7 Ways to Discern Subtle False Theologies

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We need to understand how to read Scripture.
We need to understand how to read Scripture. (Flickr/Creative Commons)

5. Theology and History

Hebrews 12:1 teaches us that we are surrounded by a cloud of many witnesses. The context of this passage is chapter 11 of Hebrews, in which the author is speaking about the heroes of the faith in the Old Testament. Thus, the Bible teaches us the church on earth is the same as the church in heaven. Ephesians 4:12-16 and Matthew 16:17-19 teach us that Christ is the one who is building His church (for the past 2,000 years). It behooves us to know the councils and creeds of the first six centuries of the church, to try to read some of the writings of the great church fathers (for example, St. Augustine, St. Athanasius and others). We could also benefit from reading the works of some of the great Protestant reformers such as Calvin and Luther as well as the evangelical revivalists such as Wesley, Edwards and Finney.

Having knowledge of church history enables us to understand some of the major theological battles that have been fought in the church (like the Arian battle during the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century) so that we in the contemporary church are not as vulnerable to satanic deception. Satan continually recycles past heretical arguments that demean the person, work and divinity of Christ. He also tries to get believers focused on tangents that divert us from our primary call to evangelize and disciple the nations.

It would be helpful to understand and read some of the great theologians arising out of the Global South, Latin America and Asia so that we hear what the Spirit is saying to those without the same American cultural baggage we have here in the USA. This cultural influence colors our lens of interpretation based on a more Hellenistic philosophical, individualistic mindset.

6. Kingdom Theology and Cultural Engagement

As leaders, another important thing to inform our theology is to be students of contemporary culture. Every day, I spend about one to two hours reading various newspapers and online articles so I can keep in touch with the political, social and economic landscape of the nation and the world. This is done not so much as to mold my theology but to understand how I can apply theology to my work as a cultural practitioner and mentor to cultural leaders. This also makes my lectures and my international consultations with networks of leaders more informative and practical.

I believe every leader should have a Bible in their right hand and a newspaper in their left hand! Truly, my understanding and knowledge of current events will keep me in in the current or flow of contemporary culture, which is changing drastically from one day to the next!

7. Eschatology and Theology

Truly, our eschatology will determine our protology; that is, our understanding of the future will determine how we act in the present. For example, when I formerly espoused a hyper-dispensational pre-millennial concept of eschatology (from 1978 to 1994), I didn't take seriously the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28, which obligates Christians to influence the created order, not just the church.

This was because my eschatology didn't give me permission to reform nations or holistically serve my community because I was focused on the rapture, the imminent return of Christ and the coming Antichrist. Thus, understanding politics, policy and economics was deemed a waste of my time because it was all going to end soon anyway! Reforming society seemed like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic because society was already sinking! My former eschatology left this present earth to the devil; my only focus was rescuing individual souls and preparing them to make it to heaven.

In 1995, when I jettisoned hyper-dispensational eschatology (even though I was still essentially pre-millennial) I embraced the cultural mandate and began an intensive study of what the Scriptures taught regarding policy, economics, politics, law, philosophy, family, science, history, education and the arts. I worked hard to have a biblical worldview instead of a dualistic worldview in which only spiritual things were important and physical things were doomed, unspiritual and unimportant.

This has resulted in a radical change in my personal life as well as our local church because with a change of eschatology came a change in our approach to ministry. Thus, we began doing holistic outreach resulting in enlarging the vision of our children's organization, Children of the City, so that it also includes a strong emphasis on education, which has incredibly blessed the Sunset Park community and beyond! In our church, we began an Ekklesia Institute, which met monthly with a view of nurturing world-class leaders who would work in every realm of society. This resulted in many high-level leaders being trained and sent into the world with a biblical worldview.

It also resulted in me finally discovering my life message (the generational kingdom) and writing four theological books unpacking practical kingdom principles.

In conclusion, when I hear pastors and leaders downplay the study of doctrine, theology or the Bible, I see leaders who may have practical and organizational skills with the ability to manage and grow large churches or organizations, but have no real depth or substance to teach, train and equip mature disciples who will change the world for Jesus!

I also see leaders who don't have what it takes for intellectual, apologetical and cultural sustainability to make it in the complex urban societies that most global cities have become. Truly, we need to take heed to the admonishment of Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15 to "study to show yourself approved by God, a workman who need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."

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