How to tell a wolf or hireling from a shepherd of the sheep

By Mike Ratliff 15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Matthew 7:15-18 (NASB)  Since God put me into this ministry back in 2006 the tragedy of the growing apostasy in the visible church seems to have only gotten worse. In discussions with friends about this some have lamented that at times it seems that there is no one who can be trusted anymore. My own perspective is that, yes, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to trust the fruit of those who minister for money or whose livelihood depended upon popularity. This is really nothing new. Our Lord, in

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‘The Shack’ & the missing art of evangelical discernment

Al Mohler: The publishing world sees very few books reach blockbuster status, but William Paul Young’s “The Shack” has now exceeded even that. The book, originally self-published by Young and two friends, has now sold more than 10 million copies and has been translated into over thirty languages. It is now one of the best-selling paperback books of all time, and its readers are enthusiastic. According to Young, the book was originally written for his own children. In essence, it can be described as a narrative theodicy — an attempt to answer the question of evil and the character of God by means of a story. In this story, the main character is grieving the brutal kidnapping and murder of his 7-year-old daughter when he receives what turns out to be a summons from God to meet him in the very shack where the man’s daughter had been murdered. In the shack, “Mack” meets the divine Trinity as “Papa,” an

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What is false teaching and how do we spot it?

Kevin DeYoung: 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,

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How to identify false teachers

Denny Burk: The apostle Paul wrote to Titus that pastors must not only preach faithfully but also “refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). The idea is very simple. Pastoral ministry is not merely a building up, but also a tearing down. As Paul would say elsewhere, it involves tearing down every speculation and lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5). To fail to do this is ministerial malpractice and harmful to God’s people. Given this obligation, it becomes all the more imperative to be able to identify false teachers when they emerge. Sometimes false teaching originates from outside of the church. Sometimes such teaching originates from within. The New Testament teaches that a more rigorous response is required when it arises within. Thus faithful pastors must learn how to identify and deal with false teachers. But how do we do that? For the next two blog posts, I want to address each half of that

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Not all Cessationists are of MacArthur’s spirit

Important post from Sam Storms: Most are aware of the Strange Fire conference currently underway at John MacArthur’s church in California. It is specifically designed to argue that charismatics, broadly conceived, are guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Yes, you read that correctly. Today, my friend Michael Patton wrote an excellent article that can be read at the blog for Parchment and Pen (www.reclaimingthemind.org). Michael Brown also made an appeal to MacArthur on the Charisma News website. Although I’m tempted to throw in my ten cent’s worth, I defer to J. I. Packer. J. I. Packer is not your typical cessationist. That he is a cessationist is beyond question. But the wise, gentle, biblical, and loving way in which he responds to those in the charismatic movement is a model of Christian maturity and depth of character. In one place Packer responds to those who are offended by charismatic phenomena by pointing out that “we are very apt to respond

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Sam Storms’ suggestions for Charismatic progress

Charismatic Renewal: 10 Suggestions for the Way Forward In the previous post I looked at 10 strengths and weaknesses of charismatic renewal. If the charismatic renewal is not only to thrive in the days ahead but also expand its influence in the broader evangelical world, several things must occur. Included among these, in no particular order, are: (1) Charismatics must return to a robust view of the gospel and how it functions to shape all of life and belief. (2) There is a great need in charismatic circles for a more explicitly Christological center to theology and ministry. In other words, without diminishing their emphasis on the Holy Spirit, charismatics must elevate their focus on Jesus Christ: his life, death, resurrection, and exaltation. In a sense, Pneumatology must be subservient to Christology. (3) Charismatics are notoriously weak when it comes to ecclesiology. This is seen in: a) the tendency to embrace structures of local church leadership that are alien to the NT pattern; b)

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7 Traits of False Teachers

“There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.” (2 Peter 2:1) Colin Smith writes: There are no “ifs, ands, or buts” in Peter’s words. It’s a clear and definite statement. There were false prophets among the people (of Israel in the Old Testament). That’s a matter of history. False prophets were a constant problem in the Old Testament, and those who falsely claimed to be prophets of God were to be stoned. The people rarely had the will to deal with them, so they multiplied, causing disaster to the spiritual life of God’s people. In the same way Peter says, “There will be false teachers among you.” Notice the words “among you.” Peter is writing to the church and says, “There will be false prophets among you.” So he is not talking about New Age people on television. He is talking about people in the local church, members of a local congregation. There is no such thing as

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Jellyfish Christianity

Tim Challies: Some words are written down and are here for a day and then gone. Other words are so pointed, so perfect, that they stand for many years. J.C. Ryle is a man who wrote many books and pamphlets and sermons that are as powerful and relevant today as they were in the 19th century. His description of jellyfish Christianity could as easily have been written here in the 21st century. “[Dislike of dogma] is an epidemic which is just now doing great harm, and specially among young people. It produces what I must venture to call a “jelly-fish” Christianity in the land: that is, a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power. A jelly-fish is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little, delicate, transparent umbrella. Yet the same jelly-fish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defence, or self-preservation. Alas! It is a vivid

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Nuance Is Necessary

Brilliant from Kevin DeYoung: Christians must be careful thinkers, especially those who teach other Christians how to think. Very few heresies were the result of self-understood snakes sneaking into the church. Most doctrinal mistakes, of which “heresy” is only the most serious category, come from well meaning people intent on safeguarding an important element of the faith. Arianism and Docetism were two of the church’s first and deadliest heresies. And yet, both were attempts to preserve the truth. Arianism wanted to defend the majesty of God. So Arius stopped short of affirming the full deity of Christ. Surely the glory of God would be compromised if we make the human Son equal with the divine Father. Docetists saw the problem moving in the opposite direction. They too wanted to defend the perfection of God. So they refused to affirm the full humanity of Christ. Surely the Son must only appear to be human. How else can we protect the full

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Jesus and Religion (Take 2)

. . I like what’s behind this message and what perhaps motivated Jefferson Bethke to publish it. But it is a mixture of good and bad. At first I applauded the desire to distance Jesus from made made self-righteous religion and thus preserve the gospel. But a closer look reveals some inaccurate generalising rhetoric that is plainly untrue and unhelpful. I’m grateful to Jared Wilson and Kevin DeYoung for their discerning and irenic critiques. I encourage you to read both articles. Here’s Kevin’s conclusion : I know I’ve typed a bunch of words about a You Tube video that no one may be talking about in a month. But, as I said at the beginning, there is so much helpful in this poem mixed with so much unhelpful—and all of it so common—that I felt it worth the effort to examine the theology in detail. The strengths in this poem are the strengths I see in many young Christians—a passionate faith, a focus on

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When God’s Will Isn’t Clear

Wonderfully helpful, from John Bloom: Most of the decisions you will make today aren’t explicitly addressed in the Bible. Questions like, should I eat out today? What should I wear? Should I respond to this instance of my child’s sin with correction or forbearance? Should I shop today or tomorrow? Should I check my email again? The Bible doesn’t even give specific guidance on huge, life-shaping decisions like should I marry this person? Should I give more or save for retirement? Should we adopt a child? Should I pursue a different vocation? Should we homeschool? Should I pursue chemo or try an alternative cancer treatment? Should we buy this home or a less expensive one? Which college should I attend? Is it time to put my elderly parent in a nursing home? Should I go to the mission field? Should I separate from my spouse while we work on these very painful issues? These kinds of decisions tend to have multiple acceptable options

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Essential vs. Peripheral Doctrine

From the Crossway blog: The ability to discern the relative importance of theological issues is vital to the health and unity of the church. There are four categories of importance into which theological issues can fall: Absolutes: Define the core beliefs of Christian faith. Convictions: While not core beliefs, these may have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church. Opinions: Views or personal judgments generally not worth dividing over. Questions: Currently unsettled issues. The category into which each theological issue falls should be examined in light of eight different considerations. Biblical clarity Relevance to the character of God Relevance to the essence of the gospel Biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it) Effects on other doctrines Consensus among Christians (past and present) Effect on personal and church life Current cultural pressure to deny a teaching of Scripture All of these categories should be evaluated collectively when

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How to recognize a wolf-in-the-making

John Piper from 1989: Let me just mention one feature to watch out for in the recognition of wolves. As I have watched the movement from biblical faithfulness to liberalism in persons and institutions that I have known over the years, this feature stands out: An emotional disenchantment with faithfulness to what is old and fixed, and an emotional preoccupation with what is new or fashionable or relevant in the eyes of the world. Let’s try to say it another way: when this feature is prevalent, you don’t get the impression that a person really longs to bring his mind and heart into conformity to fixed biblical truth. Instead you see the desire to picture biblical truth as unfixed, fluid, indefinable, distant, inaccessible, and so open to the trends of the day. So what marks a possible wolf-in-the-making is not simply that he rejects or accepts any particular biblical truth, but that he isn’t deeply oriented on the Bible. He

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Don’t tolerate false teachers

Many Christians today are greatly concerned about the rising influences of communism, humanism, secularism, and social injustice. Yet those evils, great as they are, do not together pose the threat to Christianity that false shepherds and pastors do. Throughout the history of redemption, the greatest threat to God’s truth and God’s work has been false prophets and teachers, because they propose to speak in His name. That is why the Lord’s most scathing denunciations were reserved for the false teachers of Israel, who claimed to speak and act for God but were liars. Yet for some reason, evangelical Christianity is often hesitant to confront false teachers with the seriousness and severity that Jesus and the apostles did, and that the godly prophets before them had done. Today, more than at any time in modern history and perhaps more than at any time in the history of the church, pagan religions and cults are seriously encroaching on societies that for centuries

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Our determination to be biblical

John MacArthur writes: The market-driven philosophy of user-friendly churches does not easily permit them to take firm enough doctrinal positions to oppose false teaching. Their outlook on leadership drives them to hire marketers who can sell rather than biblically qualified pastors who can teach. Their approach to ministry is so undoctrinal that they cannot educate their people against subtle errors. Their avoidance of controversy puts them in a position where they cannot oppose false teaching that masquerades as evangelicalism. In fact, the new trends in theology seem ideally suited to the user-friendly philosophy. Why would the user-friendly church oppose such doctrines? But oppose them we must, if we are to remain true to God’s Word and maintain a gospel witness. Pragmatic approaches to ministry do not hold answers to the dangers confronting biblical Christianity today. Pragmatism promises bigger churches, more people, and a living church, but it is really carnal wisdom–spiritually bankrupt and contrary to the Word of God. Marketing

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Judgement Day Today? – The Pastoral Challenge and Opportunity When the Rapture Doesn’t Happen

Some wise words from Eric Landry: We must be very careful about how we respond. Will we join our friends at the “Rapture Parties” that are planned for pubs and living rooms around the nation? Will we laugh at those who have spent the last several months of their lives dedicated to a true but untimely belief? What will we say on Saturday night or Sunday morning? History teaches us that previous generations caught up in eschatological fervor often fell away from Christ when their deeply held beliefs about the end of the world didn’t pan out. While Camping must answer for his false teaching at the end of the age, Reformational Christians are facing a pastoral problem come Sunday morning: how can we apply the salve of the Gospel to the wounded sheep who will be wandering aimlessly, having discovered that what they thought was true (so true they were willing to upend their lives over it) was not? If

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Counterfeit Gospels

My thanks to Matthew Lee Anderson for this: Trevin Wax has solidified his role as one of the Christian blogging community’s most insightful writers and one of the leaders of a new crop of young writers who are working to clearly and confidently articulate the shape of the gospel over and against the challenges of contemporary substitutes. Trevin’s new book, Counterfeit Gospels, is a helpful contribution that does precisely that.  Trevin has a great ability as a writer to make complex ideas accessible in an easygoing way.  It is thoughtful, careful engagement with alternatives that is pastorally and spiritually helpful without watering down any of the substance.  Trevin takes on the lack of judgment, moralism, a therapeutic gospel–and, in a section which I particularly appreciated–takes on quietist notions of the gospel that strip away any of the social or political ramifications of it (yes, even those).  But I’ll let him tell you that: Here’s my formal endorsement:  “Trevin Wax has done

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Christ Alone – Michael Wittmer’s Response to “Love Wins”

From Trevin Wax: Mike Wittmer has done evangelicals a great service. He has penned an easy-to-read, thoughtful, and charitable response to Rob Bell’s controversial book, Love Wins. Wittmer is a professor at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and has written books like Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough and Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God. This new book, Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins, is a tour-de-force, brilliant in its critique and gracious in its tone. I’ve always admired Mike Wittmer’s willingness to genuinely listen to the questions and concerns coming from people of differing theological persuasions. When the Emerging Church discussion was taking place, Wittmer readily admitted weaknesses and errors within evangelical theology that need to be corrected. But he never veered from his reliance on the authoritativeness of Scripture and the centrality of the gospel. So now, Wittmer enters into the fierce debate over Love Wins in order to express

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DOCTRINE WINS

By Richard Lints: With all of the furor surrounding Rob Bell’s recent book, Love Wins (HaperOne 2011) it may seem counterintuitive to say that interest in the book (as evidenced by the Time Magazine cover article on it) owes more to the enduring interest in Christian doctrine rather than to the ambiguity of belief so characteristic of Bell’s thesis.  The fact that people still care about the doctrinal outlines of the Christian belief in heaven and hell is testimony that at the end of the day, doctrine wins.  It does matter what one believes.  It matters because doctrine shapes life and deep down most of us know this. David Brooks, the New York Times OpEd columinist recently wrote, “Many Americans have always admired the style of belief that is spiritual but not doctrinal, pluralistic and not exclusive, which offers tools for serving the greater good but is not marred by intolerant theological judgments. The only problem is that [this view]

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