Irresistible Dialogue: Andy Stanley and J.D. Greear—Part 3

Andy Stanley and J.D. Greear respond to one another a second time and Andy concludes.

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 2

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.


From: Andy Stanley
To: J.D. Greear
Subject: Here’s My Second Response to the Review

Hey J.D.,

Hope you are well.

I’ve enjoyed the interaction. Thank you for your patience. Hopefully we can actually chat about all this someday. Jumping right in, you write:

“But will you explain to me how this helps me understand what sexual purity looks like, or whether homosexuality is sinful, or abortion is allowable?

I address all of that in Chapter 19 of my book, so I won’t say more. But here’s my question back to you. When you explain to your kids why premarital sex is ______ (whatever negative term you use: sinful, wrong, bad idea, detrimental to your future) which OT law do you leverage? Which NT passage do you leverage? You go on to say:

“I’m serious. 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 … ?”

Yes. If it’s not good for them, it’s a sin—whether it is directly addressed in Scripture or not. You continue:

“… 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 might bring up the most 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.”

You say we can only understand Jesus through the lens of the Law and the Prophets, but I think it’s the other way around ☺. Don’t you interpret the OT through the lens of Jesus?

J.D., consider the “one anothers” we find throughout the New Testament. Where are they in the Law and the Prophets? And why doesn’t Paul anchor these “one anothers” to the Law and the Prophets? Why anchor them to Jesus? As you know, “submit to one another” wasn’t Paul’s only “one another.” He left the church with several others. And according to Paul, the primary duty of church folks is to one-another one another. Here’s his list:

• Submit to one another.
• Forgive one another.
• Encourage one another.
• Restore one another.
• Accept one another.
• Care for one another.
• Carry one another’s burdens.
• Bear with one another.

If we were to ask Paul what “faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6) looks like, he might rattle off this list. And if you asked him where he got the list, he might suggest you add the phrase “just as Christ” after each item. This is the short list of all God through Christ has done for each of us. When we decide to love as Christ loved us, it will look a lot like the items on Paul’s list. He simply teased out specific applications of Jesus’ new command, his single command designed to serve as the overarching ethic for his ekklesia. You also write:

“As he [Jesus] said in Luke 24, he’s in it on every page.”

But you are reading that idea into this passage, rather than reading this:

27 καὶ ἀρξάμενος ἀπὸ Μωϋσέως καὶ ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν προφητῶν διερμήνευσεν αὐτοῖς ἐν πάσαις ταῖς γραφαῖς τὰ περὶ ἑαυτοῦ.

In other words, “every page” is a theological framework. You also write:

“His new command fulfills these things; it doesn’t make them irrelevant!”

Agreed. I’ve never said they [the Law and the Prophets] are irrelevant. Perhaps we just don’t see eye to eye on the meaning of “fulfilled.” You go on to say:

“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 don’t need to unhitch our faith from the OT, we need to do the hard work of learning to interpret it correctly.”

Agreed. So let’s follow Paul’s example since he was closer to the action. Here’s his suggestion for how us new covenant Gentiles should read, apply and teach OT narratives:

• Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did (1 Cor. 10:6).
• These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10:11).
• For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:4–6).

Moving on, you imply that my reference to Paul writing in 1 Corinthians 13 is somehow an acknowledgment that we need more than Jesus as our model or example for how to live. But no, here Paul is making application of Jesus’ new covenant command for Gentiles, just like we do when we make application in a sermon. If you want to know what someone means by what they say, listen to what else they say and watch what else they do. If we want to know what Paul meant by “all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training” (2 Tim. 3:16), we should pay attention to how Paul used the Jewish Scriptures to teach, rebuke, correct and train. Illustrations are scattered throughout his letters and his teaching as documented in the book of Acts. When it came to how believers are to live, Paul was quick to point to Jesus as the standard. You continue:

“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?’”

Yes, he is. Jesus was and is enough. I always know what it looks like to love others as Christ loved me. It means putting them ahead of me. When we’re raising our kids we give them specific examples of what that looks like. When we’re teaching our congregations we give them specific examples of what that looks like. That’s what Paul did. You continue, asking me:

“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.’”

No, I’m not. I’m leveraging the teaching of an apostle who is modeling for us how to apply Jesus’ new covenant command. As I wrote in Irresistible:

“How remarkable that our first-century Savior reduced all of life to one trans-generationally relevant, unchangeable command that has the potential to change everything in spite of how things change. Once upon a time—an illiterate, geocentric, Acetaminophen-free time—there was a group of Jesus followers who had little else to go on. Their views about most things were wrong. But they knew what love required of them. Apparently, that was enough.”

You continue, raising a specific moral issue:

“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’m happy to discuss this in person. I’ve had this conversation many times, as I know you have as well. You continue, asking:

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

Yes, and yes, and yes. But if I understand you correctly, the reason you are against incest is because the Old Testament forbids it? Is that right? And the reason you are against polygamy is because the Old Testament … uh-oh. You say:

“‘Just follow the example of Jesus’ leaves incredible ambiguity about our most pressing questions today. ‘WWJD’ doesn’t give enough clarity.”

But where is there ambiguity with “As I have loved you, love one another,” especially in light of what happened the following day?

Finally, this is just incorrect. And 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.”

Again, 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).

From Outreach Magazine  J.D. Greear: Gaining by Losing—Part 2

J.D., in response to my point, you write:

“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 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.”

I think we’ve covered this earlier (and I covered it in the book). And J.D., you do this all the time in your preaching when there is not a specific passage dealing with a specific issue. You go on to say:

“To say it plainly, apart from the law and prophets, we have an insufficient view of Jesus to have, 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.”

I just disagree. So did Paul ☺.

“Paul makes this application to marriage first based on what he saw revealed in in Genesis.”

What? I’m not following you here.

“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 do I base my marriage one? 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.”

Why not just stick with Paul’s context rather than assuming his Gentile audience could reach back into their (non-existent) Old Testament reservoir of knowledge and piece all of that together the way you did? His context is this: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). You ask me:

“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?”

Good question! And that’s the right question to ask. That question will lead you to the correct answer without Genesis 2. Your wedding vows will do just fine. Some day we need to chat about the difference between a reference to versus an argument from. You continue, writing:

“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.

I just disagree. I think you’ve got the sun revolving around the earth. You continue:

“The better metaphor is not golf, however, but glasses, as I alluded to above—Paul looked at the OT commands through NT glasses.”

Exactly. Here we agree, if by this you mean Paul looked at OT commands as part of a divinely established covenant with his ancestors. You continue, saying:

“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).”

Maybe. But this sounds complicated and unnecessary since I wasn’t part of “your” or “you” when the law was given to Moses and the Israelites: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Ex. 20:2).

You go on to say:

“But before I get there, I think you’ve got to stop saying this: Paul said that 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.”

But then you turn right around and make my point, saying:

“Sure, it wasn’t the completed leather-bound thing we carry around now …”

By the way, that leather-bound thing we carry around is “The Bible.” The gospel of Matthew isn’t “The Bible.” Neither is Genesis. When I refer to the Bible, I’m referring to what 99 percent of folks think of when they hear “The Bible.” Continuing, you write:

“… but the concept of an 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 (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.”

Yep. But they didn’t call it “The Bible.” And that is an important distinction in my way of thinking and preaching to this generation. And folks today need to know that “The Bible” is a title.

Now, in likening my statements to liberal higher criticism, you say the following:

“Both they [German liberals] and you are unmooring our understanding of Jesus’ love from the commands of both the Old and New Testament, which are essential in understanding what that love looks like.”

Is that really what you took away from Irresistible? That I’m “unmooring” Jesus’ love from New Testament commands? I don’t see how you get that when I make the point over and over that Paul is actually applying Jesus’ new covenant command. You write:

“In addition to the marriage example above, we have 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.”

Here is what Paul writes in Ephesians 6:1–3: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’”

Paul isn’t suggesting his audience keep the Ten Commandments. That’s why he leads with his own statement and then references the fifth commandment. It’s a reference to not an argument from. Big difference. If he was teaching them to obey the commandments he would need to include the promises associated with each. He actually changes the promise in Ephesians, which is a direct violation of what Moses taught: “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it” (Deut. 12:32). How dare he! But Paul wasn’t “taking” from it because he wasn’t teaching from it. And what about the penalties associated with breaking the law? Where are those (see Deut. 21:18-21; Lev 20:9)? Do you really think Paul is advocating for a return to the Jewish Law? Of course not.

A quick review of the thesis for this entire passage makes my point: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1–2).

This is reiterated again a bit later in the letter: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (5:21).

You write:

“Paul is of course not saying that children should obey their parents because they are under obligation to the Mosaic law …”

But wait … so we are not under obligation to the Mosaic law? Then what law are we under obligation to? Clearly, the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 9:21). Christ is our authority. Consider Matthew 28:18: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Continuing, you write:

“… but they should do so because the nature of the God from whom these laws emanate and his designs on creation have not changed.”

True. But why not just go with Paul’s explanation in the passage? Children should honor their parents because God through Christ has honored them. Submitting to one another honors God because he submitted himself to us. Again, you write:

“If God thought so highly of this command as to attach a promise to it, the first of its kind, that’s all the more reason to heed it today!”

Other than the fact that this promise doesn’t apply anymore, of course. And then there’s the Sabbath …

You continue, referencing the Sermon on the Mount:

“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. He shows how they find their ultimate fulfillment in himself and 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 were confused, he said, ‘I did not come to abolish the law and prophets, but to fulfill them.’”

Again, I discuss all of this at length in the book. Perhaps we just interpret the word “fulfilled” differently, as well as the word “obsolete.” The writer of Hebrews uses it when he speaks of the old covenant: “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (Heb. 8:13). You ask me:

From Outreach Magazine  Forgiving the Unforgivable

“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.”

I think Paul answers this question for us. He writes: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4).

I tried to make this clear ☹. I said it this way in Irresistible:

“As the hinge between the old and new covenants, Jesus was in the unenviable position of playing by an old set of rules while laying the groundwork for what was to come. He showed respect and deference to the old, but was uncomfortably clear that something new was on the horizon. While he affirmed the goodness and divine origin of the Jewish Scriptures, he made claims that elevated him above those very same texts. And that’s understandable. Jesus was born under God’s covenant with Israel with the purpose of bringing that covenant to its sovereignly ordained end” (g. 105). You continue, writing:

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

For the simple reason he was under the old covenant law so we wouldn’t have to be. And by the way, you don’t act like you’re under it either! It’s helpful when you write:

“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.”

Yes! I say as much in the book.

“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 frequently do (c).”

Agreed! See Romans 15 and 1 Corinthians 10 above, and I state this plainly in the book. Are you sure you read it? Hopefully, this clears up any confusion.

Thank you!


From: J.D. Greear
To: Andy Stanley
Subject: Re: Here’s My Second Response to the Review

I told you that I’d let you have the final word in this, which I will honor—but there was one thing I just can’t figure out, so put this in the category of clarification not argumentation.

When I said:

“Well, you couldn’t have chosen a better example. Paul makes this application to marriage first based on what he saw revealed in in Genesis.”

And you said:

“What? I’m not following you here.”

Contending that Paul grounded it all in Eph 5:12, you say:

“Why not just stick with Paul’s context rather than assuming his Gentile audience could reach back into their (non-existent) Old Testament reservoir of knowledge and piece all of that together the way you did? His context is this: ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’” (Eph. 5:21).

What leaves me scratching my head is that Paul clearly grounds his argument for how a husband should love his wife on Gen. 2:24, quoting it and explaining that he sees in this a mystery that refers to Christ and the church and now has implications for my marriage. You know Ephesians 5 well enough to know that Paul is quoting Genesis 2:24, so why the “What?” here?

And why say that I am the one piecing it together when Paul is the one who wrote it? It seems to me we couldn’t have a better example of him putting his application point on an OT tee with the reference to Genesis 2:24, but first, reading it Christologically (which we always must do), and then literally, in the next verse, applying it to everyday life.

Dangit, I just started arguing again. So strike the last half of that paragraph. But if you could clarify why you think I am making up Paul’s grounding of his application in the OT, I’d be grateful. I know you know your Bible better than to pretend that he’s not using the OT to teach Ephesian husbands about how to love their wives. Whatever you mean by “reference to” vs. “argument from” I don’t think that would apply here in Paul’s flow of thought.



From: Andy Stanley
To: J.D. Greear
Subject: My Final Word ☺

Here you go! You assert:

“The point is Paul set up his applications for husbands with an OT principle.”

Nope. I disagree. Paul gives husbands an imperative based on the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no OT principle in this passage. A principle is something you apply or that applies itself to you. Men and women leaving home and coming together to form a new family unit isn’t a principle. You say:

“Paul looked at the OT commands through NT glasses.”

But there’s not an OT command in view here. There is OT language describing what happens every time men and women start a new family unit. In another place, Paul even instructs Christians not to begin new family units and to remain as he is. ☺ You continue:

“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).”

Or you can simply love your wife the way Christ loved the church. No mystery there. You don’t even have to know how to read. You continue:

“What leaves me scratching my head is that Paul clearly grounds his argument for how a husband should love his wife on Gen 2:24.”

Again, no. Paul clearly grounds his argument in Jesus’ sacrificial love for you! “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). And this too: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Eph. 5:24). You write:

“It seems to me we couldn’t have a better example of him putting his application point on an OT tee with the reference to Genesis 2:24 …”

Genesis 2:24 is a description of what happens whenever anyone gets married. It says nothing about how people treat each other in a marriage. You continue:

“… but first, reading it Christologically (which we always must do), and then literally, in the next verse, applying it to everyday life.”

“Which we always must do?” Says who? That’s a theological framework. You say:

“Dangit, I just started arguing again. So, strike the last half of that paragraph … I know you know your Bible better than to pretend that he’s not using the OT to teach Ephesians husbands about how to love their wives.”

Ha. We’re both just trying to understand each other. Apparently, I don’t know my Bible better than that because I don’t believe he is using the OT to teach Gentile believers how to love their wives. I believe he is using Christ’s sacrificial love to teach Gentile believers how to love their wives. Besides, he would have had a difficult time finding an example in the OT of a husband laying down his life for his wife. Granted, some OT patriarchs and kings had favorite wives … perhaps that’s why he didn’t go there ☺?

J.D., perhaps someday you can explain to me how Genesis 2:24 instructs me to love my wife in a sacrificial way? My wife Sandra says she likes my interpretation better. Genesis 2:24 says: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” But this is an observation not a command. Every man who gets married does this. So what? Every wife is one flesh with her husband. This comes at the end of Paul’s discussion; it is not the basis of his instruction. If it was, he would have begun by saying: “Husbands, leave your fathers and mothers so that you can become one flesh with your wives.”

But that’s not his point. He makes reference to an Old Testament statement that supports the point immediately preceding it which has to do with the oneness of Christ and the church. One flesh = one body. It’s consequential not imperatival.

Thanks for your patience.


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