27 January 2015

Red lights

by Dan Phillips

It occurred to me that many might be served if we offered warning-signs of (at worst) false or (at best) unreliable teachers. Here are a number of such indicators. Some are instantly obvious; others only over the passage of time (cf. 1 Tim. 5:24).

Any one of these should signal alarm. Found all together in the same person, trainwreck is assured.
  1. He seems more energized about "gray areas" and supposed lacunae in the Bible than he is about the crystal-clear fundamentals (contrast 1 Cor. 15:1ff.).
  2. He casts doubt on the existence of crystal-clear fundamentals, or makes much of their putatively subjective, varied nature (1 Tim. 6:3-5).
  3. He seems to sow many seeds of doubt about Biblical teaching, while at the same time sowing no such seeds about his own (Col. 2:18; 1 Tim. 1:4).
  4. He's always running after the Cool Kidz' position or concern of the day (Gal. 1:10).
  5. The Gospel is, at best, an afterthought (contra 1 Cor. 1:17).
  6. The designed effect of his presentations is that people come away thinking a lot about him, and little about the text and the God who is seen through the text (Gal. 4:17). Relatedly...
  7. Any hopes that saints can know truth certainly for themselves (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1) are buried under assertions or implications that he knows truth for them.
  8. He talks about things God says to him personally that He doesn't say to anyone else (Col. 2:18, Gk).
  9. "What verse are we on?" is usually hard to answer (Isa. 8:20).
  10. He's very excited about brand-new, bleeding-edge movements that anyone with a whiff of historical sense can see as failed diversions from the 1920s (cf. Jude 4, 17-19).
  11. His chest-pounding rhetoric quickly collapses into squealing victimhood under the least solid criticism (1 Cor. 4:19).
  12. He's always the hero of his personal stories (contra 2 Cor. 4:5).
  13. He often hides behind paper-thin clichés (Col. 2:21-22).
  14. His dependence on paper-thin clichés suggests that he keeps to a very small circle, one closely resembling an echo-chamber (2 Cor. 10:12b).
  15. He is rightly best known for something other than his clear, forceful, passionate, focused declaration of the Gospel and Word of God (contra 2 Cor. 8:18).
  16. He gives reason to suspect that it's more important to him to amaze, amuse and impress, to his own glory, than to reprove, rebuke and exhort by preaching God's word to God's glory (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
  17. It would not affect much of his preaching if Christ had not been raised (contra 1 Cor. 2:2; 15:14).
  18. Had a meteoric rise to prominence while still quite young, without much dues-paying and/or apprenticeship to a faithful man or men... and his name doesn't rhyme with "Marles Murgeon" (1 Tim. 3:6).
  19. People who hate God and God's law really like him and his preaching (cf. Luke 6:26).
  20. Doesn't have much time for nobodies who can't do anything for him (Mark 10:43).
  21. The depth of his theological reading seems to go back about five years, if that (cf. Acts 17:21).
  22. He's pretty much the issue. Not the Gospel, not the Word; not the uncomfortable edges that any faithful preacher of the Word would preach. Him (contra 2 Cor. 4:5).
  23. He makes a big deal of how God is bigger than the Bible. Metaphysically, the point is so obvious as not to need saying; so usually when someone makes a big point of it, "bigger than the Bible" is code for "other than what the Bible says" (Deut. 4:12; Isa. 8:20). Similarly:...
  24. He makes a big deal of how we don't worship book. Again, the point is so obvious and undisputed as not to need saying. Also often code for "need not worship according to this book" (Leviticus 10:1ff.).

(This list may well grow, as Phillips' Axioms has.)

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Robert said...

Great list. I'd say number 19 (he is the issue) fuels most of it...this is manifested most clearly in the way the apologists for these people speak about them. It's obvious they don't understand the Gospel at that point because the Gospel speaks to how ALL of humanity is fallen and Jesus is our perfection. We have to look to and cling to Him at all times and not ourselves or any other man.

FX Turk said...

Great Post. I'm going to visit this blog more often.

DJP said...


I also have books.

Unknown said...

And Frank makes a great Captain America shield!

Unknown said...

Amen. Thank you. Preach it.

Benjamin said...

#18 had me really worried until the end. Guess I can still listen to the Rev. Dr. Quarles Glurgeon after all. Whew.

Unknown said...

I could point out which one of these was my favorite...but I think my proper response is that pastors who do not exhibit flashing red lights actually do exist. And praise the Lord that this is true!

Zach Putthoff said...

Excellent! Thank you, Dan!

AJM said...

Great post as usual.
I hope you will grow this list.
Great trouble shooting guide.
Will add to "How to recognize you are about to go through refocus to transition to transformation."
Have heard 23 & 24 from pulpit.
Have heard #23 & #24 in a church.
It leads to so many of the others.

DJP said...

Hearing a pastor say "God is bigger than the Bible" is like hearing a married man say very emphatically, "You know, a man can be friends with women other than his wife." Yeah, uh huh, okay, "friends"... and you're making a big point of this because...?

Bike Bubba said...

I have left six churches "for cause" in my life--as opposed to "because I was moving"--and the unifying factor overall was that in critical junctures, it became very clear that the leadership (pastors usually, sometimes the deacons, too) were not interested in obeying the Bible, but were rather running someone else's system.

It could be charismatic, or it could be following a megachurch's example, but all in all, that's the unifying theme for me.

Bill O'Neill said...

#9 takes me back to sermons of Adrian Rogers when he'd exclaim, "Stand on a verse!"

Kurt said...

Echo chamber? Squealing victimhood? Those made me laugh out loud at work.

Unknown said...

I suspect that compiling and researching this list took time and effort on your part. For that and for the list itself, I want to thank you. This is a rich resource. I hope it gets wide circulation. More than that, I will be using it to help me assess my own heart, motives, attitudes and actions. Thank you.

AJM said...

Yeah, not the Bible but someone elses system. Whether pragmatism or the mystical, esoteric research driven systems it is stilll not the Bible.

Travis said...

Just curious, Bike, what made you join those churches in the first place?

AJM said...

As we avoid the rainer on your stetzer as we leave the barna (hats being important to y'all down there in the Republic of Texas)
Maybe you could add one about the mystical esoteric research we need for church growth and health that was left out of Scripture.

The Predestined Blog said...

Serious question - Would you say this applies to N.T. Wright as well?

Matt Privett said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent. Thanks, Dan.

trogdor said...

His picture is on the front cover of most of his books.

You have to pay for his 'best' stuff, like revelations from heaven or hearing a big-name heretic duck basic theology questions. Some guys are like WWF - we'll give you RAW/sermons for free, but you have to pay for WrestleMania/our best stuff.

By the way, autocorrect capitalizes the M in WrestleMania.

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Unknown said...

Great post.

Wait, it's supposed to be useful, you say? I've been accused of "bibliolatry" for believing in inerrancy, which reminds me of #24. I think there can be a serious imbalance in certain positions, such as extreme forms of KJV Onlyism, but I don't think it's possible to have too much reverence for the Word of God.

Pastor Greg Lawhorn said...

A subpoint for number 6: "A secondary effect of his presentations is that people come away thinking a lot about themselves, and little about the text and the God who is seen through the text."

Unknown said...

Greg, that reminds me that I once had an atheist friend tell me they liked listening to sermons by Andy Stanley because he taught how you can live a better life whether or not you're a Christian. Downright mindboggling, and a real betrayal to those who need to know their destitute state apart from repentance and faith in Christ. And a betrayal of the Lord too.

Zac Dredge said...

I like the last one. I'm not referring to my own pastor when I say this, but I've heard way too many sermons on how 'anything can be worship.' Ignoring the death's of Aaron's two firstborn sons seems pretty foolish to me. They had the right intentions but did the wrong thing, and died for it.
Of course worship goes beyond musical worship alone; echoing one of your statements I would say this is abundantly obvious.

I even agree with the heart of what this message actually means, but I find it frustrating when pastors make irresponsible blanket statements without considering the ramification if a sheep were to to follow them and end up leaping straight into a ravine.
Are our talents God-given? Yes. Should we use them in way that glorifies God? Seems like a good idea. Does that mean anything we do with our talents is responsible and beneficial to God's Kingdom? Nope.
I could be a spectacular sportsman, but merely playing well wouldn't honour God if I'm also showing a lack of respect for my team mates or opponents; bad sportsmanship might actually mean I'm a bad sportsman, regardless of competitive results. Using your gift gratuitously couldn't be further from worship. It's the proper acknowledgement and gratitude for these gifts that allow them to become acts of worship rather than the mere practice.

I'd also add to this list someone who simply misquotes Scripture, or doesn't properly consider the context.
Also, as much as some neglect the Gospel I find myself noticing more often the OT being an afterthought. Some even suggest that because the New Covenant is superior we don't need to understand the Old Covenant, or that the Law is invalid rather than improved upon. This sort of attitude is my biggest pet hate in a 'teacher.' So, point being a 'whole Bible understanding' is needed, not any combination of either/or.
Another one noting is 'more concerned about entertaining than actually teaching.' For example, so many pastors feel pressured into being humorous, even if they simply lack this quality.

One thing I'd like to hear an opinion on rather than being adamant about is pastor's bringing their wife into conversation. My pastor, as much as he's not guilty of anything un/sub-Biblical, has this tendency to bring his latest story from his marriage into the limelight, often with little relevance. On one hand I can understand if you're actually preaching on marriage, or a broader topic of relationships, but I just feel like this as a habit seems a bit of a nuisance. There's also the question of how much is reasonable to share in such a context or similar instances?
I guess my point is that I think staying on topic matters. If something isn't deliberately being used as a poignant analogy there's no need to bring it up.

Ryan said...

#25: She... well, yeah.

bloggerjim said...

Point for point, this listening and accompanying Scripture hits the personage and ministry of the late Jim Jones of Peoples Temple.

The out-of-print book, Six Years With God written by apparently-murdered-Jeannie Mills, a former member of the organization and who, with her husband and a couple of her children, left the organization before its departure to Jonestown in Guyana, writes a compelling narrative that displays virtually all--if not actually all--of these Scriptural points.

It was supposed that the murderer of Mills and her husband et al, was at the hand of a member of her own family. However, the suspected family member apparently was in Japan, where he moved after the Jonestown mass, forced suicide.

The name Jeannie Mills is apparently a pseudonym.