CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

A Teachable Spirit

Jun 20, 2016

I am becoming increasingly convinced that one real indication of genuine salvation – of a person really being a true follower of Jesus Christ – is having a teachable spirit. The willingness to admit that we don’t know it all, that we may have things wrong, and that we must always keep learning is a sure sign of a growing Christian.

And this flows out of humility, not arrogance. The proud refuse to admit they are wrong or that they may need to adjust their thinking and their beliefs. Far too many folks just want to argue, pick a fight, and push their agenda, and have zero interest in learning or being open to correction.

I expect ornery pagans to behave this way, but I find far too many believers acting just the same. That is what disturbs me, and I encounter it all the time. And worse yet, in some of these cases these folks are pushing cultic or heretical teachings, but are not open to correction.

They think they know it all, and refuse to listen to anyone else who just might know better! When I seek to point out some areas of concern, they get hard and cold and refuse to listen. Instead of being open to truth and being teachable – all of which requires a degree of humility – they lash out and shut you out.

teachable 4Such folks certainly do not have a teachable spirit. As but one example, I recently had someone come to me asking me what I thought of a certain Bible teaching video. It was about this teacher’s pet theory of the atonement. He insisted this was the only correct one, and all others were wrong.

Now I had never heard of this teacher before. And for someone in my position, having read, studied and taught theology for 45 years now, that means something. I am aware of most of the important writers and thinkers on this and related topics.

So I did a quick search on the guy, read a bit of his stuff and briefly listened to some of his videos. Right away alarm bells went up. This guy was cultic at best, if not veering into heresy. When I tried to point this out to the fellow, he got all upset and defensive.

He insisted that this view of the atonement was the only right one. I tried to tell him that anyone who knows a bit about theology and church history knows that there are a number of models of the atonement which more or less reflect the biblical data, and all have at least some aspects of biblical truth.

It is foolish in the extreme to single out just one of them and denounce all the others. That reveals a poor understanding of Scripture, biblical theology and historical theology. But this person would have none of my pleas to be a bit savvier and better educated here.

This person had allowed himself to follow some weird cultic teacher, and had closed himself off to truth. He had lost a teachable spirit, and had become rather arrogant and proud. God of course cannot work with such people. He is close to the humble, but he resists the proud.

Thus in the end I had to let this person go. He was not open to correction or instruction, and had become hard and proud, unwilling to learn and receive instruction. We can and should pray for such people, but they have dug themselves into a hole which only some humility and a bit of repentance can get them out of.

Scripture of course speaks much to this subject. What we call the Wisdom Literature for example is called that for a reason – it is all about wisdom, and the getting of wisdom. Thus there are many Psalms that speak to this, including:

-Psalm 25:5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me: for you are the God of my salvation; on you do I wait all the day.
-Psalm 27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me in a level path, because of my enemies.
-Psalm 86:11 Teach me your way, O LORD; I will walk in your truth: unite my heart to fear your name.

And the book of Proverbs also has plenty of material that speaks to the importance of learning, of instruction, of obtaining wisdom, etc. Here are just a few of these proverbs:

-Proverbs 4:5 Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
-Proverbs 9:9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
-Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.
-Proverbs 13:18 Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.

The reason we have the gift of teaching and the office of teacher found in the New Testament is because we all need instruction and teaching. We all need to grow in knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Those who spurn teachers and good teaching demonstrate an arrogant intellectual self-sufficiency which is clearly not of God.

To say all this is of course not to push people into another unhelpful extreme. I am not saying that there is no place for honest disagreements, discussions and debates. There is often room to move in various issues, and we can agree to disagree, especially on more minor items. Mindless conformity and intellectual inertia are certainly not what I am talking about here.

Neither am I talking about wishy washy relativism where we never firmly believe in anything. We are not to be malleable marshmallows when it comes to sound doctrine and biblical truth. So we should stand strong on biblical teachings.

But at the same time we all need to admit that we are still learning and we do not have perfect knowledge on anything. We all can improve on our knowledge and our understanding. None of us have reached perfection in terms of biblical truth and sound doctrine.

And of course it is not just biblical knowledge that comes into play here, or even just other types of knowledge. All of the Christian life depends upon having a teachable spirit. It means you are open to correction in all sorts of areas – not just doctrine.

It means you are open to correction and reproof in terms of how you live. Right living is as vital as right belief, and being open to correction and rebuke is the hallmark of the growing Christian. Being closed to moral, doctrinal and spiritual instruction is a sign of carnality, or of not being a Christian in the first place.

It is all about humility in other words. A truly humble person has a teachable spirit. Those who are humble recognise their dependency on God and others. Those who are proud are independent people who see no need of input from others.

I for one need much work in this area and certainly appreciate your prayers to become more humble, more dependent, and more teachable. I do not ever want to get to the place where I am closed to instruction and hardened to reproof. I need to stay on my knees before God continuously.

So pray for me that I have this as a lifelong goal. It is not a bad prayer for all of us.

[1242 words]

7 Responses to A Teachable Spirit

  • Couldn’t agree with you more here Bill. I personally believe a lot of these attitudes are being cultivated in our so called teaching institutions. Universities, etc, tell students to either yell down their opponents or to retreat to their safe space (all without debating facts).

    Unfortunately like you say, this has significantly influenced many Christians and is even fostered by Pastors who (in their view) must never be questioned. In the end their disciples go out and spew the same rubbish – as you say with no humility. You can’t possibly learn if you can’t first sit and actually listen to someone’s differing position.

  • Excellent article. It covers all this very well and clearly.
    Keep up the good work and writing, Bill.
    I try to read as much of a offerings as I can find time for.
    GOD bless.

  • love this, because it is so true

  • So appreciate all you’ve written here. It’s a timely warning. May God make us all increasingly into his image. And especially as Craig put it, people who “actually listen” to one another.

  • This is a very important word Bill – in beliefs and in how we live our life.

    That said, I find that God does work in unexpected ways. I mentioned on one of your other blog entries an author named John Bevere. Now, myself being a Christian for 35+ years and my parents for almost 50 years I had never heard of the guy. Anyway, I thought the title looked interesting and so I read the book and found myself incredibly challenged – not really in my theology but in my personal progress to the day when I stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. There is one small part in the book where I am not sure about his conclusion but it doesn’t really detract overall. What surprised me was that I got the book from our local Public Library in Auckland. I had long since given up on our post-modern secular institutions having Scripturally faithful books!

    I passed the book to my wife and parents and they had never heard of the author either but they wound up liking the message – again not because of some new theology but because of its challenges the author brings to life from the Bible. I then asked my pastor if he had heard of the author and he said he had.

    So I do agree with you – we need a teachable spirit as opportunities can come along in unexpected packages.

    When you have time, I would be interested in your book review too.

    God bless you Bill!

  • Surely we might expect such a wonderful divine mystery as Christ’s atonement for our sins to be a multi-faceted diamond in God’s storehouse of divine truth. Even its foreshadowing in the annual ancient Israelite sacrifices of Yom Kippur strongly suggests a multiplicity of legitimate parts to the divine work of atonement.

    To claim only one of the walls [cf. Isaiah 26:1,2] of the New Jerusalem is necessary to the integrity of the whole structure is to say the least a rather lop-sided view of the real nature of the true Eternal City!

  • Yes, the other extreme is where people say that no one has the truth. They accuse us who are certain about what the Bible is saying on issues such as homosexuality as being judgmental, arrogant and hateful. To them we have to admit that we do not know everything but the little that God has deigned to reveal to us in His World is rock solid truth. The blind man who had been healed by Jesus, said that though he could not answer all the complicated questions of the Pharisees , what he did know with certainty was that once he was blind but that now he could see. The first epistle of the book of John repeats many times, ” and we know”. We do not worship a God of confusion but clarity.

    David Skinner UK

Leave a Reply