Book Review 26: “Ask It” by Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley’s book Ask It elevates the question, “What Is The Wise Thing To Do?” The book’s cover claims the question will “revolutionize how you make decisions.” This book review examines whether or not the question does such a thing. Furthermore, it reviews the book in itself.

Stanley divides this book into six parts. An introduction precedes the parts (the introduction basically previews the book’s subject matter). The book concludes with an epilogue and a study guide. The study guide, like the book, spans six parts (called “weeks” as it pertains to the study guide. It appears this book qualifies as small-group curricula).

SOMETHING TO NOTE

Stanley has found himself in hot water with many a pastor in the last few weeks or so with his controversial statements regarding the Old Testament. Pastor Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio notes how Stanley’s statements tie to the Marcion heresy. Despite those controversies, it is important to review Stanley’s book based on the book itself, not the book in addition to said controversies. This book review attempts to review Stanley’s book without bringing in any outside events post-2014 (which is when this book was written, if I am not mistaken).

PART 1: THE QUESTION (chapters 1-7; pp. 7-52)

Stanley uses the first two chapters to build up the anticipation for the aforementioned question, which is introduced in chapter 3 (pp. 7-14). Stanley derives this question from a very brief exegesis of Ephesians 5:15-17. The passage reads as follows (I use the NIV since Stanley uses that in this instance):

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

Stanley elevates the phrase “not as unwise but as wise”, calling those words “the yardstick by which we are to assess our financial, relational and professional decisions” (p. 18). He also states:

The question that sets us up for success where it counts, the question that enables us to consistently apply the commands of the New Testament is this:

What is the wise thing to do?

Stanley makes a case for the potency of the aforementioned question by arguing that we (as in the readers of this book, I presume) are asking the wrong questions (pp. 19-22). He states every bad decision he has heard about “could have been avoided if someone had simply asked the valuable question we’ve identified” (p. 21). This is quite a claim. However, is it really that simple? Ask that question and bad decisions perhaps have a higher chance of being avoided? Does he have any statistical proof for this?

In chapter four, Stanley adds words to the Apostle Paul’s mouth, presumably to make what the apostle Paul was stating a little easier to understand (pp. 23-29). Nevertheless, it is not something Stanley should be doing since Proverbs 30:6 (NASB) states clearly, “Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.” This is a case of Stanley’s not watching his teaching closely (1 Timothy 4:16).

The rest of part one involves Stanley’s making a second form of the aforementioned question (which is, “in light of your future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?”), elevating the original question to a high status and promoting the false “dream destiny thingy” doctrine (pp. 31-52). While the question is a decent one to ask, I would not assign as much value to it as Stanley does. After all, they are just words. Just because one may say them does not mean they could create reality, or in this case, guarantee lessening the chances of a bad decision being made.

PART TWO: THE ALTERNATIVES (chapters 8-9; pp. 55-66)

In chapter eight, Stanley looks at some of the Proverbs in exploring the alternatives to being wise (pp. 54-61). He continues this in chapter nine (pp. 63-66). Thankfully, he does not add words to Solomon’s (the author of Proverbs) mouth like he did the apostle Paul in part one. Stanley also continues to add variations to the original question developed from chapter three.

PART THREE: A QUESTION OF TIME (chapters 10-11; pp. 69-88)

Part three begins the two-part application of the original question. In chapter ten, Stanley looks at a couple verses in Job and Psalms to explain how one’s days are numbered (pp. 69-70). The rest of the chapter applies the original question to the area of time (pp. 71-79). In chapter eleven, Stanley continues this time application (pp. 81-88). He states (among other things) that cram sessions used to make up for lost time (whether they be in the areas of relationships, exercise, etc.) basically do not get the job done (pp. 81-84). Stanley does a fair job in this chapter up until the last paragraph of the chapter, when he says the following:

If Job was right, and the number of our days really is determined, if there are limits we cannot exceed, then the issue of how we spend our time is of paramount importance. Indeed, time may be the most crucial arena in which to apply our big question. So once again let me ask: In light of your past experience, your current circumstances, and your future hopes and dreams, how should you be allocating your time? What do you need to add to your schedule? What should be subtracted? Where do you need to apply the principle of cumulative value?

You will notice that of all the words in that paragraph, I only bolded one. I bolded that word “if.” Given that Stanley is a pastor and his job is to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-5), why is he writing in a way that suggests Job was possibly wrong? The language there simply oozes of those who subscribe to the emergent church and/or postmodernism.

Here’s the thing: Job was right. After all, all Scripture (that’s the entire Bible, mind you) is inspired of God, who is not a liar (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Psalm 12:6; Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 13:8). Our days really are numbered (Job 14:5; Psalm 90:12). As a result, how we spend our time really is of paramount importance. Stanley missed an opportunity to really hit this point out of the park because of his postmodern/emergent language and (sadly) his subtle undermining of Scripture (something made more evident in light of sermon reviews such as this one, beginning at the 41:30 mark of that program).

PART FOUR: A QUESTION OF MORALITY (chapters 12-16; pp. 91-126)

In this part’s first four chapters, Stanley engages in storytelling when applying the question to relationships (pp. 91-118). Some of the stories come from Stanley’s own personal experiences. Through these stories, Stanley illustrates how one can apply the question in different relationship contexts. In chapter sixteen, Stanley discusses both the important of setting good standards and the relationship between fleeing and fearing (pp. 119-126).

PART FIVE: WISDOM FOR THE ASKING (chapters 17-20; pp. 129-153).

In chapter seventeen, Stanley basically explains how one can keep wisdom within reach (pp. 129-133). In chapter eighteen, Stanley cites several passages in Scripture as he explains the importance of seeking wise counsel (pp. 135-140). Chapter nineteen shows Stanley’s discussing, among other things, opinions, private decisions and public consequences (and how they are all connected; pp. 141-144). To conclude part five, Stanley continues his discussing the importance of seeking wise counsel (pp. 145-153).

PART SIX: THE BEST DECISION EVER (chapters 21-22; pp. 157-173)

In concluding this book, Stanley makes the big claim that acting on the two questions mentioned in this book (“In light of your past experiences, current circumstances, and future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for you to do?” and “What do the wise people around you consider the wisest course of action for you to take?”) “will set you up to live a life with few regrets” (p. 157). He is basically making a guarantee. However, he offers no statistical or testimonial proof that acting on the aforementioned questions will set one up to live a life with few regrets. At this point, it is as if he is trying to sell the reader something.

Shortly after that sales pitch, Stanley states, “For your heavenly father to leverage our question in your life, you have to act on what you discover” (p. 157). Is Stanley suggesting that God’s ability to leverage the question in my life is limited by how much I act? Wouldn’t that make me more powerful than God? If Stanley is suggesting what I think he is suggesting, then that’s heresy. After all, God is in heaven and does what He pleases (Psalm 115:3). I believe God can leverage that question however He wants irrespective of how I act.

In the last chapter, Stanley gives some concluding remarks (pp. 165-173). Moreover, he gives an incomplete Gospel presentation that makes no mention of repentance (pp. 170-173). While he does mention sin, the presentation remains incomplete because of both the omission of repentance and his failure to demonstrate that everybody has broken God’s holy law. He does not even make any mention of sin or repentance as he leads the reader into what amounts to a vague sinner’s prayer (pp. 172-173). Finally, he states, for whatever reason, that Jesus somehow took a risk when He died for us (p. 171):

While you had nothing to offer, Christ died for you. He put your sin ahead of his own glory. In this way, he submitted to you. He met your greatest need at great personal expense. To do so, did he demonstrate his authority? No. His right to rule? Nope. Instead, he drew from his vast resources to demonstrate the only thing that would give us the courage to submit fearlessly, courageously; he demonstrated his love. And that demonstration stands as an open invitation for us to respond in kind. And so we are called into a relationship of mutual submission, knowing all the while that our Father took the risk and went first.”

There are many ways one can debunk the above paragraph (I’m not just talking the “risk” sentence that concluded the paragraph). First, it is biblical to state that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). To say He died for us while we had nothing to offer may be accurate. However, that statement minimizes the significance and destructiveness of our sin, thus making that statement weak.

Second, when Christ died for the sins of the world, He actually did have authority. Matthew 9:1-8 gives insight on this (NASB):

Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city.

And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins—then He *said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

If Jesus had no authority to forgive sins, how could He have died for them? Scripture absolutely refutes what Stanley states here.

Third, one must understand what taking a risk involves. A risk, according to Merriam-Webster, can be either a verb or a noun (spare the overly simple explanation here just for a moment). As a noun, it refers to “exposure to possible loss or injury”, danger, peril, or “the chance that an investment will lose value.” As a verb, risking means “to expose to danger” or “to incur the danger of.”

With that definition in mind, one has to, for lack of a better phrase, pull an Andy Stanley and “Ask It.” Specifically, one has to ask the question, “Was Jesus really taking a risk when He died on the cross for my sins?”

The answer is no.

Scripture explains.

In Peter 1:14-23 shows how Christ’s redemption of man was planned before the foundation of the world (NASB; see also Revelation 13:8):

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

17 If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

Peter, speaking to his audience (see 1 Peter 1:1) and writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:16-21), states that Jesus Christ was “foreknown before the foundation of the world.” In other words, God knew Christ’s needing to die for the sins of the world would happen. This was not some type of “chance” thing that had the possibility of backfiring. Furthermore, Jesus foretold His death (Matthew 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33; Luke 9:22-27). Jesus knew what was going to happen. How could “risk” be involved in a situation as certain as Jesus’ needing to die for the sins of the world?

John 17 (the entire chapter) also refutes this nonsensical “risk” doctrine (NASB):

17 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; 10 and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. 12 While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.

The Disciples in the World

13 But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

Their Future Glory

22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; 26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

Here, Jesus makes known the facts of what He had to do while on earth. Moreover, He accomplished what He had to do without any risk being involved. Inserting the concept of “risk” here makes Stanley’s book fall apart at the seams as he concludes his book.

CONCLUSION

Stanley’s Ask It promises much with its huge claim that asking the question “What Is The Wise Thing To Do?” will “revolutionize” the way one makes decisions. While it is a good question to ask when making decisions, Stanley offers no statistical proof to back the claim that it will “revolutionize” the way one makes decisions. Furthermore, he could have been a little more careful in watching his exegesis (although it was not the worst I have heard or read). Finally, the book crashes and burns in the end with its strange manmade “risk” doctrine and vague sinner’s prayer. While the questions and observations, for the most part, are decent meat, the bones in this book are too dangerous to put down, thus making this book one I would not recommend. Nowhere in Scripture are believers called to eat the meat and spit out the bones as it pertains to teaching. Unless you are reading this book for research purposes, steer clear.

GRADE: 3.0 out of 5

 

 

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