Divine healing can also be understood biblically in a holistic sense. Some point to how the Greek word for save means wholeness. Others highlight the full scope of the meta-narrative to support the view. A holistic view affirms that God’s healing power is understood to extend to the transformation of individuals and communities. The belief that the gospel brings wholeness, which extends into healing in all its aspects, has been a transformative concept for the church in China. Such an inclusive concept of health existents God’s power into all aspects of the community. Where ordinary christians, in ordinary ways are used to bring extraordinary healing and flourishing to people and communities. This is the way.

A real world examples of this can be seen all over China. The below narrative of God’s grassroots transformation of a community is taken from Oblau’s field notes, recorded in Fujian Province (May 1997):  

Xiyang, an extremely poor village in the coastal mountains of Fujian Province. Church history in Xiyang village covers scarcely 30 years. It originated through three experiences, one of sudden death and two of apparently divine healing. A young girl from Xiyang had been sold by her parents into marriage to a man from another province. When she arrived at her in-laws', her fiancé had suddenly died. But instead of blaming her for bringing bad luck, which would have been expected, the grieving parents received her in generous hospitality. They turned out to be Christians, and under their influence the young woman from Xiyang became a Christian herself. After some time, she moved home to Xiyang, where she openly confessed her faith but managed to win over only a few elderly women, until one day a nine-year-old boy fell into the village pond and almost drowned. He was pulled out of the water unconscious and carried home. Since the village had no real road connection and the next clinic was very far, his parents and their neighbors resigned themselves to his fate. The Christian believers, however, came and sat at the boy's bedside, asking God for the boy's life, until many hours later he awoke and recovered quickly and fully. As a result, many young people and entire families joined the Christian group.


Later, a young woman called You Muhua married into Xiyang. She was a recent Christian convert. Prayers in her aunt's house church had reputedly cured her from chronic fatigue and turned her into a fervent Christian. Her personal healing testimony plus her record of nine years of schooling gave her sufficient credentials to be put in charge of preaching and pastoring in the emerging house church.  Meanwhile, the social situation of the area was unhealthy and disheartening. Some young men had been sentenced to death and executed for crimes, including piracy. Poverty and destitution had led them to seek their fortune by robbing and sometimes murdering people down the coast. You's husband, too, had been involved in criminal activities. The young Christian woman, however, managed to win him over, and told all who were willing to hear that the Lord Jesus wanted people to repent from their wrongdoings and in turn would provide for their sustenance. Xiyang's new converts developed an active social life. A visitation team looked regularly after all Christian families and cared for the sick, a production team organized assistance during times of sowing and harvesting for families with insufficient labor power, a know-how team of several young people was sent to the county town to attend courses in mushroom growing and the tending of orange trees. They shared their newly acquired knowledge with Christians and non-Christians alike, and the entire village population benefited from the Christian presence in numerous ways. When the Christian congregation had outgrown You's family courtyard, the local Communist cadres provided a piece of land for a special price and helped to build a church. They had become sympathetic to Christianity as they observed how it brought social and economic development and drastically lowered the crime rate. A simple brick structure was erected. As people leave the building now, they pass underneath an inscription above the door which reads “Peace to those who go out.” [1] 

[1] Gotthard Oblau,  “Divine Healing and the Growth of Practical Christianity in China,” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, Edt. Candy Gunther Brown (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011) 324-325

In the book “A Church called Tov” by Scot McKnight, he gives eight false narratives that toxic churches often tell to protect themselves. In Part one we looked at the first four false narratives. In part two we looks at three more false narratives and in this post we will look at the last of the false narratives as well as make some concluding remarks on how to detox from these worldly ways.

The majority of this content comes from the third chapter of McKnight’s book, “A church called Tov”. All quotes are in italics and quotes other than McKnight are cited below. I have ordered McKnight material into sections: First a description of the false narrative and Second some examples for clarity.



 fake apology, [are] not an apology at all. Fake apologies are not issued out of confession or repentance like a true apology. Instead, they condemn the victim, appease the audience, attach excuses, and try to justify inappropriate behavior.

Types of Fake Apologies

Wade Mullen in a post titled “What I’ve Observed When Institutions Try to Apologize and How They Can Do Better.” He describes five types of apologies that are not up to snuff. They don’t make the cut. 9 out of 10 doctors (of theology) would not recommend them. they are the wrong way to do the right thing.

1. The Condemning apology

“the apology that condemns” the other person. “The classic example of this is the apology that says, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way.’” [1] There is no admission of wrongdoing, only a manipulative suggestion that the other person is either too sensitive or has misinterpreted the situation.

1. The obligatory apology or insincere apology

The next “apology” is one that appeases. “It is not an attempt to do all that is necessary to right wrongs, but an attempt to offer only what is needed to quell [an] outcry. ” [2]

2. The “But And” apology

The “apology” that comes with excuses attached. Mullen calls this an “apoloscuse.” It can take many forms, but they all seek to shift the blame or one’s perception of the evildoer.

3. The Self-promotion apology

“apologies” that are couched in terms of self-promotion. “Many public statements of apology . . . become pitches for why [the organization is] still worthy of continued support and engagement from [its] followers.”” [3]
* Mullen adds that organizations should never announce that they are “on the same side as the victims.” That decision, he says, is only for the victims to make.

4. The apology with a hook 

non-apologies that attempt to garner sympathy for the institution. This is the “we’re hurting too” type of statement that tends to “displace the pain of the wounded with the pain of the wounder.” [4] ”

Conclusion: Real apologies, a painful promise and the upside to Genocide

As a people with forgiveness as a core tenet of the faith we should be experts in forgiveness. Something like world class forgivers, a people who hold the gold standard in apologizing. Yet when i look around all I find is elite level apologists of our sin. People able to give an reasoned account why that sin is not really sin. The church need to relearn how to apologies.

Components of a real apology include 
five elements

    1. surrender the need to be right and the desire to defend yourself 

    2. confession of our sin without qualifiers or explanations

    3. ownership of our sin and it’s effects on others 

    4. recognition of the full consequences of sin 

    5. empathy over the hurt you have caused.

In Luke's gospel, Jesus gave a painful promise.  Jesus promised, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (Luke 8:17).  So when this promise is fulfilled on this side of the judgment day, it is always mercy. A severe mercy that offers a church or individual the opportunity start over the right way. The five aspects to starting over are 1.) Repent Well 2.) Authentically Apologies 3.) Trust the Gospel 4.) Learn to do right the next time 5.) to live more transparently all the time. These five aspects ought to be lived out. We are to walk them out and as we do we experience something of a detox for the worlds ways. Sadly this way is narrow and few find it.

The havoc that these false narratives have inflicted on a church making it impossible in many quarters of the church to know objectively who is telling the truth. Such a sad reality makes me long for the days when the Holy Spirit killed people who lied to the church. These days if the Holy Spirit returned to that practice we would likely have “help wanted” signs on many churches in America. An upside, fear and awe would fill the church at least until our Starbucks order was completed.



If you like this content then you may enjoy our video featuring Dr. McKnight on this subject. [Click here]. Also if you like this blog you will love the McKnight’s book amazon link below:

A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight.


[1] Wade Mullen, “What I’ve Observed When Institutions Try to Apologize and How They Can Do Better,” personal blog, Oct 4, 2022, https://wademullen.xyz/2019/07/19/institutional-apologies.

[2] Mullen, “What I’ve Observed.”

[3] Mullen, “What I’ve Observed.”

[4] Mullen, “What I’ve Observed.”



Scot McKnight gives Eight false narratives that toxic churches often tell to protect themselves. In Part one we looked at the first four false narratives. In this post, we will look at three more false narratives, leaving the last false narrative for the third post.

All quotes are in italics and come from the third chapter of McKnight’s book, “A church called Tov”. All quotes other than McKnight are cited. I have I have ordered McKnight material into sections: First a description of the false narrative and Second some examples for clarity. We will pick up where we left off with the fifth narrative.


A narrative that make the perpetrator out to be the victim. In it everything is flipped and the perpetrators become the victims. This self-victimization narrative is a textbook example of flipping the script by playing on peoples emotions. The perpetrator uses all the social capital they have to convince others they are the victim.

The aim of the narrative
Such a narrative is seeks to winning in the court of public opinion by falsely claiming victim status often through emotional means. The narrative aims at causing others to give to the perpetrator the compassion as well as the support people would normally give to those that were wronged. They play on the sympathy and emotions of bystanders thus triangulate and win allies.

Common Tactics

Bringing attention to your own pain and thus diminishing the the victims experience. The perpetrator claiming, “we are all hurting here” or calming how ‘sad’ it was they were being exposed. Also claiming things like, How hard the ordeal has been on them and especially  their family.

False accusations that reverse the moral landscape
“a survivor telling her story to others may be accused of hurtful gossiping or divisiveness. Anger is misdirected and listeners are angry with accusers for their mistreatment of the church or pastor.”

In a larger church context, the primarily the use language games to shift narrative by throwing shade at the victim while polishing the church and the leader.

A.) Subtly smearing the victim
Such smearing is seen in subtle ways and well crafted word choices.

They say things like: The “opinions” of a “few” “disgruntled” “former” members, in this way a church can tries to establish the unfairness of the issue.

They use non-verbals to suggest the accusations lack credibility without actually saying it lacks credibility only intimating by non-verbals and tone that its no big deal thus lower it's credibility. Or hint at the people involved are motivated by malice without outright saying it.

They marginalize the concern by passively implying the victim is alone in there option. They make it sound like the victim is the only person with that option.

Then there is my personal favorite The "he is a good guy but" smear. This one caters tot he biases of the larger group. where you seem to affirm the person but also draw associations with groups seen as suspect to the in-group.They say things like "He is a great guy but he has been known to hang out with "those" people. AND You know they are suspect."

B.) Polish their image
“The church seeks to polish its own image — using phrases such as “carefully expressed viewpoint,” “a happier and healthier church,” “God’s kingdom moving forward,” “we have chosen the high road,” and “grace-filled . . . attempts to reconcile.”

Types of Appeals use by church’s or leaders

1.) Appeal to sympathy

“[An] appeal for sympathy can be seen in the church’s reframing of the harm done to others as “mistakes” that the church has now “owned….these events are then described as something the leadership had to ‘endure,’ revealing a perspective that sees one’s self as the primary object of harm.”

“A pastor may lament his weariness or confusion about attacks against his character and against the ministry he spent his life building—and how wounded he was by his accuser going public with the allegations….. These manipulation narratives are highly effective because they plead sympathy for the evildoer. “

2.) Appeal to biblical protocols (as they see interpret them)

"Voices of authority at the church may explain how accusers are “not behaving biblically” or are refusing to engage in relationship restoration.... Churches also appeal to their commitment to biblical standards as another means of falsely claiming victim status. Church leadership contends the accusers are behaving contrary to biblical teaching. The church claims the high road because they are following the Bible. The accusers are discredited and the church becomes the victim".

3.) Appeal to Protecting Reputations

Leaders may appeal to protecting the reputation of the ministers involved or of the church. In this way, the church is the victim because accusers are harming its reputation and good work.



Sometimes churches create a “silencing narrative” often through legally means. This is the main distortion with the next narrative below, suppressing the truth. Silencing the truth draws most of it’s power from legal consequence.

The church preserves its public reputation, and its false narrative remains intact. Narratives that silence people prevent the truth from becoming known, create confusion for people who sense something is wrong but can’t put their finger on it, and sow discord between those who try to speak up and others who choose to believe the false narrative.

Aim of silencing narratives
An added layer of Protection by the prevention of “negative information from becoming known.

Two common kinds of silencing narratives
1.) Members covenant (legally binding contract with a group)

Membership covenants, which have become increasingly common in some American churches, are a way for church leaders to prevent negative information from becoming known.

2.) A nondisclosure agreement (NDA).

[A] nondisclosure agreements are designed to silence people who know about bad things that happened behind the scenes and who agree to keep their mouths shut in exchange for some type of severance package or other compensation.”

If you sign a NDA you're legally bound under threat of the law to remain silent. They are “incapable of establishing justice by speaking truthfully about what they know or have seen or heard.



A variation of the silencing narrative is suppression of the truth, Forms of this include shaming, intimidation, threatening spiritual or financial consequences, or destruction of evidence.

There are numerous ways to suppress the truth it is all a matter of finding the leverage needed for the situation. Here are some common ways to suppress the truth:

1.) Leader responds to accusation, or suspicious questioning, by threatening a lawsuit.
Note: Such threats are heavy handed intimidation. It power rises from the economics of the situation. For the collective resources of a church community will always outweighs the the financial ability of an single individual.

2.) They may also accuse the accuser of sowing discord and division, or “bearing false witness” against one’s brother or sister. Social stigma and shame is a powerful tool to suppress the truth. Making speaking up the problem not the actual problem being the problem.

3.) They may state that an independent investigation has been done and found no wrongdoing, and thus cut off any further inquiry. This tactic draws power from the appearance of due diligence to the initial inquiry.[1]

4.) They may also appeal to the pastor’s or church’s reputation to manipulate the victim into silence. They say things like, “Don’t tarnish the public wittiness of the church, you love!” Or don’t tarnish the name of Christ in bringing this to light..

5.) Another way of suppressing the truth is by coercion and intimidation of the witnesses. This one runs the spectrum from heavy handed clarity to implicate but threatening.

Where there is a lack of transparency, there will always be some suspicion. When the truth is suppressed and silence is maintained, abusers are able to move on and abuse and wound others. The victim and the silencers are the only ones who know what happened. When silence and suppression become false narratives, the story they tell is that victims don’t matter and the abusers’ acts are not worthy of discovery.


In Part Three, we will look at the last of McKnight's false narratives.  If you like this content and you may enjoy our video featuring Dr. McKnight on this subject. [Click here]. Also if you like this blog you will love the McKnight's book amazon link below:

A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight.



[1] An independent investigation is support to be unbiased. The investigation is suppose to leave no stone unturned as they look for wrong doing. So that if no wrong doing is found is is justifiable to drop the issue.  In today's world transparency is needed at every point of the process. Questions like, How the independent investigators were selected need to be freely answered. As well as the evidence, methods and prodigals uses by the team should be open to scrutiny. Such openness insures the findings of an independent investigation will be above reproach or at least reasonably done without bias.



Scot McKnight in his book “A Church called Tov” gives Eight false narratives that toxic churches often tell to protect themselves. The narratives are something like institutional defense mechanisms. When criticisms or crisis arise look for these false narratives. They are signs of toxicity, marks of a toxic church culture. Evidence that there is some poison in the pound-cake.

All quotes are in italics and come from the third chapter of McKnight’s book, “A church called Tov”. All quotes other than McKnight are cited. I have I have ordered McKnight material into sections: First a description of the false narrative and Second some examples for clarity.


“This false narrative is based on an age-old trick: If you don’t want to admit the truth of an accusation, discredit the accuser instead.”

The aim is to undermine credibility by discrediting an accusers motives or character.

Two examples

1.) “[A] strategy is character assassination. Character assassination seeks to get the congregation to question the truth of the accuser’s story by casting doubt on the accuser.”

2.) “Another way of discrediting the critics is to question their motives. If you can’t get ’em on character, try collusion. Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory.”


“portraying the accusers as evildoers who are trying to harm the church and all its good work for Christ’s Kingdom. ..if the critics are evil, they are not to be trusted and one can therefore dismiss what they say about the pastor and the church.”

Example of demonizing language

“What the men are saying is Satanic to the core and must be dealt with very directly.”
“Separate from these false messengers.”
They have been deceived by the enemy
The enemy is using them


“Spinning a story is a deceitful strategy designed to hijack the accuser’s narrative and create an alternative version—an intentionally false narrative that supports the pastor and the church while creating doubt about the allegations.”

Examples of Spin

1.) When a story is turned around and people are told the accusations are false and just fabricated as a means of pay back for a perceived offense.

2.) When a leader misquotes and misrepresents someone to re-frame the issue in question. That is spin. The poker tell of spin is how difficult it is to believe that such distortions are accidental.

3.) When a pastor tells his congregation a vague explanation that is in the same emotional zip code as the truth. Often what is said sounding vaguely right like yet upon further reflection the statement is hollow or illogical. You realize they have not say anything all. It  sounded like a profound insight, the right thing for that moment but in reality they say nothing to avoid saying the real thing.

When a leader speaks gives excuses sees for letting someone go

wanted a bigger challenge
Transitioning out of his position
Leaving “on good terms”
Moved on to pursue other things

4.) When a pastor tells his congregation that a suspiciously absent minister has moved on to pursue other things. When in reality they were fired for clearly unethical behavior.


In practice, gaslighting is “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person . . . sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment. . . . Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs.” [1]

Gaslighting is psychological warfare. In Gaslighting the accuser re-framing the issue then making counteraccusations that contradict the perceived reality of the victim. Such a tactic is a powerful means of psychological manipulation with the aim of messing with someone’s head.

“A counteraccusations is designed to get into the woman’s head and make her question her own account—what she knows happened—and destabilize her to the point of wondering if she is sane….Some victims back down at this point because of the power differential and how much effort it takes to overcome the pain inflicted by gaslighting.”

The practice of gaslighting is intentional strategic lying. It is talking to someone in such a way as to make them feel destabilized, that is like they are going crazy. The result is a person so frustrated confused and destabilized that they to act crazy and so validate the gaslighter’s lies.

McKnight quotes Sociologist Paige Sweet to emphasize the “social characteristics that actually give gaslighting its power.”[2]

Specifically, gaslighting is effective when it is rooted in social inequalities, especially gender and sexuality, and executed in power-laden intimate relationships. When perpetrators mobilize gender-based stereotypes, structural inequalities, and institutional vulnerabilities against victims with whom they are in an intimate relationship, gaslighting becomes not only effective, but devastating. [3]

In churches, gaslighting often comes with the force of the whole community behind it. The social pressure can compound the destabilization. As McKnight explains:

“When an accuser is gaslighted from the platform of a church, by a trusted pastor with leadership support, the destabilization becomes all the more intense because the prevailing narrative now appears to be connected to God’s truth, and it has been broadcast to a crowd of people who accept the church’s story. No wonder many accusers choose not to report abuse or back down once they meet resistance.”


In Part Two, we will look at three of the last four of McKnight's false narratives. Thus leaving the final narrative for a third post. If you like this content and you may enjoy our video featuring Dr. McKnight on this subject. [Click here]. Also if you like this blog you will love the McKnight's book amazon link below.

A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight.



[1] “Gaslighting,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting.
[2] Paige L. Sweet, “The Sociology of Gaslighting,” American Sociological Review 84, no. 5 (2019): 852, https://www.asanet.org/sites/default/files/attach/journals/oct19asrfeature.pdf.
[3] Sweet, “The Sociology of Gaslighting.”



The church today needs to recover a simple priority. In theology, it is called the priority of the Father–Son relation over the Creator–creature relation [1]. Simply put, it is the proposition that before God was creator he was Father. It’s one of those starting points of theological reflection. The basic claim is that while God was always Father, God was not always Creator for there was a time when God was, but creation was not. Equally, While God was always Son, the Son was not always incarnate. The eternal logos is the Son in relation to the Father from eternity. The Father is for the Son as the Son is for the Father, within their perichoretic relation. The perichoresis [2] of the Father and the Son is a relation realized through God, the Spirit. In this way the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one being by virtue of their perichoretic relations. God is one in essence but also has a oneness in God’s perichoretic relation [3]. Thus the unity of the Godhead is bound up in God. God’s oneness is from God, through God, to God.

The world and God are in no sense co-eternal. The Trinity was first. Such an order allows us to maintain a distinction without separation of the immanent and economic Trinity, [4] so that any attempt to historicize the being of the Son with the idea that history somehow constitutes him as the second person of the Trinity, (as Arian did) is a destructive idea. This kind of thinking we now see in process theology. Such thinking allows history and not God to determine who God is. God as Father is not an anthropomorphism but a divine revelation of the relation in the imminent Trinity. A referent of God (name) to be true of God is an example of God acting in divine condescension accommodating human experience in an analogical way. The analogical thinking moves in only one direction. This means that true knowledge of God can only occur through God.

Important Implications
The idea that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before God was Creator is not some piece of abstract doctrine. The priority of the Father–Son relation before the Creator–creature relation has two powerful implications. God's self-identification as Father, Son, and Spirit is a central component of Christian theology, spirituality and even Christian ethics.

1.) Father, Son and Spirit: God reveals the names we are to name him.

God in relation to himself from eternity is fundamental to who God is. In the uniques of his interrelation of his being, God is Father, Son, and Spirit. It is worth noting from God’s Triune reality, one can argue that God's Fatherhood is utterly unique and not at all defined by our experience of human fatherhood; it is not defined at all by our prior experience or knowledge. For that reason no gender can be read into God with the suggestion that we might think of God as mother in order to think more inclusively about God. Since gender is a part of being human and care part of human experience, we simply can-not read that back into God with the imperative that we ‘must’ think of God as mother and not just as Father. It is not a matter of what we think about God but about what God has revealed of himself in his Son, through his Spirit. In the same way, no one is excluded from the love of God revealed in Christ, through his Spirit. So it would be extremely misguided to think that for women to have equality in the church, we need to reconceptualize God as mother or use the pronoun ‘she' when we pray.

The question is who defines who God is. Who defines God? And the answer is only God, the eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit, define God. God's self-identification as Father, Son, and Spirit is a foundational truth of the doctrine of God.

When we confess that from eternity, God has revealed the names by which He wants to be named. We are stating, these are not optional terms that we use from our experiences to refer symbolically to God. Rather, it is our terms and our categories that must be transformed by an encounter with God, and in Christ enable us to think of him with thoughts worthy of him. Through the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to name him as he wants be named.

2.) We may not think of God as having gender but we still must name him by his names.

In one sense, God is incomprehensible in his being. The imminent Trinity dwells in unapproachable light (I Tim 6:16). The eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is knowable only as far as he makes himself known. Thus only God reveals God, this is the meaning of the incarnation. The knowledge of God can only be revealed from God, the Father, through God, the Son, by God, the Spirit.

That does not mean human language about God as meaningless quite the contrary. Human language about God is put in proper theological perspective. We don’t abandon our creaturely images and concepts, words and phrases. Yet we should seek to relate to them rightly. Such created images are means given by God to help us think of God through them in a “see through” fashion. We see in part and the same is true of such created images. As we see though them we do so without the intrusion of creaturely forms or sensual images interjected into God. Thus, we may not think of God as having gender. In the same way, we don’t think of the Father as begetting the Son or of the Son as begotten as if they are giving birth. An all-to-human concept we are familiar with as creaturely beings. We never take the metaphor to far nor draw the line of analogy beyond the lines of scripture to do so is to flirt with error.

The first principle then is that our images and concepts, words and phrases, must be transformed through union with Christ to point beyond themselves to God as he exists in an utterly unique way as Father, Son and Spirit. As said above, this analogical thinking moves in only one direction, from God to humanity. Then we in Christ can “see through” those human shadows and return to the referent from which it refers. Thus, God’s revelation of himself in his written word has preeminent importance as where God names his name.

Christain analogical thinking moves in only one direction, and exit from God in revelation and a return to him in praise. Thus our thinking is in keeping with the end for which God created the world, the glory of God.

[1] This principle goes by many names. (1.) God's self-identification as Father, Son, and Spirit. (2.) The priority of immanent Trinity. (3.) God naming himself from eternity. (4.) The Father–Son relation over the Creator–creature relation. Different theologians use different terms and for your amusement and like frustration I use them all {Reader be warned}.

[2] the doctrine of Perichoresis can be defined as co-indwelling, co-inhering, and mutual interpenetration. The concepts, “allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two. An image often used to express this idea is that of a 'community of being,' in which each person, while maintaining its distinctive identity, penetrates the others and is penetrated by them.” Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Blackwell, 2001), p. 325.

[3] in this formulation, Both ontology and teleology become the foundational categories for describing God’s unity. God is one in essence (ontology) and ultimate goal (teleology). Thus, God’s ontological reality is distinct and different for everything else for God is holy. God’s teleological reality is a movement for God’s glory a glory that makes much of God in a joyous display of self giving love. Thus God’s life overflows in a movement of self-giving love to such degree that each member literally indwell one-another. This means the perichoresis of God’s divine life is expressed in self-giving joy and love. From the overflow of divine life in the Trinity, God loves the world into existence. Since God is holy, absolutely unique in every way, God remains different and distinct from creation but not distant. For even in creation in its fallen condition, the Father, Son and Spirit work all thing for the good and sustaining, redeeming and guiding the world towards the end for which it was created, the glory of God.

[4] Immanent Trinity is understood as God in himself from eternity (as an endless duration of time) outside of history and Economic Trinity is God in relation to his creation, through his redemptive action within history.



I recently over-heard a coffee house patron clam that ancient people could not practice ‘abortion’ like we do today. Ancient people did not even understand the female biology. Likely this ignorance was a case of chronological snobbery. The speaker assumed people in and around Jesus day had just learned about fire how could they even know about things like biology, let alone, how to kill a baby in the womb.

If that’s you, buckle up this will be eye opening. The practice of abortion was known in the first century. Many of the cultures around them performed abortions or gave abortifacient drugs with breathtaking frequency. (1) Abortions were performed by binding a woman around the abdomen until the baby was expelled; using a copper needle or spike; or by the use of a circular blade. Writing the middle of the Second century Tertullian describes this method and tools used in vivid detailed.

Accordingly, among surgeons' tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all, and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery. There is also (another instrument in the shape of) a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: they give it.. the name of ἐμβρυοσφάκτης, the slayer of the infant..(2)

Clearly Late term abortion were practiced. We also have evidence that chemical abortions were possible using pessaries—oral drugs or poisons—that would cause miscarriages. Eubius, a first-century B.C. poet, even put abortion formulas to verse so they could be more easily remembered. Infanticide also practiced, exposure being the most common method. All these methods were commonly practiced in the first century.

What would lead them to allow such a practice.
The Greek culture was the first in the Ancient Near East to permit, and in some cases require, abortion. In The Republic, for example, Plato (427-347 B.C.) opines that in his idealized polis (greek for city-state), women over 40 years old would be required to have an abortion.

A woman, I said, at twenty years of age may begin to bear children to the State, and continue to bear them until forty . . . And we grant all this, accompanying the permission with strict orders to prevent any [subsequent] embryo which may come into being from seeing the light; and if any force a way to the birth, the parents must understand that the offspring of such an union cannot be maintained, and arrange accordingly.(3)

Similarly, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) thought the state should not bear the burden of disabled or too many children. He said,

Let there be a law that no deformed child shall be reared; but on the ground of the number of children, if the regular customs hinder any of those born being exposed, there must be a limit fixed to the procreation of offspring, and if any people have a child as a result of intercourse in contravention of these regulations, abortion must be practiced on it before it has developed sensation and life; for the line between lawful and unlawful abortion will be marked by the fact of having sensation and being alive (Politics 7.14.10).(4)

While Plato and Aristotle have many good ideas, it is clear their ethic of human life was deficient. In each of these cases the same perspective is at work. Rather than considering the moral value of the unborn as the deciding factor, the philosophers considered the well-being of the polis to be paramount. This view amounts to a form of political utilitarianism that sees each person’s value only in terms of the good of the state. (An egregious assumption that persists to this very day in the halls of academia as well as among the political philosophies of many cosmopolitan elite.)

The grim conclusions of these philosophers demonstrate the perils of thinking ethically apart from Scripture. Scripture revealing God as the first principle, the point from which all moral and ethical reflection must begin. God not humanity is the standard of all morality, Apart from this theocentric perspective a person’s ethical reflection can rise no higher than the political good. Yet the good of the state does not provide a vantage point from which to make a judgment about something so lofty as human life.

The Christian tradition, however, viewed the sacredness of every individual human life in theocentric, not political, terms. Since all individuals, including unborn children, were made in the image of the living God, their lives would be respected and were worth preserving. The moral status of a human being was not grounded in what persons could do for the state, but in how persons were related to the God who made them, a relation rooted in being made in God’s image.

While today the argument may not center around the political or social good, but the personal good. Talk of personal right have given way to an idolatry of the Self. We are a culture of entitled children crying “I deserve this” - “I have the right to do this” -even if ‘this’ is the killing of the unborn. The moral status of the unborn is not grounded in whether or not the unborn is a blessing or burden to the parent, but again, grounded in the intrinsic worth of the unborn as an image bearer of God.

In today’s culture, although the center has shifted to individual right, the same moral logic applies. Only a theocentric vision of life leads to an ethic that respects life, everything else (utilitarian, or progressive), inevitably produces a culture of death.




  1. The following is gleaned from the important work by Michael J. Gorman, Abortion & the Early Church: Christian, Jewish, and Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982).
  2. Tertullian De Anima(On the Soul) 25.5 - 6
  3. Quoted in Michael J. Gorman, Abortion & the Early Church: Christian, p.21
  4. Ibid., 22


Christians in the coming years will be asked questions like, why is the New Testament is silent about abortion? if abortion is so important, Why did Jesus not speak about the subject? If Paul loved the unborn - Why is there no clear prohibition in Paul’s writings? Many biblically literate in the pro-choice camp will point to the biblical text and ask, ‘where is the “thou shalt not abort.”?’ In reality, all these questions are a form of moral posturing, a way to show up those stupid Christians. It is a way to insinuate Christian’s don’t know what’s in the bible. Most do not expect an answer nor care to hear one. Yet in case someone wants an answer below is an simple answer to the question, “Why Is the New Testament Silent about Abortion?”

In his essay, “Why Is the New Testament Silent about Abortion?”(1) New Testament professor Michael Gorman helpfully points out that the fact that the New Testament is silent about an issue is not evidence that early Christians did not have a settled position on the matter. In fact, quite the opposite.

That the New Testament never directly addresses abortion (or exposure or infanticide) does not mean that the first-century churches were ignorant of this practice or that they believed it to be a matter of “individual conscience.” On the contrary, the silence simply tells us that abortion was not an issue in need of resolution. The silence indicates that there was little or no deviation from Judaism.(2)

In addition to what the Old Testament says about the sanctity of human life and about abortion itself, Second temple literature (considered extra-canonical Jewish literature) is clear on the topic. The Jewish wisdom literature, Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides (c. 50 B.C.-50 A.D.), directs that “a woman should not destroy the unborn in her belly, nor after its birth throw it before the dogs and vultures as a prey.”(3) Included among the “wicked” in the apocalyptic Sibylline Oracles were women who “produce abortions and unlawfully cast their offspring away” and sorcerers who dispense abortion-causing drugs.(4) Similarly, the apocryphal book 1 Enoch (first or second-century B.C.) declares that an evil angel taught humans how to “smash the embryo in the womb.” (5) Finally, the Jewish historian, Josephus, maintained that “The Law orders all offspring to be brought up, and forbids women either to cause abortion or to make away with the fetus.” Observes Gorman, “No contradictory early Jewish texts . . . have been discovered, thus suggesting that a Jewish anti-abortion consensus did exist in the first century.”(6)

Similarly, the non-canonical literature of the early Church reveals an consensus of ethical opinion. The teaching of the early church in the Didache (50-120 A.D.), for instance, was uncompromising: “Love your neighbor as yourself . . . You shall not murder a child by abortion nor shall you kill a newborn.” (7) The Epistle of Barnabas (80-120 A.D.) commands the Christian: “You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not murder a child by abortion nor shall you kill a newborn.” (8)

Granted, these books were not received into the New Testament canon. But they do reveal accurately the mind-set and attitudes of the early Christian community. In fact, the historian Eusebius notes that these books were “publicly read by many in most churches.”(9) Simply put they were not part of the authoritative canon but were on the shelf at the church’s book store.

Furthermore, as seen in the early church’s teachings from Didache and Barnabas, the prohibitions against abortion are rooted in the doctrine of neighbor love. Such a connection indicates that early Christians viewed the unborn as members of the community worthy of love and protection. So, in a real sense, the New Testament’s silence on abortion shouts like a megaphone. From the birth of the Church and throughout her first several centuries, no serious Christian found abortion to be an acceptable practice.




1. Michael J. Gorman, “Why Is the New Testament Silent about Abortion?” Christianity Today, January 11, 1993, 27-29.
2. Ibid. 28
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. ibid.
7. Ibid. 29
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.



Drawing the Line

Determining “Heresy” is all about where to draw the line. It is both a doctrinal and an ethical question. Ultimately it is something we aim at much like a bulls eye. It is equally misguided to draw the boundaries too narrowly and allow almost anything to pass as doctrine, too broadly and limit all disagreement and dialogue around topics worthy of honest debate. From the ethical arena, the same metaphor moves in the opposite direction. If you can draw the boundary, too wide in ethical areas, the church will promote moral laity and hypocrisy as an unspoken marks of the church. If you can draw the boundary, to narrow moralism takes hold, making every errant motive and/or sinful struggle a reason for exclusion from the community. A conscious awareness of the grace of God is squeezed out replaced by a willful conformity to a particular group’s moral preferences and expectation.

The ESV study bible has a helpful section on this issue (below are my notes from it).

Understanding Essential vs. Peripheral Doctrine
The ability to discern the relative importance of theological beliefs is vital for effective Christian life and ministry. Learning to draw the line rightly allows a church to follow Jesus, in being a people full fo grace and truth. The importance of drawing such lines can’t be overstated for the purity and unity of the church are at stake in this matter.

The relative importance of theological issues can fall within four categories: 
(1) absolutes define the core beliefs of the Christian faith;  
(2) convictions, while not core beliefs, may have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church
(3) opinions are less-clear issues that generally are not worth dividing over; 
(4) questions are currently unsettled issues.

These categories can be best visualized as concentric circles, similar to those on a dart board, with the absolutes as the “bull’s-eye” (illistrationed in ESV Study Bible.).

The four areas can be labeled as Absolutes convictions opinions or questions

Central area: Absolutes are Necessary to the faith. They deal with what it means to be a Christian (often called point of fellowship)

Here is the line of heresy above heresy —— below difference of opinion and conviction

Second Area: convictions for the most part the classic distinction between Protestant denominations (Issue that necessary demands a measure of unity in keeping with the fulfillment of a given group’s mission as the people of God.) Convictions held in common by a good conscience over which honest debate can be had but not wanting a denouement of ‘heresy’. Some beliefs in this category are not heretical but may be unhealthy in various ways.

Third Area: Arena of individual conscience - dealing more with debatable moral issues like the issue of meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Cor.

Fourth area: questions we all have but may never know the answer to. Did Adam have a belly button?

Method of evolution
Legally speaking this is a burden of proof analysis. In which case, the preponderance of evidence is the criteria of assessment.

"These criteria for determining the importance of particular beliefs must be considered in light of their cumulative weight regarding the doctrine being considered. For instance, just the fact that a doctrine may go against the general consensus among believers (see point 6) does not necessarily mean it is wrong, although that might add some weight to the argument against it. All the categories should be considered collectively in determining how important an issue is to the Christian faith. The ability to rightly discern the difference between core doctrines and legitimately disputable matters will keep the church from either compromising important truth or needlessly dividing over peripheral issues." (ESV Study Bible)

Given are often only as valid as the biases and core values of a given group. Thus, such psychological dynamics should be assessed, both on an individuals and group level.

Where an issue falls within the above categories should be determined by the weighing the cumulative force of at least eight considerations: (ESV gives 7 added 1 additional step)

(1) biblical clarity;

(2) relevance to the character of God;

(3) relevance to the essence of the gospel;

(4) biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it);

(5) effect on other doctrines;

(6) consensus among Christians (past and present);

(7) effect on personal and church life.




(8) after above assessment consider in community, your own cultural and personal bias, agendas and perspectives about the issue.





What is the most used, least understood, theological term? My guess ‘heresy’. Online it’s probably the most pejorative term in use by Christians to speak of other Christians. As one contributor on Facebook noted in a theology thread, “it’s not an interesting theological discussion until ‘heretic’ or ‘heretical’ are thrown around a few times.” While likely an accurate statement. It’s nonetheless a regrettable one. While ‘heretic’ is an epic slam in a homeschooler’s playground rap battle, its proper use has been lost in translation.

Let me back up, first Christians believe words matter. So we should care how we use our words. God created a world that exists independent of the individual self. In light of this,we have the responsibility, to the best of one’s ability, a human should rightly call a thing, what it is. (Gen 2:18-20a). The words we speak should correspond with reality. What we say about a thing should harmonize with what a thing is as created by God. Yes, due to the noetic effects of sin, naming reality is easier said than done. But I digress.

So, what is heresy? When are we morally responsible to call a teaching, heresy? More important. When is it ethical for the church to label someone a heretic? (a question we will look at in another post). Before we answer those questions let’s look at the biblical data on the issue.

Terms and biblical data

As theological terms within Christian tradition, Heresy and orthodoxy are thoroughly Christian words. Irenaeus coined the technical meaning of them both. Orthodox characterize his own teachings, which most other Church Fathers agreed with, and heresy defined the teachings of his adversaries. Even though Irenaeus coined the word as we use it now. The idea extends all the way back to the New Testament and early jewish literature.


We will Trace the development of the concepts behind the terms of heresy and orthodoxy in Scripture.

Heresy in the New Testament
The Greek word from which “heresy” derives (αἵρεσις, hairesis) originally meant “choice” or “opinion.” The word appears nine times in the New Testament, often referring to a religious sect characterized by its distinct opinions or practices (Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5; 26:5). Josephus used the term this way in referring to Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. But the term is also used more specifically.

The term “heresy” could also characterize those who departed from acceptable beliefs and conduct (Acts 24:14; 28:22). The word appears twice in Paul’s letters to describe unhealthy divisions that should be avoided (1 Cor 11:19; Gal 5:20). Although Paul instructed believers to limit their fellowship with those who supported such factions, he claimed that the existence of heretical groups helped distinguish the true believers from those who were causing division (1 Cor 11:19).

The early church saw in the word an allusion to the choice made in the Garden. Adam and Eve’s eternally regretable meal choice was worse than three-day old Thai, and twice as intentional. “Heresy” conveyed the idea of autonomy, of choosing for yourself as opposed to receiving from God what He has passed down. The heretic made a choice to rebel against revealed truth and define good and evil on their own terms rather than letting God pass down to them His Truth as they walked together in the cool of the day. Thus to commit heresy was to intentionally reject related truth and choose to define life on your own terms.

“Heresy” eventually came to mean a belief deviating from established doctrine in major areas like the Trinity, Christology, and soteriology. Thus, those who embrace error and rejected the core doctrines encouraging other s to do the same were known as heretics. The term seems to be used this way in 2 Pet 2:1 to describe how false teachers had taken a dangerous departure from sound doctrine by denying Jesus. Early church leaders such as Ignatius (second century ad) used the term “heresy” this way consistently (See, Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians 6; Ignatius’ epistle to the Ephesians 6). Also, the word was repeatedly applied to the gnostics during the second and third centuries because, well, it fit! (See, Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 4.7, 22). The term was specifically applied by early church fathers to describe those who had departed from established Christian doctrine (doctrine which is most clearly seen in the articulation of the Apostles’ Creed and later the Nicene Creed; e.g., Origen, Against Celsus, 3.13; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 10.22). The “heretics” most in question were people convincing (or attempting to convince) others that their viewpoints were correct. For the early church fathers, it seems that heretics could also be received back into the church under certain conditions (see, Canon of the Council in Trullo, XCV).

Orthodoxy in the New Testament
The term “orthodoxy” describes right belief. Although the word derives from Greek terms “straight” (ὀρθός, orthos) and “praise” (δόξα, doxa), the term itself is not found in the New Testament. In the Gospels, the concept of orthodoxy is often represented by the word “truth” (e.g., John 4:23–24; 8:32, 40–46; 14:6). Jesus’ principle ministry involved teaching truth, which He claimed was contained in His words and the Hebrew Scriptures.

The concept of orthodoxy in Paul’s writings is best captured by his use of the phrases “sound teaching” (1 Tim 1:10; 2 Tim 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1), “sound words” (1 Tim 6:3; 2 Tim 1:13), and “sound faith” (Titus 1:13; 2:2). The foundation for this teaching was established by the New Testament apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20; 3:5) and handed down from one generation of believers to the next (Luke 1:2; 2 Tim 2:2; 3:14–15; 1 John 1:5; Jude 1:3). The contents of orthodox belief, according to Paul, must be guarded by those to whom they are entrusted (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:13–14; Titus 1:9) so that Christians remain pure in their doctrine (Titus 2:7).

Paul cautions Christians who wish to retain their orthodox standards to keep their distance from those who depart from the apostolic instructions regarding belief and conduct (2 Thess 3:6, 14). He also states that those whose teachings are contrary to apostolic orthodoxy should be refuted and silenced from speaking in the church (Titus 1:9–10; see also 1 Tim 6:3–4).

Heresies quick overview

1. Heresy as deviant ethical or theological teaching (Heb 13:9 cp. Gal 1:6-7; 2 Ti 4:3-4)

2. The origins of heresy
        a. Erroneous human teaching Col 2:8 cp. Eph 4:14; Col 2:20-22
        b. Deceitful demonic power 1Ti 4:1 cp. 1Jn 4:2-3,6

5. Christian opposition to heresy
        a. Heresy warned against 2 Pe 3:17 cp. 1 Ti 4:7; Tit 1:10-14
        b. Heresy condemned 2 Pe 2:3 cp. Gal 1:8-9; 2Pe 2:17-22

A little more nuance
Well, What do most people think is heresy?
a number of possible solutions (Yet these are not adequate definitions)

* The Council Answer: Heresy is whatever one of the seven ecumenical councils said it was. (Greek Orthodox)
* The Power Struggle: Heresy is just the label for the “loser” in the debate. (Post-modern)
* The “Other” Answer: Heresy is an exclusionary process used to establish the identity of some group. (Proud-estant Liberalism)
* Poop in My Coffee: Heresy is whatever corrupts the essence of Christianity - anything unlike what I was taught is heresy. Not Pre-Trib rapture, your a heretic, a “dammmmmmnable” hieratic (2 Peter 3:1 JKV) (Fun-da-mentalist).
* Really Not Really equivocation: Heresy is never really to be used. It is a bad word. No, I don't study theology! No, I will not define my terms! Can't we just be accepting. No one is sure about hell and judgment and all that. Love wins! Right? (Shallow “Christain”?)
* Zip it or I kill you: Heresy is rejecting church authority. (Catholic or any absolutist group)

From the evidence in our first section, here are some points that are necessarily true of heresy in general

1. Heresy requires an exercise of authority.
Today, determining, "what is heresy?" can not be a purely individualistic affair. I can’t determine by myself what “heresy” is, though I can certainly offer opinions as to if an idea is heresy and if a group should be declared to be heretical.

2. Heresy necessarily involves power and exclusion.
Today, both ideas are understood in negative terms. Yet, their is nothing necessarily wrong with either of these, when properly administrated. In and of themselves, neither power nor exclusion are bad. Church leaders sometimes need to use both for the benefit of the body For example: exercising authority (power) in excluding a dangerous person from a children’s ministry.

In an age of spin, and rash judgements tweeted in seconds leaders need to press the pause button, take a moment to remember the power of labels. Leaders should always be aware that when they use the label “heresy” they are wielding the power to exclude. My fear is that if we don’t make this explicit, we’ll wield the power without being aware that we’re doing so. And, that is exceptionally dangerous. It’s like giving someone a box and not bothering to mention that there’s dynamite inside. We can’t wield carefully what we don’t know that we’re wielding.

3. Heresy undermines the Gospel.
The idea of "heresy" is at its core something that undermines the essence of Christianity. (1) Heresy is about essential, rather than peripheral, matters. Granted, it’s not always easy to tell the difference given the interconnect nature of Christian theology. (2) Heresy almost always comes from within. We make a mistake when we see heresy as something that attacks Christianity from without. Instead, we must realize that heresy is always something that arises from within the body and must be dealt with as such.

Clarifying Addendum:
1. Recognize the difficulty: it needs to make the appeal to authority/power more explicit. Rather than simply presume that heresy is self-evident, we need to recognize that sifting heresy from orthodoxy is a difficult process that will often require a final decision to be made by those entrusted with the authority to do so.
2. Realize heresy is both in beliefs and behavior (Titus and Jude attest to this). Bad teaching bares Fruit (behavior/ethics positions promoted) that drastically deviate from biblical boundaries of behavior. we need to realize that the “essence” of Christianity is more than a set of beliefs. Commonly held Beliefs shape the ethics all views a community holds and if their ethics are "hinky" - then something is up with their Beliefs. For Example: Oneida Community . This kind of test is what Jesus meant when he taught you will know them by their fruit. Also remember the flip side, He is a hypocrite and maybe an unbeliever but not a heretic, who, while keeping the outward appearance of Christian religion, devises or follows false opinions for a desire for human approval, earthly reward, or worldly pleasures"
3. The idea of Christianity’s “essence” is far too vague. Heresy is better defined as something that undermines the Gospel itself. I realize that gets us into a discussion of what the Gospel is.

My working definitions of heresy:

Heresy is any form of Christianity (in practice and belief) that undermines the Gospel (explicitly or implicitly) and is determined to be not in agreement with the Scriptures by a reasoning argument, and by comparison with the shape of basic traditional orthodoxy.

Thus, A heretic is one who obstinately holds to and publicly teaches, heresy, despite the Christian communities opposition and after private and public censure has been exercised, and continues to do so.

Craig Blomberg article on heresy some years ago in The Journal of evangelical theology is a fitting word on this word "heresy".

     The collection of false teaching and immoral behavior that NT authors most strongly oppose is an interesting one. A strong insistence on both the full deity and the full humanity of Christ naturally appears. Salvation by grace through faith, countering all forms of legalism, nomism, and ethnocentrism, proves central, but one must submit to the resurrected Jesus as total Master (Rom 10:9–10) and exhibit the fruit befitting repentance. The only absolutely crucial eschatological tenet is the fact of Christ’s still future, visible return. With respect to what systematicians usually include under “sanctification” appears an insistence on keeping security and perseverance in balance, and on avoiding the twin errors of defeatism and triumphalism, including in its extreme forms perfectionism. After that, one is hard pressed to find further absolutely central theological tenets for which NT writers strongly contend.
      At least as crucial as correct theology is correct behavior. The NT strongly opposes antinomianism, immorality more generally (especially in its twin, opposing manifestations of asceticism and hedonism), and a factious or a divisive spirit. It insists that stewardship of one’s material possessions functions as “exhibit A” of the good works that must necessarily flow from the life of one truly redeemed. It consistently places morality above ritual, an observation that should address us loudly in the current evangelical “worship wars”!
Our inspired authors clearly oppose non-Christian religions and their practitioners, but their dominant strategy is to call them to repentance via making the gospel as winsome as possible. The harshest rhetoric is almost always reserved for the ultraconservative religious insider who transgresses key boundaries, especially leaders who should certainly know better. By way of contrast, the last century of American evangelicalism has majored on creating extensive doctrinal statements to separate itself from outsiders, usually adding numerous adiaphora(1) to more central matters. The ETS is a rare exception but, paradoxically, our doctrinal statement lacks any requirement for salvation. And when evangelical “lifestyle” statements have addressed ethical concerns, the lists have often proved quite different from NT vice and virtue lists.
       In short, our tendency has been to fight our fiercest battles at the theological periphery of evangelicalism, where we believe the limits of tolerance have been exceeded. We rarely ask who in our midst may be equally misguided (and possibly even more dangerous) because they have drawn the boundaries too narrowly rather than too broadly. As Arland Hultgren’s survey of the earliest eras of Church history reminds us, one can become heretical by being either too broad-minded or too narrow-minded.(2)


(1) adiaphora are matters not regarded as essential to faith but nevertheless as permissible for Christians or allowed in the church.

(2) Craig Blomberg, The New Testament Definition of Heresy (Or when Do Jesus and the Apostles really Get Mad?) JETS 45/1 (March 2002) 71–72. The pdf can be found at HERE



John of the cross thinks we can. In the spiritual classic “Dark night of the soul,” He lists a series of sins that are poison to the Christian life. In it He explains how one vice can turn spiritually into a bad habit.

Beginners in the spiritual life are apt to become very diligent in their exercises. The great danger for them will be to become satisfied with their religious works and with themselves. It is easy for them to develop a kind of secret pride, which is the first of the seven capital sins. Such persons become too spiritual. They like to speak of “spiritual things” all the time. They become content with their growth, They would prefer to teach rather than to be taught. They condemn others who are not as spiritual as they are. They are like the Pharisee who boasted in himself and despised the publican who was not as spiritual as he. The devil will often inflame their fervor so that their pride will grow even greater. The devil knows that all of their works and virtues will become valueless and, if unchecked, will become vices. For they begin to do these spiritual exercises to be esteemed by others, They want others to realize how spiritual they are. They will also begin to fear confession to an other for it would ruin their image. So they soften their sins when they make confession in order to make them appear less imperfect. They will beg God to take away the imperfections, but they do this only because they want to find inner peace and not for God’s sake. They do not realize that if God were to take away their imperfections from them, they would probably become prouder and more presumptuous still. But those who are at this time moving in God's way will counter this pride with humility. They will learn to think very little of themselves and their religious works. Instead, they will focus on how great and how deserving God is and how little it is that they can do for him. The Spirit of God dwells in such persons, urging them to keep their treasures secretly within themselves.

What is john describing here?

He is describing a Christain who is “too spiritual”. In John’s estimation, Christians can become so spiritual it’s devilish. I think he is right. I even think, being too spiritual is a major problem in the church. It is a subtle and seductive sin. A sin that kills the soul. That’s what John means by capital sin. A capital crime is a crime punishable by death. Pride, as a “capital” crime against God, carries with it a sentence of death. Pride poisons the soul and deadens the spirit.

Being “too spiritual” is pride. But what is meant by pride? Pride is a disordered self-love, which seeks attention and honor by comparison and competition. A prideful person assumes on their own ability and find in themselves the resources necessary to accomplish what they set out to do, consequently they set themselves in opposition to God, by being in competition with God. In this way, the vice of pride is privatized autonomy, which the Bible calls being a “slave to sin” (John 8:34). The devil’s first strategy is always to puff us up and in so doing poison our souls. Dennis F. Kinlaw explains how serving the self is a trap of Satan and the essence of sin.

Satan disguises submission to himself under the ruse of personal autonomy. He never asks us to become his servants. Never once did the serpent say to Eve, 'I want to be your Master'. The shift in commitment is never from Christ to evil; it is always from Christ to self. And instead of his will, self-interest now rules and what I want reigns. And that is the essence of sin." (1)

But how can something so dangerous be so seductive? Consider this, everyone has been given a unique set of gifts and talents. God certainly wants us to put them to good use. For many of us, when we’re using our gifts the way God intended, we feel a sense of exhilaration. We feel alive because we’re fulfilling a purpose, in a way, we have found our place in the world. But it’s the moments that follow this exhilaration that matter most to God. If we take those feelings of exhilaration and accomplishment and turn them inward, giving credit solely to ourselves, then we have sinned against God. We walk the path of pride. We may know to give God credit but it’s little more than lip service, credit in name only.

John also brings up the parable of the publican and the sinner revealing another aspect. Spiritual pride can work its way into our perspective, into our judgments, and into the way we see ourselves. Just like the publican in Jesus‘ parable, we see others through the lens of Comparison and competition. A person whose eyes are trained for critical Comparison and a spirit of competition. Such a prideful perspective creates an “us-them” mentality. The good people are like us. the bad people are like them. Scripture tells us the reality of the situation. It’s not us vs. them. True is we are all bad guys and Jesus. Jesus is the only good guy. If we are being lead to somehow compare ourselves to each other, to exalt ourselves over others, we are in grave danger. Because the practice of the gifts that are meant to humble us, meant to keep us close to God, and lead us to grow can become themselves a stumbling block for us.

Here are a few thoughts on avoiding being “too spiritual”.

  1. Practice gratitude: As I explained above, thank God every chance you get and mean it from the bottom of your heart. This is why over and over in the Psalms we are reminded of our in ability in light of God's great ability. Now We need to acknowledge inability without relinquishing responsibility. The key to this is gratitude, for it begins with knowledge meant of our inability in the praise of God's ability. It is the dally countermeasure against our tendency towards self exaltation. However, if we turn our gazes heavenward, thanking and praising Him, for in the end, He is doing all the heavy lifting.
  2. Practice humility: For every vice, there is a corresponding virtue. Whenever a person struggles with pride, he or she can overcome it by practicing humility. But How? First, look at the gospel with the eyes of the publican. We are never as good as we think we are. We will always need grace and forgiveness. We never outgrow it so we should never forget it. Second, As you move through your day try to think about yourself less. We live in a world captive to social media and Christian social media is a breeding ground for spiritual pride. Everything is filtered through image management and self-promotion, comparison and competition. Social media is not bad in itself but it can promotes spiritual pride by habituating the bad practice of thinking about yourself TOO MUCH. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote “True humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; but it is thinking of yourself less.” that is the goal of practicing humility.
  3. Don't lose your sense of humor. People who are too spiritual tend to not have a sense of humor. They lack the ability to make light of their situation or laugh at themselves. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable would never laugh at his own quirks. It is the way pride can rob us of our humanity. In our weaknesses and failures we can feel our humanity. They remind us we are all too human, imperfect creatures tethered to a perfect God by a gospel of grace. Laughing at yourself when you make a silly mistake is a fruit of knowing who you are in the gospel. Such people have a hard time laughing at themselves because they take themselves and their “religion” too seriously. So when you can’t laugh it may be a sign you’re headed down the wrong road.
  4. Don’t take yourself too seriously. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable took himself way too seriously. Similar to the above point, people who take themselves to seriously are often mortified when they mess up becoming very upset about their failure. Yet it is often for the wrong reason. Aiming to grow and change is different from the aim to be perfect. Perfectionist tend to desire change for what they can get out of it. John of the Cross insightful put his finger on the issue, when he wrote “they want to find inner peace and not for God’s sake.” They take themselves too seriously. Interestingly, the first being to act like that fell from heaven because of it. Being too spiritual and taking yourself too seriously go hand-in-hand.
  5. Celebrate other people more and God most. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable saw all of life in light of himself. He was self-centered. That is how he could make religious devotion into self-worship. It is why it was easy to compare himself to other without even a prick of conscience. The only way we can resist the urge towards competition and comparison is by the practice of rejoicing in the victories of others. And always allow your celebration of others to roll up into celebration of God. God is behind all of our victories and every good thing is from his hand.


(1) Dennis F Kinlaw This Day with the Master, (Grand Rapids Zondervan 2004) entry of Nov 14.

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