two of his books ‘Rescuing the Bible from fundamentalism’ and ‘Resurrection: Myth or Reality?’ I subsequently learned that Jack’s unorthodox theology was ultimately born out of his great love for his daughter, an insistent skeptic, and his overriding resolve to present a miracle-free Jesus who would be more believable to her.
Here I sense Andy Stanley’s overwhelming desire to repackage the Bible in a way to make its message more palatable to post-modern atheists and secularists. To these folk, the OT presents a God who is a not only tyrannically pedantic, but also a moral monster who sends fiery sulphur and worldwide floods to destroy people, while also prescribing genocide, rape, pillage (e.g. Numbers 31:7-18) and slavery. This understandably represents a significant barrier to the skeptic’s willingness to embrace the gospel, and Andy’s solution is to simply discard the OT. Thus we see a similar process: an agenda caused by the laudable and well-intentioned desire to reach the lost, but ultimately resulting in the same outcome: eisegesis.
We should remember that it is not our responsibility to ‘convert’ unbelievers. 1 Peter 3:15 asks us to give reasons why we believe; it doesn’t require that we present irrefutable secular evidence of God’s existence, a humanly impossible task. All that we’re called upon to do is to present Biblical truth in authentic fashion, to the best of our ability, after which it is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict each individual, breaking through their pride and obstinacy. It is ultimately a spiritual war, as opposed to merely an impeccable presentation of truth. If the unbeliever is not ready to embrace this truth, then this does not necessarily represent any failure on our part; we should accept this, and move on.
We are all guilty of eisegesis, to whatever extent we create a personal, mental image of God that is acceptable to us. It is only the Holy Spirit who can correct this image and reveal God’s true character, and give us the correct lens through which to interpret scriptural truth. All provided of course that we are open to this teaching, and humble enough to put our existing preconceptions and misapprehensions aside.
Lighthouse Trails Editors
Paul, we hope you will reconsider many of the statements you have said here. If you are willing, please read this article about the Christian’s responsibility to challenge error. https://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=27928. With regard to Scripture, all Scripture is inspired by God, and we cannot ignore what the directives of Scripture are, which Andy Stanley is doing much of the time.
I am not sure why I am amazed to read so many negative comments and such condemnation and quick judgment on a person who is trying to give a new perspective on how to interpret the Bible. The Word became flesh (IJohn) which means only one thing. Jesus is the Word not the Bible. This is the foundation of what Andy is saying. Please take a hermeneutics class before giving opinions on how to interpret the Bible. Legalistic interpretations have a tendency to put God in a box and God is infinite. Always remember to look at the log in your own eye before you judge. Christ is the only one who can judge and the only one who can condemn. God is LOVE and if someone falls or goes down the wrong path then pray to God that the person may come to know the WAY and turn from his/her evil path. It is best that we all pray for HIS guidance and discernment. May God bless all of you and find you well. Shalom
Lauren St. Vincent
Andy Stanely, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, teaching error. Truth mixed with error is all error.
This guy has been off the rails for a while. Just another example of a younger generation trying to convince people that his father did everything wrong and he has all the answers. Irresistible to the world? I thought the world would hate us because it hated Jesus first? I guess since that is found in scripture, it is no longer relevant. My mistake.
run people from this apostate he is a dangerous false teacher leading many to hell. 2nd tim3-16 all scripture is giving by an inspiration from GOD, stanley is awolf in sheeps clothing
Wow, thank you for this article, for this summary of A. Stanley’s book! I have known for quite some time that he had gone off the rails of Biblical truth, had been drawn away by some insidious force(s) that would hinder and hurt people who followed him and believed him. For example, when Andy Stanley called Obama “America’s pastor in chief”, I knew he was seriously lacking godly discernment. And when I learned that he prohibited divorced people from leadership positions in his church (no problem there) BUT allowed homosexuals living in that lifestyle to serve in leadership, that was more than strange. He seems to be in serious confusion, definitely in serious error. God help him, if it’s not too late.
Thank you for the article about Andy Stanley. Many times over the last few years I have noticed the same attitude among ‘believers ‘, the Church is ripe for this teaching; that the Scriptures are not necessary. When I have tried to encourage struggling believers to read the Word, for wisdom and Sanctification I am continuously confronted with disbelief. To top it off , when these struggling believers tell their Pastor or Elders my advice, it is dismissed and sometimes rediculed. The thing that could help them the most! Is this something you encounter? To combat this game I started a read through the Bible fellowship in my home. And this year our 16 year old son is doing the same
Great article! I had family visit us recently from Andy Stanley’s church. One of the family members said that her sister-in-law said, “Why should I believe in God when Noah’s flood isn’t even true.” I told these relatives that there is lots of evidence for the flood. They responded by saying that is not so because Andy said it isn’t so (in so many words). My heart ABSOLUTELY breaks for those who could possibly end up in hell because they believe what a man says (Andy) versus being a berean and searching the scriptures themselves.
Pastor Gregory Allen
Stanley not only bucks the Authority of Scripture, but like many more piling on and filing into the Emergent camp, he flat out denies the SUFFICIENCY is Scripture. The sufficiency of Scripture is the newer battleground for these self-appointed “popes” of the Emerging papacy. Stanley is seeking to build a bridge between what Roger Oakland termed the “Return to Rome,” the same call Pope Francis is sounding out to evangelicals destroy “the faith” (Jude 3) of more conventional Protestantism. Sadly, he’s succeeding. I grieve that I have no hesitation numbering Andy Stanley among those who’ve “…crept in unawares” to defile the purity of the faith. And unfortunately the SBC is no virgin in this deception. Our church is soon pulling out of our already lose association with the Convention. After 25 years of letters and objections to their drift, I’m getting out. What they call their lifeboat has obviously drifted out to sea, and Stanley is declaring himself one of the Captains at the helm.
T. I. Miller
Just think of the logical contradictions in this heretical approach. Everything we know about God, man, sin and salvation comes from a book that he claims cannot be trusted. All scripture is God breathed or it is not. Then he asks for everyone to trust in him and his opinion, vanity of vanities. Much of this madness is the result of adopting a marketing approach to the gospel. this approach may fill the pews but at the highly likely expenses of losing souls. Another cause of embracing this madness is the idea that we can redeem our own souls by our good deeds apart from the cross. Lets look at the non-seeker friendly approach of Jesus as written in Matt. 10. 32-42. Jesus did not die on the cross to tickle the ears of scoffers. Jesus makes it clear that He trusted the Bible. The Devil says that we cannot trust the Bible. Those who love Jesus keep the commands of Jesus. Those who do not love him contrive methods to pretend to love him. All who become teachers WILL be judged more harshly. There is a way that seems right but the end thereof is destruction.
Pastor Reid, Thank you for taking the time to read and analyze Stanley’s most recent book. Unfortunately, works like his and others of his flock are translated into Japanese. As a result, I have set aside 10% of preaching and teaching time to counter such false teachers on an annual basis. The other 90% are 2 Timothy 3:16-17 sermons. Works like yours are very helpful as all I have to do is refer people to websites like Lighthouse Trails Research. Praise the Lord for brothers like you. In Christ, Tony Barrera Kyoto, Japan
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” 2 Timothy 3; 16 “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” 2 Timothy 3; 13 “So then, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do likewise will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5; 19 “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” 2 Corinthians 11; 13-14 “And he said to the woman, ‘Did God really say,…’ ?” Genesis 3; 1 If people were truly grounded in their faith and knew the Scriptures and did the research, they would see that not only the Bible holds up under the tests, but scientific evidence supports it! Christians would be able to ‘dance circles’ around the doubters if they were properly trained. But faith is also part of it all, as it must be, we can’t know it all either. But good resources are out there, such as for creationism, etc.
Thank you for the information. You are being very generous to Andy. Perhaps we should really call call him what the Bible calls such people: False teachers. Stay away from him and people like him.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Jesus to have said, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.’ John writes, ‘in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ All scripture being God breathed and profitable for teaching, exhorting etc. Nice try Andy but better for a millstone than you continuing to lead the blind away! God is the same yesterday, today and future! I am the Lord, I change not.
There is nothing to be gained from reading this book, but much to be lost. God does not need a second opinion from Andy Stanley.
More and more each day I am reminded of Luke 18:8, “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” Need I say more?
I astounds me that Charles Stanley’s son could have STRAYED so far from his upbringing ! LHTR keep exposing these false teachers!