Discernment: Are the Teachers I’m Listening to Biblically Sound? Pt. 2
This is part two in a two-part series. In the last article, we looked at the three gifts God has given us to protect us from deception. Those gifts are His Spirit, His Word, and His people.
In this article, we’ll move from the abstract to the concrete. How do those three function in our everyday Christian lives as we read blogs and articles, watch sermons and reels, etc? I’ve provided ten questions below. I pray these questions will help serve as a filter for you as you seek to discern whether or not the teachers you’re listening to are Biblically sound.
1. Are their teachings consistent with what you already know to be true?
- Whatever your current level of Biblical knowledge, there's a good chance there are some things you know to be absolutely true. Things like Jesus is fully God and fully man; God is three in one; we're saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone; Scripture is the final authority; etc. This list may seem elementary, but you would be amazed at how well the fundamental doctrines of the faith filter out false teachings when you apply them critically. I'll give you just one example. When asked about the exclusivity of salvation through Christ, a popular Bible teacher once said, "I don't know if I look at it like that. I'm just going to present my way and let God be the judge of that. I mean, I don't know. I'm going to let God be the judge of who goes to Heaven and Hell." While this might sound like a gentle and meek answer, it should throw a red flag for you. When you put this response up against what you know to be true (see John 14:6, Acts 4:12), it becomes clear that this Bible teacher is not teaching the truth. When you discern an inconsistency between the teacher and a core doctrine of the faith, I suggest rejecting that teacher altogether — at least until one is at a place where discernment comes naturally.
2. Do their teachings make God big?
- The best preaching advice I have ever received was, "Make God big." I'll never forget when a friend said this to me while discussing sermon prep. Of course, God is already big. What my friend was telling me was to put Him on display. To shine the spotlight on Him, not me, and not even necessarily on the sermon's content. We have many goals in preaching and teaching the Bible, but at the top of that list is presenting God accurately so that others may know and love Him as they ought (Matt. 22:37). When listening to or reading a Bible teacher, ask yourself "Who is being made big?" Good teachers don't want you to see them; they want you to see God in their teaching.
3. Do their teachings emphasize the Gospel?
- Similarly, a Biblically sound teacher will always point people to the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Does the teacher in question keep the message of the cross preeminent? (See 1 Cor. 2.) If the teacher is giving you "5 steps to a better..." does he put this in the context of a Gospel-centered worldview? Does this teaching make sense in light of Creation, the Fall, Redemption, and Restoration? Not that Bible teachers can't teach practically, but even practical messages should be preached from or to the Gospel.
4. Does the teacher's lifestyle exhibit the fruit of the Spirit?
- A Biblically sound teacher will demonstrate a life consistent with the Bible's teachings, showing the fruit of the Spirit in their daily living (Matt. 7:15-16). This one may be harder because the teachers you're evaluating are probably not people you know personally.However, this idea may not be as difficult as it seems. For example, you've likely social media stalked someone you didn't know to determine his or her character. There are indicators to be assessed. How do they interact with others online? What type of content do they post? Do they consider LeBron or Jordan to be the GOAT? Kidding about that last one, but you get my point.
5. Does the teacher encourage people to read the Bible?
A good Bible teacher will always point people towards the authority of the Bible and not their own opinions or interpretations. I remember watching Reading Rainbow in school. If you've watched it, you already know where I'm going with this. The host's catchphrase was, "But you don't have to take my word for it." The show wasn't teaching the Bible, but Paul expresses the same idea in Acts 17:11.
- "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so."
- If the teacher desires to honor God and help his hearers grow, he'll encourage people to study the scriptures.
6. Where does the teacher work?
- This one is self-explanatory. Search the teacher and find out where he works. Is he a pastor? If so, of what church? Then you can go to the church's website, find out their denomination, and read their statement of faith. You'd be surprised at some of the things you'll read in a church's statement of faith.
7. Who does the teacher associate with?
- This is also an easy thing to search out. What other teachers or Christian leaders does this person publicly partner with in ministry? I'm not suggesting that they have to have a perfectly vetted circle of friends. The thing to look for is extremes. Do they associate with extremely rock-solid leaders? That's a good sign. Do they associate with extremely questionable leaders? That's a bad sign.
8. Does the teacher promise something new and never before seen?
- In Christianity, novelty is usually heresy. That's not to say that the Lord doesn't continue to teach His church over time. We serve the living God. But God has been filling His people with His Spirit and guiding them through His Word for over 2000 years. The chances of someone finding some never-before-seen truth today are not zero, but they are extremely low. If a teacher promises some new secret that they've unlocked, proceed with caution.
9. Does the teacher teach the Bible or use verses as proof texts to teach his or her own ideas?
- This can take more work to spot. Preaching topically and even proof-texting are not wrong in themselves. I do both. I'm actually doing it in this article. Citing Bible verses to support a claim is a good thing to do. It shows I'm not asking you to "take my word for it." However, when a teacher begins to do this to support ideas not being addressed in the text, you should take note. For example, within the prosperity Gospel movement, it is often taught that believers are entitled to worldly riches. Preachers will carry on and on about how God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and blessed, and then cite Philippians 4:19, "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." In this passage, Paul is encouraging the generous Philippians that God will not allow them to suffer lack as a result of their giving, a principle all throughout scripture and by no means a promise of worldly riches.
- Teachers who pepper in Bible verses as they teach can be doing a good thing. When they begin doing so at the expense of the verses' context, there's a problem.
10. If the teacher were a less dynamic speaker, would you still listen to them?
- From Adolf Hitler to Jim Jones, charismatic and dynamic speaking abilities have shown themselves time and time again to be more potent than reason. There is something about compelling speech that has the capacity to bewitch people. Engaging teaching and preaching are gifts from God. It's not the gift in itself that's bad, but the abuse of it. We shouldn't be suspicious of every gifted speaker. But we must remember that the Word of God, correctly taught, is dynamic and engaging all on its own. It might be telling to ask yourself, "If the teacher were a less dynamic speaker, would you still listen?" If the answer is yes, then you may be getting quality content. If the answer is no, you may need to leave this teacher alone.
In our digital world, we have more access to content on every subject imaginable than any generation in history. While this is a blessing, especially regarding access to Bible teaching, it can also be challenging. The degree of distance from the content we consume and those shepherding our souls opens us up to all kinds of error and deception. The most effective way to guard our hearts and minds is to use the three resources God has given us to discern truth: the Spirit, the Word, and the Church. I hope that these ten tips serve as supplements to, and outworkings of, those three.
Nick Judd is the Kids Pastor at The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He is also the co-host of the "Everyday Apologetics" podcast. Nick is passionate about growing people in their knowledge of the Word of God and in their ability to defend it in the midst of a culture fighting against truth.
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