Practically nothing is so frowned upon among certain groups today as the practice of naming the names of those you believe are wrong, especially concerning matters of faith. In the past couple of weeks I have seen several Christians discuss the theology and beliefs of certain individuals. For example, Rob Bell’s latest book has sparked a bunch of discussion about whether or not he is a universalist and/or heretic. The president of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, was just “disinvited” from speaking at two large homeschool conferences because he pointed out dangerous teachings being promoted by one of the other speakers at the conference.
I have read reactions to these issues on several blogs and facebook posts and I noticed a theme among many of those who posted comments. There is a strong sentiment among many professing Christians that it is sinful to name names of people that you believe are wrong. Is it sinful? Let’s take a look at what the Bible states on this issue.
In 1 Timothy 1:18–20, Paul charged Timothy to fight the good fight against false teachings. Paul went on to specifically name Hymenaeus and Alexander as individuals that he threw out of the church because of their behavior. In his next letter to Timothy, Paul mentioned Hymenaeus again and added Philetus to the list of false teachers that he named (2 Timothy 2:17).
Apparently, the Bible is not against the naming of names when it comes to false teachings. In fact, Jude told his readers that he wanted to write to them about their “common salvation, [but] found it necessary to write” to them exhorting them to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” because of false teachers that had crept into the church (Jude 3–4).
Some will argue that these were only cases which involved unbelievers that had infiltrated the church. While this is debatable in the cases mentioned by Paul, there is no question about what is described in Galatians 2:11–13, unless someone wants to say that the Apostle Peter wasn’t a believer. Paul wrote:
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. (Galatians 2:11–13)
Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, stated that Peter and Barnabas were acting in hypocrisy. In verse 14 Paul went on to state that he confronted Peter “before them all.” He named names when it came to unbelievers and believers—and he did it publicly when the situation called for it.
Let’s take a look at the cases mentioned in the introductory paragraph and then close with a couple of observations. Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins, promotes the concept of universalism, which is the idea that everyone will eventually be in heaven, whether they have trusted in Christ or not. Compare that with Christ’s statement in John 14:6—”I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through Me.”
Many have objected to the portrayal of Bell’s teachings as universalism. Watch the video clip below from an interview conducted by MSNBC’s Martin Bashir and decide for yourself. Notice Bell’s refusal to provide a clear answer to the question.
I need to point out the interviewer committed a bifurcation fallacy when describing the so-called problem of evil. In other words, he gave only two options concerning God’s love and power in relation to the problem of evil, when in reality, there is a third option (the biblical solution – God created a perfect world, we messed it up by sinning, and He will eventually put an end to evil and suffering). Nevertheless, Bell repeatedly dodged the question and refused to admit that he is indeed a universalist while flatly denying it.
In the other instance, Ken Ham was “disinvited” from speaking at two upcoming homeschool conventions because he spoke out against the teachings of Dr. Peter Enns. What he said is described as personal attacks against a fellow believer. However, Ham never attacked Enns personally and did not question his faith in God. He pointed out that Enns has rejected a straightforward understanding of Genesis along with a historical Adam, questions Paul’s belief in a literal Adam, and promotes the acceptance of evolutionary beliefs over the Word of God.
Several well-known Christians have rebuked Ken Ham, essentially for naming names or for claiming that Dr. Enns’ views are unbiblical, including Dr. Jay Wile on his blog (John Stonestreet of Summit Ministries and Susan Wise Bauer of Peace Hill Press applauded Dr. Wile’s post). Many people commenting on various posts have attacked Ken Ham for critiquing Dr. Enns. [editor’s note: I originally stated Susan Wise Bauer was from BioLogos. Thanks for the correction Tony.]
Note the hypocrisy of individuals who attack others for naming names, while they themselves name names. It is hypocritical to publicly chide someone for naming names while you are in the process of naming names.
The fact of the matter is that it is not inherently un-Christian to name names. As we have already seen, there are several biblical examples where Christians named names. It is true that we need to be loving and respectful when dealing with fellow believers, but often the most loving thing a person can do is to point out erroneous thinking.
The dangers of accepting universalism or evolutionary beliefs are well-documented. They are contrary to Scripture and undermine the Gospel message. If universalism is true, then there is no point in trusting in Christ because you’ll get to heaven no matter what (that’s probably why Bell refused to give a clear answer). If evolution is true, then the foundation of the Gospel is undermined because evolution places death before sin and forces many other theological errors into the text.
As Christians, we should not name names for the sake of naming names or to create division within the body. However, if false teaching is being publicly promoted then we are obligated (and commanded) to stand against it. If we have the opportunity to refute it publicly then we must do it—and we can certainly name names.