“Do not be deceived; bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).
The second reason I have observed for professing Christians to deconstruct their faith is that they expose their hearts and minds to error (for my definition of deconstruction and the various types, see Reason #1). That is, rather than watching, listening to and reading messages faithful to Scripture, they immerse themselves in teaching that promotes errors, such as the prosperity gospel, higher criticism, neo-Orthodoxy, Critical Theory, or theological liberalism, among others. If you don’t know what these are and don’t know the distinction between the truth and these corrupting influences, it’s a good sign you shouldn’t be fooling around with questionable teaching.
I can already hear the howling from the progressive-minded out there. “What are you afraid of?” and “All truth is God’s truth!” and “This guy went to Harvard so he’s smarter than you” and “She teaches at Princeton, so who are you to criticize?” I’ve heard it all.
The idea that it is advisable for Christians to be watching, reading, and listening to teaching that springs from error without great caution finds no place in the New Testament. Error deceives. It is tricky and clever and fools people into believing what is not true. Error is seductive. It leads people away from the truth with “fine-sounding arguments” (Col. 2:4), all the way to destruction of their faith.
This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18–20)
“Aaahhh,” you might think, “but how do I know if it is error until I listen to it?” Fair enough. But wouldn’t it be better to ask someone you trust and who knows the difference between sound doctrine and error for advice if you’re not sure? If you have enough discernment and are grounded in Scripture it is usually clear within a few minutes if the sermon, video, book, or podcast is promoting truth or error. The question is whether you have that level of spiritual maturity. I have found as an apologist that if I play the part of a skeptic or atheist I can cause some Christians to begin to question their faith within minutes. Why? Because error is insidious.
I remember when I first realized how seductive false teaching is. I was sitting in a post-graduate course on ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament at Harvard Divinity School (as part of a degree program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), being taught by a world-class scholar who had spent his entire life studying the New Testament, and who didn’t believe a word of it. Sitting beside me were bright, young graduate students, none of whom professed religious belief of any kind. At the time I was a bit older (34-years-old) and a pastor of a small church in New London, CT. It wasn’t simply the content of the class that was seductive. It was the atmosphere of the classroom and the peer pressure to conform to the shared unbelief of my classmates and professor. It dawned upon me that if I had not already gone to seminary, where I studied sound doctrine, as well as numerous expressions of unbelief, and if my theology had not been forged on the anvil of weekly preaching and tireless study of the Scriptures in my tiny church, I don’t know if my faith would have survived that experience.
That experience was repeated eight years later in doctoral classes in philosophy at Villanova University (as part of my PhD at Westminster Theological Seminary). In fact, one of the students in my Nietzsche class admitted in a subdued tone one day that he had been a Christian, but didn’t want anyone there to know about it, because it would hurt his reputation as an intellectual.
Today, thanks to the internet, Christians have at their fingertips the combined danger of two millennia of false teaching and the mesmerizing eloquence of polished public speakers and video wizardry. To think that the average Christian can immerse himself in error and retain belief in God is laughable. Yet, many Christians are trying to do just that out of foolish curiosity or a morbid fear that they may be missing out. This is why Scripture warns us against curiosity about error and the seduction of false teaching.
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. (Romans 16:17–18)
O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you. (1 Timothy 6:20–21)
[H]aving the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:5–7)
But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. (2 Corinthians 11:3–4)
Again, I am not talking about reexamining your beliefs to make sure they are Scriptural. Such an important task is a necessary, ongoing process of spiritual growth and grounding and is not best described as “deconstruction”. If, however, you are jettisoning clear biblical beliefs, upheld by two millennia of orthodox Christianity because they do not fit your warm and fuzzy idea of God or because your sociology professor rejected the idea, you are in grave danger. Either Scripture is your authority or you are beholden to the fickle mistress of culture and are like a child, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14).
Fill your mind and heart with sound doctrine. Don’t fool around with false doctrine, the so-called “wisdom” of man-made ideas. Heed Paul’s call to immerse your heart and mind with truth.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8–9)
“Today, thanks to the internet, Christians have at their fingertips the combined danger of two millennia of false teaching and the mesmerizing eloquence of polished public speakers and video wizardry. To think that the average Christian can immerse himself in error and retain belief in God is laughable. Yet, many Christians are trying to do just that out of foolish curiosity or a morbid fear that they may be missing out. This is why Scripture warns us against curiosity about error and the seduction of false teaching.”
Well written Mark. This is exactly why belief in a flat earth has gone from a handful of people to something large enough to be holding conferences in a few short years. Polished public speakers who can lay out convincing sounding arguments to the unscientific and give reason to ignore anyone who disagrees with them lead a lot of people down a path of nonsense. We have greater access to high quality false teaching than at any point in history. All the more reason to study the word of God.