Why do people like Jesus, but don’t really like the church?
Why are there so many divisions between Christian denominations?
Why are there less and less people with each generation who value being a part of a church community?
Andy Stanley tackles some questions like this in his book, “Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashes for the World.”
Even though I’m just now getting around to having read it, I remember when he first wrote the book and released it along with a speaking tour. I saw him speak at an Orange Conference where he went through the main sections and arguments in the book.
At the time, I agreed with many of the things he laid out, but I remember that there was some major unsettlement in the room as he was talking (more on that below).
The whole premise of the book is that the church today is far too easy for people to resist. But back in the first century, the first followers of Jesus experienced a very different reaction to the good news message that they were sharing. Even though they were living under an oppressive and violent Roman rule, the early church saw massive success in discipling new people into a relationship with Jesus.
Fast forward two thousand years, we have expressions of the church on every continent and the Bible is translated into almost every written language, and yet many people (at least in the West) have written off the church as an optional relic from a less enlightened era.
Combine that with all the people who have been hurt by the church, or who have been turned off by the Church’s violent and conquest-ridden past, and we have a situation where the Church is easy to resist for many people.
But what if it could be different again? What if we could figure out a way to make the Church irresistible like it once was?
“Imagine a world where people were skeptical of what we believed but envious of how well we treated each other.”“Irresistible” p216
So how can we recapture that irresistible quality? Well, Andy has some ideas. And that’s where the controversy begins.
What was the controversy over this book?
When “Irresistible” was first released, it came out with a torrent of backlash from a few prominent voices in the Christian community.
What was all the fuss about?
Well, Andy claims that the Old Testament should not be held to the same standard as Jesus’s teaching for the church. In fact, he thinks that much of the pushback against Christianity by those on the outside is because of misunderstanding the Old Testament. Andy thinks that the church should “unhitch” its cart from the Old Testament and instead move forward just holding fast to the teachings of Jesus.
After all, the first followers of Jesus didn’t have the whole Bible to cling to. They had the Hebrew Scriptures, what we now call the Old Testament, and a few letters from Jesus’s first followers sent to encourage the believers spread out in the known world.
As you can imagine, this led to quite a few people claiming that he was trying to throw out the Old Testament. Some called him a heretic, while others accused him of preaching against the inerrancy of the Bible.
What churches have gotten wrong for hundreds of years
But it’s hard to argue with the fact that the whole Bible as we know it now did not exist for the first few centuries of the church. Therefore, it’s really hard to make a case that defending the entirety of our Bible is central to our faith, since “The Bible” didn’t even exist in the years that saw the most explosive growth in the movement of Jesus followers.
As Andy says, “Our faith isn’t built on a book. It’s built on an event.”
That event? The resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Jesus’ resurrection is the linchpin for our faith and is the reason that we are able to trust the other things he said, like how he can forgive our sins, raise us back to life, guarantee our place in heaven, and will be with us always as he gets to restoring the world.
Plus, Jesus also gave us a new covenant, a new relational agreement, that took the place of the old, I-will-if-you-will covenant that God gave Moses and the Israelites.
In other words, Christians aren’t actually expected to follow the Ten Commandments or the other laws found in Exodus through Malachi. (Are you starting to understand some of the controversies?)
“Our faith isn’t built on a book. It’s built on an event.”“Irresistible” p158
Major takeaways from the book
Andy takes a good chunk of the book setting up his main argument, that the church is now living under a new covenant with a single command: love. He wants to free Christian leaders from the “need” to defend every aspect of the Bible, since our faith isn’t dependent on the Bible. It’s dependent on the resurrection of Jesus. (The Apostle Paul says the same thing in 1 Corinthians 15)
Andy is tired of people who believe, “as the Bible goes, so goes their faith.” And when they start seeing some of the confusing, or seemingly contradictory parts of the Bible, they chuck their faith as if it has no sure foundation.
But if we can teach people that their faith rests on the sure foundation of the resurrection of Jesus and is empowered still by his Holy Spirit, maybe we’d see less people walk away.
Another thing I really liked from Irresistible is Andy’s summary of Jesus’ new command to love. In Andy’s words, the brilliance of Jesus only giving one command is that there are no loopholes. With ten, or five, or two commands, we can find the “gaps” between them. But when we’re told to do one thing and one thing only, it’s pretty easy to determine if we’re doing it or not. And so Andy gives us a great question to ask ourselves so that we can know how to follow Jesus’ new command:
“What does love require of me?”
It’s simple. It’s complex. It’s memorable. It’s classic Andy Stanley.
“What does love require of me?”“Irresistible” p245
If we ask ourselves that question in every circumstance, we can get a pretty good idea of what to do. Because love always looks out for the best of others. That’s what made Jesus so brilliant. Rather than looking at a law like “do not covet” and wondering how close to the line we can get, or whether anyone would ever know what’s going on in the privacy of our heart, we can clearly get a pretty good idea of what Love would say is the best thing to do with other people’s stuff, or money, or spouses. Love would not want us to treat them as something to acquire or control. Love would call us to serve.
Is this book good or bad?
I would say that this book was quite challenging to my inherited beliefs about the Bible and how to live as a Christian. There are some places where Andy probably drives a point home a bit harder than he needed to, but it’s all in an effort to help us see that we might be holding too tightly to things that are not of primary importance, and that might be causing people to walk away from the faith.
In his speaking tour, he had a whole section where he had to defend himself against the controversial claims that he wanted to throw out the Old Testament. But when I read the book for myself, that idea was never really as apparent as many people made it seem. What Andy seems to be trying to do is get preachers to stop saying things like, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” He wants them to speak to a generation of skeptics who grew up with the internet and who won’t just swallow whatever a pastor tells them. Rather, we need to be honest with the context of the Old Testament, we need to have a better grasp of literary styles, and we need to be willing to admit that some of the aspects of the Bible seem very out of place in our modern world.
And then we need to return to the resurrection of Jesus. And look at the life of Jesus. And teach the words of Jesus. And learn together to walk in the way of Jesus.
And I don’t have any qualms with that.
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I definitely think this is a book worth reading, not only for church leaders, but also for any person that follows Jesus. Andy’s writing style is casual, easy to read, and he has a masterful way of summarizing difficult concepts for non-academics.
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