It’s Bible study night and you’ve been looking forward to meeting with women from your church to study the Bible together all week. But tonight, something shatters this peaceful evening of fellowship.
As you discuss your answers to a challenging application question, one of the women sighs and says that raising little children is a lot harder than she ever imagined. You just finished a book by your favorite author on this very topic, so you jump at the opportunity to recommend it.
“You like her?” one of the women responds. She leans back in her chair and bites her bottom lip. “I don’t.”
You spin around in your seat. “Why?”
The woman looks down. “It’s just… I think she has some really problematic teachings.”
The night is ruined by that one sentence, along with the rest of your week. As you move through your ordinary tasks, her words ring in your head. Every time you walk past your stack of books with that author’s name on one of the spines, you feel that awkward, aching feeling inside. And, if you’re honest, some anger too.
These minor disagreements can feel embarrassing, frustrating, and even hurtful. It might leave your relationship with the other person feeling rocky and painful. Perhaps it rattles your faith a little too. How do we move forward when someone questions our favorite author or online teacher?
Assess The Relationship
Take a moment to assess your relationship with the person who raised their concerns. Is it your pastor, your best friend, your mentor? Is it another reputable teacher that you follow online? Ultimately, is this the opinion of someone you respect, or is it someone you’ve never felt comfortable around?
Consider how they approached you about their concerns. Is this person looking out for your good? Do they love you and care about your well-being? Did they come to you with love, gentleness, kindness, and humility? Or did they come with pride, anger, and sarcasm? Were they understanding, or did they look down on you and mock you?
Asking these questions helps us consider if the opinion we heard is worth listening to. As Jesus said, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matt. 7:6). Don’t waste your time with the careless, hateful words of those who only want to stir up trouble. Instead, leave the conversation.
But if this person is a sibling in Christ, someone who loves you and looks out for you like their own sister, take stock of what they said. Open your ears to humbly hear what they might have to say. Remember, your favorite online teacher doesn’t have that same kind of love and care for you. Don’t hold on to your online teacher at the expense of your real-life relationships.
Soothe your anger and hurt feelings with the comfort that your friend is simply trying to show you kindness. Remember these wise words: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:5–6).
Assess The Teacher
Despite how much we may love an online teacher, it doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of error. Every teacher—no matter their fame, amount of books published, endorsements, likeability, or even how many teachings they have correct—should be held to the standard of God’s Word.
How do we assess a teacher’s doctrine? First, we need to humbly listen to the concerns raised. Defensiveness, anger, and pride come easily. To listen well, we need to take a deep breath and soothe those emotions. It may even be necessary to take a break from the conversation so both of you can return more clear-headed. Your emotions may have warrant, but we need to take a moment and truly listen before making our defenses. Let your friend share their concerns (without you interrupting). Then, ask genuine questions such as, “Where do you support this claim with Scripture?” and “Can you show me an example of this in their writing?”
Once you’ve heard their arguments, then you need to assess if their concerns are correct and if they are concerns of first theological importance. These are the beliefs that are essential to historic Christianity. They are:
The Trinity. Do they teach that we worship one God in Three Persons (not powers)—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—equal in deity, power, and glory? Each sinless and eternal?
The gospel. We are born sinful and deserving of God’s wrath and condemnation, but by faith in Christ’s sinless life (which fulfilled the law we could not) and death on the cross as the punishment for our sins, we receive salvation from God’s wrath. Do they teach that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Or do they teach that we add something to our salvation in order to gain it or keep it?
The Bible. Do they teach that God’s Word is inspired by the Holy Spirit, making it God’s authoritative, perfect, sufficient (meaning we do not need to add to it) Word without error?
You may realize that the concerns raised about the teacher are actually issues outside of these essential doctrines. Maybe your beliefs differ on end times theology, baptism, or spiritual gifts. Whatever the issue, we need to remember that we can always learn from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, even when we disagree over non-essentials.
Perhaps the concerns your friend raised aren’t doctrinal but have to do with the teacher’s actions. Everyone sins, but if a teacher consistently shows a pattern of disobedience to God’s law or treats others in a dishonorable way, that is a valid concern as well. Even teachers eloquent in theology have later been found to be abusive and have been disqualified as church leaders.
Tailor Your Response
Whatever conclusion you reach about your favorite online teacher, it’s important that we respond in love. We should show kindness, respect, and humility. We can agree to disagree. You can admit you were wrong. You can say you agree with their findings, but you don’t think they are problematic enough for you to stop listening to this teacher. But each of these responses can be tailored and crafted with the same grace you have been shown by Christ in the gospel.
Meet the Author
Lara d’Entremont is a wife and mom to three from Nova Scotia, Canada. Lara is a writer and learner at heart—always trying to find time to scribble down some words or read a book. Her desire in writing is to help women develop solid theology they can put into practice—in the mundane, the rugged terrain, and joyful moments. You can find more of her writing at laradentremont.com.