The Good, Bad, and Terrible of Andy Stanley’s “Irresistible”

Andy Stanley’s new book Irresistible is positively infuriating.

Why?

Because it gets some things very, very right, while absolutely butchering other items of critical importance.

I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising. This is par for the course for Stanley. He’s an incredibly gifted communicator who’s in the habit of making terrible theological statements on a semi-consistent basis.

When he makes these statements, I often think to myself, Andy’s gonna Andy (a paraphrase of “Manny’s gonna Manny”, which was often said about the perplexing behavior of former professional baseball player Manny Ramirez).

Irresistible is Andy gonna Andy turned up to 11.

Let me break it down for you.

What To Do With The Old Testament?

The central question Stanley attempts to address throughout his book is, “What should we do with the Old Testament?” In other words, what role should the Old Testament play in the lives of us New Covenant believers?

This is an important question, and I think Stanley is correct in his assessment that most Christians wrongly adopt and apply many portions of the Old Testament. The Old Testament must be interpreted in context before it can be properly applied to our lives.

We can’t simply take promises made to Israel and do a 1-to-1 application. First, we must determine how the promises originally applied to Israel. Then we must do the hard hermeneutical labor of determining how those promises have been fulfilled in Christ. Only then can we begin to think about how they might bear on our lives.

I agree with much of what Stanley says in this regard.

And while I think he overstates the case at times, I also think he’s correct when he says we can create stumbling blocks for people if we dogmatically insist upon certain rigid Old Testament interpretations.

For example, if we insist that Genesis ONLY allows for a literal six-day creation (it doesn’t), we erect barriers for those who struggle to reconcile Genesis with the scientific record. There’s a wide range of interpretations regarding the creation account, and many faithful, orthodox believers don’t hold to a literal six-day creation.

I appreciate what Stanley is attempting to do.

He recognizes that many Christians read and interpret the Old Testament incorrectly. He rightly points out that this tendency has done damage to Christianity throughout history.

Slave owners incorrectly used the Old Testament to justify their practices. White Christians have used abominable interpretations of the Old Testament to condemn interracial marriage. Genesis often gets used as a science textbook rather than a poetic recounting of God creating of the universe.

You get the point.

In Stanley’s opinion, it’s this sloppy blending of Old and New Testament that makes Christianity “resistible” (hence the title of his book). Improperly mashing the Old and New Testament together can create a quasi-Christianity, full of rules and regulations that God never intended his people to follow.

As he puts it:

It’s the mixing, blending, and integration of the old with the new that make our faith indefensible in this misinformation age. Jesus warned us two thousand years ago against pouring new wine into old wineskins. In the end, both the wine and the wineskins are ruined.

This is, in my opinion, one of the few helpful aspects of the book. Stanley sees a significant problem and wants to do something about it.

Unfortunately, his proposed solution is horrendous.

Unhitching From The Old Testament

Stanley spends about half the book demonstrating that the Old Covenant is just that – old. In other words, it’s not binding on Christians. And while he’s correct in this regard, the way he speaks about both the Old Covenant and the Old Testament make it sound like they don’t matter at all for Christians. As if you can forget about the Old Testament altogether because it’s really not that important compared to Jesus.

His emphasis on the newness of what Christ achieved makes it sound like it was something completely disconnected from the Old Testament, instead of the glorious fulfillment of everything.

For example, he says:

But as we are about to discover, as long as we cling to the old Jesus came to replace, we will never fully appreciate, experience, or even recognize the new he came to put in place.

By the time we’ve finished our journey together, I hope you’ll be ready to unhitch your faith, your theology, and your lifestyle once and for all from the old that Jesus came to replace.

This is what makes Stanley so frustrating. He’s sort of correct. Yes, Jesus came to replace the Old Covenant. He’s the conclusion and end-point of the covenant. He brought it to an end by perfectly obeying it. And yes, we do need to unhitch ourselves from obedience to the Old Covenant.

But this doesn’t mean the Old Testament can be ignored. If we want to truly know God, we can’t afford to be dismissive of the first 2/3 of our Bible.

If we want to fully understand the ramifications of Christ’s sinless life, sacrificial death, and resurrection, we absolutely DO need to understand the nuances of the Old Testament and Covenant. We must cling to the Old Testament while still recognizing the glories of the new and better Covenant.

The more Stanley writes, the worse things get.

He says:

The fact that someone chose to publish the old covenant with the new covenant in a genuine leather binding doesn’t mean we should treat them or apply them the same way. The Bible is all God’s Word . . . to somebody. But it’s not all God’s word to everybody.

This is fundamentally false. All Scripture in both Testaments is God-breathed, useful for preaching, teaching, rebuking, and training and righteousness.

But Stanley doesn’t seem to think so (even though he insists otherwise). He seems to think that the New Testament is more sacred, more God-breathed than the Old Testament. That really, all we need is the New Testament. That the Old Testament, while still inspired by God, is less applicable and relevant than the New Testament.

He also says:

The Bible is a book organized around two covenants: one between God and ancient Israel and one between God and you! Focus on the second one. The covenant between God and Israel is obsolete. Read it for historical context and inspiration. But don’t try any of that stuff at home!

This is staggeringly dangerous thinking. And it keeps getting worse. Toward the very end of the book, Stanley seems to imply that it doesn’t actually matter whether the Old Testament is true. He suggests that because our faith hinges on the resurrection of Jesus, it doesn’t matter whether the Old Testament is fundamentally truthful.

He goes so far as to say:

Christianity can stand on its own two new covenant, first-century feet. The Christian faith doesn’t need to be propped up by the Jewish Scriptures. In a post-Christian context, our faith actually does better without old covenant support.

This reveals the fundamental, fatal flaw in Stanley thinking. He either forgets (or deliberately ignores) the fact that Christianity does indeed need the Old Testament in order to hold together.

After all…

  • Jesus is the second Adam, succeeding where Adam failed
  • Jesus is the seed of Eve who will crush Satan’s head
  • Jesus is the second Israel, keeping the covenant flawlessly
  • Jesus is greater than the Temple
  • Jesus is a greater king than David
  • Jesus is wiser than Solomon
  • Jesus is a king-priest from the order of Melchizedek
  • Jesus is the glorious Son of Man revealed in Daniel
  • Jesus is our Great High Priest
  • Jesus is our sacrificial lamb
  • Jesus the promised Messiah who will rescue his people
  • Jesus is our Passover sacrifice
  • All the scriptures speak of Jesus

Contrary to Stanley’s vigorous assertions, very little of the New Testament makes sense apart from the Old Testament. In fact, very little of what Jesus said or did makes sense without the backdrop of the Old Covenant.

The moment you “unhitch” your faith from the Old Testament, things start to go to pieces. If all the scriptures speak of Jesus, then we can’t afford to ignore or downplay a huge portion of them.

If you do, you’re left with a half-baked Jesus who is stripped of so much of what makes him glorious.

You can pry the Old Testament from my cold, dead hands.

A Better Solution

So what’s the solution? What should we “do” with the Old Testament?

Answer: study it.

Learn how to properly interpret it and teach others the same skills.

Discover what Jesus meant when he said that ALL the scriptures point to him.

It’s true that the Old Testament can be confusing and difficult to understand. It’s true that it has been distorted and misinterpreted over the centuries. But the solution is not to chuck the whole thing.

Rather, we should do the hard work of learning to interpret the Old Testament properly, in light of the New Covenant.

See, here’s the thing. Jesus is already irresistible.

And part of what makes him so irresistible is the way he fulfills every aspect of the Old Covenant.

When we “unhitch” ourselves from the Old Testament, we take away from, rather than add to Jesus’ glory.

25 comments

  • Thanks for this, Stephen! I’ve been reading and studying both the Old and New Testaments for years and my favorite part is that it all points to Jesus. The Old Testament is full of God’s grace and mercy … and promise. I agree that we are free from the legalistic binds of the sacrificial system but to study it and fully know that we have not only been freed for eternity but we have been freed for today … wow. It makes me love Jesus even more. Thank you for pointing us all to the importance of studying to know the Truth! Blessings!

  • Jesus’ picture is everywhere in the old testament and we cannot unhinge ourselves from it, In all the books of the OT there is a picture of christ

  • I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two ( Credit/borrowed from State Farm! )

    Your article just makes me want to read his book and decide for myself. Of course I was so “well taught” during my SGM days that I’m still overcoming my thelogical arrogance, but I am reminded that a house divided against itself…

  • I think Stanley is trying the “Hebrews” approach of “Jesus is better than anything/anyone ever” thinking. So many people claim Christ, but they are also entrenched in trying to keep commandments other than “Love one another just as I have loved you”. I think Stanley is merely stating(albeit maybe overstating at times) that the Old Covenant is not the path to the life that pleases God. That path is only found in Christ.
    My faith is “hitched” to who Jesus is and who I am in Him. I think a faith “hitched” anywhere else is going to be disappointing.

  • its not just the old testament that has been misinterpreted, religion has completely misunderstood God and even Jesus himself. Spirituality and Divinity are what both God and Jesus call forth unto the lives of men…Then…and Now… Not these legalistic, religious, conflicting, contradicting and complicated dogmas that Christianity or any other religions are propagating daily.

  • We can never begin to KNOW God without knowing the God throughout the whole scriptures He has given us. You will never fully grasp the gift God has given us through His incarnation as Jesus Christ, without understanding the Old Testament. You will only fall more and more in love with both God and Jesus Christ with more understanding of both Testaments.

  • Jesus did not allow for such a misguided interpretation of scripture. His statement that He came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it forecloses the idea of ignoring the old testament.

  • Thanks Stephen. What about the obvious passages:
    1. Matt. 5:17-20 is impossible to understand without the Tanahk and of course begs the questions of the gray area Jesus implies
    2. 1 Cor.10:1-13 particularly vs. 12, 12 – God’s covenant and dealings with Israel are a little more than just story for us. Warning and example. Hebrews 4:1-13 speaks similarly and specifies more about consequences.
    I suppose I should end that with a question mark. ?

  • Amen!! I cannot imagine even a beginning in comprehending his Great Love for us without the OT, nor comprehending the New Covenant without the old, why would I want only half of anything, how would I comprehend sin & sacrifice,
    Eph3:19 “so you may be filled with “all” the fullness of GOD”..I want it All. Your Argument is superb. So much Revelation would be lost w/out the OT, you know what 1/2 the instruction gets you? Nothing. Romans 15:4 “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction”! Paul found it necessary to say it because it was important enough to say!????

  • In your comments about Andy Stanley’s incorrect use of the Old Testament, you stated 2 Timothy 3:16a “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”(NKJV, MACARTHUR STUDY BIBLE). Knowing this you make the statement ,”For example, if we insist that Genesis ONLY allows for a literal six-day creation (it doesn’t), we erect barriers for those who struggle to reconcile Genesis with the scientific record. There’s a wide range of interpretations regarding the creation account, and many faithful, orthodox believers don’t hold to a literal six-day creation.” This statement troubles me for it seems to contradict 2 Timothy 3:16a in regards God’s inspiration of scripture, and the veracity of scripture. I realize we are to be careful of taking a wooden literal interpretation of all scripture. The account of creation, however, is one that must be taken literally, unless we are placing ourselves above God in understanding how he created all things from nothing in the literal six day account of scripture. My last comment here will be that man’s science must agree with God’s word, and not the other way around. I look forward to your response, respectfully Mark L Jason.

    • Hey Mark – that’s a great question. I certainly don’t want to place myself above God’s word in any way.

      Believe it or not, many faithful, orthodox Christians don’t necessarily believe that the six days was a literal six days. And the way the creation account is written (a poetic rendering) gives space for this. I don’t believe Genesis was intended to be a science textbook. Rather, it lays out God’s relationship to his creation.

      As I read Genesis and various commentaries on it, there are a wild variety of opinions regarding whether it was a literal six-day creation or whether “day” was being used simply to describe a period of time. But honestly, that’s a long discussion.

      The main thing you should come away with is that I want to fully submit myself to God’s word. If that requires believing in a six-day creation, I will do so. I’m just not convinced it does.

      Hopefully that helps?

      • Gen 1
        5: So the evening and the morning were the first day.
        8: So the evening and the morning were the second day.
        13: So the evening and the morning were the third day.
        19: So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
        23: So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
        31: So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
        Gen 2
        2 And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

        It sounds pretty simple to me… Seven days.

        I think it’s important to understand when God is being literal and when He is being figurative. I believe here He is being literal.
        In Gen 2:17, His promise is true, so it has to be figurative. A day to God is as a thousand years (2Pet 3:8). So as Adam lived 930 years, he surely died within that “day” (the first 1000 years after creation).

      • Please watch “Is Genesis History?” – The Documentary Film with Del Tackett

  • In regards to a 6 day literal creation a simple straight forward reading of the text, leads one to believe that these are 6 literal 24 hour days. You are correct that Genesis is not written as a science book, yet it does not disagree with true science. The other interpretations such as the gap theory, or the day age theory, are simply the attempts to reconcile the Bible with the millions and even billions of years that the theory of evolution presupposes. There must be a literal Adam and a literal Eve, a literal fall, also there can be no death before sin. This rules out any form of Theistic evolution. Our entire faith is a supernatural faith, if Genesis 1-11 are not taught and believed to be history, but instead are taught in any way to be allegory or as you say a poetic rendering, you have tampered with the gospel. To put it another way. If Genesis 3 is myth John 3 is a farce.

  • I’ve walked down the aisle to become a Christian 50 years ago, and have read lots and lots of scripture. But three years ago, after four years of church-hopping (I got tired of knowing more than the preacher), I went to a messianic Jewish synagogue. After six months of attendance, I joined. And I have to say that I’ve learned more about Yeshua (Jesus) in these last three years of studying the Old Testament in relation to the New, than I ever did by studying just the New.

    • You got tired of knowing more than the preacher or you got tired of pastors disagreeing with you? They aren’t really the same thing…Just saying

      Blessings
      Tim

      • Tim, thanks for the attempted lesson in humility but at least in this case it wasn’t warranted. When I know the scripture reference he’ll use to make his point and I know why it will or will not work before the preacher finishes giving the reference, then I figure I know as much as or more than he does.

  • I spent 2 years in a Jewish synagogue before I became a Christian. I was on a journey of discovering who “God the Father” is …. not wanting to know about Jesus. I didn’t end up making a commitment to become a “Reform Jew” because I felt that there was something lacking. 4 Years later I ended up in a christian church service where I felt the presence of God – something I had never encountered in the synagogue. I felt a feeling of love wash over me and instantly knew the truth that Jesus is the Messiah … not because of what I had learned in Church, but through what I had learned in the synagogue and the Old Testament. I went forward and took communion “with my Lord Jesus Christ” because I knew about the broken bread (the Afikomen in Passover – Jesus held it up and said “THIS is MY body”) and the the third cup of wine at Passover (the cup of redemption – Jesus held it up and said, “THIS is MY blood”). Communion made perfect sense to me not as a replacement of Passover, but BECAUSE of Passover in the Old Testament. I understood about Jesus BECAUSE of my understanding of the Old Testament – not instead of the Old Testament. Without the Old Testament Jesus does not make sense at all. And yes … I held on to my faith in Jesus, and yes, over 20 years down the track I am still a Pastor, and yes, I do still explain the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New Testament as revealed in the Old Testament. The Bible is one complete book …. Genesis to Revelation.

  • If people are questioning a literal biblical account of 6-day creation, perhaps Lee Stroebel could be persuaded to make this issue his next investigation. I personally have become annoyed by studying Stroebel’s conclusions of truth, because his conclusions are exactly what I knew (from my own Bible study,) before I spent the time watching his videos and filling in his study books. It is less time consuming to just believe what the Bible says. Anyway, if Stroebel were to investigate 6-day creation, I am quite sure the title would be “The Case for Six-day Creation”. How magnificient to know my precious Savior, Jesus as Creator! He is the Self-Existing, One True God–the Same in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

  • Stephen has overlooked other things that Stanley included. When was the Bible compiled? The answer to this is that it was compiled around 350 years after Jesus was resurrected. How was the gospel shared from the resurrection of Christ and for the next 350 years? Andy addresses this and the Apostle Paul tells us how in the book of Acts and the letters to the churches.
    How do you think Paul or his successors taught the gospel to groups who were outside the knowledge of Judaism? Do you think Paul or his successors first taught them the Hebrew scriptures? Of course they didn’t….
    Stanley correctly points out that the gospel points us to Christ, we fall in love with Jesus… then we want to learn more about Jesus and we can do this in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament).
    We want new Christians first… they drink milk then they mature to eat meat. We will bring more gentiles to Christ by sharing the gospel first, then they will crave the back story scriptures in the Old Testament. This is the point of Andy Stanley’s book Irresistible. Andy says that the “Old Testament” is scripture, but it was for the Hebrew people beginning with Abraham. The gentiles and the Jews are grafted together as Paul says, through Christ Jesus and His salvation. Christianity is the New Testament… Don’t confuse.
    Listen, we all should get an understanding of how and who put “la biblica” together to include the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. There is a tremendous history here that most people do not know. Look at how Rome became the “final” answer for Christian church questions/disputes from the end of the first century to the centuries leading up to the compilation of “la biblica”. You will see how these sects became misguided and their reasons for compiling the Bible as they did, taking the Hebrew scriptures and paring them with the New Covenant scriptures…. this then lead to all the inquisitions and evil that was done in the name of Christianity in order to keep the Roman power.
    Jesus was new but foretold in Hebrew scriptures for the Jews so that some would come to know Christ as the coming one. Jesus was new to gentiles not from the viewpoint of the Hebrew scriptures but a loving God to replace the many gods they tried to find hope in but did not.
    The church from the compilation of “la biblica” forward really has caused confusion in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to gentiles who knew nothing of Judaism. Leave it to man to try to over complicate the simple message of Jesus Christ and his new covenant.
    Old Testament or Hebrew Bible is scripture aimed directly at the Hebrew people and about the Hebrew people and a God who shows mercy and love to those who even reject Him.
    New Testament is scripture aimed at Jews and Gentiles, Jews in a messiah who was foretold in their scriptures in order that some might be saved, and to Gentiles as a Savior to free them from the bondage of sin and despair. Both groups can be grafted to the same saving Grace of God… Do you see the difference folks? Don’t over complicate things with theology… God can be a savior to Jews and gentiles.

  • Love the review. The only gripe I have is this: Andy Stanley is not nearly as gifted a communicator as the world seems to repeat. Whenever criticism comes up against Stanley, he’s the first to say, “They misunderstand me,” or, “They’re taking me out of context.” The reality is that we either are misunderstanding him, or he is being too frivolous with the text and taking him out of context with his bizarre attempts straight-talk; both are symptoms not of us as readers, but of Stanley as a bad communicator. He keeps blaming others for his communication faults.

Submit a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *