Andy Stanley is a master communicator, popular author, and prominent pastor. In his book Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed from the World, Stanley argues that the church with its modern version of faith is ineffective and too easily resisted. He conjectures that people resist the modern church and Christianity because the Old Testament is mixed into it. Consequently, when believers defend the Old Testament’s historicity and accuracy, they alienate what he refers to as “post-Christians.”
Irresistible is filled with clever phrases, including chapter titles such as “Temple Tantrum,” “Splittin’ Up,” “Homebodies,” “The Apoplectic Apostle,” “Trending Horizontal,” “Obsolet-r Than Ever.” Using wit, humor, satire, anecdotal comments, wordplay, and wordsmithing, Stanley presents his belief that the church must become “unhitched” and “unmixed” from the Old Testament. He uses his rhetorical skills to urge believers against integrating Old Testament truth into Christianity, thus dissuading believers from defending the historical reliability and believability of the Old Testament. His arguments, however, exemplify logical errors, simplistic exegesis (which is often eisegesis), errant theology, reductionism, and very serious hermeneutical errors. Consider these eight reasons to reject his thesis.
1. His contributions are marred by his thesis.
At times Stanley speaks highly of the Old Testament as Israel’s history, while at other times he misrepresents and disparages the Old Testament and its historicity, truthfulness, and inspiration. Messengers, teachers, and preachers have a stewardship to faithfully dispense God’s Word. This trust entails speaking clearly, consistently, and accurately about the Word of truth. Stanley’s book falls far short in this regard. While the book does present some positive insights and contributions in respect to post-Christians and contemporary ministry challenges, these contributions are unfortunately marred by his thesis.
Every book has a thesis, and every thesis contains two literary components: a subject and a complement. Few can disagree with Pastor Stanley’s general subject: the church needs to be more irresistible so that what he calls the “nones” (unchurched nonbelievers) and the “deconverted” (those who have left Christianity) will have fewer reasons to discredit it.
The problem with Irresistible is not so much the general subject but rather the complement to the subject. Stanley argues that since Christianity is completely new and since the Old Testament is completely fulfilled, Christianity must be detached or unmixed from the Old Testament. Hence Christians should, he says, simply dismiss the Old Testament challenges that many post-Christians find objectionable. But doing this downgrades the Old Testament for apologetic purposes and for ministry contextualization.
2. His imbalance in contextualization leads to cultural accommodation.
The pursuit of knowing Biblical truth in American evangelicalism is being replaced with pursuing the immediate value or relevance or practicality of truth. This transition has created an imbalance in contextualization that oftentimes leads to cultural accommodation. Unfortunately, Stanley seems to be pursuing this end.
One popular trend in American evangelicalism is to view some Old Testament events as fictitious or as literary, nonhistorical episodes that simply have a broader narrative purpose. A number of self-identified evangelical scholars and certainly many postconservative scholars today reject the historicity of Adam and Eve as the progenitors of the human race, God’s justice in Noah’s flood, the Red Sea judgment, the Canaanite genocide, elements of prophecy, and so forth. Stanley argues that the historicity or even believability of some Old Testament events is simply unimportant, since the Old Testament is an obsolete record of the Hebrews and Israel. He also minimizes and/or rejects the importance of infallibility and inerrancy. Contextualization, however, must consider both the message of truth and the medium that communicates the message. But Stanley accommodates (“adapts”) the truth of Scripture, conforming it to today’s culture in order to enhance its medium and receptivity.
Biblical apologetics is meant to explain and defend Scriptural truth claims. This in turn provides justification for the truthfulness of belief in God and Christianity, which hopefully will lead to personal faith in Christ and His work. Stanley, however, makes the Old Testament obsolete, alleging it is all fulfilled and thereby dismissing any challenges from skeptics. He believes that by unhitching and removing the Old Testament from the Christian faith, the church will not be sidetracked to answer many of the tough and even embarrassing questions presented in the Old Testament.
3. His approach requires a nonorthodox theological method.
Stanley is not, however, simply promoting a new apologetic. He surmises that his thesis needs to be integrated into every aspect of faith and practice so Christians themselves don’t stumble over skepticism. His approach requires a different and nonorthodox method in how to theologize (“apply theological method”). To unhitch the Old Testament from Christianity—thereby removing 39 canonical books from Christian theologizing—is indeed dangerous and leaves incredible gaps in a person’s theological system. This approach will eventually lead to a kind of Christian critical-cultural-historical-scientific syncretism.
Stanley’s theological method demonstrates additional and very serious concerns. He correctly speaks of the resurrection as the determinative event of Christianity. Indeed both Christ and His atoning work are God’s supreme revelatory work. However, Stanley consistently downgrades the New Testament as merely a record of the resurrection (293–300). But the New Testament is not simply a record of the resurrection event. Rather, the New Testament is itself revelatory and carries God’s authority. Stanley prefers to say the writers of Scripture were inspired (not the Scriptures, 302), and he does not treat the New Testament as God’s authoritative revelation.
4. His apologetic and his method of theologizing are incorrect and naïve.
Stanley confuses truths that have direct, immediate application to believers with descriptive truths that may not directly apply to believers today. Some truths do not have immediate application, though these truths still play a critical part of a Biblical-theological foundational system. However, if these truth assertions are not true, or are not historical, or are unhitched from Christianity, then Christianity will cease to be fully Christian. Stanley does not address the negative consequences to the Christian faith if such truths as the Creation or the fall of mankind—or the Psalter, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, or the prophetic literature—are excluded. One important component of Christian apologetics is to appeal to the entire Scriptures in presenting a consistent, coherent worldview. Stanley’s method disallows this important apologetic tool.
Jesus Himself repeatedly authenticated the Old Testament’s veracity and knowability. If the Old Testament is not true or historical, Jesus—Who repeatedly claimed the Old Testament was indeed true and historical—would be a false prophet. Additionally, New Testament writers repeatedly cited the Old Testament as inspired and true while integrating it into the New Covenant. If Christianity ever needed to compromise Old Testament truth to make it fit with hostile cultural views, it would have been at the inception of Christianity. But the New Testament writers did exactly the opposite of Stanley’s suggestions.
Many of the current Old Testament challenges that Stanley probably hopes to dissuade the church from defending are also present in the New Testament. Just a few examples include the persons of Adam and Eve as the progenitors of the entire human race (Luke 3:38; Act 17:26), marriage as a one man–one woman lifelong union (Matt. 19:4–6), Cain (Jude 11), Abel (Heb. 11:4), God’s retributive justice including eternal judgment and exclusivism of faith alone in the Messiah (Christ) alone (Matt. 25:46), Noah’s flood judgment (Luke 17:26–27), Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:29), and Balaam’s transgression (Jude 11). Additionally, many moral laws in the New Testament are rooted in the Old Testament.
Stanley correctly focuses on Christ’s resurrection as the key apologetic event and as a key component of the gospel, though he does so at the exclusion of all other Biblical evidences for theistic belief. In the Luke 16:19–31 account of Lazarus, when the unbelieving rich man in eternal torment begs for the Lord to send a messenger to warn his unbelieving family of impending judgment, Jesus says, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16: 31). Stanley is simply naïve to suggest that accommodating the historicity of the Old Testament will gain a credible hearing for evangelism.
Further, Stanley suggests that the “Christian Bible should precede the Hebrew Bible since if “it weren’t for the New Testament, there wouldn’t be an Old Testament” (284). He repeatedly and mistakenly implies that all of the Old Testament is synonymous with Old Covenant law or is simply stories. He then mistakenly argues that all aspects of the Old Covenant and the entire Old Testament were fulfilled and thus have been brought to completion.
He further errs when stating that fourth-century church leaders bestowed on the Hebrew Scriptures the “same authority as the Gospels and epistles” when they bound the Hebrew Scriptures with the Christian Scriptures to form the canon (155). Rather, the New Testament writers always viewed the Old Testament as just as inspired and just as authoritative as the New Testament; not doing so was considered heresy. Stanley, however, confuses authority and inspiration of all Scripture with covenant application to a particular reader. In reality, the writer’s meaning always governs the application or meaningfulness to a reader.
David Mappes (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary) teaches courses in New Testament and theology at Liberty University, Clarks Summit University, and Temple Baptist Seminary, and is director of Noble & Knowable Truth Ministries.