Search

Search this blog


We’ve been working through 2 Timothy on Sunday evenings. Last week I preached from 2 Timothy 3:6-9. It’s a passage–like many in the pastoral epistles–that deals with false teaching. Paul warns against the folly of false teaching (and against the folly of falling for it).

Which leads to the question: what is false teaching and how do we spot it?

Obviously, there is no foolproof scheme for identifying false teaching. Biblical discernment takes years of prayer, preaching, and practice. But there are certain questions that may be help us sift the good from the bad. Here are 15 discernment diagnostic questions I suggested to my congregation.

1. Does the teaching sound strange? This is not fool proof, of course--predestination may sound strange at first. But sound teaching should make biblical sense for those who have read through the Bible every year, go to church every Sunday, and have gone to Sunday school for decades. As an initial question, the longtime Christian should wonder “Why have I never heard anything like this before?”

2. Does it sound too good to be true? Not in the next life, mind you, but in this life. Promises of never failing material well being or relational ease or emotional tranquility are not to be trusted.

3. Does it involve trinkets or relics or holy water? Christianity entails some mystery, no magic.

4. Does it involve prophetic words? Christians may define prophecy differently. I’m not thinking here of a word fitly spoken, or powerful preaching, or wise counsel. I’m talking about “the Lord told me” sort of communication that tell other people what to do and cannot be tested or sifted according to Scripture.

5. Do angels or aliens or seed money play a major role in the teaching? Enough said.

6. Does it feature prominently the word “code”? Bible Code, DaVinci Code, Omega Code. Just stay away.

7. Does the teaching involve secrets? This was the appeal of Gnosticism. It purported to lead the initiate into the realm of secret knowledge. This is what makes me nervous about Masons, Mormons, and even many fraternities and sororities. Unless national security is involved, be wary of groups that are held together by tightly held secrets. Books with “secret” in the title are usually suspect too (Lesslie Newbigin’s The Open Secret being the exception that proves the rule).

8. Does it rely on a cartoon view of God? False teaching tends to cast God as either as a autocratic strongman or a friendly face passing out beads at Woodstock? By contrast, the God of the Bible shines forth with (to use Jonathan Edwards’ phrase) a host of diverse excellencies.

9. Does the teaching use big themes to negate specific verses? We should always interpret Scripture with Scripture, but we must not allow amorphous themes like love or justice or grace to flatten the contours of Scripture.

10. Does it promote an unmediated approach to spirituality? Mysticism, in its technical sense, can be defined as an approach to God apart from mediation. False spirituality tries to foster intimacy with God that does not go through the mediated revelation of Scripture and does not lead one to the mediation of Christ on the cross.

11. Does the false teaching traffic in under-defined terms and slogans? Liberalism starts with an inattention to words. It is the triumph of orthodoxy to be careful with language.

12. Does the teaching neglect the need for repentance? Beware the feel good invitation for everyone to come to the wide open arms. The coming of the Kingdom is not good news for sinners. It is good news for sinners who repent.

13. Does the false teaching or teacher seem obsessed about one person, one doctrine, or one idea? An unsolicited exposé running into the hundreds of pages likely reveals more about the author than the subject.

14. Does it result in an unbalanced presentation of the truth? True Christianity walks the tight rope between complementary biblical truths--truth and grace, Christ as God and man, salvation by faith alone and the necessity of the obedience of the Christian. It was usually the heretics who were guilty of resolving biblical tensions in ways that were too neat and tidy.

15. Does the teaching fit with the Bible’s story line of sin and salvation? How can a holy God dwell in the midst of an unholy people? If the teaching doesn’t make sense as a plot line in that story, I’m suspicious.

Mature Christians do not cast a critical eye on everyone and everything a hair’s breadth different from them. But they are discerning, and they are careful. Guard your heart. Guard your home. Guard the good deposit.


View Comments

Comments:


12 thoughts on “15 Discernment Diagnostics”

  1. And can I add to Kevins list discern Gods word through the Lens of Jesus Christ who said he was “I am”… when you look at me you are seeing the Father, the Father and I are one. That way you avoid nearly all the concerns Kevin raises.

  2. Joshua says:

    This is great! All it takes is simply immersing yourself in the word of God. The Spirit leads us into all truth through the scriptures. We have to allow ourselves to be transformed and pierced by the living and active word sharper than any double-edged sword.

  3. Przebojowo! Krótko mimo to konkretnie: -)

  4. neville briggs says:

    It looks like Mr DeYoung’s analysis is not directly related to the reference that he cited.
    The passage he cited is only a selected part of an insight that the apostle gives in which the apostle warns not of false teaching specifically but of false teachers . It is the characteristics of the teachers that Paul focuses on here.
    “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, swollen with conceit are among the traits brought out here, also Paul states that they are of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, and their folly will become plain to everyone ”

    Perhaps we don’t have to analyse too deeply if the folly becomes plain, no matter what fancy “spiritual” pronouncements the wolves come out with while trying to disguise themselves as sheep.

  5. Jim Grove says:

    Perhaps this could even be summed up in one statement? If it does not point to the complete supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, it is a false teaching.

  6. bondservant says:

    List is good. But #1 is problematic specifically because what we’ve heard every Sunday for our entire lives often turns out to be slightly different than the truth. It’s hard to discern man’s traditions, which can include a rejection of what our parents taught us, what our friends believe, what religious leaders have preached on, even the way it’s been done for even centuries, from the truth of God.

  7. bondservant says:

    Some of what I believe to be very biblical now I would have rejected 20 years ago.

  8. Simon says:

    The author is Reformed so it is completely understandable that he rejects holy water and relics. However, I would just point out that the disenchanted worldview ushered in at the Reformation and particularly by Calvin is simply not the worldview of the scriptures. So was it magic when Moses lifted up the bronze snake to save his people? Was it magic when the mere touch of Elisha’s corpse resuscitated a dead man? Similarly, the Reformed disenchantment of the Eucharist serve as yet another example of the secularisation of Christianity inherent in The Reformed worldview. The author speaks against an unmediated Christianity above yet rejects the created world itself as a means of mediating God’s grace.

  9. DeYoung asks, “Does the teaching sound strange? This is not fool proof, of course—predestination may sound strange at first. . . . As an initial question, the longtime Christian should wonder ‘Why have I never heard anything like this before?’ ‘

    Shouldn’t the first Reformational generation to hear the message of what is now known as Calvinism have asked this very same question? Or better yet, shouldn’t Augustine’s contemporaries have asked it? After all, Calvinistic-type election wasn’t taught before Augustine. I’m guessing this is because it’s not found in the Bible.

  10. Martin says:

    I would like to add one … anytime a media preacher asks his listeners to pay by credit card!

    Regarding “amorphous themes like love or justice or grace to flatten the contours of Scripture”, I disagree. They UNITE all of Scripture and are lens through which we understand and find clarity regarding other scriptural references.

  11. Greg King says:

    Thank you for the “red flags” to alert one’s suspicions. You explain that each item is not conclusive or the list exhaustive. It is a most helpful review.

  12. @Simon: You said, “The author is Reformed so it is completely understandable that he rejects holy water and relics.”

    One doesn’t have to be Reformed to reject those things. One merely has to be /biblical/ (see especially 1Cor. 4:6; 2Tim. 3:16-17; 2Pet. 1:3-4).

    [[However, I would just point out that the disenchanted worldview ushered in at the Reformation and particularly by Calvin is simply not the worldview of the scriptures.]]

    I too am /not/ a Calvinist – but that doesn’t mean he or his fellow Reformers were wrong about everything. The label “Reformed” has become equivalent to “Calvinist,” so I prefer to call myself “Reformational,” because I hold the shared principles and values of the Reformers collectively, rather than what Calvin taught uniquely.

    [[So was it magic when Moses lifted up the bronze snake to save his people? Was it magic when the mere touch of Elisha’s corpse resuscitated a dead man?]]

    Those were occasioned demonstrations of divine power. The accounts of those events are /not prescriptive/, however. Nor do they describe what was the normal experience of God’s people.

    This will sound strange at first, but I liken the biblical Canon to going to the bathroom on TV: you rarely see it depicted or even mentioned (unless it’s for comedic purposes), because most of the time on TV we’re being given the more dramatic, pivotal moments in characters’ lives, /not/ their mundane, universally human activities.

    Same goes for the Bible: I take its historical accounts as absolute truth, and yes, there are Christian life-principles to be found in the narratives. **However: (a) the didactic portions of Scripture are in some ways more important because they make explicit what the narratives only imply; and (b) the narratives don’t show us the ordinary day-to-day living of God’s people.

    Ergo, the examples you cite are /not/ to be expected as the norm for believers; nor do the didactic sections of the Bible ever instruct us to seek such manifestations.

    [[Similarly, the Reformed disenchantment of the Eucharist serve as yet another example of the secularisation of Christianity inherent in The Reformed worldview.]]

    No, it shows dependency on the written Word of God. Not only does the Bible /not/ teach the Roman view of the communion – it actually sets down doctrines that are /at odds with/ the Roman view. In other words, the latter isn’t merely extrabiblical; it’s /anti/biblical.

    [[The author speaks against an unmediated Christianity above yet rejects the created world itself as a means of mediating God’s grace.]]

    This sentence makes no sense: if the author favours “an unmediated Christianity,” then /of course/ he’s going to reject mediation via the created order – because he favours NONmediation (by things /other than/ those explicitly set forth in Scripture).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Search this blog


About


Kevin DeYoung photo

Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

Kevin DeYoung's Books