Andy Stanley is the renowned pastor for 32,000 member North Point Church in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve been appreciating his leadership books for years: Seven Habits of Highly Effective Ministry, Visioneering, and Deep and Wide. I jumped at the chance to attend his recent one-day seminar at Kensington Church in Troy. His theme was titled Irresistible and he sent me his new book of the same name so I could read it before his sessions with us.
Stanley is a man with a heart to reach the rising generation of atheists with the Gospel. His enthusiasm and determination burst out of every word he writes and speaks. I pray to have just ¼ of his incredible energy—more than that and I might combust!
The basic thesis of Irresistible is sound. The new atheists and those who have abandoned the faith operate under a faulty assumption: if any part of the Bible is wrong then all of Christianity is false. Many in the church make the same assumption and therefore spend inordinate amounts of energy trying to defend all aspects of the Bible. Make no mistake, Stanley believes the Bible is entirely sound and defensible yet he argues that this is an ineffective approach to take in communicating the faith. A more irresistible presentation is made when we focus on the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This was the method of the early church. As Stanley puts it, “I’m a simple guy: if someone predicts his own death and resurrection and then pulls it off, we should go with what he says.”
Stanley is right: the foundation of our faith is not a book, it’s an event, The Event—the Resurrection. This is important for students studying evolution in High School biology classes to remember. No one would even know the Old Testament creation stories if Jesus had not risen from the dead. Without the resurrection the whole book would have been forgotten. Faith doesn’t ride on trying to reconcile natural history and the Bible. Faith rides on the Resurrection—an event for which there is ample and compelling evidence. The only reason we even have a Bible is because Jesus rose from the dead.
Stanley is a strong proponent of what is called “replacement” theology—that the New Testament completely replaces the Old. He seeks to ground Christian doctrine and ethics strictly in the New Testament. As a card-carrying Methodist, I have to say this is neither right nor possible.
Stanley wrote a provocative statement that has gotten him into hot water in Christian circles: that the church should “unhitch” itself from the Old Testament. He goes on to claim:
“According to Paul, Jesus followers are dead to the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments have no authority over you…To be clear: Thou shalt not obey the Ten Commandments.” (Irresistible p 134)
Compare this to John Wesley’s words:
The moral law contained in the Ten Commandments, and enforced by the prophets, Christ did not take away. It was not the design of His coming to revoke any part of this. This is a law which never can be broken...Every part of this law must remain in force upon all mankind and in all ages; as not depending either on time or place, or any other circumstances liable to change, but on the nature of God and the nature of man, and their unchangeable relation to each other."
What Stanley is proposing is not new. It’s called “Anti-nominianism” This is the notion that Christians are made free by grace from obeying any moral law. It was rampant among the hyper-Calvinists of Wesley’s day and he fought strenuously against it. Unhitching the church from the moral law of scripture is a tactic of the 20th century mainline Protestant churches in America. The result has been moral chaos and precipitous decline from which we are still trying to recover. Jesus spent much of his time explaining and applying the Ten Commandments (see Matthew 5). The shape of love in Jesus’ mind included the moral law. Love fulfills the law, it doesn’t replace the law. Every Christian can and should use the moral commandments as a guide to real love. This isn’t legalism, it’s a grateful and Spirit-filled response to the love of God in Jesus Christ.
In Hope and Confidence,
Pastor Tom 2018/10/10