1. They stir doctrine to the surface and compel the church to obey Jude 1:3.
Each week our church recites the Apostles' Creed, and to counter the sense that this is just pointless doctrine or dry liturgy, I always introduce our recitation with a contemporary example or culturally relevant application, giving a reason for our affirming the credal "rule of thumb." Last week, I held up a couple of the heterodox teachings of a local cult group, showing how the creed helps us measure these teachings and find them lacking. Dogma is practical, necessary, and false teachers get us sorting that out.
2. They provoke a show of hands.
Thanks to the inevitable picking of sides, we get to see who aligns with heterodox views and who doesn't.
3. They help us sort out who is willing to trade truth for the zeitgeist.
When the inevitable mudslinging occurs, we get to see who's more concerned with the truth, popular acceptance be danged, and who thinks the church's chief concern on doctrinal matters ought to be better appealing to the lost or to disaffected, doubting evangelicals. We're to be merciful to the naive and doubting, not malleable to them.
4. They help us discover who's really talking and who's really sniping.
I think, in fact, we are now discovering in the current Bell-brouhaha who the real flippant dismissers and sideline carpers are, and it's not the guys writing long, detailed reviews. If you want to see a whole mess of pots yelling "black!" at kettles, check out the comments on some of the emergent or Christian "satire" blogs. A whole lot of insults for Piper, DeYoung, Taylor, et.al., a lot of handwringing about perceived "tone," and very little, if any, serious engagement with the issues involved. While those mean ol' YRR bullies are posting on theology, interacting with the teachings and texts, citing historical examples, and flat-out doin' work, the defenders are just spending a lot of time doing what they claim to decry: insulting and complaining.
5. By identifying themselves, even if unwittingly, as outside orthodoxy, they help make the church stronger.
All of these implications together may affect a pruning of the church, but the strength of the church is not in numbers, but the truth.
Thank you, Jared. I couldn't agree more.
Excellent points. The last line in particular stands out: "The strength of the church is not in numbers, but the truth." Let us not forfeit the source of our strength - let us not rest our heads in the laps of the world's Delilahs.
Indeed, the appearance of false teachers does not catch God off guard any more than earthquakes or tsunamis or cancer or famine or persecution catch God off guard. He permits all of these things in order that his people may grow in maturity and unity.
And on a lighter note, though I know the opposite of heterodox is orthodox, it doesn't change the twelve year old within me that snickers at the other possibility.
Thanks for this bro. I agree very much with what's written here. Given allthe work that DeYoung did reviewing Bell's book, would you still consider reading it to form your own conclusions or is that supporting his cause? I feel reading it would give me credibility in speaking with those who might side with Bell and call 'foul' when they hear i have not read for myself. I think this is important enough that we need to engage others on (makes me think of Davinci Code almost) and i want to do away with silly arguments from the beginning. Thougts?
I likely will read it this year. It is not high on my priority list, however.
Jared. I wanted to offer a few thoughts on each point...
1. Totally agree.
2. I'm not sure we should be too concerned about tagging people as in or out. It's a fine line as we certainly have a precedent in the epistles for exposing error, but we are also reminded by Jesus that judgment isn't our job. While I want to help folks stick to orthodoxy, love one another and love your enemies sort of covers all of the bases for me.
3. I agree in principle, but would probably disagree with the application. I think a lot of the tension happens because cultural contexts have impacted all of us and continue to impact all of us. Oftentimes our fights are more rooted in one side choosing a new context over an old context, even if both are choosing a context. In a sense, both sides do the same thing.
4. I think all of the blog posts going back and forth all boil down to whether or not we're trying to help one another follow Jesus better. We can find examples of both sides doing a lousy job.
5. I'd suggest there's more to it. We can't separate spirit and truth, and by the same token, we can't separate speaking the truth in love. Truth by itself doesn't do a whole lot without God's infectious love and his animating Spirit. The quest for truth alone will leave us hollow and disillusioned, but finding truth amidst the personal love and Spirit of God will change us forever.
Ed, good points. Allow me a brief response.
2. Figuring out who's in and who's out is not about judgmentalism or condemnation. How can we walk alongside someone in error and lovingly correct them if we do not know they are in error? Certainly there are myriad ways of discovering someone's doctrine is heterodox, but this is one of them.
3. I am not sure what you mean about "choosing a new context." I am talking about the idea, for instance, that universalism posits a more loving God to a lost world. This has been said many times in different ways in the current debate, and appears to be the main point of Bell's book itself.
4. Agreed that we can all do a better job and no side has a monopoly on awfulness. But looking at where the current debate stands now, I am calling it as I see it.
5. I believe Jesus is the truth. I hope you will read a line or two in a blog post in the spirit with which it was written, assume the best regarding what I didn't say, and know from the body of my work that I am not an advocate of lovelessness.
Thanks for having such an insightful blog. You don't hear many positives about the subject of false teachers, but you have brought many to the surface. Your optimism encourages me to not let false teachers hurt my joy.
Hey Gabe, if you need more material to giggle about, ponder that those of us who attend Greek churches refer to the Apostles' Creed as the "homo-ousios."
That's just an old way of saying that we agree on it uniformly and publicly, but it should still provide you with some amusement. For the record, the Latin that gives us "CON-fess" (to agree or say together) really means the same thing.
Thanks for your response Jared. You've highlighted a few places where I should clarify...
2. The basic issue is, "Who gets to define what an error is?" Christianity is quite diverse, and I'm hesitant to presume that someone is "out" unless there are some flat out denials of key doctrines found in something like the Apostles Creed. Even so, I'm more likely to find out where someone has it right and encourage that person in a more orthodox question. If I flag someone out of bounds and make a big deal about it, I'm not so sure that person will want to come over to my side. I agree that we need to help people still to Christian orthodoxy, but I don't think calling attention to error is as effective as we think.
3. I'm not too worried about Bell's book to be honest, and guys with a lot more theological training than my MDiv (like Dr. Mouw) are convinced that Bell's not a universalist. But anyway, my bigger point is truth vs. zeitgeist doesn't really fly as an either/or distinction. Reformed theology took shape during a particular age and it naturally adopted some aspects of its time--some good, some bad (see Scot McKnight's forward to my book Coffeehouse Theology for a bit more on that). The matter for me is whether we have uncritically accepted parts of the age which are not compatible with Christianity. It's impossible to put a zeitgeist filter on Christianity. If someone is giving in too much to culture, we have a problem. But to think we have the truth of the faith vs. a bunch of emerging folks who dig syncretism overlooks the truth that all missionaries know--we learn and embody the truth in a context, and we ignore that context at our peril.
4. Well said.
5. Perhaps I should rephrase my point then. While I wasn't accusing you of lovelessness, I still maintain that the statement, "the strength of the church is the truth" is incomplete and actually quite problematic--as in, I would be an atheist today if I thought that's what Christianity is founded on. I'm glad to hear that your views are more nuanced than that.
OK, I'm terribly sorry for writing so much. I just wanted to clarify a bit. I really do appreciate the core idea that debates over doctrine help us figure out our faith and really, all of my points are quite small compared to the main points on which we agree. Blessings to you and your writing/blogging!
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