Four Highlights from Andy Stanley and J. D. Greear’s Debate Over the Importance of the Old Testament to Modern Christians

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear recently engaged author and North Point Ministries founder Andy Stanley in a dialogue over Stanley’s recent book Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World. Greear found some parts of the book “disturbing.”

An overall contention between the two was Stanley’s argument in the book that Christians should stop treating the Old Testament as applicable to their faith and lives.

Stanley wrote in Irresistible that Christians have “an uncomfortable history and habit of selectively rebranding aspects of God’s covenant with Israel and smuggling them into the ekklesia of Jesus.”

“Careless mixing and matching of old and new covenant values and imperatives make the current version of our faith unnecessarily resistible,” stated Stanley.

While praising Stanley as “one of the best communicators in America” and “one of our generation’s most effective evangelists,” Greear decided to post a review of the book due to some of the concerns he had.

He wanted to have a “public conversation” with Stanley to ensure that he treats Stanley and his work fairly. With that, he posted an email exchange between himself and Stanley on Outreach Magazine’s website earlier this month regarding his initial review of Irresistible, Stanley’s feedback on the review, and further correspondence debating certain points.

The dialogue was divided into three parts. The first part was the initial correspondence and Greear’s initial review. The second part was Stanley’s first response to the review and Greear’s reply. The third part consisted of additional responses, including final words from both pastors.

Here are four highlights from the dialogue between J.D. Greear and Andy Stanley. They include points of agreement, questions over the value of the Bible to Christians past and present, and whether Stanley’s views on the Bible are similar to 19th century German higher criticism.

Greear says Stanley is ‘partially right’

In his initial review, Greear wrote that he found Stanley to be “partially right” when it came to his conclusion that the Old Testament has been misused at times to the hindrance of evangelism.

“I found his explanation of how Christ has released believers from the old covenant to be poignant, and in some places, even breathtaking,” wrote Greear.

“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.”

Greear went on to also state that he believes that Stanley has a “Lutheresque” understanding of the Old Testament, namely that “no longer can believers be content merely to observe the commands of the law.”

“If our faith is to be irresistible, Andy is right, we must recover the glory of the new covenant and its superiority over the dead letter of the law,” continued Greear.

“The fact that Andy’s book at times makes us feel uncomfortable with our Old Testament is a good thing. Luther himself said that if Moses had read some of the things written about his law by Paul in Galatians he would probably have been offended, too.”

19th century theological liberalism comparison

In his review of Irresistible, Greear compared Stanley’s assessment of the Bible to the “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,” wrote Greear in his review.

“Maybe, they said, the apostle John was wrong when he said Jesus was divine. Maybe the resurrection they spoke of was spiritual, not physical in nature.”

Greear added that while he doubted that Stanley believed the same things as the 19th century theologians, “once you have removed divine authority from the writings, all that is left is conjecture.”

In his first response to the review, Stanley took issue with the comparison, challenging Greear to compare statements by German higher critics to his work.

“Not only do I not ignore, downplay or disregard the doctrine of inspiration, I affirm it throughout the book,” Stanley replied.

Greear cited “Fosdick (an American) and Strauss (German),” who concluded that “Paul’s own ethics … 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.’”

“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,” added Greear.

In part three, Stanley addressed Greear’s examples, stating that his book does not support such an idea when interpreting Scripture.

“Is that really what you took away from Irresistible? That I’m ‘unmooring’ Jesus’ love from New Testament commands?” wrote Stanley.

“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.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski