Christians have always had to contend with false teaching and competing faiths. But what surely makes the current age unique is the sheer number and sheer diversity we may encounter in any given place. From my context in ultra-multicultural Toronto, it is not unusual to find myself in a setting where there are adherents of 5 or 10 different religions. I can take a short drive and spot places of worship that represent every type of divergence from the Christian faith. And while it’s true that the gospel counters every departure from orthodoxy, it’s equally true that a bit of knowledge of the different religions, different cults, and different heresies can be helpful in knowing precisely which truths are most fitting. It would be helpful to have a guide that concisely lays out the tenets of different religions and suggests the Christian truths that might be most helpful for their adherents to hear.
This is exactly the purpose of A Field Guide on False Teaching from Ligonier Ministries. This is not a book that we’re meant to hand to a skeptic or to a friend who holds to a different faith. Rather, it’s a book we are meant to read to better equip ourselves to have helpful conversations with them. Christians are to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15), and this book is meant to help with that important task. In that way it’s an apologetic guide, not an evangelistic tract.
Its format is simple, but effective. Part one deals with popular pseudo-Christian false teachings: the prosperity gospel, deism, and the twin threats of legalism and antinomianism. For each it introduces the key figures who teach it and the main beliefs that define it. It then suggests why people find this false teaching attractive, compares it to biblical Christianity, and offers recommendations about how to most effectively share the gospel with people who hold to it.
Part two turns to cults—to some of the counterfeit religions that integrate elements of the Christian faith with the aberrant teachings of the cult’s founder or leaders. It focuses on Mormonism, Christian Science, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. It follows much the same format as part one in introducing the key figures and main beliefs, then suggesting why it has become popular, contrasting it to biblical Christianity, and suggesting where to focus in an attempt to help those who have been drawn in by it. Part three looks at false religions and worldviews: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, New Age spirituality, and (together) atheism and secularism.
Put together, A Field Guide on False Teaching is tremendously helpful in both its content and its format. Its content shows a deep understanding of the different faiths and false teachings and, even better, of the biblical truths that can best challenge each one. Its format is effective in its consistency, brevity, and simplicity.
It’s worth considering how we might use A Field Guide on False Teaching. Though it can and should be read cover-to-cover just like any other book, and while there will undoubtedly be value in doing so, I suspect that most readers will find they are unable to recall much of the key information weeks or months later. For that reason, it seems like we might benefit from keeping a copy on-hand so, when we anticipate being in a situation where we may be able to have a spiritual conversation, we can use it to “cram.” Thus, for example, when I take an Uber to the airport, I know I will have 30 minutes to talk and I know the driver is very likely to be Muslim. (That has been the case 100% of the time so far.) Hence, before I call the Uber, I can review the chapter on Islam and prepare myself to share the gospel accordingly. Then it also seems like a book churches may wish to make available to their members. Though the price is maybe just a bit too high to easily distribute it en masse—it is, after all, a good-sized book at 243 pages—it’s certainly one to hand to those who are most heavily involved in evangelistic work.
The book ends with what is essentially a call to humble but confident action. “God has not called His people to engage in apologetics merely to win arguments or debates. Rather, He calls Christians to defend and promote the Christian faith in order that through these efforts, God will win the souls of His elect to the Lord Jesus Christ.” God is pleased to use people like us to share his gospel. A guide like this one can make us more effective in that task and, for that reason, I highly recommend it.