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.

2 thoughts on “Andy Stanley’s Irresistible: Chapters 10-12 Reviewed

  1. Thank you for this breakdown of this book. Since I don’t normally pay attention to Sunday-keepers, I hadn’t seen this, but am glad it’s starting a conversation among Post-Constantinian Christians. Time is too short to play with this.

    Paul’s pretty clear: Works could never save, the law could never save. BUT it’s not an either/or situation. In order to mature in faith, to become set-apart, you need obedience. That message is preached over and over and over and almost tediously over again with Israel “doing what was right in their own eyes.” That never worked. Never has, never will. Revelation 14:12 says the patience of the saints is faith AND obedience.

    Your example of an adultery: You still have to not adulterate. Revelation 20 says that all are judged by their works–not by their mental assent.

    If at least part of the point of the resurrection was that it “fulfilled” the law, then the apostles did a terrible job advertising that fact. 10 years post-resurrection, Peter tells the emissary of his vision that he had never eaten anything unclean. Really, Peter? Didn’t you get the memo? 18 years post-resurrection, we find James giving his decision that the gentiles were to immediately stop four abominable pagan practices AND attend to Moses as read at the synagogues anywhere on Sabbath. 30 plus years, you see the writer of Hebrews referencing that which was about to vanish and nominal Christians everywhere go “See! See!”–but decades after–wouldn’t that have ALREADY vanished away by then??

    Bottom line: Anything in the bible that’s true is true in the whole thing. The end is known out of the beginning.


    1. Since you call me a “Sunday keeper” I am intrigued to know what you believe. Thank you for the questions and comments.

      As for Peter, I think it must have been very hard to have your life turn upside down and now realize that you are saved by grace and not by works in the law. Habits are not always easily broken. Peter also seems to be needed of great reassurance. Jesus commissions him three times. In his vision in Acts he is commanded three times, etc.

      I do agree with you there. The doctrines of Scripture run throughout Scripture. This is one of the main follies of Stanley’s position. How can you even rightly understand the resurrection if you “un-hitch” yourself from the OT? Makes it very difficult indeed.


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