Five Things You Can Do to Correct Error and Reverse Heresy in the Church

by Dr. Doug Potter

Recently I was asked to read a startling study. It surveyed American evangelical Christians (age 18-34). These are not your unsaved neighbors and co-works. They are the people that sit next to you and me, in the pew every . . . well, probably, hopefully, most Sundays. In short, the troubling study showed error and heresy in the church related to apologetics, theology, and social issues:

Apologetic Error and Theological Heresy

  • 32% agreed with the statement, “Religious belief is a matter of personal opinion; it is not about objective truth.”
  • 78% agreed with the statement, “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.”
  • 52% agreed with the statement, “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.”
  • 69% disagreed with the statement, “Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.”

Social Error

  • 58% agreed with the statement, “Worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church.”
  • 36% agreed with the statement, “God is unconcerned with my day-to-day decisions.”
  • 57% agreed with the statement, “Abortion is a sin.”
  • 51% agreed with the statement, “The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.”
  • 46% agreed with the statement, “Gender identity is a matter of choice.”

You can read the complete State of Theology study or a brief summary in Christianity Today.

What is even scarier? Compared to the same study done in 2016, most of the numbers show the percentages moving in the wrong direction. That is, this is getting worse, not better.

As an assistant professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary in my 15th year of teaching classes on Apologetics and Theology, this study is discouraging to say the least. Given the students I have taught come into my class with fuzzy to wrong concepts about theology and go out with good grades on their exams, I would have hopped such a study would show better results. I realize I should not look to a survey for results. Indeed, the results I look for may never manifest this side of heaven. So, I march on remembering my school’s mantra: “Train trainers, teach teachers, disciple disciples . . . so the cycle never ends.”

At this point you might be thinking I will turn this blog into my defense of the correct positions on each of the statements. Or perhaps I will turn it into a class that will show how Christian theology is a true and trusted approach to understanding God, the world, and the Bible. I wish I could, but instead, I will challenge you, the reader, to do five things that may help turn the tide of apologetic, theological, and social errors in the church.

  1. Read a Book

Well, not just any book. And yes, you should read the Bible. That is a given. I encourage you to read a book written by a credentialed scholar, respected by his peers on apologetics, social issues, and theology. And yes, I have recommendations for basic beginners to senior scholars. Even if you have already read my recommendations, if it has been more than a year, I encourage you to read it again. The older I get, the more I realize how much I have forgotten when I reread a book.

Without apology, I recommend Dr. Norman Geisler’s books. For the beginner in apologetics read Twelve Points that Show Christianity Is True and for the advanced, Christian Apologetics. For social issues get a copy of Legislating Morality and then Christian Ethics, and for theology Survey of Bible Doctrine and then Systematic Theology.

  1. Watch and Listen to a Lecture

I am not talking about a sermon, but a lecture on apologetics, social issues, and theology. The internet and social media are filled with scholars who have shared their teaching on these and many other topics. And I admit some of the better material you may have to pay for. Just consider the list of main speakers from Southern Evangelical Seminary’s 26th year of the National Conference on Christian Apologetics: Ravi Zacharias, Norman Geisler, Josh McDowell, Frank Turek, J. Warner Wallace, Chip Ingram, Richard Howe, and Richard Land. In my review of all the speakers’ topics, all and more than the errors and heresies mentioned above are covered. You can find the digital recordings of past conferences at the SES Store, and many of these talks are available for free on the SES Smartphone App.

  1. Take a Seminary Class

Seminary is no longer just for the pastor. It is for every Christian who is concerned about the statistics revealed above. A seminary class does two things for you that you will never get from a book or lecture. First, as one of my professors was fond of saying in class, “. . . not everything you need to know is in the textbook.” Never a truer statement has been uttered. The emphasis and connections between concepts as well as the experience and wisdom of a seasoned scholar will never come through a textbook.

Second, a classroom environment will cause you to learn in a way that a text and talk will never do. Only teachers can cause their knowledge to come to exist in the student and provide an environment to ensure it stays there. But be careful—it is addictive. Over the years I have seen and had students start with just taking one class, with no other intentions, and before they knew it, they were walking across a stage to receive a diploma. Check out SES’s classes and programs of study at https://sesedustage.wpengine.com/.

  1. Teach or Lead a Class in Your Church

Education is never completed until you complete the cycle by teaching and leading others. In fact, if all you did was #1, #2, and #3, you would still feel and actually be very incomplete. And I would suggest that this is the breakdown that has resulted in the alarming statistics cited above. It is not that the church does not have enough teachers; it is that those teachers are ill prepared and unwilling to tackle today’s apologetic, social, and theological issues. The stats above will not move in the right direction until an army of qualified believers leads and teaches in today’s churches. You may not be a teacher, and that is fine, but you can find a qualified teacher who, like you, has done 1-3 and help put together and lead a class that can address the pressing issues of our day. Also, essential to the success of your class and church is creating a caring, sharing, and correcting community that manifests the love for the brethren so that the world will know that you are disciples of the uncreated risen Savior and Lord Jesus Christ (John 13:35).

  1. Repeat Steps 1-4 for the Rest of Your Life

Of the statistics revealed above, what do you think is the scariest? In my opinion, it is,

  • 58% agreed with the statement, “Worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church.”

I don’t know about you, but as a Christian educator, I find that one sends chills up my spine. If someone walks into your church on Sunday morning to worship, you can fix all the problems listed above if you have done steps 1-4. But if they do not come to your church, you cannot fix anything, no matter how much preparation and education you have completed. This is the enemy at his best. This world is filled with demonic and social opposition to our personal growth as a disciple of Christ and to our churches as a body of growing believers living life together. Therefore, we must do each step clothed in the full armor of God (Ephesians 6) and in communion with all the saints (1 Corinthians 12). Yes, no matter what step you are on, go to the next one. I admit that it will not be easy to keep the cycle going, but we must no matter who opposes us or what the statistics say until the Lord returns. Maranatha!

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