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.