A Field Guide on False Teaching — Book Review

Some months ago, my husband and I attended a conference sponsored by Ligonier Ministries (#Ligcon). Each participant received, among other things, a copy of this small book on false teaching. Later my husband taught a class using it as the text.

It’s divided into three parts:

  1. False Teaching (within the Church)
  2. Cults (Mormonism, Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses)
  3. False religions and worldviews (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and more)

Each section includes a brief history and list of the false beliefs; the key figures who popularized it; how it strays from biblical Christianity and suggestions about how to share the gospel with people who have become entangled in it

It’s short and concise, giving readers an overview of each heresy. As Christians we are called to understand and defend our faith. This is becoming increasingly important in our diverse society. If you feel unprepared or uninformed about false teaching, this book is a good place to start.

You can purchase it directly from Ligonier by following the link below:


You can also order it from Amazon as a kindle e-book.


For more about false teaching see:

What is a Cult?

False Teaching in the Church

What is False Teaching?

The Navy Hymn

Most Christians are familiar with Eternal Father Strong to Save, also known as “the Navy hymn.” It was popularized by the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy during the latter part of the 19th century. I’ve sung this song often in church services, and you probably have, too… but do you know the story behind this well-loved hymn?

It was written by an Anglican churchman named William Whiting, who was born in England in 1825. During a journey by sea Whiting was terrified when a violent storm caused the crew to lose control of the vessel. Only his faith in God allowed him to remain calm. The boat was badly damaged but managed to make it back to shore.

The experience was life changing for Whiting. He remembered it years later when a young man he taught in a training school in Winchester confessed his fear about embarking on an ocean voyage to America. Whiting described his own experience and prayed for him. He also promised, “Before you depart, I will give you something to anchor your faith.” The result was this hymn, based on Psalm 107.

“Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters.

They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep.

For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves.

They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away”.

— Psalm 107: 23–26

What Makes a Great Hymn?

Recently I posted about what makes a great sermon. That led me to start thinking about what makes a hymn great. I talked it over with my husband, and here are some of the qualities we found important.

  1. A great hymn should be singable–and when I say that I mean by average people not just professionals. Martin Luther introduced congregational singing and it has always been an important part of Lutheran worship. In fact, Lutherans have been called, “the singing church.”
  2. A great hymn should teach something. It should be theologically and biblically correct and the focus should be on God, not man. Going back to Luther again, because many people were illiterate at that time, he used hymns as a tool to help them learn and memorize basic theological concepts. A good example is the hymn, “Salvation Unto Us Has Come,” which my husband calls a sermon set to music.
  3. A great hymn should inspire. My favorite hymn is “Hark the Voice of Jesus Calling” because it puts feet on my faith. It makes me want to go out and serve others for Christ.
  4. A great hymn should touch hearts in a way that makes the faith become real. Anyone who has attended a Via de Cristo weekend will understand the power of music, and the important dynamic it adds to the retreat. Many who have been Christians for years are moved to a closer connection with God through singing “Just as I Am” or “Have You Seen Jesus, my Lord.”
  5. Great hymns withstand the test of time. Although there are modern hymns that I love, too many praise songs used today are trivial, repetitive and focus on “me” more than God. For some great modern hymns, I would recommend music composed by the Getty’s (www.gettymusic.com).

Is there a hymn you love that meets these criteria for greatness? If so, please comment, I’d love to hear about it.

For more posts about music in the church see:

Music Teaches, last installment

Martin Luther on Music #2

Lutherans and Music

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett — Book Review

This is a book of essays, written by an author I particularly enjoy. It’s not specifically Christian, rather it’s a series of stories about Ann’s life. Since she was raised as a Catholic and attended Catholic schools, some of her topics will resonate with religious folks. For example, at one point, she undertakes a year of “no shopping.” Of course, she had some exceptions — food for example, and other necessities. Even the necessities could not be purchased until they were actually needed. This allowed her to see how rich most of us are in consumer goods when others have very little. She also freed up a lot of free time that could be spent more productively.

These Precious Days: Essays by [Ann Patchett]

Another essay entitled, “The Worthless Servant” was written when she was asked to contribute to an anthology of saints. She opted to write about someone she considered a living saint, Father Charlie Strobel. He founded the Room in the Inn and its Campus for Homan Development in 1986 as a center for learning, shelter and help for people who had been living on the street. He was gifted to serve the poor, but also the necessary ability to work with local government, police and other organizations as well as people who had the means to underwrite his vision. “Worthless Servant” (from the story in Luke 17) was the inscription he wanted engraved on his tombstone

There are many other essays. Some will make you laugh, and others will make you cry. Some will encourage you to be generous. others will inspire you to develop your talents or follow your dreams. They run the gamut of life from childhood, school, marriage, friendship and death. Ultimately, it’s about how to spend every precious day of our lives. Trust me, you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement, and you won’t be bored!

VERDICT: 5 STARS. I loved it.

For more book reviews see:

The Seven Whispers by Christina Baldwin–Book Review

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt–Book Review

On Living Well by Eugene Peterson — Book Review

What Makes a Great Sermon?

I’ve been thinking lately about what makes a sermon really great, at least for me. As a Lutheran I’ve been taught that to be acceptable, any sermon needs both law and gospel — the law to convict us of our sin, and the good news of the gospel to free us from sin’s penalty. Those things are taken for granted and expected. It doesn’t matter how eloquent or interesting the preacher is — if he or she doesn’t provide those two things, it’s not a good sermon. In fact, it isn’t a sermon at all.

Of course, it helps if the preacher is interesting, and the message is delivered well. If you can’t hear the words, if points are not made clearly, the listeners won’t leave with a clear understanding of the Scripture.

Some sermons go beyond that. I love to learn new things, so I’m always happy when a sermon teaches me something I didn’t know before. That might be some historical background, or a new theological term. My husband’s sermons are famous (in a local sense) for this — he loves church history and people tell him he also “likes those big words.”

The very best sermons, however, make me realize that I must change. Not everybody like to hear this. It makes some people upset and angry. I truly don’t get it. Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be a journey? Aren’t we meant to change as we grow more like Christ? How can we mature in the faith if we’re not constantly confronting our own failures? That doesn’t mean feeling guilty and beating ourselves up (although some guilt is deserved) — it means being realistic and finding ways to take steps, even baby steps, in the right direction.

So, if you hear a sermon from the pulpit of your church that makes you uncomfortable or unsettled, that’s probably a good thing. Give thanks! Take it seriously! Try to change! It’s something we all need to do.

I wouldn’t mind hearing some comments from other readers and writers. What makes a sermon great in your opinion?

For more about sermons see:

Sins and Sermons

Letters to My Students Vol. 1: On Preaching by Jason K. Allen–Book Review

Preaching By The Book – A Book Review

Exodus Chapter 3–What Stands Out

Recently, as part of my daily Bible reading plan (Plan to Read the Bible), I’ve been studying the book of Exodus. Here’s what stood out for me in Chapter 3:

“… I know their sufferings” Exodus 3:7b

I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing I like even less than suffering, it’s admitting that I’m suffering. That may come in part, from being raised in a family that was pretty stoic. The attitude was, “don’t complain, just get on with what you need to do.” My grandparents survived the depression, and life was pretty hard for them. They didn’t want to hear whining about things or circumstances that weren’t life threatening. Then there’s the part of me that doesn’t like to admit to suffering because it makes me look (and feel) weak. I should be able to handle whatever life throws at me. Sometimes I even tell myself that keeping my suffering to myself is what I’m called to do as a Christian. What kind of example am I if I let life get me down? Christians are supposed to be joyful, aren’t they?

Well, there’s probably some truth in all of these ideas, but I do suffer and so does everyone else. I sometimes suffer from anxiety or feel depressed. I suffer from physical discomforts as I age. I suffer from disappointment when things don’t turn out the way I hoped they would. I suffer when others don’t seem to appreciate me. Most of the time, I try to ignore my suffering because I don’t think anyone else really wants to hear about it. They have problems of their own.

This verse tells me there is someone who cares, and already knows every little ache and pain, whether it involves my body or my heart. God knows my suffering, and the verse goes on to say,

“I have come down to deliver them.” Exodus 3:8

During the time of the Exodus, He sent Moses. For us, He sent His own son, Jesus. We don’t have to suffer alone. So, if you’re suffering, turn to the One who already knows and who has compassion on our weakness. God is always waiting to hear our prayers and ease our suffering.

For another posts about suffering see:

Suffer Strong by Katherine & Jay Wolf–Book Review

Show Me the Father–Movie Review

What’s your father story? We all have one. A good father is an extremely important figure in the life of a child. He provides, affirms, encourages, guides, blesses and leads. Those who are fatherless, or who have an earthly father who does not fulfill this God-given role, will face more difficulties in both secular and spiritual development. We all tend to see God through the lens of our earthly fathers. A poor role model may cause us to have low self-esteem and trouble in trusting God.

In this documentary film, you will learn the father stories of a number of Christian men. Some are good, and some are not. The good news is that, even if we have had poor fathering, we can choose to emulate our Father in Heaven. He is always there for us, and He will provide the blessing, affirmation and guidance that we all crave and need.

VERDICT: 4 STARS. Overall, this film was inspiring, interesting, and well done. One of the men interviewed was Tony Evans, a Baptist, so there will be some small, theological differences for Lutherans.

For more reviews of Christian films see:

My Brother’s Keeper–Film Review

The Chosen Season One — Review

The War Room – it’s all about prayer

Walking the Bible–Film Review

This documentary is intended to be a companion to the book by Bruce Feiler with the same name. I read it years ago. The author embarks on a 10,000 mile journey, visiting locations where some of the stories of the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) took place. He travels to Mesopotamia to imagine scenes from Genesis; to Egypt to follow the path of Joseph; and finally, to the Sinai Desert where the Israelites wander for forty long years. Readings from the Scripture are interspersed throughout.

As part of his adventure, Feiler meets and consults with a variety of experts to gain answers to his archaeological and scientific questions. However, along the way his journey becomes more of a spiritual quest. Seeing the land brings the Bible to life for him, and he realizes that the important thing is not the destination — it is the journey itself, the opportunity to grow closer to God. The stories are not just ancient history, they teach universal truths that are still relevant to us today.

VERDICT: 4 STARS. Even if you know a lot about the Bible and the evidence of archaeology, you’re sure to learn something. I did!

For more movie reviews see:

I Still Believe–Movie Review

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — Movie Review

Overcomer–Movie Review


50 Years and Counting

Last month my husband and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. It’s a milestone reached by only about 5% of couples. To attain it, you must marry fairly young, and then survive both death and divorce. If you do, you earn the luxury of looking back on many memories and lots of challenges you’ve navigated together. You’ll learn to lean on God a lot. Staying together isn’t always easy, but in the long run, there is a sense of accomplishment.

This month I’ve found myself reading, ironically, a memoir entitled Heartbreak written by science journalist Florence Williams. In it, she records her experience of divorce after a long marriage (25 years). During the three years after the breakup of her marriage, she traveled across the U.S. and also to England and Croatia to meet with researchers, therapists and others in order to understand the effects of losing a mate. Guess what? The consensus is divorce is bad for your health. It wreaks havoc on brains and bodies. Among the documented effects are poor sleep, increased anxiety, and a weakened immune system. Many people show symptoms similar to PTSD. It can even affect your heart (yes, really!) and cause early death. Of course, these same symptoms may surface upon the death of a mate, but data about the health effects of being single, widowed or divorced, show that the effects of divorce are the most damaging. One health study calls it, “a costly life event.”

On the other hand, scores of studies show that married people live longer, have fewer instances of cancer, strokes and heart attacks, and are less likely to become depressed or overweight.

As Christians, we should not be surprised. After all, in the book of Genesis God says:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18

Adam, when presented with Eve, calls her:

“…bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh…” Genesis 2:23

In marriage, according to the Bible, we become “one flesh.” No wonder divorce feels like an amputation — it is!

I know there are reasons that our sinful nature sometimes makes divorce the only option. Addiction or abuse spring to mind. Still, if we know what’s good for us, we should do what we can to stay together.

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:6

For more posts about marriage see:

The Marriage Challenge – A Book Review

In Marriage Relationships

Give Thanks for Marriage

The Importance of the Creeds

Recently my husband has been leading a class about false teaching within the church, and false religions that are outside the Christian faith altogether. During one of those discussions, this question was asked: how do we, as individuals, discern what is false teaching? How do we know when an idea we hear expressed is truly out of bounds? My husband’s answer is below.

There are many different denominations and groups of Christians who disagree with one another about some of the details of the faith. Is Christ physically present in the Sacrament of the Altar or is He present only spiritually, or is the Sacrament simply symbolic? Is Baptism proper only for adult believers, or should infants be baptized? Either way, should it be done by pouring, sprinkling, or immersion? These are questions that have been and will be argued about until the Lord comes. But do differences such as these mean that one side or the other has strayed from orthodoxy (right beliefs)?

This is where the Creeds of the Church come into play. Long ago, the early Church, led by the Holy Spirit determined and set forth the fundamental beliefs of Christianity in what we call the ecumenical creeds: the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed and the Athanasian Creed. Each of these is a concise statement about what defines orthodox Christianity, and each is in agreement with the others. If you agree with these creeds, you are an orthodox Christian — if you do not, well, then you’re not.

This is why it is good for congregations to recite one of these creeds in every service. It is a witness to visitors of what is believed, taught and confessed in that place. Frequent repetition also serves to remind believers over and over (and we need this!) of what constitutes correct belief.

For more about the false teaching see:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on False Teaching

False Teaching in the Church

Martin Luther on False Teachers