One of the primary causes of false doctrine lies in the common and careless practice of not considering all that the scriptures have to say on a subject before drawing conclusions about it.
As if that weren’t bad enough, a secondary nasty habit is to take to such an ill-founded conclusion, and to doggedly protect it as a matter of your “faith in God”, when in actuality, it is something closer to a matter of your faith in your own ability to come up with sound conclusions, even without studying a matter diligently.
A third nasty habit that often (but not always) follows the two above is the assumption that whatever conclusions one has drawn are not the result of his or her own interpretive work, but are nothing less than the result of the inner witness of the indwelling Holy Spirit himself. And who can argue with the Holy Spirit, eh?
From this last one, in particular, flow several cognitive biases such as:
- “If I were wrong about this, I would know it.”
- “God wouldn’t let me be wrong about this.”
- God wouldn’t let my preacher/teacher be wrong about this.”
- “God wouldn’t let millions of Christians be wrong about this.”
It’s not infrequent that one bad doctrine gets covered up by layer after layer of such protectionist attitudes, guarding it from diligent re-examination.
And then there’s this: What happens as such a believer continues to read the Bible, and stumbles across one or more passages that don’t really fit with his or her erroneous conclusion about a certain matter? What will he or she do? Here are some commonly-chosen options.
- Just don’t read much in the first place, so as to avoid this eventuality as much as possible.
- Just ignore those passages, shrug your shoulders, and pass it off as a mystery.
- Spin those passages to pretend that they’re saying something different from what they really say.
- Write them off as being irrelevant. For instance, perhaps you can claim, “Oh, that was written under the Old Covenant, so it doesn’t apply. Or, “Oh, that’s just poetry, so it can’t be taken as a basis for doctrine.”
- Acknowledge the conflict, and simultaneously hold to both sides, even though this is a state of cognitive dissonance.
- Acknowledge the apparent conflict, and alternate between sides—sometimes teaching Doctrine A in some situations, and in others, teaching the contradictory Doctrine B—again, without ever resolving the matter.
- If the contradicting scripture is being presented by someone else, then go to option #4 above, this time blaming the motives or the unrighteousness or the ignorance of the one having brought it to light. And if the person does not really have bad motives, unrighteousness, or ignorance, just say they do, and keep pretending that you are doing right. (This is the ad hominem dodge.)
These various tactics are rather common, and much more so than the better practice, which is: Stop the presses and re-study the matter—this time taking into consideration all the biblical material that is relevant to it, and drawing a conclusion only afterward, such that the conclusion fits all the evidence.