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.
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his “three buckets” approach to Scripture, and how certain teachings of Scripture can be disregarded because they are no longer applicable or were never reflective of the character of God in the first place.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.
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.
- When we find a fine-sounding argument we consider suspect or specious, how do we avoid leveling a personal attack against the teacher?
- 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?
- 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,