Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How Should We Feel about False Doctrine?

How should we feel about false doctrine? That’s quite an interesting question. Many times, debates get out of hand precisely because we are reactive about our answer to this, instead of proactive. Why would that be a problem? Mainly because then our pride gets in the way. “He didn’t agree with me when I obviously am right—and he even seems to think my view is stupid! I’d better let him know who’s the real stupid one!” And off we go.

Doctrine in Christianity is very important. There’s no doubt about that. But there’s also a difference between disagreeing with someone about the identity of the two witnesses in Revelation and disagreeing with someone about who Jesus is! This is where “theological triage,” made popular by Al Mohler, really comes in handy. But I’m asking a slightly different question: How should we feel about false doctrine?

That naturally leads us to the question of what false doctrine is. Is it just any teaching that we believe is not true? In that case, there seems to be a variety of feelings we could (and probably even should) have. Is it any teaching that, by embracing, one has removed himself outside of Christian orthodoxy? Or is it any teaching that, by embracing, one has removed himself from the Gospel altogether (these are not all one and the same). I submit that “false doctrine” carries the connotation, in normal Christian usage, of deceptive teaching as it relates to the core doctrines and/or a false teaching about the Gospel message (with respect to salvation).

So how should we respond to this particular form of false teaching? There is a sense in which we can (and maybe even should) be angry. That someone would deceive others by false teaching straight into Hell should incense us! 2 John 9-10 says it well: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. . . . If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed.” However, this becomes tricky when we’re reactive. When we’re reactive, even in these situations, even though it is ostensibly about God, it’s really about us. We need to be willing to show the love and patience of God. We love them and treat them well, but we do not condone their actions nor give them aid in their work.

What about those with whom we disagree? Well, I think we ought to refrain from being angry with them. We have our reactive and pet doctrines/teachings, and we often say things to people online we never would say in real life (perhaps partially because we tend to objectify people [view them as objects]). This doesn’t mean we can never correct people, or instruct people in greater doctrinal truths. This doesn’t mean we must be passionless with respect to the things of God. This will mean a minimization of self, and it will mean a seeking to place the concerns of your brother or sister into full view (cf. Phil. 2:4).

I firmly believe this is the sticking point. We should not be seeking to tear down these others. We should not be seeking to lift up ourselves. We should not be angry with people for teaching things we do not necessarily embrace. We should seek the welfare of our fellow Christians, deeper understanding, and teachable moments, as well as being willing to change our own position if needed. What do you all think?


  1. This approach seems appropriate when dealing with strictly theological matters, but what about when dealing with the presuppositions which are responsible for said false doctrine? In particular, how ought I feel about a concordist like Hugh Ross, who teaches that the Psalms (!) show that God used X geological phenomenon to bring about Y end, or that the scientific method is taught in Genesis 1, etc. I recently saw him speak at a megachurch, and it made me massively uncomfortable that literally thousands of people were gobbling up this concordist doctrine without giving it a second thought. Even worse, the pastor responsible for these thousands seemed perfectly alright with this sort of hermeneutic. Obviously Ross' heart is in the right place and he has been undeniably successful in bringing many people to Christ. Notwithstanding, concordism is not a healthy hermeneutic. Should concordism be shown to be false, much of Ross' work as an apologist is laid to waste. Should we even try to persuade those who hold such doctrine, yet are successful?

    1. Hi Nolan, thanks for commenting! I sympathize with your plight! I think the issue of hermeneutics, while important, in Ross' case probably plays a minor role (that is, presumably Ross can and does still affirm most, if not nearly all, of the major doctrinal beliefs that "normal" evangelical Christians do, differing mostly or solely where "normal" evangelicals do so). In that case, I wouldn't get too caught up in it from an emotional perspective: it tends to lean toward (though it does not necessarily need be the case) the attitude of frustration that people aren't listening to me!

      I will refrain from commenting as to whether and how much of Ross' ministry may be compromised in what ways were concordism be shown to be false (which I do not support concordism, for what it's worth), though I think that to be an interesting exercise. I will say I think it's worth trying to persuade, as in all matters intellectual and Christian, because it's worth getting at the truth. However, "trying to persuade" and "insisting people hold to the doctrines I do, because of what I think it entails" are certainly not identical. I'm also not trying to claim you're doing this.

      Here's a prime example: Calvinism vs. non-Calvinism. I believe consistent Calvinism, taken to its logical end, entails that God would be inconsistent with the ground of objective moral values; God would be what we would say is morally culpable (if we were to stipulate God had moral duties). I further believe that certain Calvinistic views contribute to people leaving the faith (or else fuel justifications for such). However, I do not fight against Calvinism, wishing to eradicate it and insisting that those who don't want to contribute to atheism. Instead, I seek to persuade, while also seeking to mitigate those consequences.

      So might we mitigate those consequences in Ross' case? Perhaps by diversifying apologetic options; perhaps by teaching believers that their faith need not be hitched to arguments such that if they were to be defeated, they should become unbelievers, and so forth. This way, you need not find yourself in a position of having to either: a) tear down Ross, or b) pretend that something you find to be untrue is perfectly true. The balance is to have a humble spirit and seek to persuade, but also mitigate the consequences of what you perceive. Does that make sense? :)


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