A Biblical Guide to Orthodoxy and Heresy
Part Two: Guidelines for Doctrinal Discernment
by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
How do we discern truth from error, sound doctrine from unsound doctrine,
orthodoxy from heresy? How do we discern when a doctrine is fully heretical and
when it is only aberrational?
In Part One of this two-part article I presented a case for doctrinal discernment as a
necessary ongoing task of the church. In this concluding part I will suggest some
guidelines for carrying out this task in a way that is faithful to Scripture.
PRINCIPLES FOR IDENTIFYING HERESY
Discerning orthodoxy from heresy should be done on the basis of sound
principles, each of which in turn must be based on the teaching of God's Word. I
begin, then, by discussing four principles which the church ought to utilize as tools
to identify and expose heresy. Although they are subject to misunderstanding and
abuse, all four -- properly interpreted -- are valid and should be utilized together in
(1) The protestant principle. Here I am not referring to an exclusively Protestant
position, but rather to a principle that will be especially agreeable to Protestants
(particularly evangelicals). According to this principle, the Bible alone is the
written Word of God, and as such is the infallible, definitive standard in
matters of controversy in the church. This principle follows from the teaching of
Jesus Christ Himself, who taught that while human tradition and religious leaders
are fallible, Scripture is the Word of God and never errs (Matt. 5:17-20; 15:3-9;
22:29; John 10:35). Since to be a Christian means, minimally, to be a follower of
Jesus Christ, no person or group can claim to be truly Christian that does not at
least acknowledge this special authority of the Bible.
I said that this teaching is not held exclusively by Protestants, though it is especially
agreeable to them. Both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy (the other two
main branches of Christianity) teach that the church's traditions are infallible and
authoritative, a teaching with which Protestants cannot agree. Thus, these
branches of Christianity do not adhere fully to the protestant principle as defined
here. On the other hand, Catholicism and Orthodoxy do teach that the Bible is the
norma normans -- that is, the norm by which all other norms are to be judged.
Thus, at least in some sense, the view of all major Christian traditions is that
Scripture has the final word. But evangelical Protestants have upheld this principle
more consistently than Christians in the Catholic or Orthodox traditions.
On the other hand, liberalism -- which began in mainline Protestantism and has
virtually engulfed it, and which has now made significant inroads in Roman
Catholicism -- completely denies the protestant principle. Liberalism presumes to
judge the teachings of the Bible according to the canon of human reason.
Accordingly, it should be rejected as apostate by true believers of all major
The protestant principle has often been summarized by the Protestant Reformation
motto sola scriptura ("only Scripture"). Taken in its true sense, this means that
only Scripture is an unerring verbal expression of the mind of God for the church
prior to Christ's return. But this should not be interpreted to mean that truth can be
found only in Scripture or that all traditions are based on falsehood. Nor should it
be interpreted to forbid using words not found in the Bible to express biblical
doctrine. For example, the idea that the Bible is a "canon," or rule of faith, is biblical
-- even though the word "canon" is not found in the Bible. The idea that God is
"self-existent," meaning that His existence depends on nothing other than Himself,
is biblical -- even though the word "self-existent" is not in the Bible. This is an
important qualification to the protestant principle, violated by many heretical sects.
(2) The evangelical principle. In Europe, "evangelical" is virtually synonymous
with "Lutheran," and the principle I enunciate here will be especially agreeable to
that tradition, though certainly transcending it. According to this principle,
whatever is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ is to be rejected as
heresy This principle is based directly on such passages as Galatians 1:6-9 and 1
Corinthians 15:1-4. Here, "the gospel" refers not to the Bible in its entirety, but to
its central message of reconciliation of human beings to God through the
redemptive work of Christ.
This principle implies that not every misinterpretation of or departure from the Bible
is equally damaging to authentic Christian faith. Misunderstanding the relationship
between the Millennium and the Second Coming, for example, is not as serious an
error as misunderstanding the relationship between faith and works. Denying that
Jonah escaped alive after being inside a large fish for three days is not as bad an
error as denying that Jesus rose from the grave after being dead for three days.
Whether the errors are clear-cut or debatable from our perspective, it remains true
that some errors are worse than others.
On the other hand, this principle can be misapplied by treating the gospel as a
"canon within the canon" such that some parts of the Bible become more
authoritative than others. While we may draw more directly on the Gospel of John
or the Epistle to the Romans in our presentation of the gospel, our understanding of
the gospel should be shaped by the entire Bible. Some extreme or aberrant groups
have lost sight of this and have argued that only one part of the Bible -- say, the
Book of Acts -- presents the gospel of salvation. Besides being contrary to the facts
(e.g., Paul rehearses the basics of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8), such an
argument undermines the unity of Scripture.
Moreover, even seemingly less important errors can be symptomatic of outright
heretical beliefs. For example, while some variant views on the Millennium are
tolerable among Christians, other views should be regarded as heretical, such as
the view that the Millennium will be a period in which unbelievers will be raised and
given a second chance to save themselves by doing good works. Clearly this view is
heretical because of its bearing on the doctrine of salvation. The belief that Jonah
was not swallowed by a fish and then set free three days later might be
symptomatic of a prejudice against all miracles. On the other hand, some Christians
who freely confess that God could have done such a miracle hold that the Book of
Jonah is a parable and was simply not intended as history. The latter view may be
wrong, but it is not anti-Christian in the way the former view clearly is.
Finally, it should be noted that in mainline denominations heavily influenced by
liberalism, the "gospel" has typically been reinterpreted and watered down to the
point of no longer being the biblical gospel at all. The evangelical principle must
always be tied to the protestant principle and not pitted against it, as is the case in
(3) The orthodox principle. I call this principle the "orthodox" principle because it
will be especially agreeable to Christians in the Orthodox (Eastern) tradition.
According to this principle, the creeds of the undivided church should be
regarded as reliable expressions of the essential truths on which they
speak. This principle follows from the biblical teaching that the Christian faith was
delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 3) and that the gates of Hades would not
prevail against the church (Matt. 16:18). These texts (see also Matt. 28:20; John
14:16; Eph. 4:11-16) make it inconceivable that the whole church could establish
as normative what is in fact aberrant or heretical.
Thus, the creeds formulated by the early church before it split into Eastern
Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism, and accepted by all three
branches of Christianity, should be regarded as reliable standards by which
heresies may be exposed. Such creeds as the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds --
which speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one God (the Trinity), and of
Jesus Christ as uniquely God and man (the Incarnation) -- expressed the faith of all
Christians when they were written, and have unified all Christians against heresy
for centuries. They are therefore deserving of respect and should be honored as
tools for identifying and exposing heresy.
Note that I am not saying that Christians cannot choose to disagree with some of
the precise wording of these creeds. After all, they are not infallible, inspired
documents. Nor am I saying that those churches which choose not to use the
creeds, or which have little or no regard for creeds as such, are heretical. Rather, I
am simply saying that a doctrine or belief should be regarded as heretical if it
departs from the essential, substantial teachings of these creeds. I am therefore
adopting a more flexible form of this principle than is actually held by Eastern
Orthodox Christians themselves. I am also pleading with my anticreedal brothers
and sisters in Christ to rethink their rejection of these fine expressions of
(4) The catholic principle. By "catholic" I do not mean specifically Roman
Catholic, but simply "universal" (which is what the Greek word katholikos means).
The notion of "catholicity" has been much abused, but it has also been ignored;
both are unfortunate. The catholic principle is that any doctrine that contradicts
what the church as a whole (in all times and places) has regarded as
essential to the faith should be regarded as heretical. This principle also
follows from the biblical teaching mentioned above that God will keep the whole
church from heresy.
It should be noted that this principle is a generalization, not an absolutely definitive
test. I say this because by the "whole" church I do not mean every last individual in
the church, as if the dissent of one or a few professing Christians could negate a
doctrine's status as "catholic." The principle rather seeks to uphold what the vast
majority of those who have participated in the church's worship, in all its various
branches and denominations, and who have upheld the faith as defined by the
orthodox principle, have regarded as essential or basic to their faith.
Moreover, the catholic principle -- properly understood -- presupposes the
protestant principle. That is, when we speak of "the church" in all times and places,
we are speaking of that community of faith which regards the Bible as the supreme
norm of its faith. We are thus excluding from the outset those segments of
Christendom that have abandoned faith in the Bible as the Word of God. It has only
been in the last two centuries that large segments of Christendom within both
Protestantism and Catholicism have denied absolute biblical authority. And in the
vast majority of such cases, the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the
Atonement have been rejected as well. These segments of Christendom must be
regarded as apostate, having fallen away from the faith.
These considerations are helpful in making more precise the notion of appealing to
the position of the "historic Christian church" as a litmus test of orthodoxy. What
we ought to mean by this expression is the Bible-believing community of faith as it
has existed continuously throughout the centuries. Those segments of Christendom
which have introduced new doctrinal revelations, or which have rejected biblical
authority, are by this definition not part of the historic Christian church.
Finally, note that not everything that has been believed by most Christians falls
under the catholic principle, but only those things that the church has held to be
essential. For the first fifteen centuries of church history, virtually all Christians
held that the earth was at the physical center of the universe. But by no means
does this make that erroneous belief part of the "catholic" or universal Christian
faith. Here the "evangelical principle" is a valuable corrective to a possible
misapplication of the catholic principle.
KINDS OF HERETICAL DOCTRINE
Taking the protestant principle to heart, we next turn to the Bible -- what kinds of
heretical doctrine does it discuss and forewarn us about? The Bible makes frequent
reference to false teachings and it is often within the context of refuting heresy that
its positive doctrinal material is cast.
The Old Testament contains solemn warnings against anyone who prophesies or
proclaims teachings in the name of any god but the LORD, Jehovah (Deut. 13:1-5;
18:20-22). This is the assumed context in which the New Testament teaching about
heresies is framed.
In the New Testament, there are warnings about false prophets (Matt. 24:11, 24; 2
Pet. 2:1) -- that is, those who make predictions in the name of God and whose
predictions turn out to be false (cf. Deut. 18:22). There is also a warning about
false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13). There are warnings about those claiming to be the
Christ, or claiming that Christ has come, or that the Day of the Lord has come, or
that the resurrection has occurred - - when all these events will be so plain and
conspicuous that no one will miss them (Matt. 24:5, 23-27; 2 Thess. 2:1-2; 2 Tim.
There are also warnings about those who proclaim another Jesus or a different
gospel, or who introduce a spirit other than God's Spirit (1 Cor. 15:3-5; 2 Cor.
11:4; Gal. 1:6-9). The teaching that circumcision and keeping the Law are
necessary for salvation is condemned (Gal. 5:2-4; Phil. 3:2). On the other side,
teaching that liberty in Christ gives us excuse for licentiousness is also condemned
The denial of Jesus Christ's coming in the flesh is regarded as from the spirit of
antichrist (1 John 4:1-6). There are warnings about people who cause dissensions
by teaching doctrine directly opposed to what Christians already know to be true
(Rom. 16:17; Tit. 3:10-11). There are warnings about those who claim to love God
but do not love God's people (1 John 4:20; 5:1), and who deliberately break away
from the church on the basis of perverted doctrine (1 John 2:19). Finally, there are
warnings against adding to or taking away from the words of prophetic Scripture
(Rev. 22:18-19) or twisting the Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:16).
Looking over these warnings from Scripture, we may classify heresies into six
major categories: (1) Heresies about revelation -- teachings that distort, deny, or
add to Scripture in a way that leads people to destruction; false claims to apostolic
or prophetic authority. (2) Heresies about God -- teachings that promote false gods
or idolatrous distortions of the true God. (3) Heresies about Christ -- denials of His
unique Lordship, His genuine humanity, His true identity. (4) Heresies about
salvation -- teaching legalism or licentiousness; denying the gospel of Christ's
death and resurrection; and so forth. (5) Heresies about the church -- deliberate
attempts to lead people away from the fellowship of true Christians; utter rejection
of the church. (6) Heresies about the future -- false predictions for which divine
authority is claimed; claims that Christ's return has taken place; and the like.
Note that errors in any one of these six categories tend to introduce errors into the
other five. Take, for instance, the heretical view held by many groups that the
church became totally apostate in the early centuries and thus had to be "restored"
in the last days. This doctrine implies (1) that Scripture is not a sufficient
revelation, but needs supplementing or "explaining" by some authoritative teacher
or publication. It also almost always serves as a basis for rejecting the early
church's views of (2) God and (3) Christ. Since the Reformation is rejected as
falling short of the needed restoration, (4) the doctrine of salvation by grace
through faith is likewise rejected. And the doctrine of a restoration comes to
dominate the group's views of (6) the future, as it requires them to view many or
most biblical prophecies about the future as finding fulfillment in their own group.
We find then that an error in any area of doctrine can affect every other area.
Therefore, although heresies tend to fall directly into one or more of these six major
categories, heresies can in fact occur on virtually any doctrinal subject. For
example, someone who teaches that angels should be worshipped is teaching a
heretical view (Col. 2:18), even though the subject matter is angels. This is
because worship of any creature completely cuts the heart out of any confession of
God as the one God.
Nor should it be thought that the New Testament gives us a complete catalogue of
all possible heresies. In our day there are literally thousands of clever distortions of
Christian theology that deserve the label heresy, and they can be seen as such
apart from being explicitly anticipated and identified as heretical in the Bible. The
Bible teaches us what is absolutely essential, enunciates principles as to what is
basic to sound Christian faith and what is nonessential, gives us a wide variety of
examples of heresies, and expects us to exercise discernment in evaluating new
and controversial teachings when they surface.
Furthermore, it must be realized that as the church progresses through history and
deepens its understanding of Scripture, heresies in general are becoming more
subtle, more deceiving, more easily mistaken for authentic Christianity.
For example, modern-day heretics who reject the Old Testament are rarely as frank
about it as the second-century heretic Marcion, who simply denied that the Old
Testament was in any sense Scripture (he also discarded much of the New
Testament). Instead, they adopt a method of interpretation which, while formally
admitting that the Bible is God's Word, in effect makes the Old Testament irrelevant
to the Christian, which is contrary to the clear teaching of the New Testament
(Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16).
In short, heresy is any doctrine which the Bible explicitly labels as destructive,
damning error; or a doctrine which the Bible instructs is not to be tolerated in the
church; or any doctrine which, even if not mentioned in the Bible, utterly
contradicts those truths which the Bible indicates are essential for sound Christian
Aberrational views can also be classified according to the above six categories. In
each case, the aberrant doctrine seriously compromises the Bible's essential
teaching in one or more of those six areas, although not outright denying it. For
example, the practice of speculating on the precise date of the return of Christ can
often be an aberration that stops short of heresy. The practice is certainly
unbiblical, and in the context of heretical systems of doctrine such date-setting can
itself be regarded as heretical. But in some cases, teachers have argued more
modestly that Christ might return on a certain date, admitting the very real
possibility of error, and urging only intensified obedience to God's Word. Even this
sort of teaching should be regarded as more or less aberrant, since it compromises
the biblical warnings against making predictions of this sort; but it is not of itself
APPLYING THE STANDARDS
How shall the identification of heresy be carried out in practice? And who shall be
involved in the process of identifying and responding to heresy? Here I wish simply
to give some brief suggestions as guidelines that seem to me to be in keeping with
the teaching of Scripture.
Who Should Judge?
I have already argued in Part One that the Christian church as a whole is
responsible for exercising discernment or judgment concerning heretical teachings,
and that such judgment should not be left solely in the hands of trusted religious
leaders, no matter who they are. Here I wish to sharpen this point somewhat.
Ultimately, only God can judge human hearts, since only He knows infallibly what
people are thinking and feeling. We do not even know our own hearts infallibly (Jer.
17:9-10). Therefore, when we speak about judging heresy, we are not claiming to
know the hearts of those espousing the heresy. We are not setting ourselves up as
arbiters of their eternal future, deciding who will be saved and who will not.
What the church is called to judge is whether certain teachings should be allowed to
be propagated in its midst, whether certain practices should be condoned, and
whether certain individuals espousing heretical teachings or immoral practices
should be allowed to remain in the community of faith. This kind of judgment is to
be exercised by the whole church, although some persons in the church will play a
more direct role in the process than others.
There are commands in the New Testament directing all Christians to exercise
discernment (1 Cor. 5:9-13; 14:29; 1 John 4:1). Yet, some Christians are more
gifted or skilled in such discernment than others. God gives some Christians special
gifts of discernment concerning spirits (1 Cor. 12:10). God gives some Christians
gifts enabling them to be teachers (Rom. 12:6-7; 1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11;
James 3:1). God has also called some Christians to be in positions of leadership in
the church -- such as pastors, elders, overseers, deacons -- and they will clearly
have a more direct role in carrying out the judgment of the church concerning
heresy (Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:5-9; Heb. 13:17; 1
Pet. 5:1-3). For this reason, such Christian leaders should inform themselves and
consult with gifted Christian teachers to make sure that mature discernment is
exercised in their congregations. And the leaders and teachers should work
together to instruct the church body as a whole in sound doctrine and in the
practice of discernment, so that the whole body will indeed be of one mind in its
How Should We Judge?
At last we come to the "nitty-gritty" of discernment. Just what should we do in
order to exercise sound doctrinal discernment? How should we go about becoming
more mature and skilled in discernment? The following guidelines are not
exhaustive, but they are especially critical.
(1) Learn to exercise discernment while growing as a Christian in faith,
love, and holiness. I would like to assume this is obvious to everyone, but it
bears emphasizing and even placing first on the list. The Christian life is not an
intellectual game in which the object is to prove that you are right and to ferret out
everyone who is wrong. Discerning orthodox from heretical teaching is only one
aspect of the Christian life, though it is an important one. Moreover, doctrinal
discernment itself should involve prayer, fellowship with other Christians, ministry
to other Christians and to the lost, as well as doctrinal study. May I also say that I
am preaching to myself here more than to anyone else! As one whose lifetime
ministry and career is concentrated in the practice and communication of doctrinal
discernment, I (and my colleagues in discernment ministry, as well) am more apt
to forget this than other Christians.
On the other hand, let me also emphasize the word "growing" in the above
statement. There is not some minimum standard of spiritual achievement that must
be reached before one may begin exercising discernment. Rather, the exercise of
discernment is one function in the Christian life in which all believers should be
growing throughout their Christian experience.
(2) Develop a thorough and sound grasp of Scripture. Other things being
equal, the better one understands the Bible, the better one will be able to discern
truth from error. Not every Christian can be a Bible scholar, but virtually every
Christian can study the Bible in depth and gain a profound understanding of its
There are various ways in which one can study the Bible, and all of them are
important. Read the Bible itself -- read whole books of the Bible, and read the
whole Bible (though not necessarily in any particular order). Commit portions of
Scripture to memory. Study the Bible topically, searching through Scripture and
reading what it says on particular subjects (see Acts 17:11). Use study aids,
theological textbooks, and the like (though discernment will be needed in choosing
and using such works). Study the Bible by yourself and in groups. Find competent
teachers and learn as much as you can from them. The point is to use every
resource possible to increase your understanding of Scripture.
(3) Study Christian doctrine from a variety of traditions within orthodox
Christianity. As you become fairly clear on the essentials of the faith, you should
seek to become familiar with some of the different perspectives on Christian
doctrine within the household of faith. You will want to acquaint yourself with
different views held by Christians on such controversial doctrinal matters as
baptism, the Millennium, spiritual gifts, predestination, and the like. Understanding
the different perspectives held by orthodox Christians on these doctrinal matters
will enable you to appreciate better the difference between essentials and
nonessentials of the faith, as well as to gain a more mature and biblical position on
(4) Learn as much relevant information as possible about a questionable
teaching or religious group before making any judgment. Scripture says,
"He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him" (Prov.
18:13). It is sin for Christians to judge someone's beliefs as heretical on the basis
of less than adequate information.
There are a variety of strategies you can use to gain information about a group.
You can inquire about religious affiliations -- the denomination or religion of a
teacher or group -- though in some cases certain organizations or persons may
deny their controversial religious affiliations. You can ask for information about their
history or leaders, as sometimes this is illuminating. You can consult standard
reference works, dictionaries, or encyclopedias that list religious groups and
organizations and describe their beliefs. In most cases, except with very new or
small groups or teachings, these strategies will give you adequate information.
(5) Base your understanding of a questionable doctrine on what those who
espouse it say about it themselves. This follows directly from the above
principle and from the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12). Just as we would not want
someone to label us heretics or accuse us of other evils (Matt. 5:11) on the basis of
what others say about us, so we should not criticize others' views without being
sure that we have heard them firsthand. This does not mean that every Christian
must personally read the primary literature of a heretical group before concluding
that it is indeed heretical. Rather, a Christian critique of a supposedly heretical
group should be considered less than adequate to the extent that the accusations
made are not backed up with accurate quotations from the authoritative leaders of
In questionable cases where no adequate Christian analysis or evaluation has yet
been done, it is very important to gain primary source information about the
group's doctrines. One approach that is often helpful is to ask for a doctrinal
statement. However, keep in mind the following two observations: (1) Some groups
that have no doctrinal statement are nevertheless orthodox. (2) Doctrinal
statements of heretical groups are often kept as orthodox-sounding as possible to
avoid easy criticism. Other publications may be more revealing of the group's true
(6) Do not assume that the use of orthodox language guarantees orthodox
beliefs. As I have just suggested, unorthodox and aberrant groups are often not
straightforward and honest about the true nature of their beliefs. They will
frequently use biblical language and sound very evangelical in order to avoid
criticism. This is exactly what the New Testament warns us about (e.g., 2 Cor.
In the case of groups that are dishonest about their true beliefs, gather as much
information about their beliefs as possible and compare what they say to the
public with what they say to one another. This may involve attending their
meetings and asking questions without seeming critical (see Matt. 10:16) or
obtaining in-house literature normally available only to members. Generally, such
investigations should be carried out by those with some experience and training in
doctrinal discernment, such as those involved in discernment ministries. In some
cases, ex-members may be the best source of such information and materials.
(7) Treat the information supplied by ex-members with respect but due
caution as well. Every heretical group eventually begins generating ex-members
in greater or lesser quantities, and these persons can be invaluable resources.
Often their most important contribution is their access to publications and
recordings unavailable to the general public. Their personal testimonies can also be
very informative and helpful.
One of the marks of a heretical or aberrant group is that its ex-members are all
dismissed as disgruntled or envious or immoral persons with an axe to grind. Of
course, this may be true of some ex-members. Yet, if a religious group loses a
large number of people, and these ex-members consistently tell the same story,
their testimony should be given due credence. If an ex-member can back up his (or
her) story with documentation or corroborative testimony from other ex-members,
that will serve to reinforce his testimony.
Occasionally, certain individuals will present themselves as ex-members of a group
and tell sensational stories about their involvement. Great caution must be
exercised in such cases, as increasingly there are instances of persons doing this
who either were never part of the group in question, or were never as deeply
involved as they claim. Whether such individuals perpetuate such deceptions for
financial gain, media attention, personal antagonism toward the group, or for more
subtle reasons, may not always be clear. In any case it is important that
sensationalistic accusations against a group not be accepted on the basis of the
testimony of one person or couple apart from corroborative evidence.
(8) In uncertain or borderline cases, give the benefit of the doubt to the
person or group in question. The principle of "innocent until proven guilty"
applies here. Some Christians involved in discernment ministries raise "red flags"
or, to change the metaphor, "cry wolf" whenever there is the slightest hint of
possible heresy. Such a practice brings reproach upon discernment ministries and
(9) Begin with foundational matters. In inquiring into the orthodoxy of a
religious group, much time and energy can be saved and mistakes prevented by
asking foundational questions about the group's attitude toward the Bible and
religious authority. Do they regard the Bible as the absolutely infallible, unerring
Word of God? Do they regard the Bible as the final authority in religious matters, or
do they look to something else (their leaders, a modern prophet, another book,
etc.) as an indispensable authority by which the Bible is interpreted? If their
answers to these questions are satisfactory, then in most cases they will be
orthodox; if not, they will usually be heretical. Keep in mind that some heretical
groups profess complete confidence in the Bible and appear to have no other
doctrinal authorities; thus, this guideline should be treated only as a rule of thumb.
(10) Consult with reputable discernment ministries who honor biblical
principles of discernment. No human being is infallible, nor is any organization,
including Christian discernment ministries. Nevertheless, if you agree that the
principles discussed in this article are biblical, then you should consult with
discernment ministries who seek to base their work on these principles.
THE CHALLENGE OF DISCERNMENT
In conclusion, I would like to offer a challenge to those who agree that doctrinal
discernment of the kind discussed in these articles is necessary. Begin to do
something to contribute to the ongoing task of discernment. Encourage your church
leaders to preach and teach on doctrinal discernment. Support one or more
biblically based discernment ministries, especially any that may be in your local
area. If you are a parent, teach sound doctrine to your children. Pray for sound
Christian teachers and preachers, and pray that heresies and aberrant doctrines
would lose their appeal. Every Christian can and should be doing something to
contribute to the church's discernment of sound doctrine.
Bowman, Robert M., Jr. The Dominion Debate: Kingdom Theology and
Christian Reconstructionism in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker
Book House, forthcoming). A case study in doctrinal discernment, distinguishing
orthodox, heretical, and aberrational varieties of "dominion theology."
Bray, Gerald. Creeds, Councils and Christ (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity
Press, 1984). Historical study which defends the creeds as faithful expressions of
Brown, Harold O. J. Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy
and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present (Grand Rapids: Baker Book
House, 1988). A survey of church history focusing on orthodox responses to
Davis, John Jefferson (ed.). The Necessity of Systematic Theology
(Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1978). A collection of essays on the
importance of doctrine to the lay Christian.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 1-volume ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book
House, 1988). Currently the best complete evangelical systematic theology
Frame, John M. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God: A Theology of
Lordship (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1987). On
theological and apologetical method.
Miller, Elliot. "The Christian and Authority," in 2 parts, Forward 8, 1 (Spring
1985):8-15; 8, 2 (Summer 1985):8-11, 24-26. Argues that the church, reason,
and experience are all important but subordinate to Scripture in authority.
____________. A Crash Course on the New Age Movement: Describing and
Evaluating a Growing Social Force (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989). A
model critique of a non-Christian religious philosophy that avoids sensationalistic or
Onken, Brian. "Dangers of the 'Trinity' in Man," Forward 8, 4 (Winter 1986):26-28.
The dangers of making a sharp separation between the mind and the spirit.
Poythress, Vern S. Symphonic Theology: The Validity of Multiple
Perspectives in Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House --
Academie Books, 1987). Distinguishing substantive disagreement from different but
About the Author
Rob Bowman is currently working with the Atlanta Christian Apologetics Project, Post Office Box
450068, Atlanta, GA 31145; (404) 482-2227.
Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute (P.O. Box 7000 Rancho Santa Margarita,
California 92688-7000). Taken from from the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1990, page 14. The
Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.
Faith and Reason Forum would like to thank
The Christian Research Institute for allowing
us to make this information available to our readers