For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (II Timothy 4:3,4)
One does not have to struggle to discover that doctrinal error often rises from the unread and unlearned. It always comes from the hearts of men and women who simply make up doctrine as they go. The cults serve up an unhealthy diet consisting of the doctrine of devils, and they are persistent in their task of blinding the eyes of men. It really doesn’t matter what this crowd of false teachers dreams up; it is all the same, and their evil teaching is condemned by God.
Thus, when moderate evangelicals give credence to these cults, making them acceptable evangelicals, we are left wondering why. It is often the intellectual scholars who laud these strange pronouncements that turn a blind eye to doctrinal error. This observation, then, leads us to a serious consideration: how is it that these scholars are comfortable with error that often damns men’s souls?
TIRED OLD ACCUSATIONS
When error, however, is clearly assigned to the intellectual crowd, people who know better are often quick to call others “anti-intellectual”. This is an old liberal trick, and it doesn’t work with thinking people. Anyone who knows anything about my fifty-four years in ministry can tell you that for most of my life I’ve been involved in education. Learning is very important, and people who are able should go as far as they can on the education ladder. We should never stop learning; study should be a way of life.
I am not against intellect or serious study. It is also wise for a person to pursue a single discipline and to follow it as far as possible. No one can be an expert in every discipline, but we need to be as broad in our understanding as is possible. You will no doubt read materials that leave you with the impression that the writer has a full grasp of everything; that is a serious mistake.
ERROR THAT FLOWS FROM THE ELITE
Like it or not, much of the theological error being spread abroad does not come from the simple-minded, unread, and unlearned. You would think that the more knowledge one has, the more likely that person would be to maintain a theology that is biblical. That, however, is not the case. It appears that the higher a student climbs on the academic ladder, the greater the danger. Not all of this is deliberate, but intellectual pride can be a terrible thing. It seems to provide a license for error on the part of the scholar.
Recently I jotted down a list of ten theological errors that are currently floating around, many of which are being disseminated by some popular theological gurus. I honestly didn’t fix the list, but every one of them has been sourced or popularized by well-known men who we would recognize as being scholars. It is clearly evident that scholars can be, and are, wrong occasionally – and sometimes frequently. That is not to say that everything they teach is wrong, because “diamonds come from dirt”.
A TRAGIC FALLOUT
I travel a lot and read as much as I can, and my email box is full most mornings. My soul is grieved at the creation and dissemination of theological error, but that is only the beginning; the real tragedy is in seeing how blind people so often have become. You can almost tell who and what people read by the error they spout.
We all need to read broadly, and should even include authors who have proven they can popularize erroneous doctrine. The question is, why are not the readers asking the right questions? It is imperative that the reader be able tell when his theological leg is being pulled. Young men are most often caught in the web of intellectualism simply because they think they know more than they actually do. It is a heady thing to be able to discuss some of the technical positions being spread abroad. It is a terrible thing not to be able to recognize when a teaching has departed from the authority of scripture.
I confess that, when I was a young student and preacher, pride took the lead in my following error. At the same time, I will be forever grateful for godly men who sounded the warning that allowed me to focus on the Book of God rather than the books of men. Just because someone is well-known or has churned out many publications does not mean that what he says is correct. We need to be like the Bereans of old who “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so”. (Acts 17:11)
Read the writings of men. They offer great questions, but not always the right answers. Read with one eye to the works of men and both eyes solidly on the Word of God. The elite in theology are not necessarily the authority. If they are offering you “false teaching”, they may well be false teachers – wolves in shepherds’ garb, as it were. Error can come from any source, and scholars and intellectuals are no exception. Don’t let people make this a personality issue; stay with ideas so you will not be hindered by the cloak of the elite.