It is far too easy to accuse “Bible Teachers” of being heretics, unsound, ungodly, and maybe not even true believers. Google any big name, and you will find blogs and discernment ministry websites that will blast a person, and others that will defend that same person. As interesting as it is to read other’s opinions, let’s not let those opinions alone help us to form our judgements. Especially when we are judging fellow siblings in Christ (as far as we can know).
I have been on varying sides of these issues through the years, and finally realized that I needed to develop my own guidelines for helping me to discern whether someone is a Bible teacher that I want to listen to or read. It is not a fail-proof guideline, that would be impossible because our own experiences, biases, pet-doctrines, backgrounds, and denominational preferences can sometimes create roadblocks to our discernment.
The reason this issue is so important to me, is that as a teacher of God’s Word myself, and an avid resource junkie who reviews quite a few things out there that Christian women are reading, I realized that in order to give good guidance as to what I might or might not recommend requires that I be diligent and considerate. The only way I can do that is to read that author or teacher myself, in context. Watching a short video clip or an excerpt from one book is not enough for me, because too often those are removed from context and do not represent the whole of what that teacher believes. Every single speaker, my pastor and yours included, makes these kinds of errors by saying something poorly. If we take that one statement, pull it aside, put the recording online, and say that this reveals his heretical bent…well, yikes, this could happen to me! And to you! The truth is that these speakers/authors might occasionally speak an error or word something in a way that raises red flags in others. It has happened to all of us. How terrible if we are tossed aside by the body of Christ for being human.
Having said all that - here is what I see as the main thing to look for. It is the basis for considering whether someone might actually have some good things to teach us, even if we don’t prefer their denomination, or something they said that we didn’t quite understand or agree with and might spin differently, or even if they dress funny, speak with a thick accent, or are from a certain part of the country we don’t prefer (yes, I have heard women tell me all of these reasons for disregarding certain teachers). Ladies, let’s not forget what our Message is:
The Gospel. If a teacher can articulate the clear Gospel, I will listen. I might not like every single thing they say, but if the Gospel is clear, I’m going to give her a listen and be gracious in those areas where I might disagree. I cannot think of a single Bible teacher I can honestly say I personally have agreed with 100% of the time. Not the big names, not the lesser known names, not the Biblical Counselors I use as resources in my counseling. But if the Gospel is clear, I am listening, asking God to grow my discernment, filtering through Truth rather than what someone else has said about her or my own biases and preferences. He is faithful to do that! If I am leading one of their Bible Studies, and there is something I feel should be articulated differently, I teach that to the class and talk about how to discern these things in what they are reading. It has been most beneficial to my ministry, and I see the fruit of growing discernment among the women I serve. And in myself.
If a teacher articulates any kind of false Gospel, I am not interested in reading their stuff or listening. A false Gospel is not a good starting point for anyone’s ministry. Not interested. And yes, there are some popular big name people right now who fall in to this category. They may not be the ones you are thinking as you read this. If you want to know, go read their own words (or listen to a teaching, in its ENTIRETY, in context), and see what God reveals. Don’t just rely on opinions of others….and quote them only….let’s be diligent about giving advice based on what we ourselves have discerned, seen, heard, and read.
I realize this takes time. I get so many questions about resources, so I set aside a certain amount of my ministry time for reading, researching, and making sure I give advice based on being informed first-hand. It’s a standard that is important to me because the last thing I ever want to do is lead women astray! And a false teacher with a false Gospel will do just that. But a teacher with a clear Gospel (but some different spins on the peripheral doctrines that any number of us won’t agree about this side of heaven,) will only lead us astray if she is not rightly dividing God’s Word on the essentials. The rest of her teaching can teach us to be even more discerning, seek God’s Word on the subject, and remember that only God’s Word is 100% trustworthy. (If a teacher leans heavily towards error, I don’t recommend her, but I want to give SPECIFIC reasons why to whoever is asking.)
When determining the appropriateness of a sister or brother in Christ’s teachings, let’s be diligent. Let’s be gracious. Let’s remember that most of us have changed our minds over any number of doctrinal points over the years, and not all of us will ever agree. I think of one very big name preacher several years ago who made a public apology about his doctrinal teachings on something, because God had changed his heart since he taught it. That is how we should all be - willing to be wrong, willing to let others be wrong, as long as it is not the Gospel itself that they are getting wrong.
And, be gracious to one another. Don’t fall in to a trap of judging someone who prefers a teacher you don’t. Never assume that when you disagree with someone that you are the one automatically right. It is just as possible that you are wrong. Be teachable - even though this can be hard for us! Iron sharpens iron, so let’s be teachable, engage in healthy grace-filled discussion, and don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Especially when that baby is your sister in Christ. Can we agree to remain respectful and appreciative of one another even when we disagree on anything other than the clear, one, true Gospel? I think we can!
What a great privilege to walk through this life with our gracious Savior and his daughters and sons who desire to become more like Him!
2 Timothy 2:15 ~ Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. ESV