24 September 2018

The Wolf's "Tell"

by Colin Eakin

In a prior post, we reviewed Christ's warning as He concluded His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:15): "Beware false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." For the climax for His sermon, Jesus underscores the vital need for spiritual discernment, and warns His listeners that their main threat would be wolves dressed up as sheep, seeking to devour the flock. His next statement tips his listeners as to reliable wolf identification (Matt. 7:16-17, 19): "You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit . . . Thus you will recognize them by their fruits."

Successful professional card players strive to hide any indication of the strength or weakness of their hand from their opponents. At the same time, they seek to discern inadvertent signals from those same opponents which might reveal the content of the hands arrayed against them. Such an inadvertent signal is known as a "tell." It is the subtle yet defining tic or characteristic that divulges to the wary and proficient player what cards his or her opponent is holding. The "tell" gives the opponent's hand away. It yields information that tips observant players how to play their hands for optimum success.

As it turns out, Jesus declares that spiritual wolves have their own "tells," particular features in their teaching and ministries that reveal to the discerning believer danger lurking in the guise of a sheep. According to Jesus, if you become skilled at interpreting the fruits of a wolf, you will become expert at their identification. And the stakes could not be higher: the risk of spiritual ruin is at stake. So if it matters to the Good Shepherd to highlight these lupine distinctions at the conclusion of His momentous sermon, it should matter to His followers to remain on the lookout for them (cf. Acts 20:28-30).

So, when is a church is being led by a wolf? What are the typical fruits that will manifest this deception? Here are some wolf "tells" for which to be on the lookout* (one point per item):

  1. Favors sermons on cultural trends and pop psychology over matters of theological orthodoxy (Jude 3).
  2. Structures sermons more for their entertainment value than for their biblical weight (2 Tim. 4:3)
  3. Sermons often feature more quotes from "experts" than Bible verses (2 Pet.1:3-4; 2 Tim. 3:15-17).
  4. When the Bible is quoted, a "favorable" translation (e.g. The Message) and a predictable editing process is employed so as to remove any potential offense (Rev. 22:19; Deut. 4:2).
  5. Sermons are devoid of any messy and culturally disquieting terms such as Satan, spiritual warfare, and the like (Luke 10:18; 22:31; Rev. 2:13; Eph. 6:12).
  6. Believes Jesus taught His disciples how to be truly good (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19).
  7. That the Word of God might do the work of God is a completely alien concept (Jer. 23:29; Isa. 55:11).
  8. Prefers the term "Jesus-followers" to "Christians" (presumably because of an assumed pejorative connotation associated with the latter) (Luke 9:26; Gal. 6:12).
  9. Believes Jesus-followers are to work to preserve the Earth (2 Pet. 3:10).
  10. Has no problem with yoga (1 Cor. 10:20; Ex. 20:3-5).
  11. Denies any enduring plan of God for ethnic Israel (Jer. 31:31-37; Rom. 11:26).
  12. Believes theistic evolution is the best lens by which to interpret God's creation, contrary to the specific words of Jesus (Mark 10:6).
  13. Rejects the concept of penal substitutionary atonement as central to Jesus' mission and to the penitent believer's salvation (Isa. 53:10-11; 2 Cor. 5:21).
  14. Obfuscates the path to salvation (Rom. 10:9-10).
  15. Reveres the writings of ancient and modern mystics and philosophers (Col. 2:8).
  16. Believes Jesus-followers have much to learn from other religions (Deut. 32:17; 1 Cor. 10:20).
  17. Believes what one does for God affects one's standing before Him (Rom. 5:1-2).

  18. Believes the good works of unbelievers are pleasing to God (Isa. 64:6; Prov. 15:8, 29; 28:9).
  19. Believes one can serve Jesus prior to believing the right things about Him (John 6:28-29).
  20. Misconstrues the "abundant life" Jesus came to bring with ideas of "material equality" and defense of "individual rights" (John 10:10; Luke 9:23-25; 12:13-15).
  21. Fails to differentiate between the saved and the lost in any audience (Col. 1:13).
  22. Teaches as if terms such as "condemnation," "born again," "justification," and "propitiation" are antiquated and unhelpful (John 3:3, 18, 36; Rom. 3:24-25; 1 John 2:2).
  23. Avoids any public rebuke of sinful trends in culture (John 7:7).
  24. Underestimates the holiness of God (Lev. 10:1-2; 2 Sam. 6:6-7).
  25. Overestimates the ability of sinners to search for God (Ps. 14:1-3; Rom. 3:11).
  26. Papers over doctrinal differences in the search for ecumenical alliance (2 John 9-11).
  27. Believes the world's response to Jesus is evidence of His importance and credibility (John 7:7; 15:18).
  28. Believes "discoveries" about the world must impact one's understanding of the Bible (i.e. the so-called "God of Two Books" perspective) (Ps. 2:1-4).
  29. When so-called science contradicts a clear biblical statement, inevitably the meaning of the biblical statement is reappraised (Eph. 4:14).
  30. Favors love over truth (1 Pet. 1:22).
  31. Teaches as if the style or manner by which a message is delivered determines the impact of the message (Matt. 13:1-9; Mark 4:26-29).
  32. Thinks secular leadership strategies are both helpful and necessary in order to grow the Church (Matt. 16:19; 1 Cor. 2:1-5).
  33. Insists the message must be contextualized to the audience (Acts 2:9-40).
  34. Thinks grace (not falsehood) is the opposite of truth (Eph. 4:25; Rev. 22:15).
  35. Mistakenly (and routinely) uses the term "justice" when meaning mercy (Isa. 30:18).
  36. Believes Revelation is historical and Genesis isn't (Mark 10:6; Luke 24:27; Rev. 1:3).
  37. Runs in a wolf pack (i.e. references the teaching, endorses the books, and speaks at the conferences of known wolves) (2 Pet. 2:1-3).
  38. Believes the gospel is not only what Christ did for the sinner upon the cross and through His resurrection, but also what the forgiven sinner now does for Christ (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Gal. 1:6-8; 5:4)
Scoring system:

  • 1-6 points: Is that howling in the distance?
  • 7-12 points: Don't leave any food out
  • 13-18 points: Better get some wolf repellent
  • 19-24 points: Time to call animal control hotline
  • Over 25 points: Hmmm, you might not be aware, but there's a wolf jaw clamped around your leg
Dr. Eakin is a sports medicine orthopædic surgeon in the Bay Area and part time teacher at Grace Bible Fellowship Church's Stanford campus ministry. He is the author of God's Glorious Story.

*The aforementioned list of wolf "tells" is in no way exhaustive. Please comment as to others you may have witnessed.


This post was inspired by the blog article "Red lights" posted by Dan Phillips at Pyromaniacs, January 27, 2015. The persistent and pervasive rise of pragmatism in the professing Church today seemed to warrant an update.


hammer185 said...

When a group of men are so adept at the lingo of heretics that those who just know English and the actual meaning of words dont understand what they are saying you are likely dealing with grass is greener on the other side of the fence jealous heretics teaching about heretics while claiming they are not.

Robert said...

So...is this one of those posts that has been sitting around or was this just written? It is quite timely either way as I see Tim Keller sprinkled throughout this. I mean Andy Stanley is low-hanging fruit. I don’t shy away from saying Keller fits many of these and wonder if he has grown tired of the charade based upon his posts lately.

GW said...

I agree with the list, but some of the scripture references don't really support the points. In this spirit I would add another item, REPLACES JESUS AND THE GOSPEL WITH POLITICS (Nehemiah 8:1). But items 1, 3, 14 ...

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