Andy Stanley’s new book Irresistible is positively infuriating.
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.
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.
- 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.