A Warning about My Fine-Sounding Arguments

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Colossians 2:4–5

I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

CONSIDER THIS

It is not entirely clear what Paul is talking about in this letter to the Colossians, though he is clearly warning against false teaching. He is likely dealing with some form of Gnosticism, a heresy which didn’t discard biblical teaching but distorted it in dangerous ways.

Then and now, the greatest danger to the gospel is not from outsiders or non-Christians, but from the insiders. Today’s false teachers aren’t the proponents of Scientology; rather, they are Christian leaders who attempt to set aside the clear teaching of Scripture in favor of something more palatable to modern hearers—a.k.a. fine-sounding arguments.

Fine-sounding arguments abound all over the place and from very respectable teachers. I read them all the time. For instance, I hear Fr. Richard Rohr regularly eschew what he calls a dualistic mindset, or binary thinking, as though there were not good and evil, light and darkness, and virtue or vice. He makes fine-sounding arguments, and what he is saying is not entirely false but it can be very misleading to a well-intentioned follower of Jesus. Another example would be Rev. Adam Hamilton and his “three buckets” approach to Scripture, and how certain teachings of Scripture can be disregarded because they are no longer applicable or were never reflective of the character of God in the first place. Again, he makes plausible and fine-sounding arguments about this, but they can be quite slippery and even deceptive.

Please understand, I am not questioning the faith of these teachers. I am certainly not leveling a personal attack against them. A person can be guilty of false teaching without falling into the full-on category of a false teacher. We must be generous in our posture toward others, and yet we must also be discriminating about what we accept and embrace as orthodox teaching. Am I suggesting we disregard teachers like these? Not necessarily. I read both Richard Rohr and Adam Hamilton and find a lot of what they have to say helpful and even illuminating at times; however, I sift everything.

Furthermore, I do not set myself up as an authority when it comes to teachers like these. They are undoubtedly more learned and experienced than I, yet I have a duty to call it as I see it and trust that others will do with that as they see fit.

Finally, just because I might raise questions about different teachers and teachings does not mean I place myself above them. In fact, I put myself in their same category: frail sinners and fallible human beings. I am fully aware of my skilled capacity to craft a fine-sounding argument that in the end may not pass muster. I fully expect my readers, be they advocates or detractors, to scripturally sift all I am saying and to invite the Holy Spirit to confirm it or call it into question. You who have been reading for any length of time know me by now and that I welcome feedback and push back. It’s one of the ways we love each other.

Be on your guard for Domino #2/4. Fine-sounding arguments that turn out to be wrong can tip the whole project in the wrong direction.

THE PRAYER

Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is the truth, both in his words, his ways and his life. Grant me the gifts of a generous heart and a discerning mind when it comes to other people and their teaching. I want neither to mislead nor to be misled. I want to love in truth and to be truthful in love. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. When we find a fine-sounding argument we consider suspect or specious, how do we avoid leveling a personal attack against the teacher?
  2. Have you ever been deceived by a fine-sounding argument that seemed true at the time but later proved suspect? How did you handle that?
  3. Have you come to grips with your susceptibility to be deceived? If not, do you recognize this is itself makes you highly susceptible to be deceived?

     

    For the Awakening,
    J.D. Walt
    Sower-in-Chief
    seedbed.com

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6 COMMENTS

  1. #1) I believe the way to avoid making a disagreement over the interpretation of a Biblical text is to be quick to listen and slow to speak. We need to realize that we are all influenced by our prior experiences. Challenge the argument itself, not the person.
    #2) Looking back, I can see how my understanding of the Christian Faith has grown and matured. I now disagree with some of the doctrines I was taught as a child. I don’t think any of this was an attempt to mislead anyone; they were merely teaching what they were taught. None of this was evil, it just wasn’t the full counsel of God. I’ve avoided conflict be leaving quietly and.seeking fellowship with like-minded believers.
    #3) I full well realize my susceptibility to being misled. That’s why I’ve taken Paul’s advice to be like a Berean believer. As someone once said: I know that when I get to heaven I’ll find out I was wrong about some things; I just don’t know now which things.

  2. Deceivability–all humans have it. We can be misled, tricked, and duped by other people. Even our own feelings, thoughts, and desires can deceive us. We can be sincerely convinced that we are right when we are wrong.

    Outwardly we are surrounded by so much information, distraction, and confusion, that we can easily get lost in the mess. Inwardly our psyche is also loaded down with ideas, emotions, and wants that push and pull and try to compel us in many directions.

    We need anchors–sources of truth–that keep us from being tossed about and deceived in life. How can we know the truth that sets us free from the lies that abound both around us and within us?

    We need to desire truth and seek it. We need to be radically honest with ourselves and with others–“speaking the truth in love.” Living in a world full of falsehood, we need to be on guard. We need to test everything for truth and if it doesn’t pass the test, we need to refuse to believe it or to proclaim it.

    Here are some tests I use:

    * Does it align with my conscience?

    * Is the person or group proclaiming it humble, reliable, and radically honest?

    * Does the person or group proclaiming it have anything to gain by talking me into believing it?

    * Does it align with the Bible?

    * When I ask God about it does He confirm it or cause me to question it?

    * Does the person or group proclaiming it have compassion for the people who disagree with them and/or who want to fact check their claims?

    * Can it be backed up by solid evidence or is it merely hearsay?

    * If the tests show that another person or group is right, am I humble and willing to admit that I am the one who is wrong?

  3. That is why it is good to view Christianity as God’s ongoing story and we are not the first nor the last to engage it; there are a plethora of past teachers who have already been there/done this. If I had not had that understanding of the Christian faith, I would have abandoned the current insanity of it a long time ago. That is what Mainline Protestant Christianity instilled in me; it is why the Methodist/United Methodist Church simultaneously deepened my faith and trust in God and left me frustrated. It is why I will freely acknowledge where she fell short, but I will never regret the strong presence of the Methodist/United Methodist Church in my life. It is why an eclectic set of teachers from the communion of saints past and present were able to come together and clear up the muddled understanding I had been packing around so long.

  4. I am a female UM licensed local pastor. I stepped into this role because I felt God leading me. It has been a great joy in my life. How do I respond when people claim allowing women to be ministers is the result of “fine sounding arguments”? It is, according to them, closely akin to the issue dividing the UMC today. This may be way too complicated to answer in just a comment, if so- I understand!

    • Sadly just feeling God his lead you to be a pastor when His word is scripture clearly contradicts that feeling would mean that you are going directly against God’s will for you. Scripture is very clear in this area. I pray that you will be open to listening and hearing from God’s word and chose to obey God’s word by no longer serving as a pastor. This doesn’t mean that we as women are less than but that we have been given different roles.
      “ God has ordained that only men are to serve in positions of spiritual teaching authority in the church. This is not because men are necessarily better teachers or because women are inferior or less intelligent (which is not the case). It is simply the way God designed the church to function. Men are to set the example in spiritual leadership—in their lives and through their words. Women are to take a less authoritative role. Women are encouraged to teach other women (Titus 2:3–5)” from Gotquestions.org .
      As a Christian if you view scripture as inerrant and as God’s word then obeying his word word will follow— even if you don’t like it “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
      ‭‭2 Timothy‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬
      . Blessings.
      https://www.gotquestions.org/women-pastors.html

  5. Richard Rohr is definitely a false teacher and should be marked and avoided …. Your warning was like a kind of warning . Disappointing. Richard Rohr is complete bad news. We shouldn’t be afraid to completely warn against false teachers. This is not a turn to be luke warm. You have a responsibility as a pastor to warn your flock.

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