Irresistible Dialogue: Andy Stanley and J.D. Greear—Part 2

Background: Over the last couple months, pastor and author J.D. Greear finished writing a review of the new and much-discussed book Irresistible by pastor and author Andy Stanley. Instead of simply hitting the “publish button,” J.D. instead first sent his review to Andy for his feedback and to seek clarification. What follows is a 3-part series where Andy and J.D. put on public display their entire back-and-forth exchange, along with J.D.’s full review, in an attempt to model a better way to exchange ideas and even disagree.

Read Part 1 | Part 3

J.D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. He is currently serving as the 62nd president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Communicator, author, and pastor Andy Stanley is the founder of Atlanta-based North Point Ministries, which today consists of six churches in the Atlanta area and a network of more than 90 churches.

PART 2: ANDY’S FIRST RESPONSE AND J.D.’S REPLY

From: Andy Stanley
To: J.D. Greear
Subject: Re: Review of Irresistible

Hi J.D.,

I apologize for the delay.

I don’t think we disagree as much as your review indicates. In fact, I feel like you had to overlook some things I wrote in order to create an artificial distance between us. Strangely enough, I don’t believe you believe some of the things you say in the review. I’ve listened to too many of your messages. For example, you write:

“If you want to know, ‘What does love require of me?’ you need to understand the Law and the Prophets.”

Hmmm.

If you want to know what love requires you need to understand 1 Corinthians 13 and the cross.

And …

“Apart from the revelation of the law, how can we be sure we are encountering the real God and not God as we want him to be?”

Here’s how: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Of course, there’s also this: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Nobody has time for a sword drill. But these would be fun things to discuss at some point.

J.D., there are also some things you say in the review that I don’t find helpful because they imply I don’t have a problem with certain behaviors. Saying it the way you do also implies you would not have a problem with these behaviors either if they were not forbidden in the Old Testament—which is not true, I hope. You write:

“If someone feels that same-sex marriage is ‘love,’ do Christians have anything to say in response? What about polygamy? Or incest?”

This statement sets up a contrast I don’t make or imply. You also write, speaking of what I wrote in Irresistible:

“Whereas the old covenant compelled behavior by saying ‘Thus says the Lord,’ new covenant behavior is driven by the question, ‘What would love require of me?’”

As you know from reading the book, “What does love require of me” is just my way of rephrasing what “The Lord Said” during the final Passover. As you stated at the beginning of the review:

“Believers may find the Old Testament helpful for understanding who God is and what he wants, but it puts forward terms for a contract the New Testament tells us believers are no longer under. Its laws, no matter how good, are no more binding on us than the laws of England are on American citizens, or the terms of your neighbor’s mortgage are on you.”

J.D., we don’t disagree on this point. Nowhere in the book do I advocate for ignoring what God says. I advocate for exactly what you are advocating for in that statement and what Luther advocated for when he wrote:

“Some would like to subjugate us to certain parts of the Mosaic law. But this is not to be permitted under any circumstances. If we permit Moses to rule over us in one thing, we must obey him in all things” (Commentary on Galatians).

Again, it seems as if you are creating an artificial gap in our understanding of the believer’s relationship to the Old covenant. Finally, this next paragraph is just incorrect. I don’t believe you really believe this when you write:

“To say it plainly: We can’t obey Jesus’ new commandment to ‘love each other’ or his Great Commandment to ‘love God and others as we love ourselves’ apart from the law, because apart from the law we will have a skewed view of love.”

Says who? Jesus wasn’t enough? The life of Jesus doesn’t leave us with a complete picture of what love looks like? Then why did Paul say: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).

Why did he say: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

J.D., I think you lead the reader astray by saying “We can’t obey Jesus’ new commandment to ‘love each other’” “Love each other” is not Jesus’ new command. If you had stated Jesus’ new command accurately—including the “as I have loved you” part—your statement wouldn’t make sense. Then there’s this:

“Andy says, for example, that the motivation for Christian husbands treating their wives with love or prioritizing her needs above theirs is not ‘because the Bible says so.’ In a Christian marriage, Andy contends:

“‘Husbands lay down their lives for their wives. Not because of what the Bible says. Because of what Jesus did.’” (Irresistible, 214)

Actually, I didn’t say that, Paul did. Paul said that long before there was a “The Bible.” You know that. Which Old Testament marriage do you model your marriage after? ☺

Anyway, I could go on and on. Bottom line, I really wish you would have removed or toned down the last two sections of your review. You’re starting to sound like the heresy hunters ☺. This quote, in particular:

“Andy’s statements about Scripture are even more disturbing when you consider how similar they are to statements used by German higher critics to launch 19th century theological liberalism. Having removed the locus of inspiration from the writings that recorded the events to the events themselves, or the authors who recorded them, the critics were able to question the apostles’ interpretations. Maybe, they said, the apostle John was wrong when he said Jesus was divine.”

I challenge you to find statements I’ve made and line them up with actual statements made by German higher critics. Not only do I not ignore, downplay or disregard the doctrine of inspiration, I affirm it throughout the book. For the same reason, I suggest you remove or restate the following paragraph as well. After all, I affirm 2 Timothy 3:16 in the book:

“But my fear is that when it is all said and done Irresistible encourages that lie that has been at work in the world from the very beginning. In the Garden of Eden Satan subtly whispered to Eve, ‘Has God really said? …’ Is God really the author of the Old Testament? Are the recorded words of his apostles really his words? Are the Scriptures—both those comprising our old and new covenants—indeed profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness? Are they infallible and inerrant? These are the questions Andy largely ignores, writing them off as irrelevant.”

J.D., think about the implications of this part at the end of what you wrote:

“Are they infallible and inerrant? These are the questions Andy largely ignores, writing them off as irrelevant.”

You’ll need to substantiate that statement with a quote from the book. This is not a book about the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture. Irresistible assumes infallibility and inerrancy throughout. Your statement casts a shadow of doubt on my view of the Scripture that is not reflected in the book. I’ll stop there.

Regardless of what you decide, no harm done. I’m so glad you are where you are and doing what you are doing—following in my father’s footsteps. There’s a thought.

Thanks for allowing me to read and review the review. Let’s stay in touch!

BTW: Paul never sets his application ball on an old covenant tee ☺. After all, as Luther said: “If we permit Moses to rule over us in one thing, we must obey him in all things.”

—Andy

From: J.D. Greear
To: Andy Stanley
Subject: Re: Re: Review of Irresistible

Andy!

Thanks for taking the time to do this. First, I am glad I sent the review to you. Your response helps for clarity—both in clearing up what you are saying and not saying, as well as in illuminating places where I think (maybe) what you do say doesn’t line up with other things you are saying. I told one of our staff members the other day that I profoundly agree with many of your reasoning points, just not some of your conclusions. I think they are at best, unwarranted and at worst, inconsistent with the (mostly accurate) biblical reasoning you use to get there.

Conclusions like:

“We should stop saying, ‘the Bible says …’”

—and—

“We need to unhitch our faith from the OT.”

—and—

“Paul never sets up his application ball on an OT tee.”

I think these things go from being thought-provoking to being unhelpful—and, if I can be so bold, I would urge you to consider reworking them. Personally, I think this is why you are frustrated that I seem to overlook/ignore what you affirm in regards to your belief in inerrancy, 2 Timothy 3:16 and your love of the OT. I think you are affirming it in places, but are basically undermining it in others. So, let me be specific by interacting with various statements below. In your response to my review you wrote:

“If you want to know what love requires you need to understand 1 Corinthians 13 and the cross.”

And you answered my question about how we can be sure we are encountering the real God by citing John 1:14:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

But how, Andy, does this help me understand what sexual purity looks like, or whether homosexuality is sinful, or abortion is allowable? Can you explain how someone could provide an answer to whether these things were truly loving in the eyes of God apart from an appeal to things taught in the Bible, and sometimes most clearly in the Old Testament? How does WDITJWD (What do I think Jesus would do?) help me in these situations—apart from understanding him as the fulfillment of and fullest expression of what I already know from the law and prophets?

Which brings up an important point: It’s not that I think the example of Jesus is “insufficient” in teaching us the Father or showing us what love looks like—but that we can only understand Jesus through the lens of the Law and the Prophets. That’s what Jesus said about himself and, well, he would know. He claimed to walk around as the living embodiment of the laws. To unhitch Jesus from the law and prophets means that we know less of him. Sure, if he were here and we could ask him about each moral decision we make, he would give us an answer—yet many of his answers would come from the OT. And he is not here, so if I want to know how he feels about some area, I must look to the illumination provided by the old covenant which he said he fulfilled. How do we know the Father? Jesus. How do we know Jesus? In part by recognizing him as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. As he said in Luke 24, he’s in them on every page. His new command fulfills these things; it doesn’t make them irrelevant!

This has to be what Paul meant when he said that the Scriptures (and specifically the OT) were profitable for doctrine, correction, and training in righteousness, etc., that we might be complete, not lacking in anything (2 Tim. 3:16). In other words, apart from the Scriptures, Paul says, we’ll always have an incomplete or skewed answer to the question, “What would love require of me?” or “How can I love like Jesus in this situation?” But without the Scriptures, and this includes the OT, our answers to that question cannot be “perfect, complete, not lacking in anything.”

Rather than unhitching ourselves from the OT, we should do what Paul says and “Study to show ourselves approved unto God, workmen that don’t need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). You are right to point out the harm of a sloppy “mix and match” approach. But we do not need to unhitch our faith from the OT, we need to do the hard work of learning to interpret it correctly.

When I said in my review: “We can’t obey Jesus’ new commandment to ‘love each other’ or his Great Commandment to ‘love God and others as we love ourselves’ apart from the law, because apart from the law we will have a skewed view of love,” you asked: “Jesus isn’t enough?

This may clarify what I mean: Jesus is not insufficient, but the examples we see from his life are insufficient to show us the full scope of what love looks like, according to Paul. Even you acknowledge that the examples of Jesus we know about in the Gospels are insufficient when you appeal to 1 Corinthians 13 to demonstrate what love looks like. Gotcha? ☺ Saying Jesus is sufficient, but then 1 Corinthians 13 helps fill in our answer is inconsistent. I’d just say back to you, “Why did you appeal to Paul’s writings for illumination on love? Isn’t Jesus enough, Andy? Why do you use that passage authoritatively then? By anchoring the authority of your teaching to Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 13, aren’t you “reinforcing an assumption that has the potential to weaken rather than establish faith.” #boomroasted

Let’s take it to the realm of the practical. Pretend I’m a guy in your church struggling with SSA (same-sex attraction). I feel what I believe are genuine loving feelings toward my sexual partner. I am also submitted to the Lordship of Jesus. I want to know what God thinks about my relationship. To what do you turn to counsel me?

Andy, let’s look at your response when I raise the issue of love in same-sex marriage. I asked whether Christians have anything to say in response to someone who feels that same-sex marriage is “love.” You may think that statement sets up a contrast you don’t make or imply, but this is a good application question because it shows the gaping hole left by your conclusions. This is not a hack question from whiny seminarians. Your “just follow the example of Jesus” leaves incredible ambiguity about our most pressing questions today. “WWJD” doesn’t give enough clarity. In your response you write:

“We don’t disagree on this point. Nowhere in the book do I advocate for ignoring what God says. I advocate for exactly what you are advocating for in that statement and what Luther advocated for when he wrote: ‘Some would like to subjugate us to certain parts of the Mosaic law. But this is not to be permitted under any circumstances. If we permit Moses to rule over us in one thing, we must obey him in all things’ (Commentary on Galatians).

“Again, it seems as if you are creating an artificial gap in our understanding of the believer’s relationship to the old covenant.”

I profoundly agree with you and Luther that we are no longer under the law in a legal sense—the old covenant—and to put us under it in any way makes us obligated to all of it. But I am saying (as is Luther) that just because I am no longer under the legal obligations of the law doesn’t mean that the law serves no revelatory purpose of God’s authoritative will in my life. That’s because the God that revealed the law hasn’t changed, nor has his design for creation, nor how he feels about certain things. I can and should frequently say in my teaching, “No, that is wrong, because it is written in the OT …” or, “the Bible says …” It’s what Jesus and Paul did. And, for what it’s worth, Luther, too.

Andy, here’s another instance of this in your response:

“Jesus wasn’t enough? The life of Jesus doesn’t leave us with a complete picture of what love looks like? Then why did Paul say: ‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus’?”

Ah, you’re doing it again. Jesus was enough, but we don’t have enough live examples in the Gospels to know how he felt about everything. Like questions about abortion or euthanasia or bestiality. Jesus didn’t think his own examples, that would later be recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John would be enough, so he presents himself and his teaching in Matthew 5–7 as the fulfillment of OT law. This is why Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16–17 that apart from the OT our faith would never be complete or mature.

To say it plainly, apart from the Law and the Prophets, we have an insufficient view of Jesus to have a mature and complete faith, which is what I fear your book encourages people toward. Sure, we can come to saving faith from simply the eyewitness accounts—we can do that even without most of the teachings of Jesus himself in the Gospels—but we won’t go on to maturity and completeness in love. Apart from the OT, knowing Jesus is like having some of those filtered glasses that can reveal the hidden objects in a color pattern, but not having the object itself to look at anymore.

Let’s talk about your reference to Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Well, you couldn’t have chosen a better example. Paul makes this application to marriage first based on what he saw revealed in Genesis. He then passes that through how Christ fulfilled it in the cross, and then goes on to application in my marriage. You ask what OT marriage I base my marriage on? The same one Paul told the Ephesians to use—the very first one laid down in creation, seen most clearly through the lens of Christ’s fulfillment.

Christ’s fulfillment won’t make sense if we don’t know what he is fulfilling. What does love require of me when my parents demand that the most loving thing to do is take care of them, even if I have to neglect my wife, because they are my first obligation? I will say with Paul in Ephesians 5, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife.” We saw this exemplified most fully when Christ left heaven to join himself to us to save us. This is a mystery, but that’s what Paul was talking about in Genesis 2. The love commanded there found its fullest expression in Christ, and now you and I can see how best to obey this OT directive.

Paul set up his applications for husbands with an OT principle, then interpreted that principle through the lens of Christ’s fulfillment. He put the ball of how husbands should love their wives on an OT tee, then whacked it with a Jesus-shaped club.

The better metaphor is not golf, however, but glasses, as I alluded to above—Paul looked at the OT commands through NT glasses. If you want to know what God wants in your marriage, look at what he commanded in the OT, but read it through NT glasses. Because that way you’ll see the parts of OT law that are obsolete (fulfilled in Christ) and insufficient (because they are given fullest expression in Christ). Do you see what I am saying? I’ll give you a couple more examples below. But before I get there, I think you’ve got to stop saying this:

“Paul said that [referring to the command to husbands] long before there was a “The Bible.”

There was never a time in Paul’s life when there wasn’t a “The Bible” that he referred to. Sure, it wasn’t the completed leather-bound thing we carry around now, but the concept of authoritative Scriptures was alive and well and essential in the early church. They saw the OT that way, and the teachings of Jesus (as reported by the apostles), and already they were recognizing each other’s writings as Scripture (see 2 Peter 3:16). In Colossians 4, Paul tells the Colossians to make sure they give the letter he has sent to them to the Laodiceans and to get the one they have and read it in their church.

In other words, the lack of a completed Bible doesn’t mean they lacked the concept of a Bible, and there was an awareness that its parts were already floating around among the churches. Paul saw Peter’s recollections of Jesus as present-and-future Scripture, and Peter saw Paul’s writings as the same. And Paul already saw his own writings that way, too (1 Cor. 14:37). Here was your “ask”:

“I challenge you to find statements I’ve made and line them up with actual statements made by German higher critics. Not only do I not ignore, downplay, or disregard the doctrine of inspiration, I affirm it throughout the book. For the same reason, I suggest you remove or restate the following paragraph as well. After all, I affirm 2 Timothy 3:16 in the book.”

People like Fosdick (an American) and Strauss (German) argue that we should take another look at the morally difficult things that Moses and Paul said, saying we should evaluate the morality they put forward by asking what Jesus would do. Paul’s own ethics, they believed, had not caught up with Jesus’ application of love to all things—which would be the next logical step from saying, “Jesus’s example and his new commandment is sufficient.”

This is now standard fare in liberalism. The dilemma is that they base their understanding of Jesus’ love on their own conjecturing. The question “What would love compel me to do?” apart from the counsel of the Scriptures is essentially the same question as, “What do I think Jesus would say to Paul’s insistence that wives submit to their husbands?”

Andy, does that make sense? Both they and you are unmooring our understanding of Jesus’ love from the commands of the Old and New Testament, which are essential in understanding what that love looks like. I know that you formally insist on belief in inspiration (which I appreciate), but there are things within your theology and this book that undermine it—perhaps unwittingly—using moves that the church has seen before in the development of liberalism.

In my review I said you ignored the questions surrounding whether the Scriptures were infallible and inerrant. And you asked me to substantiate that accusation with a quote from the book, writing:

“This is not a book about the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture. Irresistible assumes infallibility and inerrancy throughout. Your statement casts a shadow of doubt about my view of the Scripture that is not reflected in the book.

In addition to the marriage example we discussed above, there is the example of Ephesians 6:1. How can you keep saying, “Paul never sets his application ball on an old covenant tee” in light of that verse? You didn’t address that in your reply to my review, and it seems to be the clearest “smoking gun” example, so I’ll include it again for you. Ironically, you use this command in your book to illustrate new covenant obedience, but you overlook how Paul sets it up from the OT.

Maybe the best example is Jesus’ entire Sermon on the Mount, in which every application begins with, “You have heard it said … but I say to you.” Every application point begins on an OT tee. And at no point in this sermon does Jesus ignore the laws, rather he shows how they find their ultimate fulfillment in himself, and he takes them farther than the law did. Unless we have a righteousness that exceeds what is written there in the law, he says, we are not fit for heaven. And, just in case we are confused, he says, “I did not come to abolish the law and prophets, but to fulfill them.”

So, here’s the question for you: Don’t you think he would expect us to preach the OT the way he did in Matthew 5–7? He took OT laws and showed how they were fulfilled in his example. He didn’t discard them or unhitch himself from them—they featured prominently in his preaching. He just showed that they weren’t sufficient; that some of the OT dimensions were made obsolete in him and some found their fullest expression in him, but they were all still relevant for understanding this new command he was unleashing into the world.

One of my “theological life hack” rules is to never try to be more “new covenant” than Jesus. So, if Jesus preached this way, why shouldn’t we?

Now, if by “never set his application ball up on an OT tee,” you mean (a) “never compels us to obey because we are under the legal obligations of the old covenant” or (b) “never urges us to obey apart from the knowledge of how the new covenant fulfills and reshapes these commands” then absolutely, I agree.

But if you mean (c) “Never uses the stories and laws found in the old covenant as instructive and an authoritative guide for how God feels about a situation or what he desires in it” then no, I don’t agree. Jesus and Paul never do (a) or (b), but they frequently do (c).

I really am grateful for you, Andy. I have learned so much from you, and my ministry is better, and much more effective, because of you. I say that sincerely and without qualification. I hope you’ll consider some of these things, but know that either way my friendship with and respect for you is undiminished. I hope a meal is in our future—or maybe a trip to the Ark and Creation museum in Kentucky. That would make headlines, methinks. ☺

—J.D.

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