Book Review in Three: The Oresteia

I have terrible eyesight. Around ninth grade, my teacher had noticed that I was struggling to see the board from the front row and recommended it was time to get an eye exam. Too my parents credit, I did my best to fake my way through the problem for several years because in the nineties it was not cool to wear glasses. Finally though, I could no longer pretend I couldn’t see and my mom took me to the eye doctor. I still remember the drive home with my new contacts in, and the disbelief that I could now see all that I was missing. Who knew that street signs could been seen from the car!

I’ve had a similar experience with classical Christian education. All of a sudden a massive world has open up to me that I had no idea about. Like Paul, the scales have fallen off my eyes and the world will never be the same.

I’m not a classist, although I would like to be one some day. I’m a new convert trying to give myself the education that I now realize I always wanted. These great authors of Homer, Aeschylus, Plato, Plutarch, Milton, Shakespeare, Austin, and so many more have offered their friendship to me to pull up a chair, have a drink, and discuss all things that are worth discussing. I’m also realizing that old friends, like Lewis, and Tolkien, would have introduced me to this group long ago if I had been willing.

Ancient Greek Plays?

I would have never guessed that in my thirties I would be reading, digesting, and then teaching Greek plays (not doing them justice yet). For most of my life Ancient Greek plays would have been the last things on earth I would have desired to read. Yet, now after read Aeschylus’ Oresteia twice, I’m hooked. It is amazing how much I, as an American citizen, owe to this story. It is amazing how the same issues my culture is struggling with the Greeks already endured. It is amazing how my culture’s solution is to tear everything down, theirs was to create some of the greatest systems of government the world as ever seen.


At its core, at least to my estimation (again, not a classicist), the Oresteia is about how a culture can stop the cycle of revenge and yet still provide justice for the victim. This, to the modern reader, may seem like an easy answer until you realize that the reason why it is easy is because the Greeks answered it for us: trial by jury.

A background of the story is necessary for us to get the context of issues brought up in the play. We need to be familiar with the “curse of Atreus” which falls upon the legendary figure Agamemnon. This is the famous king from Homer’s Iliad who summoned all the kings of Greece to recover Helen who had been stolen by Paris, a prince of Troy. What proceeded was a ten year long and bloody struggle we call the Trojan War.

Agamemnon has this curse because his family line is full of vile and disturbing figures. His great great grandfather, Tantalus, thought it would be a great idea to feed his son to the gods to see if they would notice. They did, and they banished him to a watery pit with a fruit tree growing over it. Every time he was thirsty and tried to drink the water it would recede. Every time he tried to grab a piece of fruit the wind would blow it out of his reach. Hence, this is where we get our word tantalizing to describe something that is so close but just out of reach.

Tantalus’ son Pelops, the one who was murdered, was brought back to life by the gods. Pelops though was no better than his father. In order to marry the woman he desired he discovered he must defeat her father in a chariot race. Instead of doing so like a man, he sabotaged the father’s chariot the night before. As you might guess, the next day during the race the father’s chariot fell apart and killed him. Pelops got his bride.

Pelops had two prominent sons who vied for the throne, Atreus and Thyestes. Thyestes seduced Atreus’ wife. To get him back, Atreus’ killed Thyestes children and fed them to him. Once he realized what he had done he was banished for cannibalism but placed a curse on Atreus’ descendants. While it seemed that all of Thyestes children had been murdered, there was of course another son, Aegisthus, who would become the agent of this revenge.

This leads us into a critical piece of motive for the play. After mustering his army to sail for Greece, Agamemnon’s expedition is halted because there is no wind. In order to win the gods favor and get the ships moving again, he sacrificed his eldest daughter. This enraged his wife, Clytemnestra, who spent the next ten years plotting her revenge with a certain Aegisthus at her side.

Summary of the Plot

This is where story kicks off. A watchman informs Clytemnestra that after ten long years Agamemnon is on his way back. It is time for her plan to be sprung into action. Needless to say, Agamemnon returns not expecting anything but a warm welcome. This he sours a bit by bring home his new concubine Cassandra and walking on a red carpet like a Persian king. He is promptly murdered in his bathroom by the conspirators, thus fulfilling the curse of Atreus.

In the next play, we have Orestes, Agamemnon’s exiled son, returned to honor his dead father and conspire with his sister to get his revenge. Now it is Orestes, who sneaks into the palace and murders Clytemnestra his mother and her lover Aegisthus. This matricide cause the ancient goddesses of vengeance, the Furies, to chase Orestes seeking to bring revenge upon him for such a deplorable act.

Finally, in the last play, Orestes is on the run from the Furies and seeks refuge on the acropolis in Athens. Here he pleads for Athena’s help to resolve this issue. Athena, being the goddess of wisdom, convenes a trial with a jury. Apollo becomes Orestes defense council while the Furies prosecute the murderer on behalf of the ghost of Clytemnestra. In the end, the decision is split causing Athena to cast the deciding vote and she chooses to acquit Orestes. The Furies are outraged but Athena placates them by give them a shrine in Athen’s to be worshipped by the cities citizens.


In all, the story and back story are very disturbing but cycles of revenge in real life are very disturbing. It has been a common form of human nature to get someone back for wronging you, usually by upping the ante in the process. This makes for increasingly vicious forms of hatred and murder.

But the Greeks realized that a culture could not go on living with such a form of justice. How can one feel safe if half of their lives they are constantly looking over their shoulder for some ancient score to be settled? On the other hand, how the bloodlust for revenge ever be satisfied apart from continuing the cycle. This is where the Athenian democracy and trial by jury are held up as superior forms of mediating justice. The accused have a right to hear their accuser. The accuser and the accused are able to cross examine witness to discern the truth. An impartial group, instead of those whose eyes are clouded by revenge, give the deciding verdict.

We owe so much to the Greeks here. We cannot have a civilization where citizen’s trust one another if their is not an impartial system of justice. It is amazing to me that at the time I was reading this, all of the hubbub about Brett Kavanaugh was taking place. It was frightening to see how quickly we can be ready as a society to cast off all the jewels of wisdom we have been handed and plunge back into the carnal instincts of the curse of Atreus.


I can’t give a verdict on a classic, because the verdict has already been given. I found that the lessons of the Oresteia are still incredibly valuable and important. We are a proud and entitled people in the West. We have lost any kind of gratitude for the pearls of wisdom that we have been given from that past. Worse, we seemingly are quite willing to throw them to the pigs. This is a book every American should read. We need a new renaissance of Western Culture to remind us who we are. We need a fresh desire for ad fontes, back to the sources, that we might appreciate what we so easily despise today.

Lastly, we need to realize that even though trial by jury is the best form of justice human’s have developed, it is not the best form of justice. Only the true and righteous king Jesus can offer perfect justice. He knows all that we have done, even down to the motives of our hearts. He knows how to perfectly and righteously mediate justice for he is the definition of it himself.

Yet this same God who is perfect justice forgives sinners, even sinners like Orestes, who place their faith in him. For Jesus was the perfect god-man who bore the fury of the wrath of the Father on the cross for his people. He took the guilty verdict, undeserved, to make the underserving righteous and free.

More to come later.


Andy Stanley’s Irresistible: Epilogue Part II

In my last installment of my review of Stanley’s book I’d like to focus on the word Irresistible in the title. Ever since I dove into this book, I’ve thought the title to be incredibly ironic. Stanley is deeply troubled that people are not experiencing authentic faith. He is deeply troubled that American Christians don’t love going to church unlike young lady he met in China. He’s looking for something that will stick. He believes the solution to the problem is a more secular friendly apologetic that ditches the Bible and just focuses on the resurrected Jesus. This he believes this is the authentic message that Jesus and the apostles preached.

Let’s for a second turn our attention to that young Chinese Christian he mentions at the beginning of the book. What does her faith look like? Is she using Stanley’s apologetic? Is she going to Bible studies on the book of Proverbs that start, “Solomon is part of the old covenant so he has no authority over you?”

Real Authentic Faith

In the past few years that communist government in China has increased its persecution against the growth of Christianity. Some estimate that the zeal with which the party is trying to stamp out the faith is approaching Mao Zedong’s cultural revolution levels. This means that churches are being destroyed, Christians are being surveilled, and believes are being imprisoned or murdered. What is happening in Chinese Christians is far more troubling then the secular acedia we are facing here. So what does the Christian faith look like which is under such pressure? Does it look like Stanley’s version?

A few months ago, as a response to the Chinese government’s persecution, 116 of the largest and most influential pastors of churches in China released a joint statement. You can read the whole thing here. Their statement on the Bible is telling though:

“Christian churches in China believe unconditionally that the Bible is the Word and Revelation of God. It is the source and final authority of all righteousness, ethics, and salvation. If the will of any political party, the laws of any government, or the commands of any man directly violate the teachings of the Bible, harming men’s souls and opposing the gospel proclaimed by the church, we are obligated to obey God rather than men, and we are obligated to teach all members of the church to do the same.”

Do we think that this statement, of which these men are willing to die for, resembles Stanley’s view of the Bible? Would Stanley be willing to make such a claim? Do these pastors share is “old/new covenant mixing” understanding? Stanley advocates renaming the OT to the Jewish or Hebrew Scriptures, rearranging the order of the Bible with Luke first, and constantly reminds believers that you don’t really have to believe that stuff in the OT that you don’t like (p.285). Is this the same view these Christians have? China is a deeply secular and atheist country, shouldn’t we think their definition of the Bible would be more clarified and nuanced if they believed what Stanley believes? Shouldn’t they stop using that word Bible in such a document and instead say Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? These Christians are ready to die for Moses, including Leviticus. I don’t think Stanley would make the same commitment.

So are these brothers deceived? Will the Christian faith die out in China because they aren’t willing to make these clarifications? Once again, what kind of teaching is that young girl, who is now a woman, receiving at her house church? The Bible study she attends knowing that if she is caught she may be killed? Is it a Bible study that Stanley would bless?

The True Irresistible

I would suggest here the irony of the title of Stanley’s book. There is an irresistible message that turned the world upside down. It is the message that is revealed through all of the sixty-six books of the Bible. It is a message that has it’s climax in gospels, but is whispered and shouted through every writer, including the OT guys. This is the message that Jesus came to save his people by living the life we could never live, dying the death we should have died, and rising again on the third day. Moses declares this message. So does Samuel and Solomon. So does David. Do does Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. In every book of the Bible you can find the gospel and the truth speaking God who wrote the story.

And to those who are being saved, this message is irresistible. It isn’t arguments that save hard-hearted rebellious sinners, even though they can be used by God, but the words of God from the Scriptures by the power of the Holy Spirit.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12

The word, because it is God’s word, is living. This means that Leviticus is living. It is a speech-act of God. Those are his words and to claim that they are unneeded, or even dispensable to our faith, is call God a liar and undermine the irresistible nature of the message to those who are being saved. This high view of all of Scripture is the view that these Chinese Christians have for they realize that salvation comes by hearing the words of God spoken. Thus they are willing to die for Moses.

Closing Thoughts

As I have said previously, I do think that Stanley’s heart is genuine. I think he really wants to help people. The unfortunate thing is that he doesn’t know his Bible well enough to do it God’s way. I think the influence of the seeker-friendly model is, to large extent, to blame for this. How long in America have pastors not asked what God would have them do, but rather asked the question what would the people have them do? We’ve been trying to cater to the sensitivities and tastes of the “seeker” for decades and this idol is only requiring more and more from us. The seeker whose heart is stone, will always want less of God’s speech and more of the worlds. This places people like Stanley on an ever increasing mission to make the gospel sound more like the way the world likes it, which requires cutting away how God defines it.

My suggestion would be to follow the example of those 116 Chinese pastors. Preach the whole counsel of God. Care more about being faithful to the text than being attractive to the world. Jesus had large crowds follow him and he consistently took those opportunities to teach the hard doctrines of God. Many people left him, but those who stayed had been radically transformed. The kind of people who would be willing to die and suffer the loss of all things for the sake of preaching God’s living word.

Andy Stanley’s Irresistible: Epilogue Part I

Having given my thoughts and refutations to Stanley’s claims in my previous posts, I wanted to climb up to look at his book from 30,000 feet. Stanley’s thesis is that the church in the west has an apologetics problem. I believe him on this point. Not too long after I finished Irresistible Ligonier Ministries released their 2018 survey results on the state of doctrine in the United States. You can check it out here. It is shocking and saddening to see such incredible confusion about essential Christian teaching. As if the point was made clear enough, popular conservative commentator Matt Walsh said that he didn’t understand how anyone could be a young earth creationist.

I mean really, the sun was created after God separated light from the darkness so we should not take it literally… because there couldn’t have been light since there is no sun. Apart from a fair amount of his twitter explanation being an argument from personal incredulity mixed liberally with some chronological snobbery, he reveals that even the thought leaders of Christianity don’t understand how to do biblical apologetics. I understand Matt is a Catholic, but he is riding behind the wave of William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, and others. Namely, human understanding of science and philosophy should trump the biblical text. These are the things we place over the authority of the Scriptures in order for us to define what is true and untrue in the Scriptures. Or another way to put it, lets subject God’s word to secular rules and methods of defining truth… which doesn’t even believe that object truth exists.

So, let’s use this as an example problem and try to solve it via Stanley’s method and then by presuppositional apologetics.

The Stanley Approach

So how would Stanley try to work this apologetic question out? In my experience, and I would assume most Christians, this is a pretty sticky wicket with our secular friends. How can they believe Genesis, or the Bible in general, when it says that God created the earth in six days, not to mention he did it in the wrong order (light before sun, etc.).

The Stanley approach would be the following:

“It doesn’t matter how God created the earth. We don’t put the foundation of our faith in ancient creation stories. In fact, the whole of the Old Testament was fulfilled in Christ so we don’t need to look to it at all. It doesn’t hold any authority over our faith.”

“All we need to know is that Matthew says Jesus rose from the dead. So does Mark, John, and Luke as well. Also Paul tells us that he rose from the dead too. We don’t need the Bible to tell us that. In fact, the Bible wasn’t put together until the fourth century A.D. so once again it’s not the basis of our faith. This is a great example of something Christians should not be holding on to.”

So where does that leave us? Is that really an answer to the question? Not only does it not answer the question, but it leaves a void that will be filled by the secular answer. The universe is 13.8 billion years old, everything in it exploded into being by chance (divine chance if that makes you feel better), and through the struggle of natural selection, we are just lucky to be here. There is no real Adam. There is no real Eden. There is no real fall. There is no real serpent. There is no real flood.

This is starting to sound like a Jordan Peterson lecture…

Now Stanley may really believe these things or he may not, but his approach to engaging with a secular millennial on this question leads them to believe that none of those biblical commitments are important. Let’s just get them to Jesus and the rest will take care of itself, right?

3D Chess

Yet there may be a sharp secular person, lets call her Sally, who applies some consistency to Stanley’s apologetic. She might respond:

“So it is okay for me to not trust the Bible on the creation, on the exodus, on the Israelites destroying the Canaanites, etc? I don’t have to believe Moses, Joshua, or any of the other OT writers because they Christian faith isn’t built on an old covenant? If God was so unreliable with his dealings with Israel, why should I now believe Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Why should I believe Paul? If God could get it wrong with Moses, why trust the New Testament authors? I get that you say the Bible shouldn’t tell me so, but isn’t Matthew writing the words of God? If God is true then shouldn’t his speech be truthful? Why is it okay for him make mistakes in the OT but we are suppose to trust what he says in the NT? If God didn’t part the Red Sea why should I believe that he rose from the dead? Which is harder?”

I’m not sure where Stanley would go with that. He might circle back to fulfillment and replacement again. He might press deeper into the minimal facts argument and say the preponderance of the evidence gives us a good probability that Jesus rose from the dead. Sally might bring up that the preponderance of the evidence of human history is that no one has ever risen from the dead.

In just taking a short look at it, Stanley’s apologetic falls apart. The Bible either stands or falls. You can’t have the gospel accounts stand as truthful and then say the miracles of Elijah are dispensable. Either God truthfully and consistently acts in space and time or he doesn’t and he is a made up fraud.

A Presuppositional Response

How might the same objection be responded to by someone who holds the Bible as the supreme authority and as consistently truthful?

First and foremost, we should address the shoddiness of the evidence. If the basis of your argument why God could not create in six days is because there was light before the sun was created, the argument should be rejected out of hand:

God is light (1st John 1:5). God’s presence brings light. There is not a need for the sun in order for light to be present. God can create light at anytime he so chooses. There will be no sun or moon in the New Heavens and New Earth either for the glory of the Lord will be the light.

With that out of the way, we can actually push back on the presuppositions of the objection. Why can’t this person believe God created in six days? Because the secular answers have become the accepted truth of our time. Yet, that same secular worldview believes all of this universe was created by random chance. The lotteries of this universe being the kind that supports human life are astronomical. We are talking 1 out of 1 x 10 to the 50th power kind of stuff for each one. If just one of the insane amount of fortunate chances (scientific constants, DNA, size and placement of the earth, etc.) went wrong then human life would not exist. So what is harder? Believing that we as a species just got incredibly lucky, as in beyond beyond lucky, or that all the design we see in this universe points to the God of the Scriptures. How many secular millennials, even with college degrees, have really thought through the implications of their own worldview? The truth is not many. This weakness is even felt by scientists who need to construct the multiverse theory in order to try and increase the probabilities.

You see, the materialist position seems strong because it is accepted ad populum. If you pop the hood and look inside you begin to see that not very much is holding it together. It is far more effective, from an apologetic standpoint, to show how that materialist worldview is inferior then trying to strip the Bible away in order to make it more palatable to a secular audience. For instance, you might engage this millennial about why she even cares to know how the earth was formed? Why does she feel that God was unjust or evil in having the Israelites wipe out the Canaanites? If there is no God, then why should an animal created by random chance care about such things? What is the definition of evil that allows such a creature to critique other creatures that lived in a different time and place? A materialist worldview is woefully inadequate to answer any of these questions, and in fact such a person has to borrow from a Christian worldview in order to attack it.

The truth from a Christian worldview is if God is God, then he can do whatever he wants. He is the only free agent in this universe. God could make the world in six days and out of the scientific (materialist) order because he was making a bigger point. He is a story teller and he doesn’t waste his lines or the lines he gives to his creation. To a further point, if God is God, then he can make a donkey talk, an ax head float, part the Red Sea, or three days later rise from the dead. By holding the Scriptures together we get a miraculous God who does miraculous things to save his people. If we remove all that we have the balance of probabilities.

More on this later.

Andy Stanley’s Irresistible: Chapters 21-24 Reviewed

As we look at the final section of this book, we see the real heart of why Stanley wanted to write it. He’s noticed something we should all be very concerned about: Christians don’t know what they believe and they don’t know how to share the gospel. Our roots in the West, if we think about Psalm 1, are shallow and far away from the living waters.

It is worth quoting Stanley at length here:

“Everything we’ve discussed so far was written to prepare you for what lies ahead. I’m convinced what follows is extraordinarily important for the church in the West, especially as it relates to reaching the next generation and rereaching the current one. You may find what follows curious or even unnecessary. If you attend a church designed for church people, you may very well be one among those many. If you can’t remember the last time you prayed for someone far from God by name or if you can’t remember the last time you invited an unchurched person to church… and it hasn’t bothered you until I brought it up… you may find what follows strange at best and heretical at worst.” (263)

“We’re to be prepared with a verbal explanation for why we’ve chosen to follow Jesus. And while we make our reasons known, we’re to live in such a way that our behavior underscores rather than undermines our message. There was a time when the Bible says was reason enough. And while it may still be reason enough for you, it’s no reason at all for a significant percentage of the population.” (264)

A Frog in the Kettle

Stanley has hit the nail on the head here in identifying the massive problem facing Christianity in the West. It’s actually been a problem for decades but the slow rise of the secular temperature has left us like a frog in a kettle. Only now, with the heat beginning to sting and boiling bubbles around us have we begun to see how bad the situation is. Christians don’t know how to literally verbalize a response to pluralism, secularism, atheism, the radical Left’s new definitions of gender and marriage, Islam, and the list goes on.

All that I can think of is the classic slogan of the nineties church: “I don’t tell people about Jesus, I show them!” While catchy, and I’m sure the kind of turn of phrase that gets a lot of pats on the back after service, preaching this motto has been revealed as wholly inadequate. The reality of such a statement is that Christians know that defending their faith is hard, it requires study, it requires failure, and it requires actually talking with people who disagree with you. In our flesh we all don’t want to do that, so lets make a version of evangelism that makes it easy. Just live your life and everything with turn out peachy-keen. We wanted Christendom to maintain itself, and now are reaping the consequences.

Instead of identifying the church’s lack of knowledge of our worldview and how to defended it, Stanley points his finger at the Bible as the real problem. It’s not that we have lousy arguments that have not been thought out, but that the Bible is full of lousy arguments that we need to get rid of. This is his new/old apologetic that I’ve already engaged with here: the reason why no one believes the Christian message is because the Bible.

“The foundation of our faith isn’t an eclectic assortment of ancient stories, poems, sermons, prophecies, and letters, written and complied over the course of 3,000 years.’ The foundation of our faith isn’t even an inspired assortment of ancient stories, poems, sermons, prophecies, and letters, written and compiled over the course of 3,000 years.

The foundation of our faith isn’t an assortment of anything.

But the majority of Christians believe it is.

And the majority of post-Christians thought it was.

So they left. (271)

So far, Stanley is has been making this case that it is the OT that needs to be cut away. We now see what he is really saying: the Bible needs to be cut away. This whole secular problem in the church is the Bible’s fault. No real modern person could actually believe it to be true. And because they don’t believe it is true, we should stop using it to win them to Christ.

“Close to half our population doesn’t view the Bible as authoritative either. If we’re trying to reach people with undergraduate degrees or greater, over half our target audience will not be moved by the Bible says, the Bible teaches, God’s Word is clear, or anything along those lines.” (272).

Yes, it’s Heresy

Stanley said at the beginning of the chapter that what he was about to propose would, at worst, be considered heresy. Well, it is heresy. With that said, I think Stanley’s heart is genuine. I think he really does want to reach people. The problem is that the very thing he is claiming is wrong with the church, a lack of understanding of the Bible and apologetics, is the very thing he is suffering from. Stanley is a very famous blind person leading blind people. For all that I’ve worked through trying to refute the terrible arguments in this book, I said from the beginning that the major problem is soteriology. Stanley’s soteriology leads him down the road of throwing away the Bible.

What do I mean?

Stanley believes that in order to save people he must convince them. This assumes that people, within their own power or will, are able to respond to God. They are sinful in Stanely’s estimation, but basically spiritually neutral just waiting for a reason to believe.

This is not the message of the Bible.

Hearts of Stone

From beginning to end, the story of the Bible reveals man’s incredible ability to reject God. The Israelites were privy to amazing miracles that other nations just didn’t get to see. From the plagues of Egypt, to parting the Red Sea, to manna from heaven and water from a rock they should have been so convinced that their God was the true God. Yet only a few weeks after these miracles, they built a golden calf and worshipped it. This is a cycle that plays out over and over again. The whole book of Judges is a story of this cycle. Israel was given a mountain of reasons to believe God, but they rejected him.

The greatest calamity in this cycle was the coming of Jesus. God came in the flesh and he was rejected by the vast majority of the people who saw his miracles. Stanley says earlier in the book that crowds of people loved Jesus and loved following him. This simply is not true. Every time a crowd follows Jesus, every time the “Jesus Movement” starts picking up steam, he turns and says something on purpose that reveals their hardness to him.

Go read John chapter 6. Jesus feeds the multitude and they love him. They begin following him around hoping for another miracle meal. Then Jesus starts talking about how no one will be truly fed unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood. Then he says something even more astonishing and offensive:

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:43-44

No one can come to Jesus, unless he is drawn by the Father. The Jews don’t have within them the ability to take out their heart of stone and receive a heart of flesh. The word drawn here means “to drag.” We don’t come willingly to Jesus on our own. Without that heart transplant, we will refuse Jesus no matter the miracle or the reasoning. The point is driven home at the end of the chapter:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” – John 6:66-70

Those who heard Jesus’ had words turned away and left him. They didn’t like his biblical arguments. They didn’t like the hard things he was saying because they had hard hearts. Those with hard hearts cannot have saving faith in Christ. It is impossible for a dead man to raise himself. Only the power of God can do that. The only reason Peter has such faith is because he was chosen.

Interestingly we get the other clue to how hearts of stone are removed. Peter says to Jesus that he has the words of eternal life. God’s word has the power bring everlasting life. Paul expands on Jesus’ teaching:

How then shall they call on Him in whole they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heart? And shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tiding of good things!”

That quote there is from Isaiah. The preaching of gospel from all of Scripture is the means by which God saves sinners. It is his word that has the power to take out hearts of stone and gives hearts of flesh. Andy Stanley, by throwing away the Bible, is actually throwing away the very thing that has the power to save. The stone that builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Stanley’s apologetic may yield short term results but it will end in long term disaster. Will some people be saved because God is gracious? Sure, God can make a straight line with a crooked stick, but how many more will be deceived? Much more. This is a dangerous teaching and we will know it by its fruit.

I have one more post on this book so stay tuned for my final thoughts.

Andy Stanley’s Irresistible: Chapters 14 – 20 Reviewed


In the third section of his book, Andy makes the argument that the summary of the law given by Jesus is a “new law.” This another key point that supposedly reinforces his claimed abrogation of all of the OT.  Here is what Jesus said:

But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.  Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”  – Matthew 22:34-40

Here is Stanley’s commentary:

“This is the first time in recorded history that these two Old Testament statements were combined in this way.  The first statement makes its debut in Deuteronomy.  The other appears first in Leviticus.  But this unique formula is original to Jesus.  This was new.” (182)

Stanley claims that no one… no person before Jesus has ever put these two things together.  No Jewish person who knew their OT would ever have seen this or thought this.  This was new wine skins right?  Yet, in the gospel of Mark:

Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”  Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is:Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He.  And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  But after that no one dared question Him.

Notice the response of scribe!  Just the answer he expected to hear from Jesus!  He wasn’t star struck by this new teaching.  He wasn’t left with his mouth gaping as Stanley might have wanted.  Here was a man who knew his OT and when he heard Jesus give the answer for the greatest command, he completely agreed with Jesus.  

I Don’t Think That Means What You Think

The reason why the scribe was not shocked by Jesus’ statement is because those two passages, the Shema from Deuteronomy and “loving your neighbor” Leviticus 19 would have been deeply present in the Jewish mind.  The Shema was something that Jews said every morning and every evening, a vital part of their meditation.  The “love your neighbor” was a critical piece of understanding the whole law way before Jesus’ summary.  R. K. Harrison brings this point out in his commentary on Leviticus:

The course for the Christian to follow in such cases was exemplified by Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:23). The law of love for one’s fellows is enunciated only here and in verse 34, and appears to embrace members of the covenant community (‘sons of your own people’) along with aliens and strangers who lived among them. Indeed, the terms ‘love’ and ‘neighbour’ seem to have been as comprehensive in scope then as now. This so-called ‘golden rule’ was quoted by Christ (Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27, etc.) as an ideal of altruistic behaviour in society. The sentiment underlying this aphorism was unique in the ancient world, and represents one of the Old Testament’s most outstanding moral precepts.  (Vol. 3, p. 202)

In the Jewish mind, yes, loving your neighbor started with your Jewish neighbor, but it didn’t stop there.  It also meant loving the sojourner, as in the non-Jewish residents within the boundaries of Israel.  This was commanded by God in the very law that Stanley wants to get rid of!  What about the examples of Rahab and Ruth?  How was Ruth treated by Boaz as an enemy of God’s people, a Moabite?

This is massively critical, because Stanley goes on to use the parable of The Good Samaritan to press home his claim that the Jews only loved other Jews before Jesus came on the scene.

“Jesus saw through all this.  He also saw this as the perfect opportunity to deconstruct and then reconstruct his audience’s concept of neighbor.  He was months away from establishing his new covenant between God and the nations.  If this good news, this gospel, was going to make it beyond the borders of Judea and Galilee, his followers would have to abandon their ancient racist ways.  So he launched into his most disorienting, paradigm-shifting, mind-bending parable of all.  We’ve reduced this parable to a figure of speech.  In its original context it was so much more.” (187)

The Jews are a racist bunch because of the law?  This, simply is not true.  It is not true that the Jews didn’t understand these commands.  It is not true that they didn’t understand that loving your neighbor even could mean your enemy.  Jesus told this parable to show how far away God’s people had departed from him once again.  The Pharisees knew the law by the letter but they didn’t know the heart of God.  The heart of God, that was in the law from the very beginning.  This is just straight the gospel by Andy Stanley.  He can only see the Bible through the lens of his apologetic.  He is constantly looking and discovering for himself an interpretation that fits his narrative.

More Evidence

If I have not established my case well enough, thanks to the beauty of the Scriptures, there is another massive proof that the Jews knew the greatest commands, specifically the second one before Jesus’ summary.


Why did God call Jonah to preach to the Assyrians?  Because God wanted to save gentiles.  Why did Jonah refuse to go?  Because he hated the Assyrians… and he knew that God would forgive them once he began preaching.  Jonah was so determined in his racism and bigotry that he ran and was willing to die than to see the Assyrians saved.  He knew that God was compassionate and merciful.  He knew that he should go because the Assyrians were to be considered his neighbor too.  But he was a wicked prophet who didn’t want to see his enemy saved.

Sound familiar?  What do you think the message of such a story would have been to its Jewish audience?  God loves his enemies and if you really say you love God then you should love your enemy too.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.  So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.  Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” – Jonah 4:1-3

Revealing God’s Heart

Could it be that if we embraced what the OT had to say, it would constantly pointing us back to the very heart of God?  Could it be that through all the plagues, all the idolatry, all the wars, all the sin, mistakes, and evil, we get the perfect picture of God’s wrath against human sin and his compassionate love to save sinners?

Christian, do not cut away your OT as Stanley would have you do.  Understand that it all points to Christ.  Understand that is a beautiful story of God working with deeply sinful and flawed people (like you and me).  Understand that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He was working then on the same principles so gloriously revealed for us now to see.

For if we cut away the OT, then we lose the very commands that Jesus uses to sum up the law.  Loving God and loving your neighbor has always been a moral universal that all humanity will be held accountable to obey.  This is what the law was always about.  It was not the law that was broken, as Stanley would suggest, but it is you and me.  We are broken.  We make everything worse.  We need to be cut down to our hearts by the living words of Scripture to see our very desperate need of a Savior.  These are God’s words.

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. – Isaiah 55:10, 11

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward.  Who can understand his errors?  Cleanse me from secret faults.  Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me.  Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression.  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart.  Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.  – Psalm 19:7-14

Andy Stanley’s Irresistible: Chapters 10-12 Reviewed

Let’s pick up were we left off…

I mentioned in my previous post that a good lie has a good deal of truth in it. The core of this combination comes out in the way Stanley uses the words fulfillment and replacement. For him, the Old Testament was fulfilled so that it could be replaced. In this desire to make his apologetic point, he is willing to collapse categories.

So what is true? Jesus is the better Moses. He is the better lamb. He is the better temple, and on and on. Everything in the OT was pointing to Jesus to be fulfilled by Jesus. Yes, Paul, talks about the Law as a taskmaster and the author of Hebrews points to the new and better covenant of Grace. Yes, Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount raised the bar of the OT commands. So much of this is right, but just as you might start to “amen” what Stanley is saying he yanks the rug from under you.

“Believers take their cues from Jesus, not the old covenant. Specifically, we don’t not (yes he uses a double negative here…) commit adultery because the Ten Commandments instruct us not to commit adultery. According to Paul, Jesus followers are dead to the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments have no authority over you. None. To be clear: Thou shalt not obey the Ten Commandments.” (136)

“Hopefully, you won’t run out and commit adultery. Jesus wouldn’t like that.”

Wow. Okay. There are two things for us to get straight here.

1. Ceremonial Law vs Universal Law

One, Jesus fulfilled and abrogated the ceremonial Jewish law. The laws that culturally set Israel apart from the nations are no longer to be kept by Christians. The sacrificial system and its requirements are no longer to be followed (Hebrews). This is the meaning of Peter’s dream in Acts and at the heart of the Jerusalem council. This is why Christians can eat pork and wear mixed fibers in their clothing. What was the greatest symbol of this ceremonial law? Circumcision. It was the defining factor for being Jewish. God was making two people one people (Eph 2:11-22) so there was no longer a need for Jews to be culturally distinct from the gentiles and their was no need for the gentiles to be subjected to the ceremonial law.

On this point, the premise that Stanley is rolling out is correct. The error is that he collapses everything down and throws the baby out with the bathwater. There is another category of the law: the moral universal law. The moral universal laws are those objective truths that transcend all human societies. This is the root of Paul’s argument in Romans 1.

Most notably these are the Ten Commandments. This would also include the moral universals of the Levitical sexual codes. This is revealed in the verdict of the Jerusalem council, “that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

At this point, Stanely even concedes that all the best NT scholars disagree with him here.

“This is where I part ways with some of the brightest New Testament scholars of our time. So, you’d probably be better off opting for their answer to this question. These fine folks believe “sexual immorality” is short-hand for the Levitical law regarding sexual conduct. I don’t think so.” (128)

What is his reasoning?

First, it is another jab that you the reader don’t know your Bible well enough to answer.

Second is:

“How likely is it that Gentiles, three hundred miles from Jerusalem, who never owned a copy of the Jewish Scriptures, never read a copy of the Jewish Scriptures, and didn’t grow up having the Jewish Scriptures read to them would know the Levitical prohibitions pertaining to sexual conduct? Is it realistic to think these Gentiles knew the Levitical law so well that the mere mention of “sexual immorality” immediately brought to mind the entire list of prohibitions outlined in Leviticus?” (128)

Here is one of the biggest holes in Stanley’s understanding of early Christianity. He will make this same mistake later on when talking about the Bible. Early Christians had a Bible. It was the Jewish Scriptures. What kinds of sermons where these early pastors preaching? Sermons from the OT. What did Paul do when he got to a new city? Go to the synagogue and preach Christ from the OT.

Surprisingly, unlike our over entertained and memory loss culture, the ancients had many tools to memorize vast quantities of text. Church services were long. Sermons were long. Chanting and catechisms played in throughout the service. Many parts of the Scriptures were put to music. Human beings overall were less distracted then they are now. Knowing, as the persecution began to grow, that your Jewish, OT Bible could be taken from you spurred many early Christian communities to internalize the words by memorization.

It is completely plausible and even probable that at the mere mention of “sexual immorality” to those early Christians in Antioch they would have understood exactly what was meant. They may have just heard a sermon series on it. They could probably quote it to you from memory.

All of the best and brightest scholars are against him on this. They also don’t make his category errors with regard to the universal morality of the law. Yet Stanley plows forward with wanting to get rid of the OT.

2. The Law as a Task Master

Back to what we need to get straight. Second, Stanley fails to grasp the actual problem posed by the OT law. The New Covenant was never about getting everyone out of the Old Covenant. It was about bringing God’s people in. Both Jews and gentiles could not keep the law (Romans 1-3).

God’s law is holy, good, and perfect. The means to have a relationship with God, overtly, was the keeping of the law. This is the paradox of the tabernacle and temple. God wants to dwell amongst his people as he did with Adam and Eve. Heaven and earth have been torn in two because of human sin. So the question is, how can a holy God live with a sinful people. To solve this problem, God gave the law and the sacrificial system as a type of the true solution: Christ. No one was ever able to keep it and by works gain salvation.

As I established in my previous post, even Abraham was not justified by his works but by faith. The same goes for the heroes of the Old Testament. This is the point stressed by the writer of Hebrews in chapter 11: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them from afar…”. The issue is not as Stanley asserts, that the OT and NT covenants are completely different and incompatible, rather the issue is that no one could ever be justified through the old by works.

When Paul strongly rebukes the Galatians, his rebuke isn’t focused on giving up the old covenant as something to be sliced away, but rather giving up salvation by it.

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. – Galatians 2:15, 16

No one was ever justified by the works of the law. Instead, Jesus, who kept the law perfectly, has become our righteousness. Because we are made perfect by his righteousness, believers have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who causes the law to spring up out of us like a fountain. This is the way it has always been. God has always saved by faith and not by works. Works are the evidence of ones faith not the source of it.

The law used to be a taskmaster over us. No one was able to live up to it. It was written on tablets of stone. When Christ tore the vale in the temple, he was giving access to the fulfillment of the law to all who are united to him by faith. By faith the heart of stone all of us are born with is replaced with a heart of flesh, a heart that beats in obedience of God. This is the law written on tablets of flesh.

This was the problem of the OT: hard hearts. The law was unable to be kept because man’s heart is and idol factory of wickedness (Jeremiah 17:5-9).

Ezekiel specifically mentions this in his prophecy about the new covenant:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules. – Ezekiel 36:25-27

What laws could this prophecy about the New Covenant be referring to? Those universal moral laws. The laws that Jesus summed up by loving God and loving people.

I know that God hates adultery because it is written in his law. I now know what he meant by it because Jesus reveals that even thinking of a woman lustfully is breaking it. I realize then that there is no chance of me ever being able to please God through keeping his law. Therefore, my only hope of salvation is to repent of my sin and cry out for the mercy of Jesus Christ. Only by his mercy is my god-hating heart of stone taken out of me and a god-fearing heart of flesh given to me. If I were to subject myself to the false method of works-based righteous I will die apart from God.  This was the false gospel Paul was referring to in Galatians 1.  A gospel of works righteousness will lead to death.

This isn’t a replacement and throw away of the OT law. This God bringing his people into his covenant by grace instead of works, changing our hearts of stone to hearts of flesh when we believe upon the name of Jesus.

This is not what Andy Stanley is talking about. Again, I could say much more about this but this post is already too long. More to come soon.

Andy Stanley’s Irresistible: Chapters 3-9 Reviewed

Off the Cliff

This is a maddening book. It has been said that the best deceptions are ones that have a good amount of truth mixed in. It may be said of Stanley that best heresies are the ones that have a good amount of sound doctrine mixed in. As I read this book I am constantly fighting with this question: does Stanley know what he is doing? Did Stanley just not pay attention in hermeneutics class when he was at Dallas Theological Seminary? Did he have a poor teacher? Is he only just now realizing what the church has known for centuries: all the narrative of Scripture is a cohesive story that points to Jesus? For as long as he has been in the pulpit, this is a disturbing thought. Not as disturbing though, if he knows what he is doing and is doing it on purpose. I honestly can’t tell so I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

The next section of Stanley’s book is his attempt to walk us through the narrative of Scripture. He counts on the reader knowing very little about the story of the Bible. He regularly reminds us:

“As a child I was told the Bible was God’s Word, that it was all true, and not to set anything on top of it. If you grew up in church, you were probably told something similar. And you believed’em. You believed what they told you about the Bible even though you hadn’t read the Bible. If you’re like most Christians, you still haven’t read the whole thing. Chances are the folks who told you it was all true hadn’t read it all either.” (93)

“I’m guessing when you received your first Bible no one told you any of this.” (102)

These kinds of jabs are sprinkled all throughout book. There is almost a gnostic undertone to how Stanley presents his version of the biblical story: this is what ekklesia, this is what the temple, this is what testament, this what bible, really means. Stanely knows what your pastor has been keeping from you all these years.

Chapters 3-9 have Stanley setting out to give us the real version of the story. The one that no one has told you about. He starts with Abraham and walks through the Old Testament. In this summary he has some interesting commentary:

  • God was fine staying in the tabernacle: Stanley makes a very strange argument that God reluctantly moved into the temple and that he would rather have stayed in the tabernacle. He misses completely the significance of Jerusalem as God’s city (aren’t we waiting for the New Jerusalem?), and I think has a pretty shallow view of God’s sovereignty here. God just gave in? He was just really trying to make his point (or Stanley’s) that this whole Old Testament thing was suppose to be temporary so that it could be cut away. Too bad no one was listening.
  • Ekklesia, the Greek word translated church in our Bibles doesn’t actually mean a building but it means assembly. I’ve been aware of this for most of my mature Christian experience. We get the church is a people and not a building. It isn’t a miss-translation when you realize that a word can have a variance of meaning. Yes, there is another meaning of the word church which refers to a building. Remember that conversation that Stanley had with the little Chinese girl? She, and he, used it that way.
  • Jesus was okay with the Roman Empire: “Roman rule didn’t seem to bother him in the least…” I mean all that stuff in John about how images from Rome are connected with the Beast and Babylon probably doesn’t represent his true feelings, right? Not sure if Stanley is aware of the typology of Babylon as the rebellious anti-God civilization throughout the story of the Bible. Jesus was not impartial towards Rome.
  • Brief overview of Tyndale and the Reformers: An odd example connected with his point on ekklesia. I also get the sense that Stanely, even though he quotes the five Solas, doesn’t understand what they mean. Many of them contradict his thesis, namely Sola Scriptura which is connected to the sister doctrine Tota Scriptura. As in (all) Scripture is the final authority of rule and faith for the church and all of it is necessary to life and godliness. Not to mention his soteriology places him on the wrong side of the Tiber River. Does Stanely understand what the connecting strand is through all of the five Solas? It is God’s sovereign election of the believer. I don’t think he gets that (more on this later).
  • Testament and the concept of Covenant: Stanley gets hung up on these two terms as well. He really emphasizes that no one in American Christianity has taught what these things mean. Not to mention bring up the cutting, separating, and splitting points again here. He questions why the OT has been set along side the NT. He complains, “Why do we give children a copy of. The old covenant bound with the new without teaching them the difference.” I think what Stanley might be beginning to realize is the failure of his style of church. The seeker church model has been about making the barrier to entry as low as possible. This means one would not teach how the OT relates to the NT to children because that would be boring. People don’t come back to a boring church, right?

Much of Stanley’s summary of Scripture is just that, a summary. He often uses his own words to quote Scripture and doesn’t always give full references. There is no real hermeneutical care given to the text. There is very much a, “just trust me on this” way about it. I thought this was the very thing that has gotten the American church off track? Just taking pastors at their word.

It would be much more refreshing and helpful if Stanley taught the tools of how to read the Bible. Teach a man to fish and all.

Fulfillment vs Replacement

All of the digressions aside (there are so many more we could touch on), all of this work that Stanley has been doing is to get to his apologetic point. Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament so that means it has been replaced. Follow that thought out one more step: since it has been replaced, we can lovingly, reverently, set it aside.

“Jesus came to fulfill and replace much of what was in place. New things don’t generally bother us until we realize it means letting go of old, comfortable things. This explains why you kept your old couch after you purchased a new one.” (71)

In conflating the two terms, Stanley tips his hand.

Stanley views the testaments as part 1 and part 2. The first part was important, but only as a means to get to the second. Now that we have the second, we should set aside the old. That is not fulfillment. That is replacement.

Contrast with the idea of biblical fulfillment. From the very beginning Father always willed that the Son would die for his people. Genesis 3:15 is the summary verse of the entire Bible, “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The OT is the story of how the Father unfolded the mystery of the incarnation of the Son who would defeat the serpent by giving his life. As a master story teller, the Father wove history together bringing many threads to the point of Christ. God is the master of foreshadowing. He is perfect and purposed in his story telling. He doesn’t write bad lines or useless plot points. Everything points to Christ.

Let’s pull on one thread, was it really the blood of animals that took away the sins of Israel? Or was everyone of those sacrifices a picture of what the Lamb would do for his people? Paul is clear:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” – Romans 4:1-2

Abraham was justified, not by works, but because he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness all the way back in Genesis. What did he believe in? A gospel that he only saw dimly. A gospel that had not been fully revealed.

Paul drives this point home further:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he has passed over former sins. – Romans 3:23-25

So the Father applied justification for his people (I mean individual not ethnic) in the OT by faith, looking forward to Jesus who would accomplish this justification by enduring their sin on the cross. Of course, this where the miss on the Solas comes in. By God’s sovereign election of his people.

This isn’t two halves but one whole continuous story. This isn’t old wine skins but a sunrise that gradually grows to noonday. The Lord of the Rings isn’t a better story because you chop off the Fellowship of the Ring! It is a better story because plot threads are pulled to a climax and fulfilled in the ending. Justification by faith alone is a truth taught throughout Scripture and fulfilled in Christ. We would be far worse off as Christians to relegate Genesis to the basement.

There is much more that I need to say on this, for the objection that comes next is: “so you think we should obey the OT law? Should I stop eating pork and go check the composition of clothes?”  I will touch on this in the next post.

Andy Stanley’s Irresistible: Chapters 1-2 Reviewed

I can picture the view from Andy Stanley’s position. He looks out among rolling secular hills and see that more and more millennials are leaving the church, and adopting a religious affiliation of “nones.” He hears the overplayed statistic in the wind that over 80% of teens leave the faith after high school. He watches as the lighting flashes of the New Atheistism storm. He sees bigger clouds of homosexuality and transgenderism not far behind. Then he gazes at the beleaguered ekklesia (a key word for him in this book) and sees them huddled in massive church building (more like a theater) with air conditioning, renditions of Mumford and Sons on stage (yes that has happened at his church), and crazy light shows and tech effects. He asks himself a very American pastoral question, “How can I make Jesus attractive to these people? How can I keep them from leaving the church?”

This is the question that begins this book. He starts with a story from a time he spent visiting house churches in China. He was called out by a little girl who was saved by listening to one of his sermons, and asked the question, “Why doesn’t everyone in America go to church?” He found out that this girl was always in church and she overcame incredible obstacles in order to get there. She loved going to church and went to every Bible study she could. “So,” Stanley reflects, “why doesn’t everybody in America go to church? Why is the church so resistible?”

Wrong Direction

This is not an invalid question to reflect upon, but from the very beginning Stanley starts looking for the answer in completely the wrong direction. The Bible is very clear why some people are passionate about God’s word and his people, and why others are not.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. – 1st Corinthians 2:14

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. – Romans 8:5-8

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires. Of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” – Ephesians 2:1-3

In this crucial fork in the road, Stanley completely by passes what the Bible identifies as why God’s word and his church are resistible: sin. It is sin which blinds the unbeliever to think that the gospel is folly to him instead of absolutely essential to his dire and hell bound path. And without the quickening of his heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, no amount of lights, smoke, stories, or even logic will take out his heart of stone and give a heart of flesh.

It is also sin which deceives the believer, who has been released from the shackles, to go back to Egypt and once more submit themselves to yoke of slavery. It is sin that keeps the believer’s sunglasses on from beholding the irresistible glory in the face of Jesus Christ. For why is sanctification so hard? Why is growing in a passion for God’s word and his people so difficult? Because Christ is lovingly leading us up the narrow path, the path of crucifixion. To be a Christ follower is to die to yourself. That is painful and absolutely not easy, but there is great joy to be found on the journey.

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:24

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20, 21

Bonhoeffer’s famous quote comes to mind:

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Sin as the fundamental problem as to why people hate, reject, leave, and disbelieve the gospel message and this is never touched upon by Stanley in these first nine chapters. The thesis of the book can be found early on in chapter one: “Mainstream Christianity is fatally flawed. These flaws make it fragile and indefensible in the public square. The populist version of cultural Christianity we see today is anchored to two assumptions that creat a straw-man version of our faith.” Notice how he never mentions sin at all! From Stanley’s prospective, the reason why people find the church resistible is because they just haven’t heard good arguments. It is Christianity that is fatally flawed, not the rebel sinner who has a heart of stone.

A Poor Apologetic

While Stanley doesn’t spell out these two assumptions, it is not hard to see where he is going:

“This version of Christianity is simplistic and easily discredited. For decades, college professors with biases against religion have found Christian freshman easy targets.”

“I recently read a blog by a former worship leader who left the faith after she read a book “proving” contradictions in the Bible. Apparently, she grew up believing the foundation of our faith is a non-contradicting book.”

The second quote is the most disturbing. Is Stanley asserting that there are contradictions in the Bible and that it doesn’t matter? I lament with Stanley at the horrific state of apologetics in American Christianity. I work at a school designed to train the next generation of Christian leaders to know what they believe and how to defend their faith. I was that student who was blind-sided by my religion 101 teacher in college. This did not cause me to reject my faith but to roll up my sleeves and go deeper. For most of my Christian experience I have loved apologetics and I have listened to hundreds of hours of lectures and read many books on the subject. But it is a poor apologetic that runs away from the problem. Such an apologetic comes from Christian liberalism, the same liberalism that two-hundred years ago “unhitched” themselves from inerrancy. “The Bible is just a human book that has myths and legends but at the core there is a beautiful kernel of spiritual truth.” That was the refrain. No need to defend those difficult passages!

On a digression, ninety-five percent of “so-called” contradictions in the Bible are not the fault of the Scriptures but of the reader. The 5% of difficult passages that exist have completely plausible and believable solutions that do not violate inerrancy. Jason Lisle has a fantastic resource on this topic that walks through all of the most common contradictions and refutes them one by one.

Why God’s Word Matters

Why does it matter though? Can’t we just go along with Stanley here and say that our faith isn’t dependent on a book full of contradictions? Can’t I just say that I have the resurrected Jesus so that is all I need? Let’s just follow a train of thought here for a moment. If I say that all I need is the risen Jesus and that makes him the living God, then that means that I believe that he is holy, righteous, and the sovereign king of the universe. No sin can be found in him. But if I then say, I believe that Jesus is the risen Lord but his word, the very sixty-six books Paul says are “God breathed,” is full of contradictions and untrue miracles then I have created a massive contradiction for myself. If Jesus is God, and the Bible is his speech, then God is made to be a liar! If the exodus didn’t happen then God is a liar. If Balaam’s donkey didn’t talk, then God is a liar. If Jesus didn’t walk on water, then God is a liar. By definition this means God is not God.

If there are contradictions in the Bible then why would I believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Bart Ehrman, the foremost skeptical New Testament scholar, doesn’t think so. He thinks something happened after Jesus’ crucifixion but it most certainly was not that he rose from dead. You see, by cutting way the “hard” parts of the Bible you just kick the problem down the road. You soon find that there are even more things that need to be cut away.

More to come soon.

Andy Stanley’s Irresistible Book Review: An Introduction


Over the next few weeks I’m going to walking through a several part review of Andy Stanley’s Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World.  Andy Stanley is an incredibly popular pastor who has a massive influence and reach in American evangelicalism.  This book is going to sell a lot of copies and be read by a lot of people.  This is why I am so concerned about it.

I have heard several of Stanley’s sermons from the series that I assume he has used to write this book.  There were many points in those sermons where he made some pretty amazing claims.  He has talked about the Bible being a “house of cards.”  He has claimed that Christians did not have the Bible until the council of Nicaea.  He has talked about “un-hitching” the Old Testament from the New and even claimed that this was the perspective of Jesus and Paul.

If I have understood what Stanley is arguing correctly, he is slicing and dicing the Bible to make it more palatably to his audience.

These sermons where made in the context of trying to reach a secular audience.  Stanley knows, like anyone living in the west, that there has been an attack on the “believability” of what is contained in the Scriptures.  So much of this shake up was brought about by the New Atheists: Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, and Harris.  These men and their disciples pitted science against faith.  You’ve got to pick one (oh and picking faith means your an idiot who is a cancer to society).

I mean really, what modern person could possibly believe in a six day creation, the exodus, or Balaam’s talking donkey?

So in order to reach the “secular millennial” who is far too scientific (yeah, right) to believe such things, Stanley wants to make it accessible.  This is where I think he came across the “minimal facts argument” developed by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona.  This follows the creed in 1st Corinthians 15 and the timeline of Paul’s conversion in Galatians chapter 2 to make the claim that the earliest followers of Jesus believed he was God within six months to two years after his crucifixion.  While this is a great support to a diversified portfolio of apologetics, what Stanley has done (I think with the blessing of the authors) has said that this is all you need.  You can go ahead and cut out all the things you don’t like or find hard in the Bible as long as you believe in the risen Jesus based upon the probability of the evidence.

What immediately comes to mind is Jesus’ words about “a house divided will not stand” (Mark 3:25).  How can God’s words be at odds with God’s Word?  I don’t believe submission to the lordship of Christ comes with opt outs.  I don’t think we are called to faith in Christ because of the preponderance of the evidence.  We are called to salvation because the words of the risen Christ who raises our hearts of stone to life (the very words that are found in the Bible). It must be this way because we are sinners, god-haters, and rebels from birth. Even if all the overwhelming evidence of Jesus’ resurrection stared us in the face we would still scoff and reject the Lamb of God. Unless the Spirit quickens our dead hearts we will never believe. If my assumptions are true and Stanley is okay with cutting parts and even testaments out of the Bible to get people “in the door,” it by definition is heretical. He is removing the very words that the Spirit uses to resurrect the sinners soul.

These are my assumptions and I will put them to the test as I read through this book.

Battling for Joy (and Losing to Worry)


Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

I’m not very good at Joy (yes, that is a capital “J” as C.S. Lewis would have liked it).  Who knows how many articles, books, sermons, even my own devotional time has revealed the unshakable joy that is to be found in Christ.  I know it in my head, I can exegete it from the Scriptures, and I can exhort others to follow it, but I am so weak in my own application of this rich treasure.

In absolute transparent weakness, my world gets rocked by silly things.  They are first world problems.  A dryer breaks.  A faucet leaks.  A computer malfunctions and if it all happens on the same day I find myself asking what kind of menacing spiritual warfare lurks behind these catastrophes.  Certainly there must be fierce correspondence between my Wormwood and his Screwtape.

Unfortunately those letters probably more run in the vein of, “This is too easy.”  My joy is as fragile as an egg.

It is humbling to think seriously of the lyrics above as a measure for maintaining a heart of joy.  Horatio Spafford’s hymn reveals the gloriously beaten Rock of Joy that his life is affixed to.  How can one even begin to say, “It is well” after you lose your four daughters in a ship wreck?  I think it is suffering when my iPhone screen cracks.

The truth resides in the fact that Spafford wasn’t clinging to his joy.  That isn’t a human joy that can weather such a loss.  The wind and rain beat upon Spafford’s life.  Windows were broken.  The basement flooded.  Part of the roof was torn off.  But the house stood because it was built upon the Rock.  Other houses didn’t make it.

Such incredible suffering revealed what was truly there: Spafford’s deep roots in Jesus Christ.  Such a glorious hymn is a testimony of the fruit of the Spirit and the trueness of Christ’s words: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Now as I write the spiritual light bulb comes on…)

The all sovereign God allows suffering and evil according to his loving counsel so it might reveal what is really there.  For was it not the Father who allowed such a great evil to come upon the Son?  Did not the Son willingly walk into that storm?  Was he not lost beneath the waves like Jonah?  Yet, what was revealed by Christ’s suffering?  The most glorious truth in all of history.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

Christ has defeated sin and put death in the grave.  No matter what storm God may allow  in to my life, he will not let me walk through it alone nor will the storm be meaningless.  I have been purchased by his blood and he bore the storm of my sins on the cross.  It cost him everything and me nothing.  No suffering I face could ever measure up nor could it separate me from him.  This is where joy resides.

So I will keep singing: “It is well, with my soul.”  I’ll sing through the small sufferings and the big until it gets down deep in my heart.