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.
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.