[This is part 2 of our coverage of the IF: Gathering. You can read the first blog here.]
Being in ministry is amazingly challenging in the social media age. People often have keyboard courage to say whatever is on their minds. They take statements out of context or misrepresent ideas, knocking down the strawmen1Hillary has written about it this way: “The Straw Man fallacy is a logical error in which someone creates a parody of their opponent’s position, exaggerating it in such a way that no reasonable person could agree with it. This makes it easier to refute.” See Hillary Morgan Ferrer, “The Enemy’s New Playbook: An Attack on Our Kids & Their Identities,” August 4, 2022, https://www.harvesthousepublishers.com/blog/the-enemys-new-playbook-an-attack-on-our-kids-their-identities for some examples. they just created. We Mama Bears understand the kinds of spiritual warfare that can plague a ministry, so we want to make sure everything we do is in love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we will do our best to charitably represent concerning ideas we hear and—in this article– specifically regarding issues we have seen with the IF: Gathering.
As we discussed in our first installment, we see some good things coming out of IF, like a passion for making disciples of Jesus who will reach into their churches and communities and serve Him. And we never want to tear down something in which God is working. Most of these teachings we mention in this article are subtle. They are not overt. As we mentioned in the first article, it’s often a situation where you think “Do they say what I thought they just said? Did I hear that right?” Or, they are messages that we’ve heard the speakers platformed overtly affirm in conferences outside of IF:Gathering.
So while there are many good things to affirm with IF, we’ve also heard things that make us want to practice some cautious discernment. Because we are passionate about raising the next generation of discerning believers, we’re going to focus on equipping you to recognize issues for yourself rather than doing deep dives on every issue. (We may have articles on some of these ideologies in the future.)
First, we want to emphasize that a speaker’s message for IF is usually fairly neutral, and hosts of streaming events can select which speakers they show. An IF: Local could potentially only show biblically solid presentations, but it would be extremely challenging, especially with live-streaming. There are many great things that have happened through IF:Gathering! Buuuuut... here's a few messages for which to to be on alert. #discernment Click To Tweet
Now for the hard part. As easy as it would be to give you a list of people we think have questionable beliefs or are possibly heretical, that wouldn’t be preparing you to discern false doctrines for yourself.
Some speakers from past conferences appeared relatively solid and drifted into progressive Christianity later. (To be fair, when speakers like Jen Hatmaker openly accepted LGBTQ-affirming theology, they were no longer platformed by IF.) But just naming names leaves you vulnerable to missing those kinds of shifts.
We are here to help you tear down arguments, not people. So, let’s walk you through a few of the most concerning ideologies and doctrinal issues that are connected to either one or multiple speakers at IF.
1. “What number are you?”
If you hear talks about numbers at the conference, they are probably referencing the Enneagram (unless it’s your lunch order). We just finished a series on the Enneagram, so we won’t review all of it. The Enneagram is marketed as a Christian personality assessment tool, but upon deeper review, the founders themselves were rooted in occult practices (automatic writing). (No, seriously. Don’t take our word for it. Go look at the primary sources we link to in the Enneagram article.)
Some of the buzzwords you might hear are your “types,” your “number,” your “wings” (or secondary types), “true self,” basic desires/fears, your core virtue/counter virtue, stress/security, and core sin. These buzzwords relate to the ways you self-identify your strengths, weaknesses, propensities, needs, general personality, and tendencies about how you view the world and your place in it.
When you hear these terms relating to the Enneagram, ask yourself these questions:
1. Are people being excluded or shamed or even praised based on their number? Are there jokes being made about certain “numbers?”
2. Do they camp out longer in pop psychology than in Scripture?
3. Is the number being presented as someone’s “identity” (i.e., a part of themselves that they cannot change)?
4. Is anyone using their number to excuse themselves from certain ways of serving? Or, on the flip side, is anyone using their number as conferring upon them special qualifications to serve? (Sweeping the floor isn’t a spiritual gift folks; just do it.)
Personality assessments might have a place in the church to help you understand how you think and process the world in order to better understand how to love and serve God and live with one another in understanding. But personality assessments should never be the basis for one’s main identity. All tools should be used in submission to God’s authority first. (And for heaven’s sake, people. Use one that has testable validity so it’s reliable across the board!)
2. “Social Justice = the gospel”
Social justice is a focus on caring for the oppressed and impoverished members of society. IF: Gathering may mean justice in the exact way Scripture defines it (i.e., caring for the poor, sick, orphans, and widows like in Isaiah 58:1-10 James 1:27), but we cannot ignore that our culture has linguistically thefted the term justice, sometimes championing the very things God calls sin. Caring for the poor, the orphan, and the widow are definitely a result of repentence and obedience, but they are not synonymous (or interchangeable) with the Gospel proper. Click To Tweet
A couple of quotes from IF: Equip,
“Seeking justice for all of humanity is gospel work and therefore, it matters. It’s not social, political, or trendy work but gospel work.”
“As followers of Christ, we strive to help build God’s just kingdom here on earth.”
Primarily listen for these terms: justice, just (as an adjective), good works, oppression, equity, and the gospel.
When you hear these terms relating to social justice, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is Scripture referenced and if so, used correctly and understood in full context?
2. Is it clear who qualifies as oppressed based on individual circumstances, or are whole identity groups, regardless of their specific situations, deemed “oppressed”?
3. Can you easily distinguish clear and specific ways to alleviate the oppression, or is it just a vague idea of “justice” without specifics?
4. Is the mission of justice considered to be on equal footing with (or supplanting) the gospel of repentance and salvation?
5. Are good works being praised above correct theology?
6. Is there “justice” being requested for anything God calls sin? (Remember, the Greek word for “justice” and “righteousness” is the same word – dikaiosuné.)
In James 2:18, we’re instructed that good works flow from our faith and a heart aligned with God. But good works aren’t synonymous with the gospel.
Paul rebukes the Corinthians for accepting another gospel message in 2 Cor. 11:42 or. 11:4. Let’s be careful not to do the same.
Remember: secular humanists are just as capable of the same charitable acts that Christians are. What makes our message different is the message of the cross and being set free from the oppression of sin!
For more on social justice and Jesus, read this article by Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason.
3. The sin of whiteness
Where there has been racial unrest, we want to be agents of peace. We love this particular explanation of racial reconciliation from the IF: Equip study Arise – “To live out this ministry of reconciliation, we must be aware of our own need for restoration with God, as well as all of humanity’s need for restoration with God. He is calling us to restore the image of God stamped on every human.”
We wholeheartedly believe everyone is made in the image of God, and every one of us should recognize that image in every other person, no matter our skin color. And every Christian should agree with this comment from an IF roundtable, “God is the creator of everybody and we’re all equal.”
The primary voice of IF’s racial reconciliation model is Latasha Morrison, author of Be the Bridge and founder of a ministry of the same name. She rightly points out that if we’ve always been part of the dominant culture, we should examine areas where we might be blind or oblivious to issues between ethnic groups. But we have some serious concerns about the recommendations made by Morrison and others as the path forward–most of which we address in the questions to ask yourself section below. (We also recommend Neil Shenvi’s review of the book here.)
Words to listen for are privilege, whiteness, white fragility, oppressed/oppressor, intersectionality, positionality, and microaggressions.
When you hear these terms relating to racial reconciliation, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is someone being elevated, shamed, or found guilty (or innocent) based on their God-given genetic heritage?
2. Are people being encouraged to repent for their own sins or for the sins of others?
3. Is one’s skin tone being held more responsible for reconciliation than the other, or are the various skin tones encouraged to see themselves as equal at the foot of the cross and to truly reconcile?
4. Is the sin of partiality being called out everywhere it occurs?
5. Are all parties being asked to submit to Christ and think of others more highly than ourselves (Phil 2:3)?
It’s important we recognize that every conversation about race is not destructive. Don’t let that pendulum swing too far the other way! Sometimes necessary conversations toward unity are awkward or emotional. Don’t let fear stop you from having them! Entering these discussions with gentleness, humility, and the willingness to listen can shrink the elephant in the room down to a manageable size.
On the flip side, be patient with those who may unintentionally offend. Extend grace and invite honesty. Fear of making mistakes keeps too many of us from trying. We have to find ways to walk across the bridge of unity provided by Christ’s sacrifice (Gal. 3:28). We absolutely need to address the sin of partiality and how it affects the body of Christ. When we live in correct alignment with God, we should not see ANY partiality in the church, no matter who it comes from. We should also deal with it correctly, if and when it surfaces.
For more resources on dealing with racial conversations in a biblical, gospel-oriented way, please visit the Center for Biblical Unity.
4. “I declare. . .”
Certain theological systems believe that we have the power to make prayer declarations or that we can “manifest” earthly circumstances by commanding God to do our will. Some believe that a new group of apostles will be given authority over every Christian church and will use supernatural powers to usher in God’s divine kingdom in this world.2For more information on this, see Holly Pivec’s books God’s Super Apostles and Counterfeit Kingdom.
You will hear terms like declare, casting visions, being, releasing, decrees, shaking or shifting, agreement or alignment, apostle, and prophesy.
When you hear terms like these, ask yourself:
1. How is this term being used? Is it clearly defined? Is this term being used in a way Christians would have historically understood it?
2. What am I being asked to come into alignment with? If it’s Jesus, is He depicted as both savior and judge (1 Cor 5:10)? Would anyone object to this view of Jesus? Remember: He wasn’t killed for no reason, and neither were His followers.
3. Are you being told to declare what God “will do”? Does the prayer feel more like a humble request or a demand? Jesus never demanded things of God. He only commanded unclean spirits or the waves (and even that was supposed to be an allusion to God’s power in Psalm 107:23-31). In every other circumstance, Jesus petitioned God with humility (see Matthew 26).
4. Is the Holy Spirit portrayed as a holy member of the Trinity or like a magic genie?
5. Are people taught to seek out miracles or to seek further understanding of the gospel? Remember, Jesus generally performed miracles to affirm His deity and message of salvation and forgiveness of sins, but He tended to chastise those who just sought the miracles. In Matthew 16:4, Jesus refuses to give the wicked generation a sign, except for that of Jonah.
6. Are your health, wealth, or answered prayers considered contingent upon your faith?
7. Are you being told you can “learn” how to have supernatural gifts? Acts 8:18-20 is a great reference to consider on this point.
Keeping clarity on what the Bible says about prayer, the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, etc. will help you sort out ideas that sound Christian but aren’t quite right. The best place to start is to read your Bible so that you can spot the lies when they come your way. If you don’t know what’s in the Bible, you won’t be able to see falsehood.
For more details on Word of Faith, click here. If you want to learn more about the New Apostolic Reformation, you can click over to Holly Pivec’s blog or get her new book Counterfeit Kingdom.
4. Fluffy Teaching
A fluffy talk is one that feels good, like floating on a big pink cloud, but ends up like cotton candy in a puddle, dissolving into nothing. Or worse, many fluffy talks demonstrate a speaker is sliding into progressivism, which ends up in a version of “Christianity” that denies virtually every unpopular aspect of historic Christianity.
How to tell if something is fluffy:
1. May use little Scripture or none at all.
2. Takes Scripture out of context or improperly explains the biblical text.
3. Takes a single verse or short passage and then adds ideas or meaning into the passage that wasn’t originally intended.
4. Focuses on inspiration and emotionalism over substance: feelings over facts.
5. Christian word salad – say a lot of Christian”y” sounding things, but you’re not exactly sure what you were supposed to have learned. Sometimes this is called the fallacy of ambiguity, deliberately being vague to avoid being held accountable for faulty doctrine.
6. There is absolutely nothing in the message that any good, sane, ethical, person would disagree with. If the general message (God/Jesus language aside) could equally be affirmed by secular humanists, you probably have a fluffy talk on your hands. Gentleness and respect are important (see 1 Peter 3:15), but we have to speak the truth, too, and sometimes the truth is hard.
7. Reduced reverence for the Bible or claiming that some Christians “worship the Bible.” Sometimes they will try to separate Jesus and the Gospels from the rest of the New Testament as if the teachings from Paul are secondary to the Gospels. Or there’s a disconnect from the Old Testament. Remember, Jesus affirmed the Old Testament throughout His ministry. And 2 Tim. 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”Now, not every talk that uses little Scripture is wrong. For example, testimonies can be powerful and glorify God without using Scripture. Apologetics presentations sometimes use no Scripture but are very grounded in logic and reason with clarity and purpose. But make sure anyone who is using Scripture is handling it properly with reverence for God’s Word. If someone uses a single verse and then expands upon it in a way that sounds good to every listener – regardless of the context of the original verse – you might have a fluffy talk on your hands. Click To Tweet
Many different ideologies are presented at IF. While speakers do their best to give lectures that are for a general non-denominational audience, sometimes questionable viewpoints find a way into their presentations.
1. Pay attention to how words are used and meant.
2. Always read referenced Scripture for yourself in context. Is this passage saying what the speaker suggested it is? Did the speaker add to the passage? (Bring your Bible with you so that you can check it when a speaker refers to it. You should do this at church, too.)
3. If you hear something unfamiliar or that doesn’t sound biblical, research it for yourself. Open Bible has a neat resource to search verses on various topics, but be sure to read them in context before applying them.
We would never want newer believers to be led astray from sound doctrine because they followed a speaker they believed was sound due to implicit endorsement from being platformed as authoritative.
Remember, before you start following the speakers of IF or any other conference, we recommend researching a few things:
Go visit their personal website, blog, podcast, and social media. Look at their personal statements of faith. Consider what churches or pastors are their authority or if they have one. Read their work or listen to lectures at other events and test them against Scripture. Remember all truth is God’s truth. Someone can say something true even if the rest of their theology is not quite right.
Again, we celebrate that some women will encounter God in very real ways at IF, and we don’t want to discount God using this conference for His purposes. And just because something isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean God isn’t there calling His own.
We hope this helps you Mama Bears be discerning whenever faced with messages that usurp or detract from the gospel. The Bible calls us to examine God’s Word for ourselves in Acts 17:11. No one should abdicate that responsibility to any ministry, not even ours.
By Jennifer DeFrates
Guest Author is probably awesome at what she does. She is probably a mom, but possibly not. She definitely has good things to say, otherwise, she wouldn’t have been offered the position of guest author. We like Guest Author. She is our friend.