You all remember The Shack, right? If you do, you probably remember the debates and controversy that arose around this famous novel and movie adaptation.
Challies published a helpful article entitled, “What Does the Shack Really Teach?” that revealed the false teaching laced within the masterful story telling of The Shack author, Paul Young. Countless articles swirled around on social media decrying the heresy and twisted view of God The Shack portrayed.
I got in on the action. I shared those articles and got into debates with people that loved the book and movie. And then I watched a video of Paul Young’s testimony. I listened as he described the pain he had experienced in life and the past sins he regretted. He talked about how his controlling, abusive father influenced Young’s view of God. He talked about the brokenness that sin had caused and the relationships it destroyed. He described how he used to view Christianity as nothing more than a facade to hide the pain--trying to maintain an image so that others didn’t see the suffering. It was from this pain and brokenness that Paul Young wrote The Shack. If you read or watch it, you’ll see that Young’s depiction of God and Christianity is the exact antithesis of his past. He depicts God as a loving mother-figure instead of a controlling father-figure. He ignores eternal punishment and says that God didn’t plan the Cross, because that would make him a “cosmic child abuser.” As a result, Young presents a picture of God that is unscriptural.
The reality is, there are a lot of broken people out there. They have been mistreated, abused, and deeply hurt, and it’s common for them to form their own custom-made theology that eases the pain of their past, even if that theology doesn’t line up with Scripture.
And so I found myself experiencing two reactions: aversion toward Young’s bad theology, yet sympathy toward his story. Which reaction is supposed to win out? Should I expose his false teaching with no sympathy, or should I sympathize with his pain, remain silent and just listen to his message ‘with a grain of salt’?
The answer should not be either/or--it should be both/and. It’s common for broken people to form their bad theology from their pain, so how should we respond to them? We should respond with both sympathy toward their story and intolerance toward their theology. What does that look like? 1 Timothy 2:24-26 gives us the answer:
“And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
What a beautifully balanced approach this is. Too often, I see fellow Christians (and I’m guilty as well) condemning false teaching with little to no compassion or gentleness to the person who holds to that teaching.
We trample human beings in order to destroy their bad theology. We laugh and mock at these people as if they were beyond repentance. We see the correction of their theology as more important than the salvation of their souls.
But Paul tells Timothy to correct them “with gentleness.” Why? Because “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” In other words, our correction of false teaching should be driven and motivated by compassion for the false teacher. Instead of seeing our opponent as the devil himself, we should see him as someone who has been “captured by him to do his will.”
Yes, bad theology must be confronted and corrected without exception, but we must confront that bad theology with gentleness, instead of making it even tougher for our opponents to repent by our harsh, hateful, venomous words. Whether in person, or on social media, we must confront our opponents out of love for their souls. They’re trapped, they have lost their senses, they’re captured by the devil to do his will. Have pity on them. Pray that God will rescue them from “the snare of the devil.”
Now, I understand that not all false teaching comes from broken people. Some false teachers are fueled by nothing more than greed, lust, and deception. They don’t hold to their view of God sincerely, but see God as a means to personal gain. There are false teachers out there who truly are “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Correcting opposition with gentleness does not negate other Scriptural commands to separate from false teachers, but the Bible doesn’t give us warrant to mock and deride them. We don’t get to decide who ‘deserves’ repentance.
So I encourage you: expose false teaching in such a way that gives the false teacher opportunity to repent. Don’t harden him further by your words. Perhaps, if you have opportunity, hear their story first. Listen to the pain they have experienced and how they came to their conclusions, not so that you can better accept their teaching, but so that you have a heart of compassion as you seek to guide them back to the truth.
God just might grant them repentance. The question is, do you even want them to repent?
Aaron Berry earned both his undergrad and MA in Bible at Bob Jones University. He, along with his wife, Hanna, and daughter, Brooklyn, currently live in Detroit, MI, where Aaron is pursuing his MDiv degree while serving as the Director of Recruitment at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and working on staff at Inter-City Baptist Church. You can follow him on twitter @AaronMBerry
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