Irresistible Book Discussion: Chapter 14 - Vertical Morality is OT

(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.

Chapter XIV

Big Idea: The OT is chiefly concerned with vertical morality, which is not the same as the ethic taught by Jesus


Vertical morality, which is chiefly concerned with our relationship with God, is fundamentally selfish (“what’s in it for me”) and leads to both being ‘holier than thou’ and trying to be ‘just good enough’ to get into Heaven while still enjoying sin

Good Things

I agree we should not be judgmental of others or become self-absorbed in our pursuit of God. I also agree that we should not try to ‘test God’ by seeing how close we can get to sin without actually crossing the line. That is a complete misunderstanding of the idolatrous nature of sin and the need we all have for a new heart, new desires, a new person in Christ Jesus.


  • the OT has both vertical and horizontal morality
  • vertical morality is not bad - it is only bad when we distort it by making it about us rather than God

I’m very confused. I have no idea what Stanley has been reading. I have never, ever heard anyone say that vertical morality is itself a bad thing. Usually they say that vertical morality without horizontal morality is bad - we need both together. In fact, usually people say that horizontal morality never works correctly unless you have your vertical morality properly sorted.

Also - the OT does have horizontal morality! I have no idea where Stanley gets the idea that OT morality is chiefly vertical - the second half of the Ten Commandments are all about how we relate to others. Leviticus talks about loving neighbor as self.

Leviticus 9:9-18 - “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.

11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.


I was far more concerned about how my behavior affected my standing with God than I was about how my behavior affected anybody else.

Vertical morality, as I refer to it, assumes God’s primary concern is how our behavior affects him. That’s the vertical part.

My primary concern was me! I was concerned that offending God might come back to haunt me. Not to mention, wondering how close we can get to sin without sinning is tantamount to asking how far away from God we can get without losing contact altogether.

second, perhaps less obvious, expression of vertical morality. Through the years I’ve run into lots of folks who aren’t wondering how low they can go. They’re wondering how high they can get.

folks looking for a way to get closer to God can be just as self-absorbed as those wondering how far they can go without going too far.

the holier I got, the more intolerant and judgmental I became.

A steady diet of personalizing and individualizing concepts from the Old Testament contributes to the creation of a vertically oriented faith. God’s covenant with Israel was extraordinarily vertical.

This is the tone and texture of everything associated with the old covenant. It’s all very vertical.

(Jimmy Sellers) #2

I agree with the introduction to chapter 14. Stanley bookends most Christian believers as we struggle with the idea of sin (what is sinful) and the desire to experience God (how do we know it is real). The Connect community has and is addressing these very subjects to prove his point. It has taken me years to arrive at the conclusion that the Christian life is not a life that is littered with gotchas or with endless anxieties about does God love me still. The Christian life is a life that is safe and secure because of the faithfulness of God as demonstrated by the faithfulness of Messiah Jesus not because of anything that I can do. Maybe Stanley’s book should have been 163 page instead of 336. :grinning:
I would like to suggest that the idea of loving your neighbor was baked into the 10 Commandments and the Shema as well.

(SeanO) #3

@Jimmy_Sellers I agree that the introduction was good in pointing out our need to avoid self-oriented religion rather than God and other oriented religion. And I like your point that sanctification takes place within the safe context of a life hidden in Christ so that we do not always need to live as if our behavior is what earns God’s approval.

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #4

Is it possible you could tag this post with “book studies” as well because this one doesn’t show up in that section.

(SeanO) #5

@O_wretched_man Ironic I didn’t do that… Thanks for the heads up.

(Tabitha Gallman) #6

Just curious, (I have heard other references to “vertical morality and horizontal morality” by other preachers/teachers), who coined that phrase? To me, when Andy Stanley describes vertical morality (p. 174), he describes the way I felt at the beginning of my relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I agree with @Jimmy_Sellers:

I do wish that Andy Stanley would make reference more to the Holy Spirit and the significance of discipleship. Jesus himself learned obedience and grew in wisdom.
Luke 2:52 reads:
“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
Hebrews 5:8 reads:
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered…

And as Sean said the OT does have both vertical and horizontal morality.

I think Andy really should re-read the OT in prayer and submission to God to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s word to him personally. God’s word is so much more than how any one man interprets it.

(Jimmy Sellers) #7

Think the cross for vertical and horizontal. That is the way I have always heard it preached. Arms out to love us, head up to worship the father.
After though: Think the 10, first 4 are God focused, the next 6 are people focused.

(ThomasHeld) #8


2 Peter 1:20:

knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation ,

I agree with you, Tabitha. I’ve often said that we should study biblical interpretation or hermeneutics before apologetics - I think that would alleviate many common misconceptions about the Bible.

But then again, Irresistible is not apologetics.

(SeanO) #9

@tabby68 I’m not sure who coined it - I imagine it goes very far back in Church history.

I personally think we need to study the Word in community because, let’s be honest, none of us have all the facts and we’ve all misinterpreted the Bible before even when seeking God’s guidance (and probably still are wrong about some things). I’m not sure the Holy Spirit ever automatically gives anyone the right interpretation - I think we do have to study and learn from others and be humble as we learn and grow. And I imagine Stanley has indeed studied the OT seeking God’s wisdom plenty - I think he simply arrived at the wrong conclusions somehow. Not sure whether he was influenced by some people who weren’t thinking straight in his reading or if these were personal conclusions he came to…

I always think of this quote from Jonathan Edwards when this topic comes up - very sincere people who are seeking the Spirit can be wrong - we all must seek wisdom humbly and study:

I . . . know by experience that impressions being made with great power, and upon the minds of true saints, yea, eminent saints; and presently after, yea, in the midst of, extraordinary exercises of grace and sweet communion with God, and attended with texts of Scripture strongly impressed on the mind, are no sure signs of their being revelations from heaven: for I have known such impressions [to] fail, and prove vain. Jonathan Edwards

(Tabitha Gallman) #10

Thanks @Jimmy_Sellers. I love visuals. Definitely helps.

(Tabitha Gallman) #11

Before joining this community, I really did not know there were so many interpretations of the Bible - especially just within my denomination. I understand why so many people don’t want to necessarily be recognized under one particular denomination. Sometimes its very overwhelming.

Oh, I forgot to mention that @SeanO recommended the book: “How To Read the Bible For All It’s Worth” by Gordon Fee. I loaned it out to a relative who is struggling with his faith, so I didn’t finish reading it, but it seemed to be a very good book.

(Tabitha Gallman) #12

(I keep forgetting to respond to all in one post.)

Yes, that’s for sure @SeanO. I love the Preface in my NIV Bible as it reads: “The work of translating the Bible is never finished.”

I don’t know what I’d do without this community, because there are so many views, thoughts and convictions coming “to the table”. And my Father above knows how I truly need this. :grinning:

(SeanO) #13

@tabby68 Great quote about Bible translation. Yes - I am very thankful for all that Ravi and @CarsonWeitnauer have done to make Connect possible - what a unique and amazing community! I too am truly thankful for all the teachers and mentors who have been there over the years to help me navigate life - God is so faithful to guide when we patiently wait on Him!