If you’ve ever read or attempted to read a systematic theology, you know how overwhelming and confusing the study of theology can be. There are so many theories, ideas, systems, discussions, and debates out there and they can be difficult to wade through. It is easy to come to the conclusion that studying deep theology is best left to the scholars, pastors, and teachers of the world. Isn’t it enough to just know the Gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected and the basics of what a Christian’s life should look like?
No, it’s not. It’s not enough to just have a surface understanding of the Bible and theology. We must always be seeking to have a deepened understanding of and closeness to God and his Word.
But why? What makes good theology so important? Beyond the obvious of having a closer relationship with God, is there any other reason to develop an understanding of good theology? Yes, yes there is.
When we fail to take the time to study theology, what it means to be a Christian, and do not form a biblical understanding of what we believe and why, we become prone to serious error. If we are not firmly grounded in the Word of God, we will become swayed by any doctrine or teacher that comes along.
I have seen this played out both in myself and in my peers, and it is highly concerning. Even today, after receiving both a bachelor’s and a Master’s in “Bible stuff,” I still find myself in need of stepping back, correcting, and rethinking what I hold in my belief system. I always will. But what concerns me the most is how we are swept away by the “next great thing” in the Christian world.
We assume that just because a book is popular, that it is sound. We conclude that because someone has a large social media following that they must be doing something right. We think that just because what a person preaches or teaches tickles our hearts or makes us feel good, that it is biblical. Popularity, a large social media following, and a way with words are not qualifications for a sound biblical teacher.
As I scroll through social media, interact with people, and read what the big names are teaching, I find myself very concerned for my generation (and for other generations as well). My timeline is filled with people talking about brokenness, vulnerability, feeling better, experiencing freedom, having amazing experiences, and so on. I see posts of people talking about how blessed they are, or that they are confident x thing is going to happen because they trust in God, and more. Women posts what they’re reading and how “incredible and Spirit-filled” the latest women’s Bible study book is. Just by skimming the newsfeed of the average Christian or anyone with a large amount of Christian friends, you would think that biblical literacy was on the rise in our generation. Unfortunately, it is not.
I will admit: sometimes it’s hard not to feel like I am just a jaded and negative person when I start mentally analyzing or picking apart statements, quotes, and posts. I confess to the sin of being skeptical instead of celebratory when I meet someone who says they are a Christian in a Facebook group that is not exclusively Christian. My skepticism does come from a valid place, though. I cannot begin to tell you how many people I have met who tell me they are Christians, and through talking to them I find out that they just like some of the stuff the Bible says, and they think whatever religion someone follows is okay.
But why am I going down this rabbit trail of essentially complaining about how too many of my Facebook friends have really bad theology? Because this isn’t just a complaint about what my Facebook, Instagram, and even Twitter feeds look like. It is a cry for my brothers and sisters in Christ to have more discernment in who they chose to listen to and follow. To not just drink in a book or podcast because the writer or speaker says they love Jesus. The Bible speaks of wolves in sheep’s clothing who claim to know Christ, but are in fact deceivers.
These deceivers never come with devil horns on their heads or warning bells tied to their ankles. They come wrapped up in a pretty, charismatic, and enticing package. They tell us to celebrate brokenness and to stay broken, they tell us that if we have enough faith we’ll be successful, they tell us that we have to let God do things for us, they tell us lies.
They glorify brokenness, but what they fail to mention is that they’re replacing the word “sin” with “brokenness” to make it sound better. They talk about the power of pray, but only in how it can make your life better and bring to pass all your hopes and dreams. They fail to mention what prayer is really about (drawing closer to God). They tell you your faith will move mountains, bringing you that business deal, no more sickness, and wealth and prosperity. They are telling you lies about God, what his Word teaches, and even the gospel, and they’re getting away with it.
But how? When you strip away all the lights, pretty packages, and pithy sayings, you see that each and every one of these false teachers is teaching their own form of the prosperity gospel and/or man-centered theology. But if I were to poll anyone who loves Anne Voskamp, Steven Furtick and Elevation Church, Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, Sarah Young, Bill Johnson, Hillsong, and Jesus Culture (etc., etc.) and ask them if the prosperity gospel is biblical, they would likely answer me with a hearty of course not! They would laugh at the idea that the teacher(s) they follow have any resemblance to Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar. “It’s those other people who are deceived. That’s not me. This person is perfectly fine! No wolves here.”
We laugh at the idea that we could be done in by someone who teaches theology no better than Joel Osteen, but friends, we are surrounded by it. It has infiltrated our Facebook feeds, women’s Bible studies, the pithy sayings on pretty graphics you see posted on Instagram, and even our church services. We think that just because someone is all about Jesus that their teachings are sound.
This is why good theology is so important. When we fail to ground ourselves in the Word of God and what it teaches, we fall into the traps these teachers lay out for us. But let me be clear: I firmly believe most (if not all) of the false teachers I have listed (and many more I am thinking of) started out with the best of intentions. They just wanted to share Jesus with the world. And, I believe that many of them are even my brothers and sisters in Christ. God ultimately knows their hearts, and unless I see something from them that is blatantly anti-Gospel (a denial of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, etc.) I will operate under the assumption that they fellow believers.
They started out with the best of intentions, but they too had a weak foundation. These teachers have either strayed from the Word to extrabiblical teachings, or have only skimmed the surface and refuse to go deeper. They are typified by mysticism, new revelation, claiming God “spoke to them,” skirting around the sin conversation (or making light of it), and taking verses out of context.
Let me reiterate: they look pretty, but they are dangerous. They will lead you astray.
Just knowing the Gospel simply is not enough. It was never meant to be enough. But let me be clear: the Gospel is most certainly enough for our salvation. But it is not enough for our growth in Christ, our progressive sanctification. The Gospel is just the beginning! We need to draw our theology from the whole of the Word of God. We must be on the lookout for false teachers. We must not readily accept what someone has to say as truth just because they talk about Jesus.
But, now that I’ve scared you from ever reading anything about God that isn’t the Bible ever again, let me encourage you. Not every teacher out there is false. Not everyone is a wolf dressed like a sheep. There are countless good teachers who have written, taught, and preached words that are biblically sound. They encourage a sound reading of the Word. They are not perfect, but they are wise and much can be learned from them. If you are having trouble knowing where to start with learning good theology and simply reading the Bible without any sort of guidance seems daunting, I encourage you to start with the people I am about to recommend. I will recommend three books I have read from authors I trust. I will also recommend three books that are on my “to read” that have been recommended by people I trust.
Let me reiterate what I try to say each time I write a post like this: I am not perfect. I have not arrived. I do not have a perfect theological system. I am not the be all end all of Bible knowledge. However, I have spent much time on and have degrees in studying and understanding the Word of God. I write out of concern for my brothers and sisters in Christ, who have a genuine desire to know God and love him more, but have been deceived by false teachers in pretty packages. Please do not be afraid to break away from the fluffy, prosperity theology and tread through deeper waters. God wants his children to know him better, to develop a good theology, to flee from the false teachings and sins that so easily ensnare us.
Books I have read (along with my Goodreads reviews):
1. No Little Women by Aimee Byrd
“Aimee Byrd writes with clarity and objectivity. She is intelligent and each chapter is saturated in Scripture. She does not make an assertion without explaining herself and without demonstrating her thought process through Scripture. Not only that, she spends significant time in the latter half of the book giving her readers the tools to be engaging and discerning readers. She brought multiple things up that I hadn’t considered previously and gave me much to think about. I would highly encourage any pastor, elder, church leader, and layman (so… anyone 😉 ) to give this book a read. This is a book that is an answer to a prayer that has been on my heart for quite some time. I hope, as a future writer and teacher, that I can be as clear and engaging as her.”
2. Love Into Light by Peter Hubbard
“Peter Hubbard has a knack for clearly and concisely stating his point. This book was chock full of truth and mercy. It’s accessible to the layman, and provides an excellent perspective on an issue that is pervading the church. I did leave the book feeling like much more could have been said but also appreciated what was said. Hubbard taps into the surface of a deep issue and does an excellent job of familiarizing readers with biblical truths on the homosexuality debate and helping those who are struggling with SSA. I would love to see a follow-up book with a more in-depth study of SSA with helpful tools for pastors and others in ministry for incorporating ways to help those struggling with SSA.”
3. Urban Legends of the New Testament by David A. Croteau
“I’ve had this book for a couple of years now, and I’m so glad I finally got the chance to actually read it. The overall purpose of this book is right in line with something I’m passionate about: encouraging and teaching good hermeneutics and study of Scripture. This book goes through 40 misinterpretations of New Testament passages (some outright incorrect, some misleading) and guides the reader through the work of studying the context and understanding the background of each passage. This book does more than make right wrong ideas about Scripture passages (although it does that and it does it very well) – it gives the tools and principles needed for any layman reading to go and apply these principles for himself. As someone who has been to seminary and has an MA in theology, many of these corrections or ways of studying Scripture were “old hat” to me. They were principles I’ve learned through my education. But I still learned quite a bit from Dr. Croteau. There will always be more to learn from the Bible and how to study it. Many of the legends were topics that had confused me or I had struggled with understanding in the past. Dr. Croteau speaks in clear, accessible language that allows both amateur and expert to learn and understand from his book. I hope to find and read more books from this author. He does an excellent job of staying true to God’s Word and encouraging others to do the same.”
Books on my to-read (along with their summaries, found on Goodreads):
1. Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin
“Many Christian women find great encouragement and joy in and through women’s Bible studies. However, popular Bible teacher Jen Wilkin is concerned that sometimes we let our emotions rule our study of Scripture and forget that the Bible is primarily about God, not us. Challenging hungry women to go deeper in their study of Scripture, this book will help you refocus your efforts on feeding your mind first and foremost. Whether you’re young or old, married or single, this accessible volume will energize and equip you for Bible study aimed at transforming both the heart and mind.”
2. Women Counseling Women by Elyse Fitzpatrick
“Multitudes of women struggle daily with negative habits and addictions, emotions such as anger and depression, various kinds of loneliness, and other difficulties experienced by mothers, wives, or singles. Here is a rich counseling resource that looks to the Bible alone as being sufficient to address our every need. Author Elyse Fitzpatrick and several contributors are all qualified biblical counselors skilled at interweaving the perfect wisdom of God’s Word with heartfelt compassion and concern for those who need help. Among the topics are…emotions, worry, and depression eating disorders and habitual struggles and sins verbal abuse and pornography singleness, marriage, and parenting grief and caregiving. Designed for both self-use and as a guide for counseling others, Women Counseling Women offers answers that will encourage and endure because God’s Word is timeless and full of wisdom for the problems women face.”
3. Eve in Exile by Rebekah Merkle
“The swooning Victorian ladies and the 1950s housewives genuinely needed to be liberated. That much is indisputable. So, First-Wave feminists held rallies for women’s suffrage. Second-Wave feminists marched for Prohibition, jobs, and abortion. Today, Third-Wave feminists stand firmly for nobody’s quite sure what. But modern women — who use psychotherapeutic antidepressants at a rate never before seen in history — need liberating now more than ever. The truth is, feminists don’t know what liberation is. They have led us into a very boring dead end. Eve in Exile sets aside all stereotypes of mid-century housewives, of China-doll femininity, of Victorians fainting, of women not allowed to think for themselves or talk to the men about anything interesting or important. It dismisses the pencil-skirted and stiletto-heeled executives of TV, the outspoken feminists freed from all that hinders them, the brave career women in charge of their own destinies. Once those fictionalized stereotypes are out of the way — whether they’re things that make you gag or things you think look pretty fun — Christians can focus on real women. What did God make real women for?“