Modern society has sharpened its critical focus on food with empty calories. All food and drink has calories. But not all calories are created equal. Some calories benefit our bodies. Some food has calories which only contribute to obesity and illness.
I’ll let y’all figure out which foods go in which category. I’m just using that as an analogy.
Though some fast food chains are trying to make their food more healthy and wholesome, few people believe they’ve accomplished it. Food which has many calories and few healthy elements is often desirable from a taste point of view, but bad for our health.
There are certain doctrines which are like that. They appeal to many people, but actually are harmful to spiritual health and growth. Every generation has doctrines like these, so we should never be surprised to discover them. Hebrews 13:9 has a name for them. It calls them “strange doctrines”. The word means “foreign” in the sense of “something imported”. There are doctrines which come at us like exotic, tasty food. They are not really part of clear historical doctrine, but at first bite they taste so good.
But are they good for us?
I have identified three current teachings in our day which fall into this category of Fast Food Doctrine. For each of these I will simply identify the following features:
1. The Doctrine
2. Why people like it
3. What is wrong with it
4. What you can replace it with that “tastes” similar but is better for you.
One qualifier and explanation before beginning. Most of us, myself included, are not professional theologians. I consider a professional theologian to be someone who has studied, been mentored in, been examined in, and has published in the arena of Theological disciplines. For the most part, the true Theologian should have at least a Masters Degree in Theology. Most of today’s professional theologians have both a doctorate in Theology and have been published in peer-reviewed journals.
I can hear someone saying “anyone who studies the Bible is a theologian.” I call that viewpoint “Credential Bleeding”. It results from diminishing the minimum requirements needed for someone to be considered professional at a task.
It is like someone looking up a medical condition on WebMD and considering themselves as well-informed on it as a doctor. It is like saying that anyone who has ever talked about their faith with someone is a missionary.
When you broaden a definition, you water it down so it means nothing.
I have a Bachelors degree in Theology. I have written papers on theological topics. I read and study theology regularly. Yet I’m nothing more than an amateur. Many pastors are the same. John McArthur, John Piper, Rick Warren, Francis Chan, Bill Johnson, T. D. Jakes, Jack Hayford, are all experienced pastors. They all have opinions on theological topics. In the case of John Piper, he even has a doctorate. But none of them qualify as a professional theologian.
The professionals–such as N. T. Wright, Marg Mowcsko, Alastair McGrath, Douglas Moo, Sarah Cokely, Grace Kim, Michael Horton, Roger Olson, etc.–are not as well known as the pastors. Yet, they form the foundation of knowledge, experience and learning upon which amateurs rely. Their writings give the background, credence, and historical context needed so the pastors and other more well-known Christians can speak with confidence.
Many of these theologians have identified these Fast Food Doctrines of our day. But because most people do not read theologians as much as they read pastors and bloggers, I thought I would explain how these three doctrines make Christians spiritually unhealthy.
The Doctrine: The word “providential” refers to an event which results in good things for someone. For instance, my wife’s uncle was stabbed while working in a rescue mission. When they sewed up his wound, they found cancer he didn’t know was there. That is considered “providential.”
Determinism is the belief that everything which happens is supposed to happen the way it does. It is fated to happen only that way.
Providential Determinism is the belief that every event in every person’s life happens for a reason. The reason is usually determined and understood by God. This doctrine also says it had to happen the way it did because God is in control of all things.
This doctrine is promoted by people through slogans such as “All things happen for a reason”, and “God has a purpose in this tragedy.”
Why People Like it: This Fast Food doctrine appeals to most people for a simple reason: It makes the universe feel less like a scary place. If we believe that every event in our life was designed by God to fit into God’s plan for our lives, then we can relax and not be afraid of the future.
What is Wrong With This Doctrine: There is much wrong with this doctrine and it would take entire theological volumes to explain it. So, I will attempt to quickly outline four problems with it.
First, this violates the revealed nature of God. Dr. Michael Horton is a strong proponent of Calvinism. Some people wrongly believe that Calvinists agree with providential determinism. But Horton teaches that determinism of all kinds is a slap in God’s face. He says it makes God out to be heartless and unloving. For God to actively or passively desire abuse, neglect, pain, anguish, suffering, injustice, or any other evil to happen to his Children, that makes God an awful parent. Horton says that determinism means that God needs evil to happen so His plan will be accomplished.
God does not need evil in this world. God hates evil and works to get rid of evil. He wants us to do the same. Therefore, any doctrine which teaches that God needs evil to happen in order for God’s plans to take shape is wrong.
Second, this makes God the creator of sin. If all events, including the sinful ones, are part of God’s plan, then ultimately, God is the author of sin. The doctrine dealing with the origin of sin is called Theodicy. No reputable theologians believe that God is the author of sin. It is only the disreputable ones who teach Providential Determinism, but they are not acceptable to orthodoxy.
Third, Providential Determinism removes all human choice. If it is all determined, then the concepts of sin, depravity, responsibility, justice, etc. are all meaningless.
Finally, this doctrine recognizes only one “actor” in human events: God. It does not see that there are malignant forces in the spirit realm which act independently of God. Demons, Satan, evil humans, Principalities and Powers, do not have any real impact on this world according to this doctrine.
The Bible does not agree with that.
What Healthier Doctrine Can You Replace it With: There are three doctrines which are healthier than this and actually accomplish the same thing.
First, there is the doctrine of the Immutability of God. In other words, God never changes. And since God said “I will never leave you nor forsake you” that still holds true today. No matter what suffering you face, God is there with you.
Second, there is the doctrine of God’s Efficacy. God’s will in building our lives and the Kingdom of God will get done. In Romans 8:28 it says “God works all things together for the good of those who love him AND are called according to his purpose.”
This does not mean all things work out for good. We know that is not true in this life. Children die, spouses are assaulted, wars happen, genocide still afflicts our world. All of these things happen, but God has nothing to do with any of it.
But if a person dedicates themselves to obeying God and serving God in all things, God will make sure some good can come out of even the worst evil. God doesn’t need to cause the evil to find a way to help his followers find a good path in the midst of suffering.
Third, there is the doctrine of God’s Justice. God does not forget what has been done to us. God is just. God will not overlook the evils that have been laid upon us. He is the judge, not us. We do not need to enact vengeance ourselves, because vengeance belongs to God. All evil in this world will be brought to account. All of it.
The Doctrine: Throughout history, this doctrine has taken many forms. In plain terms, Manifest Destiny is the belief that God raises up certain nations, cultures, societies or leaders in order for God to more quickly and completely establish the Kingdom of God.
Manifest Destiny is most often associated with another doctrine called post-millennialism.
The Bible in Revelation 20 speaks of a day when the people of God will inhabit the earth. There will be no sin or evil for 1000 years. Then, at the end of this “millennium” Satan will be released and the people of God will have to face him one last time before Eternity starts.
The big question has always been, “when will the Millennium start?” When I used to give ordination examinations to young pastors on their doctrine, this is the doctrine many of them misunderstood. So I don’t fault the average Christian for not understanding it. There are three views of the Millennium and its timing:
- Premillennialism: This world will get worse and worse and then Jesus Christ will return and set up 1000 year reign on earth.
- Amillennialism: The Millennium is just a metaphor for the afterlife. It will last for an indefinite period of time after Christ’s return.
- Postmillennialism: The church will eventually convert the entire world to Christ and then the 1000 years (or eternity) will start on earth. Christ will return at the end of the Millennium to defeat Satan once and for all.
Manifest Destiny is the belief that God uses certain nations to conquer culture and society to the point where everyone comes to accept God’s reign and rule. This can be accomplished by politics, entertainment, science, preaching, and even military force.
By conquering this world, the Church becomes triumphant and sets up the Kingdom of God to rule and reign. This is also called Triumphalism.
Throughout history, many groups believed they were destined to be that force to convert the world. It started with Nebuchadnezzar and his dream. In that dream, he envisioned a huge man with a golden head. As he went down the body, each part of the body was made out of a different substance. Finally, at the feet, he saw they were made of iron and clay. Then he woke up.
The prophet Daniel told him this represented nations and their role in the plan of God. Nebuchadnezzar was told he was the golden head. That was really all he heard. He told everyone from that point that God had called him to conquer the world. He missed the main point of the statue dream. The point was that many nations would play a role, not just one. When their roles were done, God moved on to the next one.
The emperor Constantine believed God had raised him up to conquer the world for Jesus. Centuries later, the Roman Catholic Church tried to do it by sending out preachers with the conquistadors in order to subdue and convert every person in the Americas.
The Brits declared that the British Navy was God’s “vessel” to bring the Gospel to the ends of the world. Their naval forces were taught to believe they were a mighty force chosen by God to subdue the world.
The early pilgrims believed America was to be the “city on the hill”. They even coined the term “Manifest Destiny”. Teddy Roosevelt fanned the flames of late 19th century evangelists by declaring God wanted to use America to unite the Western Hemisphere under American rule and dominance.
Almost every time America goes to war, this idea of Manifest Destiny is renewed.
Why People Like It: Christians have always hated feeling like a minority with very little influence. Yet Jesus told us that was how it would go.
But we have trouble accepting that. Even today, there are preachers and politicians who stir up the Christians with talk of “conquering”, “overcoming”, “ruling”, “reigning”. These post-millennial movements have many names: Kingdom Now, Manifest Sons, Seven Mountains, Church Universal and Triumphant, etc.
But they all come down to this: We will be on the winning side for a change. That has a certain appeal to Christians who have felt trodden down.
What is wrong with this doctrine: Just like the mistake Nebuchadnezzar made, all nations with a belief in Manifest Destiny eventually resort to the use of force to bring about the Kingdom of God.
They teach practices antithetical to the doctrines taught by Jesus. Without exception, every nation which aligns itself with the church in that nation to try and secure Manifest Destiny has eventually used force to create a Theocracy. There has never been an exception to this. The early history of the Spanish incursions into Central and South American prove this.
More dramatically, the English, French, German and Italian armies of the Crusades were firm believers they were God’s Soldiers sent to establish the Kingdom of God. The damage done by the Crusades is still felt in the continuing conflict with the Muslim world.
N. T. Wright warns that all Manifest Destiny movements attract the wrong partners. Politicians will often align themselves with factions inside the church to accomplish purposes the church would not desire if they were asked.
In 1931, the German people were still angry that the world had treated them badly after World War 1. Adolph Hitler played upon that pain and sought to teach the German people that they were called by God to bring a new message to the world. He even appealed to leaders of the German church. Here is what he said to a large crowd that year:
“Today, Christianity stands at the head of this country…I pledge that I will never tie myself to those who want to destroy Christianity…We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. In short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess the past few years.”
The military also loves to have the support of the church in countries where Manifest Destiny is affecting Christians.
In the early days of America, men like Jonathan Edwards and Timothy Dwight argued vociferously against the Puritan practice of making ecclesiastical law equivalent to civil law. There is no doubt we have seen waves of Manifest Destiny sweep through the church in the past 350 years here in America.
Jesus made it clear to Pontius Pilate that he did not come to set up an earthly kingdom. Though God uses nations for his purposes, no one nation has the aegis of God’s destiny and approval.
What Healthier Doctrines Can You Replace it With: If what you want is a sense of purpose and direction, then look again at Nebuchadnezzar. Like Esther, he was raised up at one point in time in history to fulfill a purpose of God.
This can be seen throughout the Bible. God uses groups, individuals, nations, ethnicities, and even languages to accomplish His purpose. But then God moves on when that purpose is done.
We don’t need to conquer this world. Either premillennialism or amillennialism would be healthier alternatives. Read thoroughly some of the best books of both these positions. Beware of any group telling you how God has chosen a nation to permanently be or do anything. God only uses nations for a short time and moves on. That has always been true.
There are very few theologians who accept the teachings of post-millennialism. Dr. Gary North has been teaching this view for years, but he fails to garner support even in his own seminary.
Most teachers of Manifest Destiny are preachers who have aligned themselves with politicians, celebrities, or seek to make a lot of money. Unfortunately today, there are many even within the Intercessory prayer movement who teach this.
As the angel said to Joshua, “the question is not whose side is the Lord on, but rather, who is on the Lord’s side?’
An Equal-Weighted Bible
The Doctrine: This doctrine has some very good elements to it. But when people put it together in a system of thought, many times it produces strange teachings. Here are the contributing ideas to this Doctrine of the Equal-Weighted Bible.
1. The Bible says that the Bible is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16)
2. Since God breathed out the Bible, every part must be without error.
3. Since every part is without error, every part is equally valuable.
4. Since every part is equally valuable, we will use every part of the Bible equally to decide what to believe.
Here is the consequence of believing all of these ideas. If you believe that every verse in the Bible carries equal weight and is equally as valuable, you will fail to notice that each part of the Bible has different purposes. For instance, the historical books of the Old Testament were written with a different focus and purpose than the Gospels. The poetical books of the Old Testament were given by God to accomplish something different than the Law does.
However, when you treat every section and type of literature in the Bible the same, it encourages people to take random Bible verses and put them together. This can be done by searching for key words in the Bible and collecting them all into a list and making a theological argument with them.
This is where many of the heresies of the Church have started. You would think people would take into account the various types of literature and the relative importance of each Bible section, but many people do not. Even some of the best-known Bible teachers can make this mistake if they’re not careful.
Why People Like It: Taking the time to understand the different parts of the Bible, their purpose, their limitations and their type of literature takes a lot of work. Someone who sets aside a few minutes to read the Bible doesn’t want to do all that work. An equal-weighted Bible is much easier.
What is Wrong With this Doctrine: Let’s look at the various parts of this doctrine to see where the error lies.
First, the word “God-breathed” is an important word. If one studies it, you realize it does not teach the idea that the Bible is without error. It only gives a clue to the origin of the Bible. Since God breathed out the Bible, it means the concepts of the Bible started with God and were transmitted to humans.
But the Bible is not the only part of God’s creation that was breathed out. Indeed, humans are also “breathed out” by God. In Genesis, it literally says that God took the dirt, fashioned a human out of it and breathed his Spirit into man. Humans are God-breathed. Does that mean we are without any errors? Hardly. But we do have our origins in God. We are all “God-breathed” even though our mothers and fathers were the immediate cause of our creation.
So, the Bible is certainly God-breathed. The purpose of stating that in 2 Timothy 3 is to show us the origin of the Bible, not its inerrancy.
Second, it is the belief of conservative Christians that the Bible is without error. I am not going to argue that. I also believe that. But there is a proviso that all orthodox theologians make here: When theologians speak of the Bible being without error, they mean the original Bible. They mean the original manuscripts of the Bible.
The problem is, we don’t have any of those. We do not have a single document which is the original manuscript of the authors of the Bible. At best, we have copies which were made centuries after the original. Theologians accept that those copies have mistakes in them. Indeed, some of the copies must have mistakes, because they don’t always agree with each other.
And, the Bible was not written in any other language besides Ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. So the inerrant manuscripts that we don’t have, were written in languages that none of us speaks. Except for Greek and Hebrew scholars, no one reads the manuscripts the Bible was written in.
On top of that, the Bible needs to be interpreted. All of us as we read it are interpreting what it says. And no interpretations of the Bible are as perfect as what was originally given.
In addition, even though every part of the Bible has its origin in God and was originally inerrant, it still does not follow that all of it carries equal weight. For instance, I may write a letter to my wife. I may say “Dear Kathy” and end with “Love Mike”. Those are important greetings. But my wife knows that the core of the letter is more important than the greetings. No communication is equally weighted.
Some parts of the Bible are there to show us we need a Savior. Some parts are there to show us how all humans have similar emotions, commit similar sins, display similar reactions to injustice, death, and sin. Some parts are there to show us exactly who the Savior is and how we can know Him.
Those parts are not equal. They are not the same. They are not to be interpreted the same or treated the same. They have different focal points and different purposes.
What God taught in the beginning was not as complete as what God taught in the end. Hebrews 1:1-3 reminds us that though God spoke to us through prophets and other people, now he has spoken to us through his Son. The meaning is that the Revelation of God in Jesus is greater than the other revelations in the Bible.
The Bible is not equally weighted. The Old Testament points to a need for a Savior and tells Israel what to expect when the Savior comes. The New Testament talks about the first and second comings of the Savior, Jesus and how the church coped with following Jesus in the century following that.
What Healthier Doctrine Can You Replace It With: Adopt the Doctrine of Progressive Revelation. This is the idea that all of God’s message to mankind can be summed up in Jesus. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. He is the one who said “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father”.
Start by reading and understanding the Gospels and build your core doctrine from there. Add other doctrinal elements from the rest of the New Testament writings.
Once you truly understand what God is saying in Jesus, use the history and the prophecies of the Old Testament to confirm what the Gospels say. If they don’t appear to agree with Jesus, then re-interpret them in light of his revelation.