Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World. By Andy Stanley. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018. 332 pp. Hardcover, $24.99.
Normally when I review books, I am confident that I understand the author’s main point. In the case of Irresistible by Andy Stanley, I am confident I understand at least a few of his main points.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what Andy Stanley is and is not saying on many points.
Let me begin with what he is clearly saying.
First, we should not ever say to unbelievers, “The Bible says…” That is a very resistible message. Most people today do not respect the Bible or believe that it is authoritative.
Second, we should name names with unbelievers. If we wanted to quote Jesus’ words in John 3:16 we might say, “Jesus said that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” But we would not mention John 3:16 and we would not mention the Bible.
Third, when teaching the Bible to Christians, we must take care to avoid presenting OT principles as though they were still in force today. He strongly rejects what he calls “mixing and matching” (pp. 93-95, 104). More on this in a moment.
Fourth, the OT is not as authoritative as the NT. He writes, “‘The Bible says’ establishes the Bible, as in everything in the Bible as equally authoritative. It’s not. If it is, we have schizophrenic faith because, as we’ve noted, the Bible contains two covenants with two different groups for whom God has two different agendas” (p. 307, emphasis added). More on this soon.
Fifth, Stanley thinks it is more accurate to say that the authors of the Bible were inspired, rather than saying that the Bible itself is inspired. He writes, “So while we are accustomed to saying The Bible is inspired, it is more accurate and helpful to say, The authors of Scripture were inspired” (p. 302). For support he quotes Peter and Paul, though without mentioning where they said these things, except in endnotes at the back of the book. Oddly one of the two proofs he gives is Paul’s words, “All Scripture is God-breathed…” (2 Tim 3:16). He does not cite the entire verse. That verse refers to the Scriptures being inspired, not the authors.
Sixth, the reason why so many Americans do not go to church is “because we’re too caught up in what’s in it for us rather than what love requires of us” (p. 322, emphasis added). I’m not sure what he means. Maybe he is rejecting prosperity theology here. But shouldn’t people go to church to learn how they can have everlasting life? And once they come to faith, shouldn’t they continue to come so that they learn how to live the abundant life that Jesus offers, and how to lay up eternal rewards? What is wrong with a desire to learn “what’s in it for us”? Stanley says that we ought to be calling people to love others. In evangelism? Unfortunately, he says this on the last page of the book and there is no explanation.
Seventh, “most ancient Jews didn’t believe in an afterlife. Why? Their Scriptures did not assume one” (p. 165).
Eighth, the Christian faith is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ: “There once existed a version of our faith that rested securely on a single unprecedented event—the resurrection. That’s the version I’m inviting you to embrace. The original version. The endurable, defensible, new covenant, new command version” (p. 321; see also pp. 23, 293-99).
I disagree with the first seven of those points.
Now some comments about what is unclear in Irresistible.
First, is he saying that we should not mention the OT when we evangelize?
Second, is he going further and saying that we should stop preaching the OT in our churches? He writes, “I’m convinced our current versions of the Christian faith need to be stripped of a variety of old covenant leftovers…We are dragging along a litany of old covenant concepts and assumptions that slow us down, divide us up, and confuse those standing on the outside peering in” (p. 92).
Third, is he suggesting that the entire OT is no longer in force? Or is he saying that the commands of the OT not repeated in the NT are no longer in force?
I am a Dispensationalist. I believe that Christians are no longer under the Law of Moses. Only those laws repeated in the NT are binding on us, and then not as part of the Law of Moses. However, the OT is far more than the Law of Moses. There are many timeless principles in the OT. In addition, even the Law of Moses has application for today (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Fourth, is he saying that there will be no temple in the Tribulation and in the Millennium (pp. 49, 65)?
Fifth, if it is more accurate to say that the writers of Scripture were inspired rather than what they wrote, does that mean that there are errors in the Bible? If not, why not say that the text itself is inspired?
Six final items before I close.
Item one: there are several online reviews of this book, which you may want to read. There is a negative review by Lita Cosner (https://creation.com/stanley-irresistible-review). It was the best review I read. There are relatively negative ones by Tom Schreiner (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/old-covenant-responseandy-stanley/), Michael Kruger (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/irresistible-andy-stanley/), and Owen Strachan (https://cpt.mbts.edu/2018/10/15/we-have-no-divided-god-a-reviewof-irresistible-by-andy-stanley/). And there is a mostly positive review by Clark Morledge (https://sharedveracity.net/2019/01/26/irresistible-by-andy-stanley-a-review/).
Item two: I have an uneasy feeling as I read this book. Not once in the text of the book does Stanley tell the reader the book, chapter, and verses he is quoting. He leaves that to endnotes at the back of the book. Is he implying that even when writing to believers we should not give believers Bible references?
Item three: I don’t see how anyone can understand the NT without having an excellent grasp of the OT. Yet Stanley’s book makes the OT look outdated and irrelevant. While I would not start a new believer in Genesis or Leviticus, I’d certainly want a mature believer to read and study every book of the Bible.
Item four: I was taught in seminary to avoid attributing dialogue to God. The reason is that the Bible does not encourage us to do that. Stanley has a very odd fictional conversation between God the Father and Jesus (pp. 115-16). Lita Cosner comments, “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.”
Item five: Instead of encouraging Christians to defend the Bible against attacks to its credibility, Stanley encourages Christians to simply throw the OT under the bus as irrelevant to our faith: “When skeptics point out the violence, the misogyny, the scientific and historically unverifiable claims of the Hebrew Bible, instead of trying to defend those things, we can shrug, give ‘em our best confused look, and say, ‘I’m not sure why you’re bringing this up. My Christian faith isn’t based on any of that’” (p. 290).
Item six: Andy Stanley is not clear about Free Grace issues. When he discusses Peter evangelizing Cornelius and his household and then the Jerusalem Council, for example, he doesn’t say that all who believe in Jesus for everlasting life (or for justification) have it (pp. 117-30). I did not find a single place in the book where he laid out the faith-alone message clearly, even though this book has as one of its purposes to teach us how to evangelize people. He has Peter speak about “my decision to follow Jesus,” which appears to be Stanley’s statement of Peter’s understanding not of discipleship, but of justification (p. 287).
I do not recommend this book.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society