My Thoughts About a Conversation on Andy Stanley's New Book
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
I spent some time reading a debate between JD Gereear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Andy Stanley about Stanley’s new book Irresistible. I would highly encourage you to read their exchanges found in Outreach magazine HERE. The total read is about an hour. This will be time well-spent so you can adequately understand how this debate is shaping the minds and belief systems of those you are charged to lead or serve alongside.
It is Stanley's opinion that we need to be "unhitched from the Old Testament," and that, in his own words, “when you anchor the authority of your teaching to the Bible, you reinforce an assumption that has the potential to weaken, rather than establish, faith." If this statement sounds heretical, that's because it is! One of Stanley's presuppositions is that Jesus had a very attractive personality and ministry, and we are repelling the very people that He attracted.
This presupposition seems to be driving much of his thinking. While it is certainly true that Jesus did cut across cultures (the gospels bear witness to some of those actions and responses), the facts are that the vast majority of the Jewish and Gentile communities completely rejected Jesus and His teachings. Many authors today, including Stanley, have romanticized the earthly ministry of Jesus. A good reading of Isaiah 53 might help with some theological therapy.
Jesus was not on a mission to make the Father more attractive; He was on a mission to accurately represent the Father. Our mission should likewise be the same. We must come to grips with the fact that Christianity is not a popularity contest. It requires conversion, not assimilation.
The exchange with Greear is very interesting. Greear, a traditional Baptist, would be a dispensationalist. For him to come forward to be the one to defend the Old Testament in some ways is ironic. Stanley is right on one fact—in present day evangelicalism, the Old Testament is treated very inconsistently regarding its authority and application. His solutions are nonetheless unacceptable.
Much of Stanley's debate hinges on Hebrews 8:13, when God said a "new covenant has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear." While Greear gives some good points in his response, neither of the writers put the verse in context.
Hebrews 8:13 is a quote of Jeremiah 31. Jeremiah is telling us that the old covenant, even at that time, was not the last word, that it was incomplete—i.e., obsolete. This word obsolete simply means “to grow old” and is translated that way several times in the New Testament. The old covenant did not become obsolete at the coming of the new covenant. It was declared obsolete (growing old) even in its day! The prophets prophesied continually of its needed fulfillment.
Obsolete does not mean nonexistent! Obsolete does not mean irrelevant.
Last week, I spent some time in the garage working on my old car. It has drum brakes on it. They are obsolete. Disc brake technology is on almost all new applications. My brakes still exist and they still work, but there is a better system now, and that system uses the same principle of hydraulic pressure. It is applied to a disc rather than the drum. Drum brakes are obsolete, but they still work. Maybe an illustration that would be easier to understand would be flip phones. They are obsolete, but they still work. Some people still use them.
The Old Testament was obsolete and scheduled to be phased out from its inception! Yet it still serves a vital purpose as a schoolmaster. Galatians 3:24 tells us, "The law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith." Galatians 3:21 says, "Is the law contrary to the promise of God? May it never be!"
This brings us back to Hebrews 8 and even beyond. The book of Hebrews was written to first-century converted Jews who were trying to understand how the law now applied and how the law did not apply. A thorough reading of the book focuses on two aspects of the law. Ceremonial law, with a great emphasis on priesthood, is one of the major themes of Hebrews. Actually, Hebrews 8 is dealing specifically with the priesthood. Hebrews 8:1 "Now the main point in what had been said is this; we have such a high priest who is taking his seat at the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens." The subject could not be clearer. There is no more need for the priesthood because of the sacrificial law that exults the sacrifice of Jesus.
Hebrews 10:10 "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” This part of the law has been fulfilled. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets; I did not come to abolish but fulfill.” Here Jesus describes His and our relationship to the law. The book of Hebrews does not nullify the moral code or standards of God’s righteousness, which is the moral law. Nor does it nullify the civil law, which is how we treat our neighbors, or things that are criminal (aka, criminal law).
While living in a non-theocratic government, we can debate and discuss how we can apply these statutes. Nonetheless, they reveal God’s character. John 5:45-46 "For if you believe Moses, you would believe Me. For he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how do you believe My words?"
What Stanley puts forward as the cure—unhitching ourselves from the Old Testament—is actually the curse, and it's one reason the church today is already adrift. As a result of us being “unhitched,” Christ has been turned into a cosmic sugar daddy. Many assert they can love and serve Him as it seems fit, in their own estimation.
The second area that is neglected in the discussion is the rule of law in discipleship (becoming a mature believer). We all agree (I hope) there is nothing we can do to merit the grace of God. That, in part, is the role of the law to show us how utterly contemptible we are in our own human efforts and righteousness. But a covenantal approach to the law requires us to go beyond salvation and into maturity. Part of this is grasping the different portions of the law. Psalm 119:18 "Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from your law." Even a surface reading of Psalm 119 would cause us to understand that God’s character is revealed in His Word—which is the Old Testament. In his Word, terms like ordinance, commandments, testimony, word, statues, and precepts are, in fact, references to the law of the Old Testament. While we are not saved by the law, the law teaches us the things that please God.God hasn't changed. Remember, it's Hebrews13:8 that reminds us that Jesus is the same yesterday and today.
Please take the time to read the discussion between Greear and Stanley in Outreach magazine HERE. Romans 3:31 “Do we then nullify the law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the law.”
In the Master’s Service,
NRP Apostolic Team Leader
For more comments on this issue, check out Keith’s podcast LEADERSHIP IN CONTEXT (found on most podcast platforms or HERE). This week, Keith started a series on these very issues. He spent this week, and will spend the next 2 weeks, discussing the false presuppositions found in this argument. He then will spend the next few weeks specifically addressing some of the statements Andy Stanley made in his book.