Justin Buzzard tells this story:
About ten years ago I heard Ben Patterson, campus pastor of Westmont College, say something that I will never forget. Ben told the story of a retired pastor who began noticing that his former congregation was sliding away from orthodoxy. The pastor saw this as his fault, noting the one thing he thought he did most poorly as a pastor. The pastor stated, in two sentences, his great failure as a pastor:
I always told people what to believe. My great mistake is that I never told my people what NOT to believe.
It’s possible to be so “biblical” that we’re unbiblical.
I’m referring to pastors, churches, and individual Christians who say, “we’re sticking to the Bible, and we don’t ever need to study anything but the Bible.” The great men and women of the Bible didn’t say that. They didn’t just preach in support of God’s truth. They knew the lies that were current in their cultures, they named those lies—with very contemporary examples—and they exposed what was false about them. When Isaiah ripped apart idol worship so sarcastically in Isaiah 44:9-20, he knew what he was talking about. So those who only study the Bible are failing to follow its example!
We don’t need only to learn God’s truths. We also need to un-learn the lies we’ve taken into ourselves. Some of that un-learning happens along the way, as a matter of course, as we study the truth; but some of the lies we’re afflicted with are so ingrained, so much a part of us, that it takes real focused attention to discover where they reside inside of us, and to sort out what’s wrong and what might still be right. Sometimes we need to study and learn what not to believe.
Of all the un-learning required today, nothing is more crucial than “truth is relative, and it’s immoral to believe otherwise.” Western students “know” this to be true. Pastors and parents must understand this belief well enough to disarm it. Otherwise, though we may be successful in persuading students Christianity is true, they’re bound to mix it with other “truths” they believe, just as the Israelites mixed true worship with idolatry.
This applies to each of us individually, in our families, and in our churches; and in a parallel way it also applies to our encounters with culture. We need to know our culture’s falsehoods, not to participate in them but to be able to name them and to contrast them with God’s truth. Our friends and neighbors have a lot of un-learning to do, too, and we need to be equipped to help them—winsomely and effectively—so they can better grasp and follow God’s truth, revealed to us in his Word.