It never fails. A pastor writes an article defending Scripture against the latest piece of bad theology (in this case, The Shack). Angry people respond with the charge: “Pharisee!”

“Pharisee” is the evangelical version of the word “racist.” It’s usually just a cheap way to attempt to end debate. The words “Pharisee” or “judgmental” in a letter or popular article have become likely indicators of a lousy argument.

If doctrine doesn’t matter, why would Paul warn of the false teachers with tears (Acts 20), or to equip the saints so they are no longer tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:14)? He warned the Roman church against those who cause divisions and obstacles contrary to the doctrine they had been taught (Rom 16:17). He discussed “warning and teaching everyone” (Col 1:28). Paul told them to see to it that people are not taken captive by human philosophies (Col 2:8). He tells Timothy and the church to rebuke those who teach false doctrine (1 Tim 1:3), to keep a close watch on his teaching (1 Tim 4:16), to guard the good deposit (1 Tim 6:20, 2 Tim 1:14), and to preach the word and rebuke falsehood (2 Tim 4:2). Why? “To save himself and his hearers.” (1 Tim 4:16). Doctrine is a matter of life and death.

If the accusers are non-Christian, the “Pharisee” argument usually shows a poor, grab bag understanding of Scripture and their hatred of God’s law and authority. If the accuser is Christian, ask him if one should judge Mormons by their piety or their doctrine. He’ll usually say the latter. So, doctrine does matter. He’s really saying that you’re getting caught up in areas of Christian liberty and focusing on inessentials. The more the person has an affinity for the book, the more the person protests.

I have several responses for these folks. First, The Shack‘s perversions of the Trinity and promotion of feminism are both attacks on the Godhead. This is heresy, not inessentials. It is deadly error. Second, Paul did not tell pastors to limit their teaching to the facts of salvation, but to preach all the Word and do so rightly. Third, you seem to think that something that is sweet to your eyes, your ears, and your feelings is “spiritual.” In such cases, perhaps we should be most willing to say to ourselves: Is this really Biblical? Compare it to the Word. Remember, Satan poses as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14) and Paul warns us away from teachers who tell us what we want to hear rather than the truth (2 Tim 4:3). Fourth, don’t buy the “it’s only a work of fiction” line used by every popular author who writes books filled with bad theology (see Brown, Dan). This is a lame cop out. You can bet that the same author will proudly and pretentiously talk up how he is constantly told that the book “helped expand my understanding of Jesus/God/my faith.” The reviews on Amazon will verify this.

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