Discernment, Mailbag

The Mailbag: Celebrity Christian Hot Takes (Driscoll, Graham, Groeschel, Lewis, Lucado, Piper, Vallotton)

 

I get lots questions about whether or not certain pastors, teachers, and authors are doctrinally sound, and whether or not I would recommend them. I mean, lots. And, can I just say- that’s really encouraging to me. When someone asks that question, it demonstrates a) that she knows there are teachers out there who wear the label of “Christian” yet teach unbiblical things, and b) that she doesn’t want to follow one of those teachers. Having interacted with scores of professing Christian women who don’t even rise to that basic level of discernment (i.e. they blindly believe everything that calls itself “Christian” actually is), that’s huge, and I love it.

If you’ve been following the blog for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed the Popular False Teachers & Unbiblical Trends tab (in the blue menu bar at the top of this page). All of the articles and entries on that page exist because someone (usually more than one person) asked whether or not that teacher is doctrinally sound. I wish I were able to write articles on every teacher I’m asked about so I could provide you with more thorough resources, but it usually takes me several days worth of research and writing to properly assemble even the shortest of those articles, and with a family to care for, and other responsibilities, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

All of that means that I have to pick and choose which teachers to write about (which is generally whoever is most popular and most people are asking about) and resign myself to the fact that there are teachers I’m probably never going to get around to writing about (few have heard of them, they’re not popular in my audience demographic, they’re dead, it’s uber-obvious they’re heretics {Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Paula White, etc.}).

Recently, I’ve been asked about a slew of teachers I’m probably not going to write articles about, not because they’re not important, but because they don’t influence as many people in my audience as other teachers do. So I thought what I’d do from time to time is gather up a few and just give a quick “hot take” – a thumbs up or thumbs down as to whether or not you should follow them – based on what I already know without researching them and/or no more than a five minute Google search.

I’ll be using the criteria outlined in my article Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring it Out on Your Own. If you ever need to know whether or not you should avoid a certain teacher, I would encourage you to use this article as a guide, and research him or her for yourself. Vetting teachers is not difficult, it’s a skill every Christian needs to develop, you shouldn’t just take my (or anyone else’s) word for it that someone is or isn’t a false teacher, and I won’t always be around. So if you’re interested in any of these teachers, consider these hot takes a jumping off point for doing more research on your own.

👎Mark Driscoll A definite thumbs down. Mark Driscoll is demonstrably apostate. He was charged with spiritual abuse (mostly anger, treating people poorly, abuse of power – things like that) at his former church, Mars Hill. He refused to go through the biblical process of church discipline his elders tried to enact, and instead quit and fled to another state. He now associates and yokes in “ministry” with New Apostolic Reformation heretics.

Billy Graham– Not someone I’m going to go around proactively recommending, but not someone I’d call a false teacher, either. I would categorize him as “generally OK-ish, but there are much better, stronger teachers you could be listening to instead”. I’ve read his autobiography and listened to several of his sermons over the years. Although I think some of his methods were biblically unwise, the basic content of his sermons and the gospel he preached was biblical overall. But you need to remember that Billy Graham was an evangelist, not a pastor, which means you’ll get the basics of the gospel by listening to him, but not much else. And if you’re already saved, while you never outgrow your need to hear the gospel, that’s not all you need. You need to grow and mature in the Word, and be taught the full counsel of God.

A couple of reasons many people wonder about Billy Graham’s theology have to do with his ecumenism (he basically embraced just about everyone who wore the label “Christian” – including the Pope) and his universalist statements (most widely known via his 1997 interview with Robert Schuller). Additionally, his daughter, Ann Graham Lotz, credits her father with heavily influencing her theology, and she is not someone I’d recommend.

👎Craig Groeschel– Nope. When Chris Rosebrough has done this many Fighting for the Faith segments and sermon reviews on somebody, take it to the bank- that’s not somebody you should be following. And then you’ve got things like: Craig preaching at this Hillsong conference (which also featured Bethel Music leaders), preaching with Joel Osteen at a conference hosted by Lakewood, he’s spoken at Joyce Meyer’s women’s conference, he lets women and false teachers preach at his church, including Christine Caine (whom he calls “one of the greatest preachers of all time”) and Steven Furtick (who says in this clip that Groeschel’s church has influenced Furtick’s church {Elevation} “probably more than any other church”.)

Also, if you use the YouVersion Bible App, you might want to know that it was developed by Craig Groeschel and his church, and is still owned by his church (Life.Church), which is one of the reasons it’s not one I recommend when people ask me about Bible apps.

C.S. Lewis For fiction, you’re probably OK. I read my children the entire Narnia series with no real problems. I know sound brothers and sisters who have found Mere Christianity and other CSL books to be helpful, but, honestly, if you really want to study theology, I’d encourage you to steer clear and find better sources. There are questions as to whether or not he believed in evolution, universalism, the inspiration of Scripture, and penal substitutionary atonement.

👎Max Lucado– No. He recently embraced Jen Hatmaker as a guest on her podcast. He has preached at Lakewood (Joel Osteen), affirmed Bill Johnson (Bethel), endorses Beth Moore, wrote the foreword for Christine Caine’s book, Undaunted, etc. And the church Max pastors, Oak Hills Church, is egalitarian.

And then there’s this quote from Max during an interview with Preaching.com: I really enjoy listening to Joel Osteen. I think Joel has a unique assignment in his ministry, and that’s to cast a wide net. He’s got a different assignment and a different gift mix than, for example, a John MacArthur; and I enjoy listening to John MacArthur equally; but you can see that they’re two different types of preaching. I enjoy Joel because I think his assignment in ministry is to encourage people, and we live in a day that is so discouraged, discouraging. I enjoy John MacArthur because I think—it seems to me—his assignment is to equip the church with very detailed biblical understanding. He’d be more like a Beth Moore or a David Jeremiah; I think we need that, as well.

I’m sorry, but do you really want to be taught the Bible by someone who someone who is so undiscerning he can’t tell the difference between Joel Osteen, Beth Moore, and John MacArthur? That he thinks Joel Osteen and John MacArthur just have different gifts and different preaching styles? And that Beth Moore, like John MacArthur, has an “assignment to equip the church with very detailed biblical understanding“?

John PiperJohn Piper’s books, sermons, and blog are mostly fine, and while I disagree with him on several points of theology, I certainly do not consider him to be a false teacher. But he’s not somebody I’m going to proactively recommend, either. Here’s how I’ve answered readers in the past who have asked me about John Piper:

While I consider Dr. Piper to be a generally doctrinally sound Christian brother and agree with him in many aspects of theology, he is not someone I proactively recommend for a few reasons:

1. Dr. Piper is a continuationist. I usually limit my endorsements to cessationists  because I believe this is the biblical view of the gifts. (I do not consider otherwise doctrinally sound continuationists to be false teachers, however.)

2. I’m concerned about Dr. Piper’s associations and partnerships with false teachers (which violates 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, Romans 16:17-18, and 2 John 9-11). First he appeared to embrace Rick Warren when he interviewed him and invited him to speak at the Desiring God conference in 2010. More recently, he has been a featured speaker at events like the Passion conferences where he has shared the stage with Christine Caine, Priscilla ShirerBeth Moore, and Judah Smith.

3. Dr. Piper’s complementarianism seems muddled at best. On the one hand he will go so far as to say that Christian women should not be drill sergeants and police officers (the Bible mentions nothing of the sort), yet on the other hand he joins in ministry with the aforementioned Caine, Shirer, and Moore who – in addition the the false doctrine they preach – all actively and unrepentantly violate clear Scripture by preaching to men. It’s quite confusing.

I’m not going to warn people away from John Piper as a false teacher, but I can’t, in good conscience, recommend him either.

👎Kris VallottonAbsolutely not, no way, no how. Kris Vallotton is the “Senior Associate Leader of Bethel Church and co-founder of Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM)” which means he is a New Apostolic Reformation heretic, not a Christian, and certainly not someone any other Christian (or lost person, for that matter) should be following. Read more about the blasphemies and heresies of Bethel.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

False Teachers

6 Thoughts on Responding to the Death of a False Teacher

Rachel Held Evans died a couple of weeks ago. Myles Munroe, Paul Crouch, Jan Crouch, Tammy Faye Bakker, and Oral Roberts within the last several years. Eventually, Joel Osteen, Beth Moore, Andy Stanley, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Bill Johnson, and Priscilla Shirer will die.

Death comes for us all, including false teachers and heretics.

And how do we find out, and express our feelings about, the deaths of evangelical celebrities? It used to be via the newspaper and around the water cooler. Now it’s on social media.

There are three typical social media responses when a false teacher dies: Her fans laud her and turn her into a virtual saint. A few who claim to be Christians dance on her grave in celebration. And doctrinally sound Christians are kind of left groping for how to respond, biblically. There’s a feeling of wanting to have compassion for the family who has lost a loved one while not appearing to endorse or approve of the deceased’s false teaching and sin merely because she has died.

So how can we respond biblically to the death of a false teacher?

1.
Distinguish the Biblical Response
from the Cultural Response

“Don’t speak ill of the dead.” Where is this idea taught in Scripture? I can’t find it anywhere, can you? Does that mean we should speak ill of the dead? Of course not, because we don’t find a command to do that in Scripture either. I’m just trying to point out that a lot of the notions we have about death and other issues in life don’t come from the Bible, they come from our culture, etiquette, tradition, etc. If we truly want to respond to a false teacher’s death – or do anything else, really – in a biblical way, we need to be able to separate what the Bible tells us to do from what culture and society tell us is the right thing to do. In all aspects of life, that ability has never been more crucial than it is now.

2.
To Respond or Not to Respond; That Is the Question

There’s absolutely no biblical requirement for anyone to proffer an unsolicited public comment on the death of a false teacher. Or anyone else for that matter. Other than mentioning her name in this article, I have not publicly commented on the death of Rachel Held Evans for several reasons, though I found out about her passing shortly after it happened. My friends Gabe and Elizabeth did decide to comment on her death, and, in my opinion, both did a lovely job. Commenting or deciding not to comment can both be perfectly biblical.

The only time it’s really incumbent upon a Christian to speak to the issue of a false teacher’s death is when someone you know asks you about it directly. And even then, if the person seems to be overwrought with emotion, it might be wisest to simply postpone your comment until after a “cooling off” period has taken place.

3.
How to Respond

Briefly. Because the longer your comment, the greater chance you will either slip into eulogizing the false teacher or, conversely, making unnecessarily inflammatory remarks that will only serve to stir the ire of her family and followers and will make you look like a jerk.

Gently. Because even the gentlest remark is going to pour salt into the wound of someone who’s grieving if you’re not outright praising the deceased. And though “Don’t speak ill of the dead” isn’t a biblical concept, if you’re addressing the followers of a false teacher, you’re probably not dealing with people who are going to split that biblical/cultural hair. If they were overly concerned about distinguishing biblical concepts from worldly concepts, they wouldn’t be following a false teacher in the first place. Be sensitive to their cultural mores of gentle speech in this instance or you surely won’t get a hearing.

Non-speculatively. Because you do not have God’s omniscience, and speculation can serve no helpful purpose. Is it possible God ended the false teacher’s life as judgment for her unbiblical teachings? Yes. It is also possible He ended her life for a completely different reason known only to Him. Is it likely she will be spending an eternity in Hell? Yes. But unless you were at her bedside listening to her blaspheme the name of the Lord with her final breath, you don’t know that for certain.

Evangelistically. Because the greatest thing that could come out of the false teacher’s death, or anyone’s really, is for someone whose ultimate hope was in the hopelessness of false doctrine to find her ultimate hope in Christ.

4.
Prepare for Backlash

One of the reasons I intentionally chose not to comment on Rachel Held Evans’ death is that I knew I would receive tons of vitriolic, possibly even threatening, backlash from her disciples if I said anything about Rachel that wasn’t pure praise of her. At that moment in my week, due to various things going on in my life, I had neither the time nor the spiritual strength to deal with an onslaught like that. It’s not that I was afraid or didn’t know how to answer the barbs I’m sure I would have received, it’s just that it would have been a distraction from other things that were a higher priority in my life than responding to strangers about the death of another stranger.

If you choose to make a non-laudatory statement about the death of a false teacher, even if it’s gentle, compassionate, completely biblical, and annotated with Scripture, you must be prepared to be attacked by her followers. No matter how much the teacher claimed to be a Christian or how much her followers claim she helped them grow in the Lord, the fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of people who steadfastly follow, love, and defend false teachers over a long period of time are very likely not saved and will respond to your biblical remarks in the angry, emotional, often abusive way that can be characteristic of lost people.

This, in fact, happened to a Facebook friend of mine who has a growing platform. She made just such a gentle, compassionate, completely biblical statement on Facebook about Rachel Held Evans’ death. I would link to it except that she had to delete the statement because some of Rachel’s followers found pictures my friend had posted of her child and proceeded to make vile remarks and threats against her child.

This is the kind of thing you can expect if you comment with anything but praise for the deceased, so keep it in mind when you’re deciding whether or not to say anything.

5.
Weep

Romans 12:15b tells us to “weep with those who weep.” It is absolutely good and kind to be compassionate toward someone – anyone – who has lost a loved one, whether it’s your brother or sister in Christ, the widow of your atheist nephew, or even the family of a false teacher. Take a look at what Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-45:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Christians showing compassion to the “evil” and the “unjust” is part of God’s common grace to the world. It is an opportunity to reflect the kindness of God that led us to repentance.

But another reason to be grieved by the death of a false teacher is that she is most likely beginning her eternity of death in Hell. Because people who continually and unrepentantly harden their hearts against God’s Word and godly rebuke and correction are displaying the fruit of an unsaved soul. And that is no reason to celebrate. As Ezekiel tells us:

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?
Ezekiel 18:23

God does not giddily damn people. His heart is for all to come to repentance and faith in Christ. And that should be our heart as well. Could it be that, in His infinite mercy and grace, God gave that false teacher a final opportunity to repent and trust Him moments before her death? It could, and that is what we should hope for, not only for the false teacher and her eternity, but for the glory it brings to God every time He washes a sinner in the blood of Christ.

6.
Rejoice

But while we demonstrate compassion for the family and grieve the likely condemnation of the false teacher, there is also a righteous, Kingdom-focused, and biblical reason to rejoice: one more voice of blasphemy, lies, and deception has been silenced. At least in the sphere of influence of that particular teacher, no one will be led astray from Christ any longer.

But the wicked will perish;
the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.
Psalm 37:20

God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered;
and those who hate him shall flee before him!
Psalm 68:1

Will another false teacher step up to take her place? Almost certainly. Where there are those who clamor to have their itching ears scratched, a wicked confidence man will arise to peddle his ungodly snake oil. But for today, for a short time, perhaps, no wares will be sold to this crowd of customers. And that is reason enough to rejoice.

 

Commenting on the death of a false teacher can be a tricky needle to thread. When we choose to do so, let us exercise the common grace of compassion, reflect the kindness of a merciful God, and always be ready to give a reason for the hope that lies within us with gentleness and respect.


Additional Resources

Can a False Teacher be a Christian?

Mailbag, Sin

The Mailbag: If someone follows false teachers or teaches false doctrine for a long time, is she saved?

 

I have heard pastors say that believers can sin for a ‘season’ without repentance. In regards to professing believers who follow false teachers, what is a ‘season’? Can they continue following them for months? Years?

Is it possible that someone who is a false teacher is actually saved? Could she truly believe the biblical gospel even though, for decades, she has been terribly mishandling God’s Word, and has been on an increasing trajectory of sin and false doctrine?

I’ve combined two questions for this edition of The Mailbag because they are very closely related, if not, in fact, the same basic question.

I’m glad you asked. This is such an important issue to think through because, unfortunately, we are surrounded by professing Christians walking down these paths.

When I hear people use the the term “season” when referring to the Christian life, it’s been my experience that they usually mean “an indeterminate period of time”. In my mind, a “season” is longer than a couple of weeks, but shorter than several decades. That really narrows it down, doesn’t it? :0) But if you asked a hundred Christians what a season is, you’d probably get a hundred different answers.

When Christians say that someone can sin “for a season” they are likely alluding to the King James translation of Hebrews 11:25:

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
Hebrews 11:24-25

You might want to take a look at some other reliable translations alongside the King James. The primary emphasis of the end of verse 25 is that the pleasure our flesh gets from sinning is fleeting, transitory, temporary. But the KJV looks at another petal on the same rosebud and helpfully explains that because that pleasure is temporary, the time spent happily wallowing in that sin should, consequently, also be temporary. The prodigal son is a good example of this. Once he found himself in the pigpen, sin wasn’t much fun any more, and that’s when his thoughts turned to repentance.¹

The next issues we need to tackle are sin and salvation. Here’s what we know:

🕇 Anybody who has a basic grasp of the biblical definition of sin knows that even the most Christlike Christians still sin and that sinless perfectionism is a bunch of hooey and hubris.

🕇 We also know that someone whom God has reached down and genuinely saved cannot lose her salvation due to sin. So the issue we’re grappling with in this particular instance is not whether or not a genuine Christian can lose her salvation by sinning, but whether or not a person who lives in sin for a long period of time is actually saved as she professes to be.

🕇 Finally, we know that there are false converts among us, who appear to be Christians for a “season,” and then walk away from the faith never to return, proving that they were never truly saved in the first place.

So how can we tell the difference between a genuine Christian who is temporarily walking in sin and a false convert who’s on her way out the door?

Most of the time, if she’s still claiming to be a Christian, we can’t know with certainty.

Often, the only way to know for sure that a person who seemed to be a Christian isn’t saved is if she either a) unequivocally renounces Christianity (i.e. “I no longer believe in God,” “I used to be a Christian,” etc.) or b) picks up a new belief system that clearly puts her outside the camp of Christianity, (i.e. “I don’t believe in the Trinity,” “I don’t believe Jesus was God,” “I’m now a Mormon,” etc.). In other words, if a person tells you she’s not a Christian, you can believe her.

But for the person who is sinning, following false teachers, or teaching false doctrine (that doesn’t conflict with biblical soteriology), and claims to be a Christian, it can be harder to tell. Why? Because we aren’t God.

When Samuel was trying to figure out which one of Jesse’s sons to anoint as the next king of Israel, God told him something that’s very instructive to this issue:

When they came, [Samuel] looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:6-7

Regardless of what someone appears or claims to be on the outside, only God knows the heart of each person. And that’s really good news for us, because it relieves us of the burden of having to read another person’s heart. That’s God’s job, not ours.

God judges hearts, we judge behavior.

God has given the church – Believers – the responsibility of seeing to the spiritual welfare of our fellow church members who are sinning. We handle the tangible, visible “action” part of the situation, and God works through our words and actions to handle the invisible, spiritual part of the situation in whatever way He may choose to handle it. And God has given us very clear instructions in Scripture about how to regard, evaluate, and handle these kinds of situations.

🕇 God clearly explains to us throughout Scripture exactly what constitutes sin and false doctrine. We compare what someone is teaching, believing, or doing with the applicable, rightly handled, in context Scriptures. If the person’s teaching, beliefs, or behavior isn’t in compliance with those Scriptures, the person is sinning.

🕇 God vests Christians with the responsibility of lovingly confronting sin in our brothers and sisters and urging them to repent and be reconciled to God, and He explains to us, in Scripture, how to do this.

🕇 God makes clear in John 10 that people He has genuinely saved – His sheep – will not listen to the voice of a stranger (false teacher). I have experienced the truth of this statement myself and seen it play out in the lives of dozens of women over the years: “I went to a women’s Bible study when I was a young Christian where they were using materials by [a false teacher]. I was really uncomfortable because I knew something was wrong, even though I wasn’t sure what it was. Years later, looking back and having learned my Bible, I now see I felt that way because I was being taught false doctrine.”

🕇 The overwhelming majority of the Scriptures dealing with false teachers seem to indicate that unrepentant false teachers are not saved. (I discussed these Scriptures in my article Can a False Teacher Be a Christian?.) But, again, with those who profess to believe the biblical gospel, we cannot know their hearts with certainty, and we do not have to. We evaluate their visible teaching and behavior according to Scripture and carry out the procedures for dealing with sin in the Body that God has prescribed in His Word.

How long of a “season” can someone walk in sin, follow a false teacher, or teach (non-soteriological) false doctrine before we know for certain she’s not saved? The farthest I will go is to say that the longer a person walks in increasing rebellion against God and His Word, the less likely it is that that person is genuinely saved. Saved people hate their sin. Saved people respond humbly and obediently to biblical correction. Saved people repent. But how long that takes varies from individual to individual. It’s impossible to put a number of days, weeks, months or years on it, and with many people who profess to be Christians while doing these things, we may never know this side of Glory.


¹THERE IS DISAGREEMENT AMONG SOME CHRISTIANS AS TO WHETHER THE PRODIGAL SON REPRESENTS A LOST PERSON WHO SUBSEQUENTLY GOT SAVED, OR WHETHER HE REPRESENTS SOMEONE WHO WAS SAVED, FELL INTO SIN FOR A SEASON, THEN CAME TO HIS SENSES AND REPENTED. I TEND TO BELIEVE THE FORMER DUE TO CONTEXT (SEE LUKE 15:1-2). JESUS WAS ADDRESSING PHARISEES (REPRESENTED BY THE OLDER SON) WHO WERE CRITICIZING HIM FOR RECEIVING AND EATING WITH SINNERS (GENTILES; THE LOST). AT ANY RATE, I’M ONLY USING THE PRODIGAL SON HERE TO DEMONSTRATE THE TRANSITORY NATURE OF THE PLEASURE OF SIN.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Should I cut ties with a friend who follows false teachers?

I have a friend who follows Todd White* and some other false teachers. I’ve talked to him about it and shown him why I’m concerned. He appreciated my concern, but didn’t think Todd White’s heretical beliefs were a big deal. What do I do with this friendship? Am I supposed to cut ties with him for his beliefs?

You have been very loving and caring to share the dangers of false teachers with your friend. Indeed, you would not have been a good friend to him if you hadn’t.

Just to clarify, to me the phrase “cut ties with” means to that you will no longer be in contact with this person in any way. Generally speaking, unless your friend has become obsessed with White and the others to the point that he can’t talk about anything else and is pushing them on you, my counsel would be no, you don’t need to cut ties with him based solely on the fact that he follows false teachers. Your continued friendship could be God’s grace to him, wooing your friend to Himself through your love and godly example.

One thing you will want to keep in mind is that your friend may not be truly saved and needs a clear explanation of the gospel rather than discernment information (which he won’t be able to understand or accept if he’s not saved). John 10 explicitly says that Christ’s sheep will not follow the voice of a stranger (false teacher).

(Now, readers, hear me clearly – sometimes genuine sheep wander for a minute. And sometimes a genuine sheep who’s been following around a wolf in sheep’s clothing recently will temporarily resist the idea that her new favorite teacher is actually a wolf rather than a sheep. Be a good friend like this reader was and lovingly explain to your friend what the Bible says. Then, be patient as your friend processes what you’ve said, and the Holy Spirit works – on His timetable.)

Take a page out of 1 Peter 3:1-6‘s book. You have explained the false doctrine. You have let your friend know that you are open to discussing it further in the future if he has any questions. If the Holy Spirit drops one of those “too amazing to be ignored” opportunities in your lap to put an appropriate word into a conversation with him, you can take advantage of that opportunity. Aside from that, just like the wife of the unsaved husband in this passage, you do not need to constantly bring up the issue. Be faithful in prayer for your friend, occasionally invite him to Bible studies and other events at your doctrinally sound church, love, serve and help him, and trust the Holy Spirit to do His good work in His good time.

What will the Holy Spirit’s “good work” look like?

• Your friend will get genuinely saved and leave the false teachers behind.

• Your friend is already saved, and he’ll repent of straying after false teachers and will turn back to obeying God’s Word.

• Your friend is not saved, rejects the gospel you share with him, and God gives him over to a hardened heart that “will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4) At this point, he will probably cut ties with you. It can be heartbreaking to watch, but judgment is also a good work of the Holy Spirit.

But since you can’t know what the future holds for your friend, keep praying and let him know you’re always there for him if he ever has questions about the Bible or needs to talk. Until he draws his last breath, there’s always hope that the Prodigal will come to his senses and come home.


*I have added a section of resources on Todd White to the Popular False Teachers tab at the top of this page.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Discernment

Discernment: A Spiritual Battle, Not a Logical One

The way people think, the way we react to environmental stimuli, the way we relate to one another, the way our backgrounds and experiences shape the way we view and interact with the world absolutely fascinates me. It’s probably what led me to pursue degrees in psychology and counseling as well as every sociology, anthropology, criminology, and every other social science -ology elective I could get my hands on when I was in college. What makes people tick? Why does the human mind perceive things the way it does? Why is it that two people can witness the exact same event and come away with two completely different interpretations of it?

Those human-centered constructs and sciences can be helpful when it comes to studying observable behavior, but that’s exactly where their helpfulness ends – at the line of observable human behavior. Statistical psychology can perform a longitudinal study on people who were abused as children and show us that those people are much more likely to become abusers themselves. But, try as they might, none of those -ologies can accurately explain why they don’t all turn out to be abusers, or why some become abusers and then, for no earthly reason, suddenly stop and are seemingly magically transformed into healthy parents or spouses.

It’s because all of the -ologies lack a major operating component in their schemata – the spiritual realm. They’re like a football team with an adequate defensive team but no offensive team. You can’t play the game of football that way, and you can’t begin to understand people without acknowledging and understanding the spiritual.

Humans are more than just brains transported around by a bag of bones and muscles. People have spirits, and there are only two kinds: a spirit that has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, or a spirit that is in rebellion against Christ. And even among those who have been redeemed, there’s a broad spectrum of maturity, both overall and in specific areas of sanctification. You can generalize someone as a “baby Christian” or a “mature Christian”, but even among mature Christians, you’ll find that Christian A isn’t as mature in trusting God as Christian B, that Christian B isn’t as mature in generosity as Christian C, that Christian C isn’t as mature in patience as Christian D, and so on.

People are wonderfully and weirdly spiritually complex and unique.

As Christians, I think most of us realize all of this on some level. We know that the Bible says that when we’re born again, we become completely new creatures in Christ. Out with the old man, in with the new. It’s a redeemed spirit that causes us to do things – in varying levels of maturity – like: love Christ, hate our sin, enjoy worship, and weep over the lost. Conversely, not having a redeemed spirit will cause those things to be absent in someone’s life. The words, attitudes, and behaviors we see on the outside are driven by what’s on the inside – the state of our spirits. Or, as Jesus put it:

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45

We know this in our heads – when we’re dealing with someone’s sinful or otherwise inappropriate or aberrant actions, the words and behavior we’re observing are an outflow of the person’s spiritual state.

Sometimes, it’s easy to apply that knowledge. You observe someone murdering someone else, and it seems pretty clear-cut to say that the murderer is almost certainly not a genuinely regenerated Christian. Which is why he’s murdering someone.

The waters get a bit murkier when it comes to discernment issues in the church and among professing Christians, but the same spiritual principle applies. We’re ultimately dealing with someone’s spiritual state, not their external behavior.

“I don’t understand why my friend can’t see that _____ is a false teacher!”, I frequently hear from frustrated Christians (and myself!). “I’ve shown her video evidence, print evidence, and audio evidence of this teacher twisting Scripture, teaching false doctrine, and blatantly sinning, and she dismisses it all, telling me I’m being hateful and legalistic or that what the teacher is saying and doing is no big deal!”

That’s because what we’re dealing with is a spiritual issue, not a logical one. No amount of biblical evidence in the world is going to convince that friend of false doctrine until the Holy Spirit opens her eyes to it. My job is not to argue my friend into believing that Joel Osteen or Beth Moore or Benny Hinn or Christine Caine is a false teacher. My job is to lovingly present what Scripture says, demonstrate how the teacher is in conflict with it, leave it on the table, walk away, and continue to pray for my friend. My job is done. It is now the Holy Spirit’s job to open my friend’s eyes and change her heart.

Still not sure about all this? Let’s take a look at what Scripture has to say:

The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers…but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. John 10:3b-5, 26-27

You really need to read all of John 9-10 to get the fullest picture of what’s going on here. Jesus has, once again, proved His divinity and Messiahship – this time, by healing a man who was born blind. That’s all the proof the formerly blind man needs. He is all in. “He said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.” (John 9:38) and that’s all she wrote.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, despite having just witnessed a miracle only God can do, and despite the very words coming out of the mouth of God Himself in 9:39-10:30 – overwhelming, irrefutable, biblical video and audio evidence, you might say – refuse to believe. Instead, they do the first century equivalent of calling Jesus a legalistic-Pharisee-hater: “Many of them said, ‘He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?’…The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.” (10:20,31)

Jesus gave them evidence. He gave them Scripture. And He did it perfectly because He was God. But they still chose to believe false doctrine over sound doctrine because they were not regenerate: Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” (10:25-26)

Sometimes that’s what’s going on, spiritually, with our friends who follow false teachers. Despite what they say, how many times they’ve walked the aisle, prayed a prayer, or been baptized, or how intense an encounter with the Lord they think they’ve had, they’ve never been genuinely saved.

Jesus definitively says that His sheep – genuinely regenerated Christians – know His voice. They either instinctively know, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, when what they’re being taught is biblical (Jesus’ voice) and when it’s not (the voice of strangers), or they’re willing to learn as someone else teaches them God’s Word. Whether it’s an instant spiritual aversion to false teachers, or a gradual opening of their eyes through the teaching of Scripture, they will not follow the voice of strangers.

I can’t tell you how many women have told me (and I’ve personally experienced the same thing myself), “I was attending this women’s Bible study where they were using a book by _____. I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but I knew something was wrong, so I stopped going. Later, as I learned more and matured in my faith, I realized I had felt uneasy because the author teaches false doctrine.”

If a friend is following the voice of strangers, it could be that she doesn’t know the voice of the Shepherd and needs you to share the gospel with her.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14

People who aren’t saved, even if they appear to be and say that they are, aren’t going to “get it” when it comes to rejecting false teachers and false doctrine in favor of sound biblical doctrine. That’s something that only comes with a regenerated heart.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:12-14

For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 3:6-7

Being unregenerate isn’t always the reason people follow false teachers. Sometimes the reason a friend follows a false teacher is that she has recently become a Christian, is immature in the faith, doesn’t know her Bible well, or is weak in the area of discernment.

When someone is genuinely saved, her life is on a trajectory toward holiness. But that doesn’t mean that God grows every aspect of her spiritual life at the same time or at the same rate. God may be growing your friend in kindness, or purity of speech, or self-control right now, and the “constant practice” of discernment might take a little longer, or not come as easily to her as it did to you. All Christians grow in the same direction, but we don’t all grow in the same time frame or in the same way. And that’s a good thing, because that way there’s always somebody strong to help me in my areas of weakness, and I can help others who are weak in the areas I’m strong in.

Something interesting I’ve discovered as I’ve studied and taught through the Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles is a recurrence of some variation of this statement: “Nevertheless, the people still sacrificed at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.” (2 Chronicles 33:17)

Often, a righteous king came to power on the heels of an evil king. The evil king had introduced all sorts of idolatry into the nation, including building temples for idols and altars on the “high places” where the people sacrificed to false gods. As the righteous king settled into office and began painstakingly ridding the land of all the vestiges and accoutrements of idol worship, the people sometimes continued worshiping on the high places, but would worship God instead of idols. Was this pleasing to God? No. Not only was the place they were worshiping God defiled because it had been used for idol worship, but God had been very clear that the temple was the proper place for worship and sacrifice. However, the fact that the king had not yet been able to remove the high places did not make him an evil king or negate the fact that he was hard at work removing other, sometimes larger, icons of idol worship.

There are “high places” – areas of spiritual weakness – in all of our lives. I’ve got them, and you do too. Are they pleasing to God? No, and we should be working toward finding out what they are and tearing them down. But their existence doesn’t negate the fact that we love the Lord and are striving toward holiness, nor that God is hard at work conforming us to the image of Christ. Just because your friend’s “high place” is following a false teacher doesn’t necessarily mean she doesn’t love the Lord or that He isn’t at work in her life.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

We’re not at war with friends who follow false teachers, so we shouldn’t be fighting with them, trying to “win.” Our enemy is the Enemy – the one who holds lost sinners captive. The deceiver. The tempter. The father of lies.

The next time you get frustrated with a friend who’s following a false teacher…don’t.

Remember that this is a spiritual battle. Lovingly lay out biblical truth as long as she’ll let you. Then, stand down, keep praying, and trust the Holy Spirit to do His good work through His Word.