Your Favorite Christian Author or Teacher Might Be More Harmful Than You Think - And Here's Why
Updated: Aug 7, 2020
I've been through an unexpected but yet beautiful change with regard to some of my go-to Bible teachers over the last 2 years. While some have continued to remain in the category of whom I go to for sound teaching, many have been revealed as being less Biblically sound than I had once thought. Although some have begun to be used less or not at all, many have been added that have ultimately grown my knowledge and desire for living out of the fullness of God's word (I'll list some of those teachers at the bottom). Whether this is as a result of my own spiritual growth and/or circumstances revealing where their doctrinal inclinations gravitate towards in the uncomfortable, the Lord has been doing a mighty work in both my discernability and my heart towards those that may be more inclined to look like the world rather than being set apart and walking along in the narrow gate. While you may not look at some of the most well-known men and women in the Christian world and discern their teachings as potentially dangerous, there are actually many who are applying a more progressive and ultimately harmful approach to their words both written and spoken. Specifically, Bible studies, books, and resources in the Christian women's genre have increasingly included both progressive and antithetical influences.
Because of this, I've felt a push to write on all that God has taught me through both my community, personal studies, and sound teachers in hopes of helping other women and men discern what are sound Biblical resources. I don't write any of this in hopes of joining the "cancel culture" we find prevalent around us, but rather because I want all to avoid trading the richness found in the true teachings of the Bible for the concepts and ideas that are both harmful and change with the wind of culture.
To be fair, it is incredibly easy to get caught up in the wind of change, progression, and catchy phrases as it relates to all things, let alone our Christian faith. We can see God's heart for us being set apart from the world that does not serve Him throughout the teachings of the Bible. In the Old Testament, we often see God instructing Israel through prophets and others to not live amongst those who worship, carve, and serve other gods, moons, and idols. He instructs this because He knows how easily our hearts can be deceived and easily swayed into a life contrary to
"You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine." (Leviticus 20:26) Similar in the New Testament, we read consistent instruction to live a life opposite of the unbelieving world around us. Paul instructs believers to, "present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:1-2). It is inherent for us in our sinful nature to be swept up with what tickles our ears and satisfies our fleshly desires, and that is why it is so important to continually renew your mind through proper study of the Bible, discipleship from sound Biblical teachers, and laying down our fleshly desires for that which glorifies God.
While some of the teachings I reference are not wholly antithetical to the Gospel on the surface, I would caution any believer to mark them as a "go-to" for that in which they base their belief and live their lives. Many of the teachers or people I am discussing are incredible writers, propose solid questions, and may have hearts truly for those they are speaking/writing to. This blog is not about "outing" any one of our favorite authors and teachers. Rather, it is about examing the teachings of those that many quote, reference, and use as applicable content for their lives; it is to serve as a simple, but yet important prompt in continually examining those we categorize as sound Biblical resources - especially in the world of women's ministries (which I am wholly devoted to).
While I won't specifically name an exhaustive list of those the Lord has shown me are not teaching the truth of the Bible, I will instead unpack two different principles and common themes riddled throughout many teachings that are contradictory to the truth of God's Word. While some may seem at surface-level as having a not so harmful approach to teaching the Bible, I urge us to dig deeper in knowing what the Bible actually says, so that we can continually be transformed by the renewing of our minds and not conformed to the likeness of this world. I'll cover just two themes and approaches I have found to be both the most harmful and common among many women's ministries (and many others, to be frank) to serve as a starting point of discernability for those that read this blog. We, as Christians, are to look at everything in light of what scripture says. In order to do that, we have to first know how to properly study and approach scripture (I wrote a blog on that here.) As we study and live out of the truth of the Bible, we must do so with reverence for it as the utmost authority over our lives, or as Jackie Hill Perry says, "Knowledge without the presence of reverence only produces intelligent fools." So, let us not be swept up with the wind of culture but apply the beauty and truth of the Bible to all aspects of our lives; including what we consume for sound advice and instruction.
Be the Best You, You Are Enough, Idol of Self
Pick up any book in the Christian section at your local book store, and it would be difficult to avoid a title encapsulating the idea of being the best you that you can be, empowering yourself, or finding all you need within your own being to live out your purpose. On the surface, this idea sounds both encouraging and uplifting in our hyper-individualistic society. The idea of utilizing a few habits, tools, and practices to become the best version of yourself or to grow in a certain area of your life is anything but foreign for much of the Western world. Unfortunately, it has seeped its way into the Christian sphere of both academic and casual content. In the arena of women's ministry, the concept of being the woman for all the roles, jobs, and tasks is becoming both prevalent and in many ways the accepted approach to growing in your faith. You might be reading this and questioning why I'm proposing this concept as one that's harmful to seeking a life aimed at glorifying God in all you do. For this, we will walk through what the Bible teaches is the Christian life (man or woman) in contrast with the ideas of both self-help and being the best you.
The concept of being the best version of yourself as a result of your own doing or that you are enough on your own is incredibly antithetical to the teachings of scripture. Am I saying we are to never aim to grow, learn, and become better at any one thing we are doing? Of course not. It is healthy to desire and work towards personal growth and development - if its aim is not to glorify you over God. This line between idol of self and unto the Lord can and is teetered quite easily for both well-known Christians and the body as a whole. In addition to the idea of becoming our best self, the idea that we are enough on our own is absolutely contrary to the teachings of the Bible. I understand that those saying 'you are enough' mean well in their words, but the answer to our insecurity is not our own sufficiency. According to the Christian worldview, we are all born sinful, and we, therefore, can often regard ourselves as being worthy of glorification and praise when the Bible teaches consistently that we are to die to ourselves, deny our flesh, and only are deemed righteous through Christ. God's power is perfected in our weakness. He made us not enough. If we were enough on our own, we would not need the cross of Christ. Our insecurity is healed through the knowledge of God as the Creator and Christ as the sufficiency for our sins and shortcomings.
Laced in the teachings of many men and women's books and talks are the ideas gathered from many secular teachings of self-help. It is common to click on a sermon or talk from a women's conference or church and find a step-by-step approach to being a better version of yourself. Unfortunately, each of the steps often listed lack any reverence or mention for whom we are apart from and in Christ. Without Jesus, we are dead spiritually. It is only by God's grace that the scales from our eyes are removed to see our sin rightly in light of the glory of Jesus. In Ephesians 2, Paul teaches us that apart from Jesus, we were "carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Ephesians 2:3) The idea of being children of wrath, destined for hell apart from Christ is sparingly or often not at all mentioned in the teachings of well-known Christians today. Without this wholly important truth, the idea of looking to yourself for any improvements on habits and characteristics does not seem to be harmful. Rather, it would make perfect sense to those that do not know who they are apart from Christ to accept the steps and self-driven advice to growing both personally and spiritually.
In a sermon from a very well-known pastor in the United States, he taught on the steps to becoming a better person as it related to New Year's resolutions. In the sermon, he centered the steps around the idea of self-improvement. The steps, all of which were incredibly vague, were all about doing good things in the world and kind things to yourself and others. While those ideas and instructions don't seem antithetical on the surface, the entirety of the message was actually centered around looking to yourself for what you deem as good or kind things. If we, as mankind, are inherently children of wrath and dead in our sins apart from Christ, why would we then ever look first to ourselves to instruct our worldview on what is "good"? If we are teaching others that anything good, let alone holy, can be found outside of the Bible, we are leading people down a path of failure in glorifying God alone and instead towards the idol of self.
The Bible teaches us that we are not to go to ourselves first any time we want to know what is best for others and the world around us. Contrary, it teaches us over and over again that we as believers have been crucified with Christ, and it is not ourselves that now live but Him who lives in us. The Christian life should be characterized not by how we serve ourselves but by the divine transformation of life that only God can do in us; the clear depiction that yes we were once dead, but now we are alive only through the work of Jesus Christ alone. So, why then would we ever look at improving our lives apart from the instruction of scripture? Why would we think that apart from God's guidance and abiding in Christ, that we could bear any fruit that brings Him the glory alone?
I am not saying this to put a burden on us as believers that we are never going to get anything right. I am, though, praying that we would always discern whether or not someone is teaching us to look first to ourselves before we look to God. We have to continually check our hearts and honestly ask, "Am I living for the supremacy of Christ, or am I living for the supremacy of self?" One will lead you down a yoke heavier than the other, for apart from Christ, we can do no 'good' thing. (John 15:5) Ultimately the idea of being the best you and you being enough are in of themselves contradictory; both then, therefore, pointing to our desperate need for a perfect Savior. The fact that you are not enough should actually bring you rest. The Bible teaches that we have new life in Christ, and that is where we both find peace and joy in the world focused on self.
Faith = Fulfillment
The idea that your faith is both mighty enough or almost an ingredient in drawing out a fulfillment you feel God has placed upon your life or in your heart, is incredibly antithetical to the proper teachings of Scripture. This concept of our faith needing to be big enough in order to result in God opening doors or moving in our lives sounds at the surface not heretical, but it is actually masked in promoting a very works-based gospel. The Bible consistently teaches us that we cannot and should not add anything to both Scripture and the way to salvation. It again, is by God's grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. (Ephesians 2:8-9) This same principle applies as it relates to needing to increase anything in us in order to move God to act on our behalf. First, we cannot control God. Can we have a deep relationship with Him through prayer, casting our cares onto Him, and pleading with Him for mercy and help in our time of need? Absolutely. We cannot, though, proclaim that either our faith, actions, or good works will result in a for sure action by God.
This is incredibly contrary to the teachings of the Bible. In John 3:30, John the Baptist says, "He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease." What did he mean by this? John the Baptist was recognizing that he, as a human, must continually desire less of ourselves and our glory and more of a life glorifying to God alone. If we place our effort and hope in us increasing our faith, ability, strength, etc. we will come to see that we fall short every time. As Allie Beth Stuckey says, "As God increases in my life, as His authority increases in every area of my life, I decrease. My personal dreams, wants, ambitions, desires, and my insistence upon my own way, they get smaller and smaller. Essentially, I take up less and less space."
Oftentimes, in the teachings of more faith/action/proclamation is a heart that does not even want the will of God to be done. Instead, in the teachings where we are to increase, we find it is in order to receive fulfillment, desire, or thing we feel as though God has promised us. Maybe you feel as though you've been called to be an author. While this is not a bad dream by any means, it can quickly become an end where the means of getting it is through the action of your own leading to action from God. If your obedience to the Lord comes from a heart that desires something from God, you are in fact not treating Him as enough to satisfy your heart but a means to yet another thing that will fall short.
In a recent teaching from a well-known women's author and speaker, she spoke on the keys to getting from where you are to where you want to be. In her talk, she introduced the concept of being stretched in order have a life we want. Within this concept of personal and spiritual growth and stretch she says, "Most of us want God to catapult us into our destiny, but God says no I need you to stretch and my promises are just out of reach but you're going to have to stretch to get them." Again, this might not sound blasphemous at first listen, but it in itself is promoting an idea that we have to do something in order for God to do something else. The Bible, though, teaches us that God's power is made perfect in our weakness; that we are not to boast in our ability to grow, do, stretch, and be but rather to boast in our weakness so that the power of Christ can rest upon us. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
She goes on to use the analogy of tearing her ACL while skiing. As she is talking to the doctors and therapists post-surgery, she says that they informed her that her ability to return to full health was entirely up to her. She said this, to then instruct fellow Christians that the degree to which we embrace the pain of growth and recovery is the degree to which we will in fact grow and recover. Of course, the Christian life is promised pain and hardship, and we are not to proclaim it doesn't, but in her talk, she is not talking about the promised suffering we receive as those that proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, she is teaching that it is our avoidance of stretching and work in our past or current circumstances that result in God withholding any good thing from us. We do not have to increase in order for God to increase. Are we then to sit idly expecting God to continually act on our behalf? By no means. We are to live lives worthy of the calling of the Lord, earnestly seeking the things of God, being an active part of the body of the church, and doers of the Word. James teaches us the importance of not just being hearers of the word but living lives of action that point towards the transformational work of Jesus in our lives.
We grow in spiritual maturity not because we are capable of doing so on our own. We grow in both our knowledge and relationship with God not because we are the brightest or hardest working people in the room. We grow as a result of abiding in Christ and God's sanctification in our lives. Any 'good works' or positive action or blessing in our life is not so that we can boast in ourselves. Rather, in all things, we are to give God the glory for the mere fact He decided to capture our hearts by His grace and give us new life in Christ. Our increase in faith does not equal in the fulfillment of our fleshly desires in this world. Our pursuit of God gives us the ONLY thing that gives us eternal hope, joy, and fulfillment: Himself.
So, What Now?
Unraveling the good sounding but antithetical teachings riddled in much of both women's ministries and 'Christian' teachings as a whole can feel discouraging. I don't write this blog with the aim of doing that. I write these harder blog posts in order to point us to the place where we find true rest, peace, joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction for our souls: in pursuing the true teachings of the Bible and God's glory alone. We are not enough, and that is okay. We cannot help ourselves outside of God, and that is a good thing. We can't add to the finished work of Christ in order to gain blessings from God, and that is positive news I promise.
I remember one of the most freeing moments in my life as a Christian is when it clicked in my brain that I was truly dead, sinful, and destined for eternal separation from God apart from His abundant grace and rich mercy in my life. As my heart was awakened to my depravity apart from Jesus's death and resurrection, I became freer to just abide and rest in Him. My life is not my own. It is not to bring me fame, glory, or notoriety; it is to be in relationship with a Holy God, the Creator of the entire universe, and to make His name known in all areas of where He graciously places me.
So, I write these words and give these instructions on the harmful teachings masking themselves as Christian doctrine not to discourage you, but rather to encourage you to seek and pursue Him; to look at all things in light of Scripture. I write this in order to stir up one another to loving God more than anything else in this world even if that means we have to prayerfully discern those who we allow to speak into our lives for Biblical truths.
A Few of My Go-To Bible Teachers:
1. Voddie Baucham
2. Nancy Guthrie
3. Rosaria Butterfield
4. Paul Washer
5. R.C. Sproul
6. Tim Keller
7. Allie Beth Stuckey
8. Alisa Childers
9. A.W. Tozer
10. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
11. C.S. Lewis
12. Charles Spurgeon