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Spiritual Discernment: S. Lewis Johnson, the Sheep Do Not Listen to Strangers

January 9, 2013

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series comes this timely observation.  It was true thirty years ago same as now: some professing Christians are easily led astray, going after first one teacher then another. This message from John 10:1-6 puts things into perspective, especially with all the interest in “discernment ministries” and the tendency of some to focus excessively on warning other Christians about false teachers.

Now, we read here, a stranger will they not follow.  So when Paul Tillich calls out we don’t respond.  When Moltmann calls out we don’t respond.  When Bultmann calls out we don’t respond.  When William Barclay calls out we don’t respond.  When Wolfhart Pannenberg calls out we don’t respond.  When Gerhart von Rott, we don’t respond.  When Eichrot, Jako, Kumal, all the great scholars of the present day who are not members of the body so far as we can tell, when they call out as shepherds of the sheep, the true sheep do not respond.  They do not follow the voice of a stranger.

Now that is a problem for me, because there are some people who do not seem to be able to distinguish the voice of our Lord from the voice of strangers.  Isn’t it a remarkable thing?  You probably know some Christians, professing Christians like that.  They hear something and they immediately run after it as if it were something great until they discover that’s not quite as great as it was, and they come back.  And then a new voice is heard and they rush after them.  That makes me wonder, because the true sheep do not follow the voice of a stranger.  They don’t run after Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy.  They don’t run after Ellen G. White.  They don’t run after Rutherford.  They don’t run after the false voices, they follow our Lord Jesus Christ.  They hear his voice.  They know him.  They follow him.  That should be a word of admonition to us.

Many of the names mentioned above are unfamiliar today, the scholars of liberal (unbelieving) Christianity.  But we can certainly add the current set of questionable teachers — such as Beth Moore, the Jesus Culture, and the latest from John Piper — to the same understanding: the true sheep do not follow the voice of a stranger, and will not be led into such deception.  Yes, sometimes true Christians are those who come out of cults and out of false teaching (who were not believers when they got into those cults).  Sometimes also young, immature Christians (the carnal babes, those recently saved — not the willful carnal) for a time will lose focus and not seek the best teaching.  But as S. Lewis Johnson so well observed here, true Christians will not continue to manifest such behavior; they will not rush after one voice, then to another voice, and so on.  We can trust in God’s sovereignty, that He knows those who are His, and rely on His promise, that His sheep will be able to distinguish our Lord’s voice from the voice of these false teachers.

  1. January 9, 2013 at 9:53 am

    I follow Lewis. No not CS, but Johnson.

    Lynda, what is the latest about John Piper.

    • January 9, 2013 at 10:04 am

      The latest about John Piper includes over the last few years, including his association with even more questionable teachers such as Mark Driscoll, plus overall very emotional, mystical, and charismatic (continuationist) tendencies, and his involvement with the recent Passion conference. Google it, and you’ll find blog posts — many from apprising.org plus other sites, including articles asking “Has John Piper lost his mind?”

  2. Pauline Yates
    January 9, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    I have never taken to John Piper. I didn’t like his emotionalism either. I know their are a lot of Piper followers who just won’t criticise the man with his errant behaviour in endorsing false teachers. Interesting though it seems the conferences he used to be part of ie; resolved, etc don’t seem to have had him participate the past few years. Maybe this is because they have seen him and the slippery slope he has descended on.
    I am just amazed at the lack of discernment Biblical Christians have where false teachers are concerned. Can we be too discerning ? MacArthur says that the more time we spend studying truth the easier it will be to discern error. it is true we will hear the voice of the true shepherd. However in this age of such rampant apostasy we have to be doubly careful when you do have the likes of the John Pipers who have been trusted because at one time they seemed to speak the Gospel truth,now endorsing apostates it would seem to be ok. There are a lot of discernment ministries out there who are openly coming out against the obvious heretics like the Warrens, Hybels,etc. but are still Pentecostal sympathisers , so we have to even discern the discernment ministries.
    Linda I know you are a very discerning lady and I have the utmost respect for your judgement , but have you done any research on C S Lewis ? There are many questionable things he believed and did. Like Billy Graham he has been so used and respected in the wider church body. He ( Lewis ) had a faulty view on the atonement, called for a priest on his death bed and had the last rites still believed in purgatory and other questionable things. Or am I being overly discerning ??

    • January 9, 2013 at 7:25 pm

      Pauline, I find much of John Piper very informative and I love his series on biographies of outstanding Christians like William Carey and Jonathan Edwards. Yet, as you say, his emotionalism gets to me too.

      As for C S Lewis, perhaps you might be interested in one of the pieces I wrote about him. He was for all intents and purposes an intense Roman Catholic, but for (sentimental?) reasons preferred to remain an Anglo-Catholic.


      In the above I also crit the so-called Presbyterian “Truth Project.”



      • Pauline Yates
        January 10, 2013 at 5:57 am

        Very good articles Bography

    • January 9, 2013 at 8:17 pm

      Yes, MacArthur had a great illustration about how we learn to detect the counterfeit by studying the real thing (studying God’s word) rather than studying error — like bank workers taught how to spot counterfeit money by becoming extremely familiar with the real thing.

      Certainly today people have more access to everything, both good and bad teachers available online; information comes to us much more quickly than in SLJ’s day (the 1970s through early 1990s).

      I’m aware of C.S. Lewis’ many errors. He was recommended reading at the church I went to when I was saved (late 1980s), and so I read a lot of him in my early Christian years, especially his Narnia fiction. Certainly I wish now that I had sought out and been told about better teachers, especially John MacArthur and S. Lewis Johnson, rather than C.S. Lewis, and that I had spent those early years learning from good teachers. At the time I wasn’t aware of his errors, just didn’t think that deeply beyond the basic gospel message. But later as I learned about Calvinism and Arminianism (terms I never even heard in those early years), I noticed the free will stuff in C.S. Lewis’ teaching — plus the strange stuff (not only free will, but the wider mercy / open theism) in his last Narnia book, The Last Battle. And in recent years I’ve read of his many other errors in a few articles. But I don’t spend too much time thinking about the false teaching, just keep moving forward in daily listening to S. Lewis Johnson and regular reading of Spurgeon sermons, to keep the right focus.

  3. Pauline Yates
    January 10, 2013 at 5:56 am

    Linda I reread your post again and I don’t know where I thought you had quoted c s Lewis. I tend to get mad when I hear CS quoted So many preachers use him for their quotes Even MacArthur used to in his early days . I go to an Arminian Baptist Church and they are always using him in their sermons. Yes like you I too have moved on a lot and spend most time listening to MacArthur and s Johnson There is a young pastor at Grace life now called Mike Riccardi He is going to go a long way . His preaching is excellent too. Well what else is there to say about Spurgeon ??

    • January 10, 2013 at 8:12 am


    • January 10, 2013 at 9:11 am

      Lol, yes the two names are visually similar: “S. Lewis” Johnson and “C.S. Lewis.” As Bography can also attest, I quote S. Lewis Johnson quite often, but never C.S. Lewis.

      I know Mike Riccardi also (not in person but online), a facebook friend and he still sometimes participates in our discussion group (where you and I first met, the Calv-Disp group). I haven’t yet listened to any of his sermons, but have read several good posts from him at the Cripplegate.

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