Should We “Eat the Meat and Spit Out the Bones”?
A few years ago I heard a pastor say to his congregation that, as believers, we need not reject a teacher simply because he is false in one area. We can “eat the meat and spit out the bones” is the phrase used to describe such an approach.
In theory, it sounds nice, doesn’t it? I’d like to share with you today a recent (and rather embarrassing) example from my own life as to why I do not follow this approach myself personally. And I encourage you not to, either.
Last week, I wrote about a book of prayer that I had picked up by an author I thought I could trust (you can find that post here). In that post, I mentioned that something seemed off and that I gave it to my brother (the pastor) for review. A few days ago, he sent me a text and mentioned some of the serious theological errors in the book, along with screenshots of the marked pages.
I was thoroughly ashamed of myself. Why didn’t I spot those? They were so blatantly obvious now that he had pointed them out. But I can tell you why I didn’t spot them. It was because I was so enamored by the amazing “answered prayers” and the experiences of the author. While my eyes were drawn towards these fascinating accounts, the other parts that go completely against the Bible found a back road into my brain.
And, while I had no idea this author was compromised, I will not choose to read any other theological offering he may have now that I do know. Why is this? Why would I choose to avoid him if he clearly showed himself unbiblical in just the area of prayer?
Well, let me give you four simple reasons why I’ve come to the conclusion that “eating the meat and spitting out the bones” is not for me–
First, God demands 100% purity. While balance is important in most areas of life, it is never called for when it comes to discernment. While we will never be able to be perfectly pure here on this earth (which is the reason we need Christ), we should be striving for it. We should desire to make our lives as pure as possible as we seek to live for Christ. This includes everything we “feed” to our minds.
If I know a teacher is false, it is my responsibility to walk away from this teacher. Paul says we are to mark and avoid them and John says we aren’t to allow them into our homes or even greet them (Romans 16:17; 2 John 7-11). That is pretty strong language, isn’t it? Instead, many would tell us to dig for the gems that can be found among the dung heap. But the Bible makes it clear: If we know a teacher is false, we should run (not walk) to the nearest exit!
Second, I just don’t know my Bible well enough. The “eating the meat, spit out the bones” approach has a pretty important presupposition that cannot be ignored. It presupposes that I know my Bible well enough to spot any and all false teaching. But here’s the problem: I just don’t. The incident with the book on prayer was just a confirmation of what I already knew to be true. And although I have spent many hours studying the Bible, I do not consider myself even close to where I would need to be to approach any book with an “eat the meat, spit out the bones” mentality. I just don’t know enough. I don’t think I ever will, no matter how much I study.
Third, my flesh is drawn towards the wrong things. My “human nature” draws me towards those lovely experiences and supernatural signs that give goose bumps and wow me. I didn’t think it was but then I read that book and I realized how susceptible I am (and I even know to be looking for these things so how pathetic is that?) It made me realize once again the power that is in experience. This is why mysticism is so very attractive today. It is why churches and individuals are leaving the Bible and objective truth by the droves and chasing after it. It makes so much sense. It is also why we must guard our hearts and protect our minds from anything that would lead us a wrong direction. I am not so much better or stronger than the one who has traded in the Bible to be wooed and wowed by experiences, now am I?
Fourth, it’s a waste of time. Let’s just say that I believed I did know my Bible well enough and I wasn’t prone to fall for accounts of “experiences”, does that make it wise to choose this approach? I don’t think so and here’s why: Why would I waste my time? There are so many great books and preachers out there who aren’t compromised. Why would I bother to waste my time and energy on ones that I know are compromised? It just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Paul tells us twice to “redeem” our time (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5). This means we should think carefully about how we spend our time. Is a book that we know to contain falsehood a wise way to redeem our time? I have decided that, for me personally, it is not.
So this is why I choose not to “eat the meat and spit out the bones”. But before I close I do want to answer a question that may be in your mind as you read this:
What about disagreement on “secondary” (non-Gospel) issues?
I’m obviously not going to agree 100% with any author. So how do we handle this?
While I don’t actually believe there are “secondary” issues when it comes to interpreting scripture (there is one RIGHT interpretation), there are issues and areas on which disagreement would not keep me from reading a book written by them. For instance, most of the Puritans were wrong in their eschatology (the study of the last days) but I have learned much in reading works written by them regarding living the Christian life. I would not, however, read a book that they wrote about the subject of eschatology, as it would not be biblical.
Another principle I have regarding this specific question is to avoid any work that would direct its reader towards mysticism (which ultimately renders the Word of God irrelevant to one’s relationship with God). There has been a horrible abuse of the Holy Spirit, in which it is taught and practiced that His work in our lives is divorced from Scripture. This is not a biblical concept whatsoever. This is an absolute deal breaker for me. I will not read or listen to anyone who would lead me in this direction.
And one final principle I personally follow is to avoid anyone that I know to be compromised in how they live their lives and in their associations– even if I agree with what they say or write. This hypocrisy — to preach one thing but to live another– is also a deal breaker for me. And so I generally refuse to read or to promote anyone who I know to be compromised in this way.
I know that many of you will not agree with me on this but I thought there might be a few of you out there who might find these thoughts helpful as you navigate the mine field of “Christian” material available to us these days. This is my own personal approach and it is what I have chosen to do in order to protect myself as best I can against false teaching.
But, that being said, as I recently learned, it can sometimes slip in even through an old book written almost a hundred years ago. We can never let our guards down. We must test all spirits (I John 4:1) and we must test all things (I Thessalonians 5:21). We cannot let ourselves be distracted by the exciting or the unusual or the fascinating. But, instead, we must hold firmly to the truth of scripture at all times. To lose our grasp on that is to lose our grasp on the anchor that keeps us moored safely to our God. And that’s where we want (and need) to be at all times.