I have a whole list of pet peeves, but one of my top annoyances to date is a list of Christian doctrines that are not only erroneous (IMO), but have driven people away from faith unnecessarily. I want to call these out and toast them.
But before I do, allow me to clarify – I am talking as an Evangelical about Protestant errors – not the many Catholic errors that instigated the Protestant Reformation, many of which persist to this day.
We could go on at length about the many souls who have missed salvation in Catholicism due to its erroneous doctrines, such as indulgences, Papal infallibility, the cult of the saints, the deification of Mary, the office of clerical “priest,” and the general way in which Catholicism obscures the gospel with a doctrine of works and the ideas of confession, penance, and purgatory.
So, let us turn a critical eye towards our own house.
1. Rejection of the Self
Some Protestants love to attack Buddhism, claiming that it teaches an extinguishing of the self. And while this is somewhat true, what is often missed is that modern Christianity has an equally destructive denial and hatred of the self grounded in poor exegesis of Scripture. Relying on misunderstandings of such scriptures as Matthew 16:24 and Romans 2:8, they assume that the created self is bad, and is to be ignored, and that the only solution to the cries of the self to be loved and restored is to ‘focus on who you are in Christ, not your self.’
This gross misunderstanding of how God saves, loves, restores, and leads us to surrender the created self in loving service to others has hurt and failed more people than I care to know. You can listen to a sermon I did on this subject at A Biblical view of self-love.
2. Rejection of the body
Along with a rejection of the created self is a negative or diminished view of the body – that the body is to be ignored, if not rejected as fallen and sinful. This comes, not only from adopting a dualistic view of humanity (spiritual world is good, physical is bad), but from a misunderstanding of the term ‘flesh’ in such scriptures as Galatians 5, where the Apostle Paul is referring to the fallen nature and perhaps the worldview of this ungodly world, not just the physical, corrupt body.
The problem with this view is that it (a) ignores scriptures that speak positively of care of the body (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, James 5:15-16, 1 Thessalonians 5:23), (b) leads to a lack of care for the body, even to the point of ignoring or accepting gluttony as a way of life, and (c) fails to incorporate physical disciplines into the spiritual life.
This is, in part, why as a Christian, I practice yoga (I can’t do ‘praise aerobics,’ it just isn’t aware and contemplative enough for me).
3. Arminian Holiness
Arminianism emphasizes our ability and responsibility to believe the gospel, repent, and pursue God for our own sanctification. The problem with this is that it is often extended into a view that requires you to KEEP your salvation through effort, as well as maintain your good standing with God through holiness. This holiness often takes the form of not only inward striving, but of outward conformity to rules, both of which can easily move a person away from faith in God and into faith in one’s own efforts.
The outworking of this approach is that the believer is burdened with the need to be good enough to please God, rather than resting in the belief that God is at work in them. Two scriptures which illustrate the better, Calvinistic position include Hebrews 4:1-10 and Philippians 2:13.
Having been rescued from Arminianism by Calvinism, and being convinced that the Reformed (Calvinistic) view is largely correct, I am slow to want to criticize Calvinism. However, there are a couple of strains of it which are damaging to people.
The first is a kind practiced by many Southern Baptists, and is captured in the phrase “once saved, always saved.” The idea rests on the correct Calivinistic idea that it is God who both saves us initially, AND completes the process for us (Romans 1:17, Philippians 1:6). This idea goes wrong when we miss the fact that REAL faith produces real changes in personality and in good works. Otherwise, it’s probably not real conversion at all (James 2:18, 2 Corinthians 7:10-11). We are eternally secure if we have truly been regenerated, but we better check ourselves to see that we are not just tricking ourselves that we are really in the faith.
The second kind of Calivinistic abuse happens when people somehow wrongly assume that their destiny if fixed, and there is nothing they can do about it. They may feel they are beyond God’s grace or repentance, are not one of the ‘elect,’ and are damned. Alternately, some Christian determinists feel as though evangelism is not necessary because God is going to save whomever he wants whether or not we spread the message.
A third type of Calvinistic error comes from misunderstanding of the term “total depravity,” part of the summary of Calvinism presented in the TULIP acronym. Some have mistaken it to mean that there is nothing valuable in the unregenerate person (see the error regarding the Self discussed above), and so they can end up despising human nature or any human effort, including intellect, science, art, and any other feature of the created person apart from God.
I have addressed this error in Is Man Basically Good or Evil?
Some readers may be familiar with the battle over women’s rights, specifically as it applies to positions of authority in the Church. Unfortunately, there are two camps that are a bit polarized – the Complementarian and Egalitarian views, which emphasize man’s headship, and gender equality, respectively.
The problem with this polarization, in my view, is that both camps are partially correct. I think that the Complementarians are correct in emphasizing man’s place as head of the household, and perhaps in excluding women from being the lead pastor of the church. They may be wrong in extending this prohibition to other positions in the Church, and of course, are really wrong when they extend it to an authoritarian view of men in the Church and the home.
This type of patriarchy has offended and hurt many women, and forced them to either reject faith, or react and end up in an equally damaging feminist theology that demeans men, and destroys the peace of households by removing the idea of loving male headship.
6. Inerrancy of Scripture
Now I am seriously challenging orthodoxy, but I have come to this and the following convictions with much wrestling of heart and mind. So let me write plainly.
I believe that the doctrine of inerrancy, in the form of plenary inspiration of the original scriptures, while it may be true, ignores the fact that we do not have the original documents. Plenary inerrancy may be implied by scripture, and so we can trust the originals. But we only have close approximations of the originals, and translations on top of that. So how should we view our bibles? As inspired, authoritative, and accurate in their content, and in most words. But your KJV, NKJV, NASB, or ESV are not inerrant word for word. They can’t be. Let’s be honest. We don’t need the original autographs to have trustworthy bibles. But we need to understand that they point to the reality of God that we can experience.
Not only is scriptural support for plenary inerrancy tenuous, the fallout of thinking people who realize the illogic of this position is pretty significant, especially for what is at best a secondary doctrine. Many otherwise orthodox Christians have thoughtfully abandoned this doctrine, as I have mentioned in the following articles:
One logical extension of this doctrine is the awful King James Only stream of Christian thought.
Rejecting word-for-word inerrancy, by the way, does not mean that you can’t hold a high view of scripture – there are still reasons to hold that scripture is inspired, infallible, and mediated by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
7. Eternal Conscious Torment in Hell
I am a recent thoughtful convert to the Conditionalist view of hell, also known as the Annihilationist view. This unorthodox view of hell, which claims that scripture nowhere claims the default immortality of the soul, and that those who are not saved are punished then cease to exist, is growing in momentum, and I believe that it will soon replace the traditional view of eternal hell.
There are a couple of reasons why the traditional view of eternal hell has taken hold and has persisted despite a good biblical case against it. Primarily, it is rooted, not in scripture, but in the Platonic view of the immortality of the soul, and the church errantly adopted it, as it did Platonic dualism, mentioned above. If the unregenerate soul is immortal, then hell MUST be eternal too, right? Reading the scriptures through that lense has made us blind to what scripture ay actually teach – that no one has eternal existence outside of Christ. Re-read John 3:16 and ask yourself…what does ‘perish’ actually mean? Perhaps the most straightforward reading is actually the correct one.
Many fairminded men and women have rejected Christianity because eternal conscious torment seems grossly unjust – an eternity of suffering and punishment for temporal sins? God, who commands us to do justly, turns around and punishes forever?
I myself initially left Christianity because of this perceived injustice, even though I later attempted to defend the traditional view (in fact, I still think an argument can be made for the justice of eternal hell, but am glad to find that scripture probably does not teach it.)
A non-liberal and growing movement within evangelicalism is favoring the Conditionalist view, and with the tacit support of some great past theologians like John Stott (PDF) and F.F. Bruce, as well as the current theologians like John Stackhouse, this movement is gaining steam. You can read and listen to the movement at rethinkinghell.com.
The doctrines I have listed above are my list of worst orthodox errors, primarily because they have done so much harm to individuals and the Church. May God eradicate them!