The most dangerous attacks against Christianity often come from within the Church, not from without. For many believers, it’s easy to see through the idolatrous rebellion exhibited by the likes of the new atheists (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, et al.), for example. However, errors and flat-out heresies that are couched in “Sunday School” language are hard-to-see stumbling blocks for many people.
The five people on this list have mastered the art of hijacking Jesus for their rebellious ends. Most of them are very popular with a large following; all of them have had and continue to have a negative influence on Christianity. All five have earned their place in Jesus’ warning found in Matthew 7:15 to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
5. Andy Stanley
Stanley is the senior pastor of Atlanta mega-church North Point Community Church and several satellite churches. His theology has become continually squishy and his church has a history of crossing into the profane during the worship services. While noting his increasing theological liberalism, however, I believed that there were several more dangerous candidates for this list. That changed a couple of weeks ago.
In a recent sermon, Stanley had the audacity to challenge the authority of the Bible. In fact, he now believes that the Gospels were written a couple of hundred years after the life of Jesus. At this point, he’s a short step away from Walter Bauer’s claims that orthodoxy simply reflects the winners of ecclesiastical battles and not the truth of the Gospel as revealed by Jesus Christ and taught throughout the Bible. Leading people into a religion that allows its adherents to pick and choose from the Bible what they want to believe and/or follow, Andy Stanley is leading people away from true faith in Jesus Christ.
4. Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines first burst onto the evangelical scene with his 2012 YouTube video “The Gay Debate: the Bible and Homosexuality.” His subsequent book, God and the Gay Christian, stirred up much confusion among Christians reeling from the increased social pressure to affirm homosexuality as good.
As many theologians have pointed out, Vines’ hermeneutical approach to the Bible allows for no outside mediation in reference to one’s own prejudices. Not to mention that his claims about homosexuality and the Bible have been refuted several times over. Unfortunately, many people have unthinkingly bought Vines’ lies wholesale. Vines has chosen the lust of the flesh over obeying God. Possibly worse, he’s dedicated his life to deceiving others.
3. Jim Wallis (Sojourners)
Unlike the other names on this list, Jim Wallis may not as be as well known among evangelicals. His influence, however, snakes throughout most of the internal attacks on the Church and the absolute truth of God’s Word. As founder and editor of Sojourners, Wallis is one of the primary leaders in the resurgence of the heretical Social Gospel movement. Turning people away from the truth that their primary problem is their individual sin before a holy God, Wallis and his ilk teach that humanity’s greatest problem is the oppression of each other.
Further, as a prominent figure in the Red Letter Christian movement, Wallis explicitly denies the inerrancy of the entire Bible. Briefly, Red Letter Christians run roughshod over the Bible’s clear teaching that the entire book is the word of God (Jesus). Discarding basically every tenet of actual orthodoxy, Jim Wallis repackages Christianity in a form that appeals to those who want to claim to be a Christian but without actually submitting to God.
2. Rachel Held Evans
Rachel Held Evans has become synonymous with “straw-man attacks on Christianity.” Her constant drumbeat of anti-evangelicalism is only bested by her continual evangelistic efforts for liberalism — both politically and theologically. Recently, Evans made news by encouraging pro-life Christians to vote for Hillary Clinton. In the piece, her arguments are those of a supporter of abortion even though she claims to be pro-life. For example (the most obvious example), she declares that she believes “abortion is morally wrong in most cases [emphasis added].” Well, if abortion is the murder of babies, and abortion is most definitely the murder of babies, then abortion is morally wrong in all cases.
Evans is an expert at shifting terms and definitions around, and she uses that dishonest skill to sow confusion in the minds of her readers. Her track record consists of rejecting the authority of the Bible, embracing the heresy of universalism, and declaring good what God has declared evil (homosexuality, same-sex marriage, erased gender distinctions, etc.), among other serious errors/heresies. Sadly, many are following evangelicalism’s Pied Piper straight to hell.
1. Joel Osteen
The Prosperity Gospel may very well be the most destructive heresy plaguing Christianity today. Preying on the hurting, weak, and vulnerable, the Prosperity Gospel empties the Good News of Jesus of all its power unto salvation and replaces it with a man-centered religion that is defined by a warped version of the most materialistic aspects of the American Dream. The list of Prosperity Gospel preachers who take advantage of the naïve and hurting is long, and includes such anti-luminaries as Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and T.D. Jakes. But none have reached the level of influence that the number-one wolf on this list enjoys.
What makes Osteen especially dangerous is his soft-peddling of his heresies. When faced with criticism of Osteen, many Christians will quickly admit that he has his problems, but they’ll end with the rejoinder that Osteen’s ministry has been a blessing in their life, nonetheless. Slowly but surely, these deceived Christians are allowing a teaching to affect them that flatly contradicts the teachings of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and the entire canon of Scriptures: that Christ followers are called to suffer.
Turning hearts away from the hope found only in Jesus Christ, Joel Osteen is dangling the shiny false salvation of earthly prosperity in the eyes of people who are hurting. Jesus had something to say about those who prey on his vulnerable disciples — “it would be better for him to have a great millstone around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”