Q & R: False teachers?

Here’s the Q:

Thank you Brian for all of your books, especially most important to me have been a generous orthodoxy and a new kind of christianity. Really looking forward to getting into WMTRBW as the year goes on.
I am wondering what you think false teachers are? There are several references in the letters in the NT warning about false teachers – what are they talking about? Does it apply in any way to us today? Thank you!

Here’s the R:
Thanks for the kind words. Of course there are false teachers, and the warnings of the NT on the subject are as important today as ever.
Who are they? That depends on whom you ask. One group’s prophet is another group’s false prophet – one group’s teacher is another group’s false teacher.
In one sense, all teachers are false – in that nobody is perfectly right about everything. That’s why one of the most important qualities in a trustworthy teacher is corrigibility – the willingness to learn, admit mistakes, think again … in a spirit of humility and teachability.
It’s not just what a teacher says that matters: it’s how they say it and how they live.
Jesus repeatedly taught that “by their fruits you shall know them,” and James gave this sage advice about the qualities of a wise and trustworthy teacher:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes…. Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for* those who make peace.

I’ve noticed in recent years that those who spend the most time identifying and attacking those they call “false teachers” often have a deficit of the qualities James commends … No wonder Jesus said, “Take heed how you hear.”