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False Teacher of the Day #41: Thabiti Anyabwile

by | Mar 24, 2019 | Blog | 0 comments

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Heresy, or heretic, are not words that I generally drop lightly these days. I used to, but one thing I’ve learned over the years is to approach heresy — especially within orthodox ranks — with a tremendous amount of precision and care. After several years of following Thabiti Anyabwile and the ideology that he continues to push, I believe it is safe to say that he has crossed the line of heresy.

Definition of Heresy

The Greek word for heresy is haireseis. According to a lexical analysis data, it has a range of meaning as follows: religious sect, sect, party, school, faction, opinion, dogma, dissension, false teaching, division. Peter uses this word to describe false teachers who would arise among the churches and secretly introduce destructive heresies. (2 Peter 2:1)

The word haireseis appears 9x in the NT. 6 of those 9 times it refers to sects: the Sadducees, Pharisees, the Nazarenes (Christians), the Way (Christianity), and finally, the sect that is spoken against everywhere (Christianity). This means that 50% of the time when it refers to a religious party, it is used to refer to Christianity. It is translated factions twice. In 1 Cor. 11:19 and Gal. 5:20. In both of those instances, the sense is negative. Finally, Peter uses this word to describe teachings that false teachers would secretly bring into the churches that he classified as destructive.

A haireseis then is a readily identifiable group, movement, or teaching. Being readily identifiable means that it is distinct or marked off from other groups, movements, or teachings. In a sense then, haireseis is set apart from those who are not part of the group, movement, or teaching. A person who identifies with this group, movement, or teaching is called a hairetikos. This word is used in Titus 3:10 where Paul commands Titus to reject a hairetikos man after a first and second warning. This word describes a factious or divisive man. The Apostle Paul commands the pastor Titus to remove a divisive man from the community after two warnings. Paul says that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned. Paul did not tolerate divisive teachings or teachers in the churches.

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Liberation Theology is Heresy

James Cone was the leading proponent of Black Liberation Theology. He defined it as “a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the gospel, which is Jesus Christ.” [Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, pp. 17-18] In this view, the study of God is not sourced in Scripture alone. It is sourced in the light of a very specific existential situation – the oppressed community. And this view relations the liberation of the oppressed within this existential situation to the essence of the gospel.

One troubling component of liberation theology is that it gives secondary meaning to Scripture. James Cone argued that resurrection of Christ means the liberation of all people and related it to deliverance from oppression. The matter of man’s sinfulness and his need for a Savior to atone for sin is ignored by liberation theology. In modern evangelical woke advocates, it is minimized and eclipsed. Hope, in liberation theology is not based on the future second coming of Christ but instead rests in an over-realized eschatological view that relocates our hope to the here and now. We must fight to end oppression in the world in all its forms.

Liberation theology claims that theology is not based on the propositional truths of divine revelation in Scripture but is a field that is in constant flux as it responds to changes in the culture at the time. Another major concern with liberation theology is that it stands in violation of Romans 13 where Paul commands the churches to submit to the civil authorities. Liberation theology in all its various forms takes political views and allegiances to the Scripture and interprets Scripture through lens of those allegiances.

As Peter Enns points out, liberation theology does not approach the concepts of God, Christ, man, sin, and salvation from an orthodox, biblical viewpoint, but reinterprets them in a political context. [Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 599.] One disclaimer is that since Peter Enns has himself experience significant theological drift in recent years.

It seems to me then that based on the teachings of liberation theology combined with the biblical concept of heresy, one has no choice but to conclude that liberation theology fits the biblical definition of heresy. In fact, if one were to deny this conclusion, it is hard to see how anyone could ever conclude that any view whatsoever held by any group could be considered heresy.

Adding Works to the Gospel

The five solas of the reformation tell us that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone according to Scripture alone. According to the gospel of John, Jesus’ last words just before he died were “it is finished.” Everything that was needed to remove every ounce of guilt for the sinful rebellion of humanity was accomplished right there at that moment in time. Nothing more was or is needed. The removal of guilt and condemnation for all our sinful acts took place right there on that hill.

According to 2 Cor. 5:18, God has reconciled us to himself through Christ. The plan, the work, and the application of redemption resulting in our salvation were all completed in and executed by the ontological Triune God of Scripture. As Jonathan Edwards once said, the only thing we contribute to our salvation is the sin that makes it necessary. But not all men are satisfied with the concept of salvation by grace alone. Some men, in fact, most men want to have some hand in their own salvation. Paul found this to be true with his own people, the Jews. He penned the book of Galatians for this very purpose. When the Judaizers wanted to add certain requirements from Moses to the gospel, Paul went ballistic. He pronounced a curse upon them and indicted for preaching another gospel (Gal. 1:6-8). He rebuked Peter to his face for not standing up to these religious bullies (Gal. 2:11). And he even said at one point that he wishes those who add works to the gospel would castrate themselves (Gal. 5:12). It is safe to say that Paul took the gospel as seriously as it could be taken. It is also clear to any honest reader that Paul did not tolerate even the slightest deviance from the truth of the gospel. Nothing appears up for grabs where Paul is concerned.

The point in all this is that God freely dispenses his grace to those whom he has called to himself. Definitionally speaking, the gospel is the instrument of God by which he freely dispenses special grace upon those whom he loves with a special love. There can be nothing in the person or in the actions of that person that would merit or increase God’s grace or favor. To argue otherwise is to compromise God’s righteous character, and to destigmatize sin. To make such a move forces a redefinition of the gospel. And a redefined gospel is no gospel at all.

In an article posted on “The Front Porch,” Anyabwile asserts,

Injustice is not just a problem in this life. If a person does not turn away from the sin of injustice, then it will be a problem in the life to come. In this way, the failure to live a life of equity, fairness and righteousness is indeed a gospel issue—sin always is.

Like everything else, the issue is how Anyabwile defines these terms and how is he using them. When you define justice using such concepts as slavery reparations or how one votes while asserting that these are sin issues and indeed gospel issues, you have just added items to the gospel that Scripture does not.

According to Anyabwile, true faith doesn’t vote for GOP candidates, it contends for reparations. True faith hires pastors based on melanin and diversity standards rather than biblical qualifications. True faith contends for open borders and manipulates the civil magistrate and so on and so forth. By making these matters issues of true faith, Anyabwile makes them issues of the gospel, and by doing so he has also created a sect or faction of sorts. And this sect holds that these issues are gospel issues.

Legalism and Made-Up Sins

Anyabwile and his cohorts continue to place artificial blame on an entire ethnic group — “white people” — of which the claim isn’t exactly an ethnicity, but a mentality. They’ve labeled this sin “whiteness” — you can read about that here. Suffice it to say that Anyabwile has called on white people to repent of, well, being white.

Of course, there is no such sin as “whiteness” or “blackness” or anything else related, and guilt by the virtue of skin color — or some perceived mentality — is not only legalism, it’s heresy.

Guilt and Repentance by Proxy

In a piece at The Gospel Coalition titled We Await Repentance for Assassinating Dr. King, Anyabwile indicts an entire ethnic group for their complicity in the assassination of Martin Luther King, writing,

My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice.

Anyabwile’s notion of repentance on behalf of the dead mirrors that of Roman Catholicism’s indulgences for the dead yet takes it even a step further — that the guilt of the dead actually lay upon the shoulders of the living. Yet, not only do the Scriptures teach individual responsibility for sin (Ezekiel 18:29), the idea that one can repent on behalf of another is most certainly another gospel.

The Justified

The Apostle Paul informs us in Gal. 3:28 that in Christ, where redemption and forgiveness are concerned, there are no classes for people. All men, be they male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free, are one in Christ. We are all the same in Christ: We are justified. Paul says there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Because God is perfectly righteous, a sinful human could never perform anything good and right in God’s eyes. Evil attaches to all our actions regardless of how good they may appear to us. And because God is perfectly righteous, we could never perform any deed that would earn us forgiveness for all the evil we have committed in our actions, words, and thoughts. The only way forgiveness could be made possible was for Christ to pay the price we could never pay. He had to take our place. Any other human would have just received the punishment they already deserved.

When we make demands on people and attach those demands to genuine faith, divine grace, and forgiveness in Christ, we corrupt and pervert the gospel. When we talk about past guilt to those who have genuine faith in Christ, we speak about something that does not actually exist if in fact the gospel is true. When you place guilt upon the forgiven, you arrogantly claim to undo what Christ has done. And to claim that the work of Christ can be undone is to reject the true essence of the gospel.

The Christian movement is identified as a sect unified in the person of Christ and the unifying message of the gospel. It is this gospel message that holds the group together. Christ is our identity. His teachings represent the essence of our life. The gospel is the identifying mark of our confession as a body, as a community, as a sect. Any person who teaches anything contrary to this gospel introduces damnable heresy and should be recognized and noted by the body as a heretic to be removed from the body and avoided after two warnings. This practice is not open to debate. It is our obligation as Christians to embrace this teaching and to practice it everywhere the Christian sect is found.

Remember, according to the gospel we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone according to Scripture alone. God freely chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Who are we that we should undo what God has done?

This is why we believe that men, like Thabiti Anyabwile, who take this issue this far clearly stepped into the realm of heresy and as a result should be viewed as factious men themselves. They are upsetting the body by creating division and dissension with teachings, ideas, and concepts that are not only out of step with biblical truth, but they are also nowhere close to the components of the true gospel.

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

Titus 3:10-11

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