During the Spring of last year, I was approached by people regarding the teaching of Andy Stanley in a series called Aftermath. In listening to the teaching, I discovered Andy’s “Big Idea” was that the resurrection of Jesus should be our primary thrust (not the truth or reliability of the entire Bible) in presenting the faith to non-believers. Andy’s rationale was grounded in the belief that this is what the early church did and it was this singular focus that made Christ Irresistible.
Although Andy’s thesis was met with criticism, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt when he said that the reason for the criticism he was receiving was due to his style (not using notes) or posing third-person questions that may lead some to assume he supports a view or that people must listen to the entire series and not just one message if they were to truly understand what He was trying to say. Understood. Being a teacher of the Bible for some 30 years, I have had many moments in which I could have been more precise in my use of specific terms or more broad-based concepts.
So I listened…
Andy explained what he thought the problem was early in the first message of the series:
“Over time, the idea of Sola Scriptura, which is … you know, Scripture alone is the authority, has been taken to mean that the Scripture or in our case we would say, the Bible, is actually the foundation of our faith.There is a difference between something that is seen as an authority for you to live by and something that is considered the foundation of your faith or your faith system. But over time these two ideas have merged. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the way the world is. It’s just the way church leaders began talking about the Bible. So many of you … I’m in this group, we were raised to believe that the foundation of our faith was the Bible. That as the Bible goes, so goes our faith and if all of it is not true then none of it can be trusted. It’s a house of cards.”
Andy went on to urge Northpoint Church (and its various satellites campuses) — and presumably all churches (“Stand Alone,” 8:14):
“…to step back on a more solid foundation as it relates to faith … because, you know, if Genesis isn’t true well then, the Bible isn’t true. If all of it isn’t true, then you can’t say the Bible’s true and if the Bible’s not true then why would I depend on it and why would I look to it as a source of faith or really as a source of anything.”
Q. Does Andy believe that there are parts of the Bible that are not true? Possibly Genesis? Others? It would seem that Andy’s confidence in the truth-claims of the Bible has lessened but he never tells us why or how or in what areas of the Bible he has become skeptical.
Andy’s concern was that people today have easy access to the internet and can discover all sorts of attacks that people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have levied against the Bible. To end the first message in the series, Andy comes to the startling conclusion (“Stand Alone,” 36:21):
“They [referring to Harris and Dawkins] have attacked persuasively and effectively the credibility and the morality of our Bibles. If the foundation of your faith is an absolutely true book, good luck with that against this kind of onslaught.”
Q. What are the credible arguments that Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have uncovered? Does Andy believe both Harris and Dawkins have found something that undermines the Bible? It would seem so.
Q. What are the arguments that these men have made that effectively call into question the morality of the Bible? Are there instances in which the teaching(s) of the Bible is immoral? Again, it would seem so since Andy’s words give that clear impression. However, Andy never tells us how or where in the Bible that these fault lines can be found. The impression is that the “new atheists” have arguments and points of view that have convinced Andy that the Bible has legitimately (not merely in the eyes of culture) lost its footing as being on any type of moral high ground.
Q. In what ways is the Bible not an “absolutely true book?” In the textual variants? Original manuscripts? Lack of being inspired by God at all? What does Andy believe that we should know?
Regardless, I was wanting to explore what Andy was trying to say. In the second message, Andy said (“Mix n’ Match,” 5:22, 5:35):
“It was very difficult for the early church [given their Jewish upbringing] to break away from the Law and the Prophets, Old Covenant, Old Testament thinking, again, just basically because of how they were raised but, and here’s why we are talking about this, eventually they did break away from it … eventually they did break some of those habits and eventually many of us need to break similar habits as well.”
Andy’s teaching that the early church broke away from Old Testament was concerning given the reliance the early church leaders placed on quoting from the Old Testament. If the early church broke away from the Old Testament, then why are there 278 different Old Testament verses cited in the New Testament: 94 from the Pentateuch, 99 from the Prophets, and 85 from the Writings? Out of the 22 books in the Old Testament only six (Judges-Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles) are not explicitly referred to in the New Testament. Why would the Church that is seeking to “break away” go to such great lengths to find its authority for teaching New Covenant truths within Old Covenant subject matter?
As a matter of fact, Paul told Timothy to use the Old Testament Law (see I Timothy 1:8-11) to surface the fact that we are all sinners in need of the forgiveness offered by Christ in the Gospel. Paul went on the say that:
“All Scripture [a.k.a. Old Testament] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).”
Peter told the Christians scattered all over the known world that the Old Testament was inspired by the Holy Spirit and that the basis for his hope was found in the truths first expressed in the Old Testament and now confirmed in the New Testament. As a matter of fact, Peter never cites the resurrection alone as the basis of his hope when he could have easily done so (see 2 Peter 1:16-21). Peter declared that the foundation for his hope was, first, Jesus’ identity when he saw Him glorified on the Mount of Transfiguration along with God’s verbal affirmation of His beloved Son (c.f. Mark 9:2-8) and, second, the message of the prophets in the Old Testament — the prophetic word more fully confirmed (2 Pet 1:19). Peter is, in effect, saying, “If you don’t believe me, go to the Old Testament Scriptures to find the basis for why you should trust Jesus.” While there can be no doubt that the resurrection was part of Peter’s faith, it is simply not accurate to even imply that it was the only basis for his faith given what Peter himself said.
Q. If what Andy says is true – that Peter and the early church abandoned any defense of the Old Testament (as the role play of Andy being asked questions by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins so clearly portrays in “Stand Alone,” 33:20-40:13), why doesn’t Peter ever teach this? Why does Peter specifically and expressly teach the opposite to Christians who are facing an “onslaught” of persecution? In other words, when Peter could teach what Andy is telling us he would teach today; Peter not only doesn’t point to the resurrection at all, he actually counsels Christians who are being persecuted for the faith to have confidence because of what he experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration given that His experience confirms the identity of the coming Christ communicated by the prophets of God that are recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures. The teaching that Andy presents to Northpoint Church is the exact opposite of what Peter teaches.
Again, in Andy’s teaching, the resurrection is Peter’s “Irresistible” message of Jesus to the world, period. However, the “Irresistible” message of Peter was that the truths in the Old Testament confirm the identity of Jesus as being The Christ of God who had come to take away the sins of the world. In other words, Peter wanted the Christians facing persecution to have an unsalable confidence that they are not suffering in vain, what they believe is true because Jesus’ life conformed to the prophetic word regarding the identity of the coming Messiah as outlined in the Old Testament. Do you see the problem? The issue is clear: Either the Apostle Peter is wrong or Pastor Andy is wrong.
The final “straw” was when Andy said in the third message (“Not Difficult,” 4:58):
“Two episodes ago … we discovered that when the church launched that the foundation of the faith of the early Christians was not a book — they didn’t have one, it wasn’t the Bible — there wasn’t one, it wasn’t the Old Covenant or what we call the Old Testament or what they called the Law and the Prophets, um because that (unintelligible) … didn’t tell the story of Jesus … the foundation of the faith for the early church was an event, it was the resurrection of Jesus.”
There is only one gigantic problem with Andy’s statement, Jesus explicitly taught that the writings of Moses and the Prophets all pointed to and centered on revealing Him!
And He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:25-27).
In other words, Jesus wanted people to see the unfolding of the New Covenant in and through the Old Covenant. Stated another way, Andy disagrees with Jesus.
To be clear, I listened to all three parts of Andy’s series, Aftermath as well as the prior series (90) in order to get a landscape view of Andy’s teaching. After listening to the series, I contacted Northpoint Church multiple times in order to get clarification, something that Andy had requested publicly for pastors to do. After being unable to secure a reply from Andy, I wrote an Open Letter to Andy in order to foster healthy dialogue. I was graciously sent a copy of his newest book, Irresistible. I was assured that after reading Andy’s book, I would find the answers to my questions.
Unfortunately, not only were my original questions not answered, the content of the book actually alarmed me on a completely new level. To be clear, I am not interested in minor differences in emphasis, expressions or style. All of the differences I have cited thus far are issues of right or wrong, truth or error. While the book does address legitimate distinctions between how we apply the Old and New Covenants, those helpful truths are lost in the wake of three profound problems in Andy’s approach to this issue and the ministry of Northpoint Church in general.
Does Andy really think that people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins will be brought around to seriously consider Christianity if he merely lops off the authority of the Old Testament since he thinks it is indefensible? Does seeking to disarm critics by dismembering Biblical truth strike you as foolish? This seems to be a case of which is worse, the disease or the cure? Do the elders of Northpoint Church really want to endorse the strategy of abandoning the historicity and God-breathed authority of the entire Bible, thinking that our only real and abiding apologetical hope is the resurrection?
Think of the pastoral implications of this position. What about that Christian teen craving to know God but who can’t be sure which part of the Bible is really credible? What about that single mom wanting to raise her kids on a firm moral footing? If the morality of the Bible is being questioned (or at least going undefended by Pastor Andy)? On what basis will she have any confidence? It is staggering to think how wrong-headed this approach is from a pastoral point of view. The error of Andy’s position poses a real danger for the people who look to Northpoint Church for pastoral leadership. By the way, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are no more interested in the resurrection than they are in any other part of the Bible. Surrendering the authority of the Bible in the hope that this will somehow silence or even possibly awaken the critics to Christ is not merely wrong, it is sheer madness.
If Northpoint Church is as concerned about the next generation’s confidence in the Old Testament as was conveyed in the series, then why not do a series of teachings on why the Bible can be trusted? Why not tackle the tough issues of a literal Adam and Eve? Why not wrestle through the challenges of Israel being commanded to wipe out the Canaanites? Why not engage on the issues that seemingly undermine the credibility of the Old Testament? If it is true that there is an “onslaught” occurring against Christianity by intellectual elitists, why not address those challenges with courage on the basis of the belief that the Bible truly is authoritative? There are only two possible answers: laziness or the elders at Northpoint do not believe the Bible to be God’s inerrant Word. In other words, could it be that the elders at Northpoint Church don’t believe the Bible is defensible?
Andy certainly doesn’t seem to think so (Irresistible, page 290):
“Our faith does not teeter on the brink of collapse based on the historicity, credibility, or even the believability of the Old Testament. When skeptics point out the violence, the misogyny, the scientific and historically unverifiable claims of the Hebrew Bible, instead of trying to defend those things, we can shrug, give ’em our best confused look, and say, “I’m not sure why you’re bringing this up. My Christian faith is not based on any of that.”
Really? Is that the advice Peter gave to the Christ-followers who were being persecuted when he wrote (I Peter 3:15):
“…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
It is such a contradiction to say you want to reach the next generation while at the same time you are embarrassed to defend the book that supplies the hope of the Gospel to that next generation … unless of course you don’t believe the Bible to defensible.
The very concept of Andy’s book, Irresistible, has two irreparable fallacies. The first is stated on the cover of the book:
“Once upon a time there existed a version of our faith that was Irresistible … Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World.”
It’s as if the church had forgotten the Gospel and, at long last, the truth of Andy’s book will rescue us from our error in believing that the content of our faith should be derived from the entire Bible. I find the hubris in that title to be breathtaking. Good marketing? Yes. Good truth? No. It’s as if Andy is a modern day Joseph Smith restoring to the church the true compass of Christianity lost long ago in the wake of the ill-guided efforts of the Reformation. Really?
The second fallacy is the notion that a well-crafted apologetic (or non-apologetic in Andy’s view) will somehow win the day with an unbeliever or rescue a spiritual “drop-out” on the mere avoidance of endorsing the entire Bible. However, there is no amount of message-craft that will win an atheist without the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. As a matter of fact, there are many examples during the life of Jesus in which people refused to follow Jesus and He let them go. Why? Because they refused to accept His message and they would not yield to His Lordship. If the people found Jesus so irresistible, why did they crucify Him? The best argument, on the best day, presented in the best possible way is still not powerful enough to rescue a person dead in sin. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can bring the spiritually dead to spiritual life. From Andy’s book, it would seem that the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit is not only absent, but wholly not required. The truth is that the message of the Gospel infused by the power of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that can make Jesus irresistible.
If your head is spinning, I get it. My head is spinning too in trying to understand how someone so seemingly gifted in communication could be so wrong on a subject matter that could not be more clear. If you are not sure who to believe, don’t just believe a person because he is called “pastor” or has a large church. Search the Scriptures for yourself! I am hopeful that both Andy and I would agree on that.