(Lisa Robinson)

I will confess that this post will probably raise more questions than provide answers.  And it is specifically to raise the question of how much time and energy  do we need to spend refuting troubled ideas or erroneous teaching or what we perceive to be troubled or erroneous.   So, I don’t necessarily mean defending Christianity but defending certain positions within Christianity.

What I am talking about are web-sites, ministries and individual activity that devotes a significant amount of resources in articulating error of a certain position or platform of particular teachers.  The thrust of the activity to point out what is wrong.  Some are referred to as discernment ministries.  In some cases, it is to highlight error against particular teaching.  Or it may be that individuals are engaged in a line of defense or sermons delivered from the pulpit.  But I am increasingly questioning the fruitfulness of such activity, especially when it consumes a significant amount of resources.

Now, you may be objecting by now with 1 Peter 3:15 and the charge to give a defense of the hope of the Christian.  Yes, that is true.  But is this verse commending a proactive engagement of defense or having the ability to defend the Christian faith when confronted with questions?  It seems that Peter refers to the latter because the entirety of his letter commends living out our Christian faith in the presence of persecution.  It seems like the focus should be living out the Christian faith rather than defending it but I’ll get to that in a minute.

I do believe there are legitimate concerns with teaching and ideas that are contradictory and counter-productive to the historic and biblical witness of the Christian faith and particularly when they seep into the fabric of evangelical churches.   I do believe in the legitimacy of confronting such error.  But I also think it has to be examined according to relevance of essentials to the Christian faith.

Michael’s post here highlights a chart of order of importance.  It seems to me that activity of defense should be commensurate with this order.  The problem I find is that defensive tactics target topics that don’t necessarily warrant the level of defense activity.   Is Calvinism, Dispensationalism and Egalitarianism really destructive to the Christian faith?  These are just some examples of an extraordinary amount of energy that goes into a ‘defense’ in refutation of supposed error.   Michael is right – we need to do a better job of distinguishing between essentials and non-essentials.

The internet is an unfortunate pawn in the program of defense.  With it, we can wield a broad ranging wand to address whatever concerns us (well I’m doing that now, right?).  Unfortunately, that means it can multiply the seeds of discord with positions we disagree on.  Now I am all for discourse and understanding points of deviation.  I appreciate the amount of well articulated and well researched information that will make us consider various topics.  But when deviation becomes fodder for an apologetic agenda, there has to be the question raised of its significance and more importantly to the edification of the body.

I think the same is true of our individual activity.  I think it is prudent to ask these questions.

  • How much time and energy do we spend on refuting error?
  • Is there an evaluation of time/energy to importance?
  • Have we really understood fully what the disagreement is or is it just reactionary?

It amazes me how much I encounter that is reactionary rhetoric typically based on poor research, mis-characterizations and misunderstandings.  What some may deem heresy may be nothing more than an alternate interpretation of scripture but does not necessarily uproot Christianity.

And this leads me to consider the biblical witness for the basis of our activity as Christians, which primarily focuses on exaltation of Christ, and individual and corporate maturity; serving Christ and serving others; and representing Christ to the world.   Our time, energy and resources should be spent in relation to that activity.   That doesn’t mean we don’t engage in refuting troubling or erroneous ideas or teaching, but there has to be an examination of fruitfulness of such activity.  Moreover, there should be consideration of taking on roles that we should not.  The charge to refute error is directed towards a pastoral capacity in order to protect the local assemblies against error that would seep in (1 Timothy 1:3; Titus 1:8; Jude 3).  But even then, Paul commends Timothy to ‘point these things out’ and that the body should be nourished on sound doctrine not on a diet of what is wrong with everything else (1 Timothy 4:6).

This does raise the question with the existence of parachurch ministries and internet activity, of what role ministries and/or web-sites play in the refutation of error such that activity is primarily targeting a particular teaching or position. No, I’m not talking about the wealth of resources that provide information and examination of various topics.  I’m referring specifically to activity that is exclusively engaged in refuting a particular position, and especially with internet interaction on blogs and such.  How much time is spent to make someone else see our point of view or the error of their position as opposed to providing instruction and edification to the body of Christ.

Friends, on an individual basis, this does highlight a stewardship issue.  There is only so much time we get to live out our faith here on earth.  There is only so much focus that we can devote to challenging disagreement, and especially if that disagreement does not uproot the essentials of the Christian faith.  Otherwise, I think defense is problematic when it becomes the driving force for Christianity rather than loving the Lord, with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind…and our neighbor as ourselves.

But I would love to hear your input on how much focus should we place on refuting troubled ideas or contradictory teaching.  Surely, there is a place for it.  But how much is too much?

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    30 replies to "The Trouble With Defense: How Much is Too Much?"

    • mbaker


      I definitely think this is an idea whose time has come. Although I appreciate the discernment blogs who helped me see some of the false teaching I was involved in years ago, I do not believe putting all our time into such endeavors is a good thing either.

      In fact, I notice rather than helping, many of these so called discernment sites nowadays come down way too hard on people who don’t “get it” the way they teach it. They simply cannot tolerate another point of view that doesn’t agree with their personal agenda. I have seen a lot of changes in those sites in the last few years, and it seems to me too many of them are becoming more opinionated personally, and less about offering balanced views which educate rather than denigrate.

      There are very few I read any more for that very reason. Thank you for a timely and well presented article.

    • david carlson

      They should be called “fault finding ministries” or “Mathew 7 Ministries.

    • david carlson

      If you only confront what is wrong, how do you know what truth is? To test counterfet money, you learn what is true money – you then tell the false by the abscence of truth. There is no way to know the truth by only studying the false.

    • Alex Guggenheim

      It is true that counterfeit money is revealed when we understand its properties fail to measure up to the genuine thing. However, that is not all we do concerning counterfeit money.

      We also make people aware of the counterfeiters as well as their techniques. Some counterfeiters are so ingenious that they manage to fool many people causing a great deal of harm.

      There is a time and place for these thing so it must be accepted that counterfeit teaching is not addressed only by learning the truth. We must also identify counterfeiters, their methods and product.

    • david carlson

      @alex – your missing my point – these Mathew 7 blogs tend to only fault find. How can you know the truth when you read those things if all they ever do is point out error?

      Pointing our error is not the same as teaching truth.

    • mbaker

      “Pointing our error is not the same as teaching truth.”

      i fear you are right and this is where we fall down in getting the real Christian message across nowadays, whether it be on ‘discernment’ sites or in dealing with non-believers.

      Only pointing the false does not prove the true, because it only presents the truth from a negative point of view, not from the good news of the gospel. I believe with all my heart we need to confront falsehood in the church, but not to the point that that becomes a distraction to the gospel itself.

    • bethyada

      I am not so certain Lisa. I think I grasp your concern, though it depends on the nature of the ministry.

      If your ministry is actually errant then it is a waste of time. But the use of ministries by people when a question arises that is important to them it is good we have material that is well thought out. As such it will both identify error and teach truth.

      Now if all Christians spent all their time on this it may be a problem, but we have different gifts, and it may be that for some parachurch ministries they are exercising such gifts appropriately.

      But even such important issues as trafficking humans, not all Christians can devote all their time to this.

      As to your examples of egalitarianism and Calvinism (without resolving the truth of these in this thread) I think they are a far greater issues than you suggest.

      Didn’t someone once say that even if we are orthodox neglect the gospel unless we address the one issue that Satan is attacking in our age.

    • John From Down Under

      The extremities you describe display an obsession with over-correction, and obsession is only a step away from idolatry. I have no qualms whatsoever to say that for some, theology has become an idol. They are not interested in discussing anything that can’t be distilled to an –ism. The types that would rather define compassion than show it.

      It has actually become a subculture within the Christian subculture. The online discernment ministries started with good intentions and picked up where Hank Hanegraaff and Dave Hunt left off in the 80’s with ‘Christianity in Crisis’ & ‘The Seduction of Christianity’, except they took it to a whole new level. Rather than address the broad problem of error that ‘poisoned the well’, they have become rather granular and niche in their nitpicking.

      It takes a lot of effort to decipher subtle error, but spending all the breath you have exposing error surely can’t be healthy for the soul!

    • mbaker

      John from down under,

      Not sure who or what here who you are addressing since you didn’t specify.

      Thanks for claiifying that.

    • Dave Z

      I think those that use 1 Peter 3:15 as support for their confrontational “discernment” have missed the point of that passage. Some translations do use the word defense, but some say “be prepared to give an answer” when asked about the hope that is in you. It’s an instruction to explain the gospel to those who ask, not a license to verbally flail away at anyone who dares to disagree on some point of doctrine.

      But someone will say “What about Jude 1:3? We must contend for the faith!” I don’t know. I find it hard to believe that the Gospel is in danger, like God is somehow depending on us to go to bat on his behalf. Perhaps Jude is telling us to contend for our own faith, in light of the error that exists.

      Funny thing is that many of those who are most visibly “contending” come from a Calvinist perspective. I don’t get it…is God sovereign or not? Is he threatened by error or is he in charge of everything? Make up your minds.

    • Dave Z

      Another danger with the discernment sites is that while they look reputable, they’re often run by very small groups of people who are not accountable to anyone. Here in the internet age, anyone can grab a template, create a site and say anything they want, and appear credible to those who can’t be bothered to do their own research.

      I’ve known people that stumble across Lighthouse Trails and think they’ve discovered a shining beacon of truth (pun intended), not realizing its pretty much run by just one couple, the Dombrowskis, who, as far as anyone knows, are accountable to absolutely no one. Yet some people accept every word they read as absolute truth, when in reality, it’s no more than mere opinion.

      Frankly, I think the online discernment ministries are some of the most damaging and unchristian groups out there, on a par with the loonies from Westboro Baptist Church.

    • Ed Kratz

      Mbaker, I’m pretty sure John was addressing the OP

    • Ed Kratz


      Yeah I think that such specialized ministries can be legitimate if done right. I loved the idea of Bible Answer Man but wished there was someone less caustic as the host. Spots, whether on-line or radio, that addresses peoples questions are reasonable as long as the questions are being addressed in a fair way and backed by knowledge and research.

      I also would not include stuff like Human Trafficking as a focus of addressing error. That’s not quite what I’m talking about. Nor would I include any ministry that has a specific focus as its mission. I’m referring to correcting error of teaching.

    • bethyada

      Lisa, a couple of clarifications.

      A wasn’t using trafficking as an example of error, I was using it as an issue that most in the church would consider important. Even so, not all are called to devote all their time to it despite the battle against it being legitimate and important. Likewise we can’t spend all our time on other issues such as tackling error, but we can spend some time, and I think that a few may be called to larger amounts of time in terms of ministry.

      I don’t think all who address these issues should do so, not the least because some are in error themselves.

      I think that there should be more discussion, though as you suggest, the problem can be the temperament of the people in these ministries.

      Being from NZ I am not familiar with your radio programs. You may well be addressing problems I am not aware of.

    • skaggers

      I go to a fundalmentalist church and I find/hear that the passages people use more often are 2 timothy 3:15 through the first few verses in chapter 4. At least the 1 peter passage has a command to do so with respect. I also have heard Greg Koukl and Bill Craig say that this passage is geared toward being prepared to give a reasonable defense to unbelievers, not so much as a call to doctrinal apologetics within Christianity. I believe both passages are misused to further people’s dogmatic agenda and to discredit other people. There are four baptist churches an two community churches within 3 miles of my church, and it is interesting to see the subtle jabs that sneek into sermons about what other churches are teaching in the name of delivering sound biblical Christian doctrine. I would like to see churches teaching their doctine, and pastors from differing places get together and discuss/debate their issues, instead of leaving bitter tastes about other churches in the

    • […] The Trouble With Defense: How Much is Too Much? (reclaimingthemind.org) […]

    • Ed Kratz


      I know you asked me to delete the comment because you didn’t finish the thought, but you said something interesting I wanted to comment on with respect to ‘name calling’ from the pulpit. I think it is even worse when I see it in evangelical scholarship, and especially when competing positions are mis-characterized and misunderstood. Of course, the ones that do this are more fundamentalists oriented. I just think of all places I expect to find objective instruction its in a publication written by a scholar with a PhD.

      But sadly, when scholars succumb to rhetoric and name calling under the guise of correcting error, it has a trickle down effect that only amplifies the transgressions for the pastor reading the published work. If the scholars do it, it must be ok, right? It is even worse if the rhetoric contains misunderstandings or incorrect statements of the position being refuted since that will get transmitted and continued also.

    • david carlson

      God Bless Joel Osteen, he does tell people who watch him that if they are not part of a local church they need to go out and get it one. So a couple of times a year we get a new comer carrying one of his books who say Joel said I need to get into a local church so here I am today.

      How do you respond to that?

      You could attack Joel and his ministry (easy target). You know, point out the error in his ways. Pretty sure the response is that person is going to run from you the first chance they get – but hey, you stood up for the truth and made sure to confront error.

      We just say welcome. Glad your here. And we then teach the truth. We don’t run down others – we hold up Jesus. We try not to judge others when they walk in the door. We just focus on teaching them to follow Jesus from that day forward.

    • Alex Guggenheim

      david carlson says:

      @alex – your missing my point – these Mathew 7 blogs tend to only fault find. How can you know the truth when you read those things if all they ever do is point out error?

      Pointing our error is not the same as teaching truth.
      I do believe I got the point of your post which implies these ministries only point out error or as you term, faults. Show me any of these that only do this but be sure before you identify it that it only does this or does it very scantly.

      I believe, even when I disagree with these ministries, they all possess positive doctrinal assertions. Thye do teach what they believe is a proper understanding of that with which they contend.

      I personally may not agree with all their candidates or the teachings but your characterization seems to be one that I cannot find so I am open to the evidence.

      Finally, what specific directions do you (or anyone) have as to how one “properly” perform such ministries of…

    • Chris

      Great post Lisa. The kind of question that you have posed is very important, because it pulls us above the tree line to see the forest that we sometimes miss, when our full attention is sometimes on the ant on the bark of a sapling tree. We need to wrestle with the details and make sure that we are getting things right, but when doing so, we must make sure that we take a step back and look at the big picture, to make sure that we are not majoring on the minors. The Gospel is such a beautiful thing; how tragic would it be if we missed an opportunity to share it with a lost and dying world, only because we can’t seem to disengage ourselves from all the internal bickering that is on display for all the world to see. When issues come up, let’s work to quickly resolve, with all humility and grace, and worship God for the opportunity he has given us to serve as a part of His bride, with all of her diversity. Thank you for the post Lisa.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      The trouble with being carefree about defense: How much is too little?

    • […] and ‘Liberal’ Christianity – John Backman, Huffington Post The Trouble with Defense: How Much is Too Much? – Lisa Robinson Musings on Almost Christian – Mike Lowry Details Inside Donald […]

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Rewrite of prior comment:

      The trouble with being carefree about defense: How little is too little?

    • Seth R.

      Well, I certainly agree with a more balanced approach. It’s never enough to stand against something – you have to stand FOR something as well. And I think the “for” has to get priority.

      There’s a reason why I, as a Mormon, respect Michael Patton’s work here at this blog more than I respect the work of folks like James White.

      Because while Michael’s views regarding Mormonism may not really differ from James’ views significantly (just assuming here), Mormons and other assorted heretics aren’t the ONLY thing that Michael is concerned with. While that certainly seems to be the case with James.

      As a result, I respect the Parchment and Pen crowd more.

      They’re playing the whole piano, and not just five keys.

    • Lucian

      Well… since you mentioned First Peter 3:15… 🙂

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    • Meg

      I find these so-called “Discernment Ministries” troubling because I was in it and now I regreted by being involed in this. I see that there’s alot of judging, gossiping, railing, nitpicking, finding fault & sandering in these groups and it’s cult-like to me. When you disgree with them, they will condamn you. I was starting to act like them until I was looking from an article about “Christians” sniping at any anybody who’s disgree wih them and I fell awful of what I had done. So I put a link from th same article plus said my apology to some if I had offened them in any other way, and told them that I have learned that all preachers who are sent form God are not perfect with their theachings but spreading the ture Gospel and the false prophets needed to be saved, (not to condamn then), and I have no business to judging. Later, most of the people are starting to attack me because they don’t agree with the other ministery that’s teaches good doctine! Also, they attacked the…

    • Meg

      Also, they attacked the ministery. It’s really shows me that they have no love whatsoever. I will never going to these so-called “discernment ministries” again. Please pray that I will be saved and stay away from these so-called “ministries” that dones not show any love nor truth.

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