The other day a friend of mine tweeted “false teachers are usually nice guys. Don’t be fooled.”
Probably a true statement, but it got me thinking about the label false teacher.
Now I don’t ever use the phrase “false teacher”, I don’t think I have ever even thought it about someone, but we all have language that basically gets across the same point. Our words might be different, but when I label someone a “fundamentalist” or a “conservative”, or any other words I use to dismiss someones point of view I am pretty much labelling them a false teacher. So basically, those I consider to be false teachers are those who’s ideas I don’t agree with and therefore keep at a distance. I label them as false teachers (or fundamentalists, or conservatives) so I don’t have to engage with them or listen to them. I don’t have to view them as a person but rather just a label.
This is obviously unfair and I should know better for I have been labelled a false teacher and dismissed by thosewho didn’t bother to hear my heart, didn’t bother to engage in a meaningful dialogue. The words I have been labelled with are different. I get labelled “liberal”, “universalist” and other words that allow people to dismiss me. And though it sort of feels good to be labelled “controversial”,like I am some kind of rebel, it saddens me that people do so without even a conversation. Yet so many times I have done the same thing.
And when I am really honest I need to acknowledge that there is a good chunk of what I teach that is probably false. I am a false teacher! I once heard theologian Tom Wright say before a lecture “30% of all I am about to say is false, I just don’t know what part.” I only hope my percentage is that low. When I look back at sermons I have preached I can see how I have changed. Much of what I preached and taught 10 years ago I totally disagree with now, and would see as harmful,and there is a good chance that when I look back 10 years from now I will disagree with myself just as much.
So what am I getting at? Are there people who teach dangerous stuff? Yes. Do I need to be careful? Yes. But I need to be slow to write people off. Until I have really engaged with someone I have no right to disregard them, to label them and push them aside. I need to truly listen to them hear their heart, get to know them as a person. I am guessing if I do this then most people won’t comfortably fit in my labels, and even if they do, even if I still vehemently disagree with them, it will be a lot harder to write them off, because they will become more then a label, but a person and a relationship. And I always have to acknowledge that a part of what I am teaching is wrong, so I must never fully be comfortable, but always willing to grow and change, hopefully becoming less and less of a false teacher as I go.
So yeah, as a nice guy and a false teacher, I guess the saying is true.