Irresistible Book Discussion: Chapter 1 - How the Church Became Resistible


(SeanO) #1

This is a book discussion of Andy Stanley’s book ‘Irresistible’ prompted by @tabby68, @O_wretched_man, @Lakshmismehta and @andrew.bulin . There have been some accusations against the book and we would like to take the time to hear what Andy Stanley is really trying to say and to offer thoughtful, gracious critique. Below is a podcast interview with Andy Stanley you may find helpful as well as the original post that started the discussion.

To participate - read along with us and share your thoughts and opinions :slight_smile: My thoughts are here hopefully to prompt discussion - so please do join in with your observations / thoughts so that we can all benefit from your perspective. May the Lord Jesus guide our discussion.

Section I

Big Idea: Why is the church so resistible? Jesus wasn’t. Once upon a time, his church wasn’t either. I’m convinced it’s the mixing, blending, and integration of the old (temple and empire) with the new that makes the modern church so resistible.

Summary

Jesus and the early Church were irresistible because they offered the world a new way of life that stood in contrast to both temple and empire. The only thing absolutely necessary to enter in to this new way of life is to accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness of your sins - you don’t need to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture or understand why God allows suffering in order to begin this new way of life. The reason the Church is so irresistible is that it has allowed old things - temple and empire concerns - to pollute the new way that Jesus offered. Through history reformers have stood up to help the Church free itself of these old values and to continue walking in the new covenant offered by Christ. To understand why this new way is so radical, we first need to understand the old covenant, the Old Testament.

Good Things

I like how Stanley pointed out that we don’t need to have all the answers to begin walking with Jesus. Too often people want to have all their questions answered before they start the journey, but in many cases the answers will not become comprehensible until you’ve taken that first step of obedience or further along the journey. I also like how he gave a quick overview of the history of Christianity and how it was negatively influenced by being accepted as the state religion - I feel like he is setting us up to understand what has happened to American Christianity. He also very clearly says what the new covenant stood in contrast to - empire and temple - power and legalism.

I also liked how he pulled in the idea that Jesus is the fulfillment of the hope of all mankind - pagan and Jewish alike.

Critique

I’m not sure I think Jesus was really quite as irresistible as Stanley makes Him out to be - there were those who rejected or ignored Him, like in his hometown of Nazareth or in the city where He healed the demoniac. The people who followed Him around on occasion only wanted food or healing - they did not truly understand His offer of salvation.

John 1:10 - He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

I think the parable of the sower is helpful here - Jesus’ words, if they fell on good soil, always produced fruit. But there were those who were more concerned with the worries of the world - the values of empire and temple - then they were with the true religion Jesus offered.

Sometimes I think we feel guilty after hearing this type of message for not being as irresistible as Jesus. But we are not Jesus, first of all. And second of all, not everyone was attracted to Jesus. Many were simply attracted to the power (like the zealots), healing or food that were offered.

John 2:23-25 - Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.

Quotes

Modern, mainstream Christianity is fatally flawed.

The populist version of cultural Christianity we see today is anchored to two assumptions that create a straw-man version of our faith.

I’ve yet to hear a story from anyone who abandoned Christianity based on anything directly related to Christianity—at least the original version, anyway.

I recently read a blog by a former worship leader who left the faith after she read a book “proving” contradictions in the Bible. Apparently, she grew up believing the foundation of our faith is a non-contradicting book. It’s not.

Pain and suffering don’t disprove the existence of God. It only disproves the existence of a god who doesn’t allow pain and suffering. Whose god is that? Not ours.

In all my years of ministry, I’ve only had one conversation with an unbeliever—a Jewish friend—who had an objection to Christianity based on anything to do with the claims of Jesus. “Andy,” he said, “I just don’t believe someone can pay for someone else’s sins. I believe each of us is responsible for our own sins.” I smiled and said, “Well, congratulations, you’re standing on the threshold. That is the issue.”

There was something about the faith of these first- and second-century believers that made it attractive, compelling, and seemingly irresistible.

Jesus was sent by the Father to introduce something entirely new.

When we invite unbelieving, misbehaving troublemakers to join us, they should be intrigued—if not inclined—to accept our invitation.

Jesus was arrested and crucified because he was too popular. He was crucified for drawing too large of a crowd. People who were nothing like him liked him. And he liked them back. He was hard to resist. Impossible to dismiss. Why? He offered something new.

Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of Judaism and a replacement for paganism.

argued that Judaism and paganism both pointed to a day when God would unleash something new in the world, for the world. Those with eyes to see would recognize it.

His new movement would be international. The new covenant would fulfill and replace the behavioral, sacrifice-based systems reflected in just about every religion of the ancient world. His new command would serve as the governing behavioral ethic for members of his new movement.

The new Jesus introduced stood in stark, blatant, and unambiguous contrast to the values and assumptions of both empire and temple.

reformers would dedicate, and on occasion forfeit, their lives to free the church of the values, culture, and tone of empire and temple.


Irresistible by Andy Stanley
Old Testament laws
Irresistible by Andy Stanley
(Andrew Bulin) #2

For starters, I feel a little guarded against some of the statements made based on the logic presented and the context from which they originate. Overall, I do like how the ideas are being presented as it feels open for discussion and find myself freely wrestling with the text looking for clarity rather than outright negating most of what is being presented. I’m looking forward to exploring this book further. :slight_smile:

Introduction
To set the stage, I have set a lot weight on this statement made in the Introduction. For context, Stanley is recalling how a Chinese Christian (possibly a part of the underground, house-church movement) questions the lack of people from the United States taking advantage of our freedom to attend church when she herself travels two hours to find a church:

“Pastor,” she said, “why doesn’t everyone in America go to church?”
I still haven’t recovered from her question.
I had no idea how to respond. I still don’t. (14)

This sets up the key question: Why is the church resistible when Jesus wasn’t?

In what I feel is the basis of the foundational question, I have difficulty seeing how we build a logical argument in the cultural divide described here (early church believers versus modern American church believers versus underground Chinese church believers versus non-believers of any context). This complicates for me any logical argument of how to make the church more “irresistible” to whom is not so clearly defined. Right or wrong, this has set the stage by which I’ll be reading Stanley’s book.

Stanley would agree that the “church” is the people who are Christian believers and not a building or an institution. The church as a body of believers (the body of Christ) should then be received as Christ was received. Perhaps someone would like to make an argument for where the Bible mentions that Christians will be irresistible just as Jesus was irresistible to anyone else other than fellow Christians (2 Cor. 2:16). On the contrary, the first passage that comes to my mind for how we will be treated like Jesus is quite the opposite:

John 15:18-20 NASB
[18] "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. [19] If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. [20] Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

Rather than asking ourselves why is the “church” so resistable, maybe we should audit our Christian witness and testimony when we are not being hated without cause (Jn. 15:25). To me, this does not seem compatible with pursuing being irresistible, or would at lease make the argument a weak one.

Chapter 1
To further the dilemma about who we are talking about and how are they responding (considering the above cultural differences implicated above), Stanley opens chapter one exploring the resistableness of “American Christianity” to those outside the faith (17). I think as I read this book, I will need to carefully consider who we are talking about because in some cases Jesus was accepted by those outside the faith, and was largely rejected by the Jewish community. Going back to the introduction, we cannot conflate the actions of the hungry underground Chinese Christian, the American Christian, and the American non-believer. I feel that Stanley’s casual writing style blurs the lines, which makes me hesitate at what is being claimed. (I accept this may simply be my interpretation, which I’m open to help and comment.)

I really like the argument Stanley builds against the excuse that Christianity is simply refutable on its own terms.

I’ve yet to hear a story from anyone who abandoned Christianity based on anything directly related to Christianity—at least the original version, anyway. (17)

One of the examples he gives is suffering in general. As we know here, suffering is a popular topic in Christian apologetics, and the Bible does not promise a world without it. No lies of the kind are part of the Christian foundation. Another example he gives is an individual’s faulty perceptions of “inerrancy” of the Bible. Misinterpretation leads some to believe in a solid, perfectly copied and scientifically sound document, which the Bible does not present itself to be. It would then mean that resistance cannot be due to faulty arguments against Christianity such as these.

Stanley also makes statements about Jesus and the early church that I have difficulty agreeing with (perhaps it’s in my perception of what he is saying). I agree with @SeanO that Jesus was not always popular for the right reasons. When the crowds were becoming great, Jesus is known for doing the opposite of what was popular. He chased off the crowds and was left speaking to His 12 disciples (Jn. 6:60-67). Stanley further claims:

For the most part, Jesus’ critics did not target his character. No one accused him of being immoral, dishonest, or cruel. (21)

Isn’t being accused as a blasphemer (Jn. 5:18, 8:58,59) in the theocracy of 1AD Jerusalem a pockmark on one’s character? I think the essence of the Pharisees’ ad hominem attack was to show how ungodly and blasphemous Jesus actually was, though the motive was clearly envy and jealously (Mk. 12:1-12). He was also accused of associating with the immoral, which in the Jewish culture of the day, Jesus was just as guilty by association. They outright claimed He was hedonistic (Mat. 11:19).

Here is another idea that Stanley is presenting of which I’m struggling with the foundational concept to be able to support the notion:

But new brands rarely sit well with those whose fortunes are tied to the old ones. Those who profit most from the status quo are least inclined to let it go. (22)

Initially, I think I get where he is coming from with regard to Jesus’ disruption of the Jewish religious order of His time. However, Jesus also came to fulfill the old in the newness that He brought (Mat. 5:17), while the “old status quo” of the time was at times an abominable adulteration of God’s will as the Pharisees had abused God’s law. Are we confusing Pharisaical rules and abuse of power with God’s will and covenants? Even then, Jesus said that the exaggerated righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was still not enough for salvation (Mat. 5:20).

I like what Stanley does say about Jesus as fulfillment for both the Jew and pagan. This idea that Jesus is universal to all leads someone to see specifically how their journey in growing closer to God’s heart looks, in the context that they find themselves. There is no need to model your faith journey with God with someone else’s (as long as it does not step outside of the boundaries set in scripture, of course).

Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of Judaism and a replacement for paganism. Jesus was new wine. Judaism and paganism were old wineskins. The new Jesus offered was a departure from the traditions of both. (23)

I also like this idea of empire and temple, and I think Stanley rightly claims the early church was successful when it omitted both. Much the early church “understood” of this contrast in being obedient to His teachings and commandments (Jn. 15:7-10). The opposition to empire and temple seems to me to be less of a prescriptive action (or just something we realize now in hindsight), and more of the result of being plugged into the Vine (Jn. 15:4,5).


(SeanO) #3

@andrew.bulin That is a good observation about Chinese Christians in the underground Church versus the American context versus the ancient context. I think that was part of my struggle as well - using the thirst of these persecuted Christians to say that American Christianity is resistible feels like a leap in logic. In fact, I have never liked the argument that the Christians in persecuted places are somehow more real or authentic. While it may be true in some cases, I have not personally seen it substantiated in a meaningful way.

I think when Stanley talks about the status quo it does seem to confuse the law itself with the religious leaders’ abuse of it - so some clearer language may be helpful. However, I think Stanley is mostly right when he says they did not attack Jesus’ character. Blasphemy was the only charge they could come up with - as opposed to accusing him of base immorality or violence.

Thanks for the very thorough analysis! Great stuff.


(Jimmy Sellers) #4

Chapter 1 comments

Things I agree with.

The church does have a problem. When I was a serving deacon in the church that I credit with taking me off the “I’m saved bench” and putting me in the game it was no secret that the backdoor was way bigger than the front door. It didn’t take me long to dread graduation services because I and everyone else knew that graduation from high school meant graduation from church. That was long ago, today its worst. Today I hear from the pulpit 2 maybe 3 times a year that we are losing our kids and youth who by all accounts are safe and secure in the word. We lament we pray but we continue to teach using the same literature and the same methods that we were brought up on, this almost sounds like crazy talk. Of course, as soon as you say this out loud you and everyone else begins to wonder, Is the word not sufficient? Is it possible that we are wrong? We taught the Bible. That’s how I was raised, and I got it. There must be something wrong with these kids.

Before you “church” me let me say emphatically that the Word of God is sufficient to save regardless of your understanding of the context, history, language or any other hurdle that you can think of, God’s word is true it has Power. In the words of Paul:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Ro 1:16 LEB)

I could say a lot more on the subject but let me boil it down to this. When we become believers, we are automatically more susceptible to the seeds of doubt and that assumes that our faith is growing (think the parable of the sower). I think strongly that we need to remember that we struggle not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities and they use our wealth of data against the believers.

I like David deSilva and I have quoted him before on the subject of apologetics, here is what he says:

“The purpose of apologetics is often assumed to be to convince outsiders of the value of the beliefs and practices of a religion or way of life. This may be an occasional side effect, but it cannot be the primary function. Rather, works of apologetics are really written for insiders. The arguments in such books may find their way into discussions between adherents and outsiders, but the primary audience is the believing audience . Apologetic writings sustain the insider’s commitment in the face of critique, ridicule or contradiction from outside (and from questions and doubts inside).”

deSilva, D. A. (2004). An introduction to the New Testament: contexts, methods and ministry formation (p. 103). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

I find it interesting that the church practices the same things we charge the secular educational system with, telling one side of the story and it would appear that their side is winning. So I agree that we the church needs to recognize and evaluate what we are doing and not doing but the Gospel is the power of God to salvation and sufficient to save.

Things I disagree with:

Like Sean I don’t think that Jesus or the church was every irresistible I do believe that God intended that His people were to live in such a way as to incite the surrounding nation to want what they had and that their lived-out lives would proclaim the love of God. Now that is irresistible. I like what NT Wright said bout this subject it goes something like this. Look at those people, look at how they live, look at their God. Come we want to live like that we what to worship their God. I like the verse to punctuate this thought:

20 Thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘It will happen again that nations and the inhabitants of many cities will come. 21 And the inhabitants of one city will go to another city, saying, “Let us go immediately to entreat ⌊the favor of⌋ Yahweh, to seek Yahweh of hosts—I also will go!” 22 And many peoples and powerful nations will come to seek Yahweh of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat ⌊the favor of⌋ Yahweh.’ 23 Thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘In those days ten men from ⌊the nations of every language⌋ will take hold of the hem of a Judean man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you!” ’ ” (Zec 8:20–23 LEB)

My POV:

In my life I had to and still do address the issues of doubt ( courtesy of RZIM ) and for me most doubts are addressed and answered best in the OT not just in the plain reading of the text but in light of the context culturally and historically. I believe that you have to read extant writing to understand the culture and the history.


(SeanO) #5

@Jimmy_Sellers Since you’re local Church is experiencing the struggle of losing young people, I will be curious to hear your thoughts on what parts of Stanley’s approach might be helpful in addressing that issue as we get further into the book.


(Jimmy Sellers) #6

Be advised I personnelly don’t think that is just a youth problem. I think it extends to the parents also not that they have failed but they are products of the public education system also and likely have the same questions that are ask on connect. If you look at the average congregation from the air I think you will see a lot of white hair and youth. What is telling is who is not there. Big job ahead.


(SeanO) #7

@Jimmy_Sellers Indeed - I think in every age of the world true faith is not the norm - the road is always narrow. I’m reading a bit of Church history right now and it’s a powerful reminder that even when the government is Christian and all of the arguments for belief are in front of the noses of the entire empire, still the majority of people don’t get it. But at the same time I am encouraged that in every age God has made Himself known and is not far from anyone - the humble in heart will not fail to find Him. Of that I am confident.

I think what we see in our culture is a frontal assault on faith as defined in Hebrews - believing in God in the first place and trusting that He is good. The evidence is there - in nature, in history and in the human heart - and it is our job to humbly point others to those ‘signs of transcendence’ and ultimately to Christ.

Hebrews 11:6 - And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.


(Andrew Bulin) #8

@Jimmy_Sellers, I completely agree with you.
The issue is not God’s word (via scripture) but perhaps how I may mishandle it. A skeptical professor of mine would ask why people in apologetics felt it necessary to “apologize” for God and His word. Very good passage from Paul.


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #9

I agree with @SeanO and @andrew.bulin with each of their their analysis. I was also confused with the introduction and the Chinese Christians in the underground Church versus the American context. Stanley is very clear with his diagnosis about the mixing of the old and new being the reason for the church being so resistible. I was wondering, though, is were is the role of our hardened hearts, of the rejection of Jesus not because of insufficient evidence, but because we have a “heart problem?” Stanley puts all the blame on “the mixing, blending, and integration of the old with the new” but very little on those rejecting the claims of Jesus? Am i missing something? Maybe that is to come, we’ll have to see.


(SeanO) #10

@O_wretched_man I think Stanley is trying to put his finger on a problem with the Church rather than to emphasize the fallen nature of man’s heart, so I suspect that what you are correctly picking up on is his emphasis in this book. He is not trying to convince his audience of the fallen state of their heart, but rather he is trying to convince Christians in the Church that there is a change needed. He has a specific target audience. At least that’s my initial analysis.


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #11

Ah yes, as I read Chapter two I realized that. Thanks @SeanO :grin:


(Andrew Bulin) #12

Hey @O_wretched_man,
I happen to also be reading another book by a Japanese Christian’s conversion story (Kanzo Uchimura) from the late 1800s, How I Became a Christian: Out of My Diary. This personal account describes how a mission minded professor who traveled to Japan instilled Christianity in Uchimura and his classmates, which they then developed into a church movement in Japan.

I have not finished the book yet, and by what I can tell, I may have some concerns with the end result of the movement. However, what the book shares is a similar misconception by Uchimura of America being this holy land of “Christendom” in comparison to all the other lands of “Pagandom.” This thinking turns out to be naive at best, and really just wrong. The romanticization of another’s country’s level of Christianization should alarm most apologists, and I hope Stanley wound up correcting the girl mentioned in his introduction.

As an example, here is an excerpt from Uchimura’s account and the warnings he was told about the realities of America:

I was often told upon a good testimony that money is all in all in America, and that it is worshipped there as Almighty Dollar ; that the race prejudice is so strong there that the yellow skin and almond-shaped eyes pass for objects of derision and dog-barking ; etc. etc. But for me to credit such statements like these as anything near the truth was utterly impossible. The land of Patrick Henry and Abraham Lincoln, of Dorothea Dix and Stephen Girard,— how could it be a land of mammon- worship and race-distinction! I thought I had different eyes to judge of the matter, — so strong was my confidence in what I had read and heard about the superiority of the Christian civilization over that of the Pagan. Indeed, the image of America as pictured upon my mind was that of a Holy Land. (91, 92)

He then tells of the racism he encountered, the actions of the people around him, getting robbed, and the general insecurity and un-Christian behavior that was pervasive. He concludes the chapter with his realization of reality:

One thing I shall never do in future: I shall never defend Christianity upon its being the religion of Europe and America. An w external evidence ” of this nature is not only weak, but actually vicious in its general effects. The religion that can support an immortal soul must have surer and profounder bases than such a show ” evidence to rest upon. Yet I once built my faith upon a straw like that. (105)

For me what this shows is the risk of being enamored with an idea or unfounded impression related to Christianity. We can see this issue in our own communities when someone feels like they have been “disillusioned” about Christianity because of some poor actions or words by pastors, ministers or other Christians.

I don’t really want to make this topic paramount over the rest of the book, but unfortunately it was the setup to the book’s content that the author wrote himself. Though this logic does not really follow, I’m still eager to see how the rest of the book goes on to support this idea of “irresistibility” beyond the first chapter. :slight_smile:


Book reference:
Uchimura, Kanzo. How I Became a Christian: Out of My Diary. Tokyo: Keiseisha, 1895. Reprint Middletown: Cornell, 2018.

The book is available online, and here is a link specifically on this chapter:

READER WARNING: The book contains first person accounts which include old racial slang and slurs present during the late 1800s, which I do not condone or support.