As a ministry we depend a great deal on the local church. When someone is struggling with questions of faith it is so important they have somewhere to go, somewhere they feel safe, where they can bring their questions, talk about their doubts, and find grace.
A former cult member, someone who has come to faith in Jesus, has to start again, to build their faith world from the ground up. The local church is essential in this work, but most church leaders are uneasy with the world of heresy and error. They harbour genuine fears that their flock, that even they themselves might be dragged into something damaging, be preoccupied with an unhealthy interest in error. It is important to exercise such caution, but it is also important that error is addressed at the local, pastoral level.
The subject in Risking the Truth is handling error in the local church. It takes the form of interviews conducted by Martin Downes, until recently minister of Christ Church, Deeside, North Wales. He blogs on the Against Heresies blog. You can read more about the book and what others have to say on the Christian Focus Publications site.
The author interviews twenty experienced leaders, asking them about their lives from seminary to pulpit, inviting them to reflect on questions of heresy and false teaching. It sounds like an unhappy subject but I found the book surprisingly uplifting and encouraging. He asks the same, or similar questions, of each and the answers are wide-ranging, thought-provoking but finally reinforcing of our Christian faith and tradition. The caution felt by most church leaders is expressed, the right balance struck between caution and confrontation.
Typical questions are, ‘Were there men [you knew] who started out with evangelical convictions who later moved away from the gospel?’
‘Have you ever been drawn toward any views or movements that time has shown to have been unhelpful or even dangerous theologically?’
‘How should a minister keep his heart, mind and will from theological error?’
‘How have you dealt with church members or students who have been attracted to, or taken in by false teaching?’
This is not a book about cults, but a collection of the thoughts of experienced leaders on the question of how church leaders might deal with error and help their their congregation when error entices them.
His interviewees are all from a Reformed background, so if you are a great fan of NT Wright this may not be altogether your cup of tea, but there is ample discussion of current challenges in both seminary and the public arena. Penal substitution gets a very good treatment from Dr Tom Schreiner, Associate Dean and Professor of New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
An interview with R Scott Clark, Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California addresses the continued resurgence of old heresies and the dangers of concentrating too much on error, a theme that runs through the book.
The perils of being preoccupied with eschatology and dispensationalism are well documented by Dr Kim Riddlebarger, Senior Pastor of Christ Reformed Church, Anaheim, California.
Conrad Mbewe, Pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church, Lusaka, Zambia splendidly addresses the issue of teaching the whole counsel of God from the whole Word of God.
If, like me, you are always looking for more good things to read Robert Peterson, Professor of Systematic Theology, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis (who deals with the issue of hell) gives us a formidable reading list.
The annihilation of hell, the new perspective on Paul, the essential doctrine of mercy alone, the dangers of liberalism, and more pepper these pages with wisdom and insight. There are one or two wonderful ‘blind spots’ too in an aversion to bands, contemporary worship and Powerpoint! But then it is to make a serious point in a call to sorrow for sin, hatred of self, desire for God, exercise in faith, assurance of hope, a mature faith.
There is a very good primer on heresy and false teaching, Heresy 101, in the first chapter where heresy and false teaching are defined, their source identified, and the effects of wrong teaching addressed. The book ends with a chapter insisting that being against heresies is not enough, and a reflection on dealing with false teaching and teachers in 1 Timothy.
This book encouraged me, not simply in the ministry of Reachout Trust, but in my daily Christian walk. There is so much subjectivity out there, so much speculation, it feeds the soul to be reminded of the compelling and unchanging truths of the good news of Jesus Christ. One quote brought by the author sums up the urgent need for truth to be grasped, kept, and proclaimed:
‘It has long been my conviction, that the only effective refutation of error is the establishment of truth. Truth is one, error is multiform; and truth, once firmly established, overthrows all the errors that either have been, or may yet be, opposed to it. He who exposes and expels an error, does well; but it will only return in another form, unless the truth has been so lodged in the heart as to shut it out forever.’ (James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification)
Who is interviewed?
Carl R Trueman
R Scott Clark
Sean Michael Lucas
Iain D Campbell
Gary LW Johnson