Eleven things false teachers (or bad teachers) do when they can’t make their case from Scripture

False teachers, (that is, teachers/preachers who teach doctrine not consistent with the biblical witness as understood by the historic Christian tradition), and merely bad teachers (that is, teachers who may believe the truth but resort to less-than-stellar methods of teaching or motivating their followers; sometimes they simply have hobby horse that’s questionable and they ride it every chance they get) don’t like to get cornered. When they get asked a question that they can’t answer from Scripture or with a reasonable theological argument they resort to these tactics as a smokescreen to obscure their lack of an answer.

If something is as important in the context of the Christian faith as you make it out to be, you ought to be able to give a clear argument from Scripture as to why that is.

But once false teachers or (bad teachers) are confronted with their false teaching they often cannot argue their case from Scripture. This is when they resort to other tactics. Here are some things they do:

(Note that I refer to this interview a several times so there is some overlap between that post and this one.)

1. They resort to clichés or comedy.

It’s one thing to make a point using humor, it’s entirely another to use humor to avoid answering a straightforward question. False teachers often crack jokes instead of giving thoughtful answers.

2. They proof-text rather than arguing from the text itself and they fail to set their argument in the context of all of Scripture.

There are some things that just don’t seem to fit our interpretive systems and there are some things upon which we will disagree, but most false teaching involves taking a text completely out of context or ignoring the teaching of the rest of Scripture. For example, prosperity teachers always talk about “seed” when there’s really very little biblical-theological significance to “seed” in Scripture and when “seed” is mentioned, it almost never means what they say it means.

Sadly, too many teachers and preachers who are otherwise good teachers resort to proof-texting rather than arguing from the text (there’s a big difference).

On the other side, Andrew Wilson (who is most definitely not a false teacher), in discussing homosexuality with Rob Bell didn’t proof text, but put this issue in the wider contexts of sexual immorality, human sinfulness, and human fallenness.

3. They discuss their personal experiences.

I’m not talking about using a personal anecdote to illustrate some truth. What I mean is when you ask how others should know that the their supposed “revelation” is from God when it contradicts Scripture and they answer by telling what they experienced. Joseph Smith did this big time and founded a new religion. Joyce Meyer says that God put such-and-such a teaching “in [her] spirit.” But if it’s in her spirit but not apostolic tradition, then it shouldn’t be taught as Christian doctrine.

4. They refer to public opinion.

For example, Rob Bell, speaking on gay marriage, says we should marry homosexuals in the church because that’s the way society is going. Only, he tried to cover it up by talking about “the witness of the community.” Had he been talking about the community of faith and its historic witness over the last two millennia maybe he would have gotten some mileage out of it but he was talking about society which is tantamount to letting the standards of a morally bankrupt, godless, secular society dictate morality to the church.

5. They don’t answer the question they’re asked but instead substitute another question and answer that one.

Again, Rob Bell is a master of this. In fact, most of his theological method centers around the asking of questions (usually designed to call into question some accepted Christian teaching that he doesn’t like) rather than the providing of answers. Paul warned against those who were always asking but never coming to a knowledge of he truth.

6. They’re evasive and backpedal when asked a straightforward question.

Joel Osteen (who seems like a genuinely likable and nice guy who I think really believes that he is doing the right thing) has repeatedly had to backpedal after being taken to task. He famously refused to say that a certain sin was actually sin in one CNN interview a few years ago, saying that he prefers to be positive and not to be judgmental. The problem is that as a man of God you are called to repeat God’s Words after him and you don’t get to pick and choose which ones you “prefer” to repeat or emphasize.

7. They make two points of view appear to be equally opposing points of view when they’re not.

Universalists often imply that because one or two teachers in the history of Christianity believe something it is a viable alternative.

8. They place their issue (or hobby horse) in a list of other issues and make it seem as if they’re all equally unimportant or important (whatever the case may be).

I hear this one used more frequently of late. For example, Jesus did talk more about worry than homosexuality but the Scriptures don’t say that worriers will not inherit the kingdom of God.

9. Instead of answering a straightforward question, they continue to ask for clarification and elaboration.

Don’t misunderstand me on this. If you are asked a question that is a loaded or a vague question or you’re in a teaching situation this is entirely appropriate. The way I handle this is to say, “If I understand you properly you are saying thus-and-so and here’s where I fall on that and here’s why” rather than simply asking question after question.” The false teacher or bad teacher will simply keep questioning until you get upset and then say that they can’t understand what you’re asking so they can’t answer. Rob Bell loves this one, too.

10. They accuse their questioner of persecuting them.

This often happens when they hold a minority position but it happens even with prominent teachers (both Rob Bell and Joel Osteen have resorted to this ruse).

If you make yourself a teacher or preacher in the church and you teach in open forums (especially if you are of the stature of a Rob Bell or a Joel Osteen), and you speak out publicly on issues, especially on controversial issues or teach doctrine that is not part of the historic doctrine of the church, you are in essence inviting people to critique your views and statements on the subject. If you don’t want to be thoughtfully critiqued, then don’t be a teacher or preacher, don’t put your stuff on TV or the internet, don’t write books, and don’t call yourself a pastor or a teacher. And remember that you are and will be held to a higher standard (cf. James 3:1) and you should be.

11. They accuse their questioner of not being concerned about certain other important issues.

It was the same in the fundamentalist circles in which I grew up: when you ask a question the preacher or teacher couldn’t answer, they would accuse you of getting into disputes because, “You’re not interested in ‘reaching people.’” When Rob Bell was interviewed with Andrew Wilson, near the end of the interview (which must have been embarrassing for him, he said, “This is why people don’t want to come to church.” And he said that because he had no real answer to Wilson’s questions.

When you hear someone doing these things instead of supporting their arguments from Scripture, be very careful. If you are a teacher, just teach the Bible and you won’t have to resort to such tactics.



About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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