The False Teaching of Steven Furtick

HomeFalse TeachingsThe False Teaching of Steven Furtick
Is Steven Furtick a false teacher?
Steven Furtick

Steven Furtick is a very popular speaker. He’s clearly a gifted communicator, and – based on the growth of his congregations – likely a gifted leader as well. As the founder and pastor of Elevation Church – home of the popular Christian music group Elevation Worship – he has a great amount of influence and a worldwide audience. Of course, those have nothing to do with whether he’s a false teacher.

Steven Furtick is a false teacher.

I’m not happy to say this. I’d rather say that he’s a fantastic teacher, that he carefully studies Scripture and clearly communicates God’s Word to his audience. Unfortunately, based on his own words, he’s not like that. I have nothing personal against him, and I don’t know whether he’s saved. You don’t either, of course. The question is whether Steven Furtick can be trusted to teach and preach what God has said… and, while most teachers say a lot of things that are true, the measure of a false teacher is that they too often say things that are untrue.

The first indication of a false teacher, and the easiest to spot, is with whom the teacher associates. Steven Furtick associates himself and his church with other false teachers. He holds conferences with Word of Faith teachers and New Apostolic Reformation teachers. He publicly approves of false teachers like T.D. Jakes, who teaches the heresy of modalism (see below). This isn’t the same as a Christian going on a non-Christian’s show, or the same as an orthodox Christian going on TBN and challenging their false beliefs. This is an arm-in-arm kind of association, where they’re working toward the same goals in the same ways. While the statement of faith on Elevation’s website is entirely orthodox, what gets taught from the pulpit is not.

We who teach – and I include myself – are not in the same group as those who listen. Look at James 1:3: Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. This is serious business.

Modalism

The doctrine of the Trinity comes from the Bible. There are three main ideas in this doctrine. First, we know that there is only one God. Second, we know that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Third, we know that the Son is not the Father nor the Spirit, and that the Spirit is not the Father. Put more simply, there is one God who is eternally and distinctly three persons.

Modalism is the unbiblical idea that there is one God who is only one person… and that when we see the Father, Son, and Spirit, we are seeing three different manifestations of the same single person. This is an ancient heresy that has been condemned throughout church history. Unfortunately, a number of prominent preachers espouse this false doctrine, and Furtick is among them.

In John 16:7 Jesus said, It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. Trying to explain this passage, Furtick claims that Jesus said this:

No, I am not leaving you. I am changing forms. See, up until now I have walked with you, but when I send my spirit, I will be in you.

In case anyone wonders whether Furtick misspoke, there’s more. In the same sermon, speaking of Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, Furtick said this:

“… and now Jesus is taken from their sight, and hidden in a cloud, but he did not leave. He just changed forms. He did not disappear. He just was no longer visible. Instead he was internal… He said “it’s good that I’m ghosting you. It’s good that I leave in physical form because then I can give you in spiritual form, then I can direct you from a deeper place.”

Furtick is saying that God stopped being the Father and became a man (Jesus). Then, when He ascended into Heaven, stopped being a man and became the Holy Spirit. This is not a simple theological error, or a questionable interpretation of a particular Bible verse. This is an entirely unbiblical idea, condemned throughout all of church history as heretical. It completely ignores a multitude of clear Bible passages, in which we see that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are not the same as each other.

God Broke the Law

Steven Furtick earned a Master of Divinity degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. One would assume that this kind of education might help him avoid really dumb theological ideas, but that assumption is flawed.

The laws, regulations, and guidelines we see in Scripture for both ancient Israel and for followers of Jesus are, historically speaking, universally understood to be a reflection of God’s character. When God tells us to not commit adultery, it’s not simply because He thinks we should avoid adultery… it’s because adultery is contrary to who God is. We should do certain things, and not do other things, because they are in concert with God’s character or contrary to God’s character. This isn’t a difficult concept.

Unfortunately, Furtick gets this one wrong. He teaches that God created a good Law, then broke His own Law, and did it because He loves us. “What God did when he sent his son… [he] broke the Law for love.” The idea is that love is greater than the Law. That sounds good, but it’s the opposite of what we see in the Bible. First, God is not subject to any law. That would make Him subordinate to the law, and to the one who gave the law. Instead, we see in Scripture that God is sovereign, that there are none like Him, that there are none above Him, and so on. God is the supreme authority in all things, and subject to none.

Second, Jesus did not set the Law aside, and He did not break the Law. He fulfilled the Law. The Law said that the wages of sin is death. God did not break the Law, He followed it to the letter… but, rather than punishing us, He punished Himself as a demonstration of love. There are a number of very serious problems with Furtick’s teaching on this.

  1. If God broke the Law, justice has not been done. If justice is ignored, God is not who He claims to be.
  2. The one who breaks the Law is a sinner. God cannot sin.
  3. God becomes a lawbreaker in order to save lawbreakers from His own Law, putting God in conflict with Himself.
  4. If God made a Law and then broke it, the Law is not based on His unchanging character but on His circumstances. This makes the morality of God relative to each situation, rather than a universal truth.
  5. It changes the nature of Jesus’ death. We justly deserve death, but He died on our behalf. If Furtick is right, then the Law was ignored in favor of love… and so Jesus did not take our place. The very nature of the gospel is that Jesus died in our place, so Furtick’s error on this matter touches on the most important subjects in Scripture.

God is Energy

A very simple way to assess anyone’s belief system is to ask them about the nature of God. Atheists will say that God does not exist. Muslims will say that Allah is perfect. Hindus will need you to specify which god you’re asking about. Buddhists will talk about becoming one with everything by losing your self-identity. Here’s what Steven Furtick has to say about the nature of God:

God is energy. God is spirit. God is a molecular structure that fills all in all. That’s what it means to say that Christ was from the beginning.

First, that doesn’t match what we read in Scripture.

Second, it’s the kind of claim that can’t be tested, so it’s ‘safe’ from those who would question it. After all, someone might say: who’s to say that God is NOT energy? This is a common practice among those in the Word of Faith and New Apostolic Reformation movements: making claims that sound good, that have no basis in Scripture, that can’t be contradicted directly because they’re created out of thin air.

Finally, the idea that God ‘fills all in all’ isn’t simply unbiblical. It’s also a heresy known as panentheism.

Jesus’ Power is Limited by Our Faith

One of the most common problems among false teachers today is that they change the focus of the gospel from God to humanity. The biblical perspective is that, without God’s help, we are hopelessly lost. He takes the first step. He draws us to Himself. He enables us to believe. He saves us. We are powerless without Him. The most common error among Word of Faith teachers – and that includes Steven Furtick – is to give us the power. Faith, they claim, brings power.

This is certainly not true, but it’s the foundational error of their movement. Rather than having a biblical perspective, they teach what is essentially magic. If you have faith, they claim, your faith gives you the power to do amazing things. Faith is a force, and words contain that force, so speaking faith-filled words gives you power to change your life. It’s not that God enables us to do things because we trust Him and obey Him. It’s that we wield the same kind of power that God has.

Along those lines, a lack of faith is a spiritual limitation. In Matthew 13:53-58 Jesus is in His hometown, and He’s not getting the same kind of response there that He got elsewhere. He noted that “a prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” Verse 58 says this: And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. Now take a look at what Furtick says about these events:

The power of God was in Jesus, the healing power of God, the restoring power of God, the same power that made demons flee was in Nazareth, but Jesus could not release it. Because it was trapped in their unbelief. And there’s one thing that even Jesus can’t do. One thing that even the son of God can’t do. Even Jesus cannot override your unbelief. I see y’all looking at me like, ‘Is that true? I thought He could do anything.’ It said, ‘He could not.’ He wanted to. He was prepared to. He was able to. The power of God was in Nazareth, but it was trapped in their perspective.

Do you see it? There’s a gigantic difference between Jesus not doing many miracles because of their unbelief and Jesus being unable to exercise God’s power because He was entirely powerless to do so. Furtick puts the power in the hands of the unbelievers, rather than in God’s hands. Jesus wasn’t blocked. God wasn’t powerless… yet Steven Furtick claims that He was.

Narcigesis

Normally, I strictly use a false teacher’s own words to explain why we should avoid them. That way we avoid arguments about one person’s opinions being more correct than another person’s opinions. In this case, I consider it helpful to provide a general warning.

There are two primary ways that people interpret Scripture. The most proper method is known as exegesis, or ‘reading out’ of Scripture. This is where you read a section of the Bible and you ask what is says. You take out of the passage what is already there… what everybody sees. For example: in the passage above, where Jesus is in His hometown, we should read what the text says and learn from what it says. The assumption is that God has already communicated what we need to know, and we just need to discover it by studying the text.

The other method is known as eisegesis, or ‘reading into’ Scripture. This is where you read a section of the Bible and you add to it. It’s not always wrong or bad, but it’s a good way to run into trouble. For example, in that same passage of Scripture, one might ‘read into’ the passage the idea that Jesus may have been angry at His old neighbors and at His family. The passage says nothing about it, but we might imagine it anyway. The trouble comes, of course, when we pretend that our insertion is the truth. We’re adding our ideas to God’s ideas.

Narcigesis is a new word. It’s a combination of narcissism and eisegesis. This is what happens when we put ourselves into the text. For example, in that same passage, a ‘narcigete’ would put themselves in Jesus’ place. This is an incredibly common practice, and it should not be. Yes, it’s good to ask what we would think and feel if we were in that situation. This is something more. Narcigesis makes Scripture about me. Furtick’s teaching is chock full of narcigesis. He’s not alone, unfortunately. I’m not providing examples here, but a warning to watch out for it. The Bible isn’t about you. It’s about God, and we learn about Him and about ourselves by reading it. You aren’t David, and Goliath isn’t your fear standing in the way of your destiny. We aren’t wandering in the wilderness. You and I aren’t Job, or Moses, or Jesus.

Conclusion

Steven Furtick is an interesting person, a gifted communicator, and probably a pretty nice guy. He’s also a dangerous false teacher, whether he knows it or not. I have no insight into his heart, and couldn’t know his intentions. He appears to be a genuine person… that is, I don’t see him as a liar who poses as a follower of Jesus for personal gain. He seems to believe what he’s saying. Unfortunately for him and the many thousands (or millions) who hear him teach, sincerity is largely irrelevant.

The truth matters. While much of what Furtick teaches is true, too much of it is not… and the things he gets wrong are big things: the character of God, His ability to do things, our ability to thwart Him, and so on. As a teacher, Steven Furtick should be avoided.

False Teachers List

Disclaimer

Don’t bother commenting or emailing me about how I’m just wrong. It’s a waste of your time and mine. If you have something to say, include Scripture. I am far from perfect, and I can be wrong… so I don’t do any of this lightly, and I’m open to correction.

Don’t bother telling me how this person or that person helped you. It’s a waste of your time and mine. Nobody teaches lies and falsehoods all the time. In researching these topics, I’ve heard a LOT that I appreciated, and have been inspired by even those who are otherwise far from the truth. The number of times someone is right is irrelevant to the question of whether they also teach false things. We should appreciate anyone who teaches us the truth, but that doesn’t mean we should uncritically follow them when we see significant problems in their lives, in their ministries, and in their teaching. Neither your opinion nor mine matter here. What matters is what the Bible teaches, and whether those who preach and teach in Jesus’ name are teaching falsely.

If you can provide evidence that one of these people has recanted their false teaching, please let me know. I would love to amend their article to show that they have changed what they teach.

Finally: we who follow Jesus should not consider false teachers our enemies. If they’re not saved, we should pray for their salvation. If they are saved, we should pray that God will lead them to teach only the truth.


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13 responses to “The False Teaching of Steven Furtick”

  1. Tommy says:

    i now understand why you see him as a false teacher

  2. Morganne Weaver says:

    Thank you for writing this.

  3. John Roden says:

    I’m not a follower of Furtick, and in no sense do I endorse him or his ministry. But I did check the website for Elevation Church to find out what they teach about the Trinity. Apparently he holds the orthodox view of the triunity of God, at least in his doctrinal statement. Here is what I found:
    Trinity
    God has existed in relationship with Himself for all eternity. He exists as one substance in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Although each member of the Trinity serves different functions, they each possess equal power and authority.

    Deuteronomy 6:4 Isaiah 61:1 Matthew 28:19 Mark 1:9-11 Luke 1:35 John 5:21-23; 14:10, 16 Romans 8:9-11 1 Corinthians 8:6 2 Corinthians 13:14 Hebrews 1:8-10 James 2:19

    • Tony says:

      John:

      I appreciate the fact that you did your homework! That’s good. Unfortunately, many false teachers have perfectly orthodox statements of faith. Furtick is one of those. If you just read the website, you might think he’s right on track… right? However: when someone claims to hold to orthodox, biblical, historical Christian doctrine but then makes clear public statements of modalism, it’s obvious that they’re not teaching what they claim to teach.

      Here’s what we see: as with so many cults of Christianity, they share our vocabulary… but they use their own dictionary. When Christians talk about Jesus, they acknowledge that He is God. When Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about Jesus, they’re using words that sound the same, but have a different meaning. In this case, it’s that Jesus isn’t God, and isn’t one with the Father, but that He’s the first being that God created. Same vocabulary, different dictionary. The same goes for non-Christian teachings from Word of Faith folks and NAR folks. Furtick is simply pouring his own meaning into the words you might hear at the church you grew up in.

      That’s part of why I’ve decided, after 24 years of having online discussions about Jesus, to go ahead and write about false teachers: so many have simply been deceived.

  4. Creodomus says:

    Very well explained. The disclaimer especially.

  5. Mary says:

    This has honestly been the best I’ve read about the subject. Clear and simply put. Using scripture to point out the errors. So many are just so full of an arrogant and jealous spirit that it deters away from the truth they are giving. Thank you for your gracious words and help. I currently have a dad who has pastored for 40+ years. A Baptist pastor. But some times enjoys listening to fellows like Furtick and TD Jakes knowing the doctrine and error in the ministry itself. Simply put, not obstaining from the appearance of evil and not separating from the world. The services or what they call “experiences” being like a rock concert as apposed to a respectable and honorable way to come to God and worship. But it’s the speeking that gets him every time. He likes to hear them and I think most people are that way. My spirit is bothered when I hear him, thankfully. I would like to know how to reach out to him and make him see that when he listens to these guys he’s being affected, but he should know this. Mostly I’m concerned for the next generation. My children hear them and see them and agree sometimes and don’t see the pitfalls. Church is changing too quickly because of the influence of these false teachers. Meanwhile, I see a whole generation being deceived.

    • Tony says:

      Mary:

      Thank you for your encouraging words. Like you, I’ve found that most critics online are just kind of griping about people they don’t like, or repeating someone else’s accusations. It seems really important to avoid gossip about people, and to be fair and gracious in our assessments. That’s why I work hard to use Scripture and a false teacher’s own words, rather than just post my opinions about them.

      As for helping your father, that can be tough. The only way to change anyone’s bad idea is to offer them a better idea, and for them to take it. My first suggestion is always to be gentle. Most people get defensive about things, and dig their hole even deeper. Gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15) is important. My second suggestion is that Christians should be strategic about these things. One strategy is to ask questions in a different context.

      Here’s an example: Furtick has taught modalism. You could go to your father and say, “Steven Furtick is a false teacher who teaches modalism and you should be ashamed of yourself for listening to him.” That’s not likely to get you very far. Instead, you might ask your father to help you… you could ask, “You know, I believe in the trinity, but I’d like to be able to explain it clearly. How do you explain the trinity?” Along the way, you might ask something like this: “What do you say to people who believe that God is only one person, who just shows up in different forms at different times?”

      Do you see what I mean? Here are the benefits:

      • You’re asking for advice, rather than advising.
      • You’re not attacking him or Furtick.
      • You’re double-checking what your father believes without making him defensive.
      • You’re asking him to critique an unbiblical perspective.

      If your father is a modalist, you’ll find out rather quickly. That’s a whole different situation, right? If your father is not a modalist, he will be able to explain the doctrine of the trinity… and be able to explain how the Son is not the Father, for example. You could even, at that point, ask another question: “What would you say to someone who teaches modalism?” and “What would you say to someone who listens to modalist teachers?”

      Yes, you’re setting him up. There’s nothing wrong with that. Once your father expresses that modalism is false, and tells you what you should say to a friend who believes in modalism, you can say it back to him. I would suggest that this conversation might take place over several days or weeks, rather than in one sitting. Give him time to think about what he’s telling you, to review it in his mind. Then you might, when the time is right, ask him this:

      “What would you say to someone who explained Jesus’ ascension this way?” and then quote Furtick: “… and now Jesus is taken from their sight, and hidden in a cloud, but he did not leave. He just changed forms.”

      You might then ask how to counsel someone whose children are being taught this error. Do you see how this patient and gentle approach might be more effective than a confrontational approach? In the end, you should be praying for your father and listening to the Holy Spirit. He knows better than you or I what your father needs. In truth, it could be that your father is able to listen to Furtick without a problem, sifting the good from the bad. For mature, well-educated believers, there is less danger than for others. It might be that the only real problem is that he’s watching while young and impressionable children are around… and that he just hasn’t thought about that.

      I’d love to hear how it goes, Mary! Let me know if there’s some other way I can help, beyond praying (which I’m doing right now).
      Have a great day!

      • Mary says:

        Thank you for all your help! I will try this and possibly get back with you when I get his response! Will be a week or so…

  6. Jake says:

    Hello, I am in my mid thirties and trying to rebuild my faith. I was raised Roman Catholic and went to private Catholic school. I have had an “on again, off again” relationship with my faith throughout the years. The only thing I remember I was taught about the Trinity , is that as a human being we can’t understand it. I’m trying to understand what modalism is and why as Christians it is the wrong belief system. Any insights with this is much appreciated. I have recently been struggling with breaking free from my past sins. In searching for answers I found Furtick’s podcast, and I have to say that some of his sermons spoke to me deeply. But I don’t want to follow a false teacher. I was also intrigued by the Baptist form of preaching, energetic compared to Catholic masses. ( Not knocking either, it was just different to what I was use to.) Thank you and God bless you.

    • Tony says:

      Jake:

      It’s nice to meet you. Thanks for writing!

      The reason people are taught that we can’t understand the trinity is that we can’t. We don’t really have a way to accurately compare it to anything, and comparing is one of the key ways we understand anything. There is only one God, and He never created anything like Himself… so we can’t say that He is like an egg, or an apple, or the sun, or whatever. Each of those analogies falls apart at some point, and fails to adequately explain what God is like. I’ve included a funny video below that you might like. As with Marvel movies, there’s a bit after the credits too.

      There are two major directions one can go in: tritheism or modalism.

      As the name suggests, tritheism is the belief in three different gods. That would be the Father, Son, and Spirit… who would be considered separate, not one. As the other name suggests, modalism is the belief in one god who reveals himself in three (or more) different ways… or modes.

      First: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are properly understood as God. All three have attributes that only God has. They were all involved in the creation, for example. Jesus, clearly, claimed to be God and His disciples taught that. Our bodies are the “temples of God” because the Holy Spirit dwells in believers. There’s no question that all three persons are God.

      Both tritheism and modalism are false simply because they contradict Scripture. From Scripture, we know that there is only ONE God. That means that tritheism (three gods) is false. On that, modalists agree with the Bible. From Scripture, we know that Jesus is NOT the Father, and that Jesus is NOT the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit is NOT the Father. Each has a relationship with the other… we see what’s called a subject-object relationship. If you throw the ball, you are not the ball. If the Father sends the Son, the Father is not the Son. We see this all over the place: Jesus is sent by the Father, prays to the Father, obeys the Father, goes back to the Father. The Father knows things Jesus did not know. The Father sends the Holy Spirit after Jesus goes back to Him, and so on.

      So: while we can’t understand the trinity, we CAN explain what the Bible says about God. Does that make sense?

      Here’s that video… enjoy!

  7. Josh W says:

    Thank you for sharing this. My wife and mother in law are both very attached to Steven Furtick and I’ve tried to tell them about modalism and other things he says but they always interpret it to mean something else. I also was attached to Furtick and his teachings not too long ago but thank God for a biblical counselor who called him out and really challenged me to listen to what he is saying. Now I pay attention more to the words spoken by pastors and don’t just take everything they say as being true. I hope to study and understand the Word of God more so I can confidently stand on and defend the faith.

    I really appreciate your conclusion as it shows compassion and love. The fact that you said to pray for Furtick speaks for itself. I agree with you that Furtick genuinely believes what he is teaching so my heart breaks. May God have mercy on him, his family, his church, friends, associates, and all who listen to him. May God save his soul if he doesn’t know Christ and may God give His children eyes to see and ears to hear. God bless you brother.

    – Josh W, a fellow brother in Christ

    • Tony says:

      Thank you for your encouraging words, Josh. You’ve encouraged me twice… first by your gratitude, and second by letting the world know that you’re paying attention! Too few Christians take such things seriously. Thanks!

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