It occurred to me the other day that Christians frequently handle information in the same way the world does. We often think more information will change our situation. If we only knew the Bible more, if we only understood theology correctly we could win more people to Christ, if we only had that seminary degree then people would really respect and listen to us…if…if…if.
I understand the situation. As a believer in Jesus, I believe that the Bible is the standard of truth and that knowing Jesus involves knowing how Christ is revealed in its pages. This has lead me [and many, many others, but hey we’re talking about me here…] to pursue knowledge, thinking that knowledge itself is how I grow up spiritually. Even typing those words, it sounds so wrong, but that is how we as Christians act.
Paul spoke directly to this idea when he said, “…while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church,” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Paul knew there was a deception in the church that would cause us to substitute knowledge with true love and maturity. A.W. Tozer, echoing these sentiments hundreds of years later said, “You can be straight as a gun barrel theologically, and as empty as one spiritually.” Again, the idea is knowledge can make us feel like we arrived, but can leave us empty at the end of the day. If information was all we needed, we’d have completed the Great Commission by now and each made hundreds of disciples. There’s more to Christ than just mental understanding.
The other day I feel like the Lord spoke this to my spirit: “There are people alive today who have better theology than the apostle Paul, yet there are fewer apostle Paul’s on the Earth.” What I felt like He meant by that is there are people alive today who know the Gospels, they’ve dissected the epistles, they know historical theology and probably have a more articulate handle on the Bible than even the apostle Paul did. But these same people aren’t living Paul’s life. They aren’t turning the world upside down. They’re bookish, but not Kingdom-ish.
So to you are caught in that same trap that I’ve been caught in, I say this with love: repent. Don’t put your trust in your learning. Put your trust in a living Jesus who wants to encounter you, teach you to love, and carry the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, raising up disciples along the way. Don’t abandon a sound understanding of God’s word, but let the understanding be birthed out of love for Jesus and obedience to what He’s commanded, not out of a pursuit to know more.
A few days ago a prominent pastor/teacher/theologian/writer in the body of Christ indicated in an interview that he would be supportive of a homosexual marriage. The body of Christ in the West was shocked as someone who represented the best of evangelical Christianity seemingly betrayed what the church has stood for for generations. Since that time, this leader has taken back his words, but needless to say the body of Christ was a bit shaken.
In a few months, some very conservative, prominent Bible believing pastor/leader/writer who has made a stink about this issue will be revealed to have fallen to one particular sin or vice in his life. This will correspond with the book tour of the next Evangelical leader who will write a book about how the Bible isn’t true.
These are not prophecies as much as they are expectations based on the season that we’re in. It seems as if we are in a season where leaders are falling left and right and causing us to doubt the validity of Biblical Christianity. One minute a trusted leader is caving to some new form of heresy. The next minute, the one who stood for Biblical truth against that leader is falling into sin. It makes us believe there is no one standing for Biblical Christianity.
The truth of the matter is I wish I could say that most of this was the devil waging war on the body of Christ. Honestly, while I believe that in part, there is a higher truth that I believe is going on in the West right now. God says, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens,” (Hebrews 12:26) and the writer of Hebrews goes on to explain that ‘[t]his phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain,” (Hebrews 12:27).
I actually believe we are in a season where the Lord is shaking everything that can be shaken. This is leading up to the end of the age, but it is not the end. The goal of it is to shake those things that we put our trust in that are not Jesus and His Kingdom. These aren’t just evil things that are being shaken–they are good things that we have put our trust in other than Christ! Where our lust for leaders is greater than our desire to follow Jesus, Jesus is actually shaking us, in His mercy, so that we put our trust in the eternal things of the Lord that will never be shaken.
I believe this is a season, not a day or a week or a month or even a year. I believe it will happen in waves and we will think it’s passed. Then it will happen in another wave and we’ll get all stirred up again. And then same cycle will repeat itself. It will jolt us but if we’re not careful, we can be lulled to sleep in the times between the waves. I believe this is primarily affecting Christians in the cultural West, but it’s leading somewhere greater than that. It’s not the great falling away that Scripture talks about, but it is a shaking that will cause us to choose between what can be shaken and what can’t.
Why would God do this? He desires that we find our fulfillment and our satisfaction in Him. Not in leaders. Not in their piety. Not even in their good theology. He wants us to trust in Him because He alone is the only Thing that cannot be shaken. We’ve thought for so long that the great shaking would come to the world, and we would be okay, but Peter tells us clearly “for the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household,” (1 Peter 4:17). So while there will be shakings that happen to world systems, there is a shaking that right now is taking place in our midst–and God’s goal in it is that we trust in Him, not just the evangelical brand of Christianity we’ve become comfortable with.
In this season, we should anticipate more things being shaken in the cultural landscape of Christianity. What need to examine our lives and identify areas where we are trusting in things that can be shaken and give those areas to God. If we get good at building on obedience to Jesus and His Kingdom, our lives and the lives of those we serve will stand even though they are hit hard by forces beyond our control (Matthew 7:24-27).
Are you ready?
It’s possible to learn from someone who is imperfect. The other day I suggested that a helpful way to do that is to take what is helpful from a person’s theology and lifestyle while carefully discerning what is unhelpful. I call it “Eat the chicken, spit out the bones.”
My friends who are theologically cautious will naturally point to the danger here. All of this is dependent on your ability to discern chicken from bone–and they’re right. In order to do this correctly, you have to have two things going for you already: You are committed to the Bible as the supreme source of revelation above any teacher or truth and you are regularly exposing yourself to the words contained within it. If you aren’t doing either of these, you will choke on a bone eventually. It’s also incredibly helpful for believers to study the Bible together because so much error happens in isolation. For the believer who is taking these ideas seriously, very little damage will occur.
Many times leaders who are theologically cautious will tell you what teachers or truths to avoid, which I understand. Frankly I have little interest in reading anything by Rob Bell, nor would I encourage anyone who is a believer to deeply read what he’s written. The problem with this type of philosophy is that it starts to spill over into things not written by our tribe…whatever tribe it is you belong to: evangelical mega-churches, Reformed Baptists, Charismatic firebrands, or house church writers. I’ve learned from brothers and sisters in all of these groups and grown tremendously from it, all while spitting out a bone here and there.
My response to my theologically cautious friends is this: We need to grow in our discernment. For too long, we’ve created a culture where we’ve been told what is good and bad and blindly followed along because someone said so. This kind of mentality has lead to us falling into deception whenever our trusted teachers turn to heresy. Hebrews tells us the mature have become mature because they have practiced discerning between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). We shouldn’t make a practice of reading heresy and trying to find God in it, but we’ve made a mistake in only trying to read truth from our theological tribe and it’s caused us to be weak and immature.
So don’t go dumpster diving, looking for nuggets in every heretic’s writings, but get broad perspective on what the Bible teaches. Compare it to what the Bible actually says. If a truth you hear or read contradicts a clear teaching of Scripture, ignore it. Don’t put into practice things that aren’t patterned after the Lord Himself. Let these things be your guide.
We can learn from others who aren’t perfect. It’s entirely possible. In fact, it’s the only way we grow as part of the body of Christ. The problem most people have with learning from others who aren’t perfect is the idea that they’ll some how be lead into sin or deception.
Most of you know I spent some time in a Bible college almost fifteen years ago. During that time I heard Mike Bickle say over and over again one phrase that has stuck with me and helped me learn from almost everyone: “Eat the chicken, spit out the bones.”
This was revolutionary to me the first time I heard it. Prior to that, everyone I met was either a defender of truth or a heretic to be avoided. The confusing part was what to do when the defenders of the truth disagreed with each other!
This simple statement communicated so much in one simple phrase. People (believers, specifically) aren’t either all right or all wrong. They are a complicated mix of truth that can nourish you and oddball theologies and practices that you probably don’t want to try and swallow.
Deeper still, there is no chicken without bones to work past, so no matter how good the chicken, expect a few bones. The presence of bones shouldn’t cause you to forsake the chicken, either! The point is that you can read broadly, listen closely to lots of voices, and find truth that is there, without having to adopt anything unbiblical.
For example, unless you’re willing to write off about twelve hundred years of church history, almost all of the writings we have from 300 AD to 1500 AD are Catholic in nature. Now, you can ignore the writings of this time out of fear of growing in the belief that Pope is infallible and Mary is a goddess, or you can understand that these men were a complicated mixture of truth and error and learn from them where you can.
My friends in the missional movement are a tremendous encouragement to me to share the Gospel and recover much of what is missing from the church. However, I’d be lying if sometimes I didn’t see them slip into both theological and political liberalism that I don’t see in the New Testament. The beauty is I can learn from these men and women without having to wholesale adopt everything that they believe.
So read that Catholic mystic, that evangelical mega-preacher, and that missional guy who loves the poor. Just make sure that you don’t worship Mary, crowds, or liberalism instead of Jesus. In fact, I expect you to do the same thing with what I’ve written. We won’t agree on everything, but we can agree on Jesus and learn from the good in each others’ and others’ lives.
Eat the chicken, spit out the bones.