Anyone who lives on the north side of Atlanta, like I do, and is connected to the body of Messiah has likely been impacted in some way by the ministry of North Point Community Church and Pastor Andy Stanley.
Pastor Andy founded North Point in 1995, and it has developed into the second-largest church in the United States (according to Outreach magazine). Each week 38,000 people gather at six campuses to attend North Point services. Online North Point has a massive impact globally. Many thousands download Pastor Andy’s sermons and watch his TV show. His books and conferences are popular as well. He is unquestionably one of the most influential Christian leaders in the world today.
I have lived in Atlanta since the late 1990s. I have engaged with Andy Stanley’s church and ministry on various levels. While not agreeing with all that I have heard from Pastor Andy through the years, my opinion of him and North Point has been generally positive. The church has been innovative and caring (and sometimes controversial) in how it has tried to get people to turn back to God, Jesus, the Bible, and church.
Through the years I have conversed with many people in North Atlanta who have been deeply blessed by Pastor Andy’s leadership and the ministry of North Point. Many of them have told me how they had given up on the church but that their time at North Point revived their interest and connection to God. I have also witnessed the great generosity of North Point. Therefore, despite my criticism of Pastor Andy’s new book that I am about to communicate, I felt that it was important to give some relevant history and personal perspective regarding the positives I have witnessed and experienced from Pastor Andy and North Point Church.
In 2018, Pastor Andy preached a sermon series called Reclaiming Irresistible. This series generated a significant response across the body of Messiah. Various Messianic Jews and Gentiles expressed their ire when Pastor Andy communicated that he thought Christians needed to “unhitch” the Old Testament from their faith.
I have several relationships with high-level staff at North Point. I expressed my own concern to them about this statement and other comments that Pastor Andy had made in this series regarding the relationship Christians should have to the Old Testament. In the course of these exchanges, they told me that Pastor Andy would be releasing a new book that would further elucidate his viewpoints. This fall the book Irresistible was released. The subtitle is Reclaiming the New That Jesus Unleashed for the World. As soon as the book was available, I read through it. Sadly, after reading it, my concerns that had been raised during Pastor Andy’s sermon series were not only confirmed but significantly increased.
Pastor Andy conveyed three major problems in Irresistible:
1. Pastor Andy advises that we create a disjunction between the Old and New Testaments (which he mostly uses as synonymous with old and new covenants).
On page 245, Pastor Stanley says, “To love the way Jesus called us to love requires a complete break with the inspired but retired, beautiful but obsolete, old covenant. As long as we continue mixing old with new, we will never be free to love as we have been called to love. Until we dispense with the old and embrace the new, our love will be leverage. And love that is leverage is no love at all.” On page 208, Pastor Stanley says, “When Paul writes, ‘But whatever were gains to me,’ he’s referring to old covenant accomplishments and pursuits. His whatever bucket was categorized and organized around the Jewish Scriptures. Our Old Testament. Paul dismisses the primary relevance of the Scriptures he grew up with.” But throughout his letters, Paul quotes the Tanach that he grew up with as a relevant and primary source of standards for holy living for his emerging communities of disciples. This viewpoint from Pastor Stanley is simply not defensible.
2. Pastor Andy advocates for a strong and clear version of replacement theology.
In my dialogue with a friend who serves on staff at North Point, he told me that Pastor Andy does not believe in replacement theology (the belief that the church has replaced Israel) and that his new book would make that clear. The book did make Pastor Andy’s viewpoint regarding replacement theology clear; unfortunately, what Pastor Andy spelled out was that he indeed believes that God’s covenants with Israel are finished. On page 65 of Irresistible, Pastor Andy says, “This [Israel] was his nation. The nation God had raised up from one man for one purpose — to bless the world. But that chapter was drawing to a close [in Jesus’ day]. God’s covenant with the nation had served its purpose. It was no longer needed … Ancient Israel was a means to an end. The end had come. The new was just beginning.” I respect Andy’s honesty and explicitness. However, this viewpoint is clearly supersessionist (a more theological term than “replacement theology” that refers to the church “superseding” Israel). Many biblical texts speak of God’s continued covenant with Israel.
3. Pastor Andy’s anti-Judaism perspectives can lead to anti-Semitism.
On page 146, Pastor Stanley says, “[Paul] knew the legalism, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and exclusivity that characterized ancient Judaism would eventually seep into and erode the beauty, simplicity, and appeal of the ekklesia of Jesus.” I don’t think Andy Stanley is an anti-Semite. But this kind of rhetoric, which speaks of Judaism as something that has been replaced and that is characterized as “self-righteous” and “eroding” the ekklesia can and has led to common negative Christian stereotypes of both Judaism and Jews. Too often throughout history, such stereotypes and characterizations have led the way toward hostile, violent, and destructive actions toward the Jewish community by the hands of Christians. Pastor Stanley’s words are dangerous.
Again, despite my respect for Pastor Andy in other areas, I found Irresistible to express a deeply flawed viewpoint. I am an avid reader. However, I cannot remember reading a book in which I found so much with which to disagree. Sadly, the reality is that what Pastor Andy expressed is what many Christians believe but cannot articulate with the same clarity and boldness.
Those of us who are supportive of a Messianic Jewish viewpoint could respond to Pastor Andy’s book by dismissing it as irrelevant to our world. But I don’t think we can do that. Pastor Andy’s impact and reach are too significant to treat as unworthy of serious consideration and sufficient response. Since we are Christians and Messianics who stand against supersessionism and replacement theology, it is important that we be aware of what Pastor Andy is disseminating. More importantly, we need to be prepared to respond graciously and clearly with an answer that points out the errors and dangers of all forms of replacement theology—especially a kind that is as bold, forthright, and erroneous as Pastor Andy’s. May HaShem help each of us to be ready for such conversations if given the opportunity.