As you start (or continue) your journey through seminary, you are bound to have differences of opinion or interpretation with a professor. This is to be expected, and 99 percent of the time it should lead to a healthy dialogue to the mutual benefit of both parties—the student gains insight that they didn’t have previously and the professor gets feedback for how they presented a specific idea and can adjust their method accordingly.
This assumes that the student is in the role of the novice who must be corrected and the professor holds the proper position.
But what if the roles are reversed? What should happen when the student is accurate in their interpretation and/or understanding and the professor holds the incorrect view?
Before you act on the temptation to enter class with guns blazing and call out your professor (read: publicly rebuke)—making a spectacle of the situation, please consider the following thoughts:
James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Your professor is well aware of this verse and has counted the cost of being a teacher. It is only with this in mind that you should enter a dialog with humility because now YOU are assuming the role of teacher and, by interpretation, risking a stricter judgment for the content of your lesson.
Your professor is due the respect associated with their level of authority (see Romans 13:1, 1 Timothy 5:1-2, 1 Peter 2:13 and Hebrews 13:17). Do not allow your pride to blind you to the Scriptural mandate to respect and submit to your authorities (because God has placed every person into their position—see Proverbs 8:15 among others).
Before you take any confrontational action, you must be absolutely certain of what the professor believes (by virtue of lecture, teaching or other interaction or publication). You cannot think or assume they hold an incorrect (or heretical) doctrine without specific confirmation. Take the opportunity to simply ask for clarification of their view (in a non-threatening, research-driven conversational manner) and document what was imparted so you are abundantly clear on the doctrine in question.
If, after your research is complete and you have vetted the issue and all possibilities of your own misinterpretation, you are truly convinced that your professor holds a wrong view on a particular doctrine (and with the full understanding that this implies they may be a false teacher), a private dialog is the obedient (and prudent) approach (see Matthew 18:15 for the principle associated with this methodology). Always be ready to reflect on YOUR interpretation of the circumstances—seek reconciliation first.
It is important to note that there is a Scriptural mandate to address false teaching. Jesus’ own example in Matthew 23 is compelling. He freely forgave sinners but publicly reviled the Pharisees (holding the teachers to a stricter standard!). John the Baptist referred to the Pharisees as a ‘brood of vipers’ indicating that their father was the devil himself (metaphorically speaking). Paul confronted Peter in Galatians 2:11-15 for hypocrisy. In Romans 16:17 Paul advises, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”
Additionally, when Peter was brought before the Council and ‘strictly charged’ not to teach in Jesus’ name, his response in Acts 5:29 was, “We must obey God rather than men.”
The short answer to the question raised about confronting your professor on doctrinal errors is YES—but carefully. It is critical that all of these considerations be taken into account before you engage on a level of confrontation. God’s Word is abundantly clear about both sides of the issue. False teachers are not given a pass by God, and all believers are to be wary of them (Paul spoke plainly in Acts 20-28-31). And all teachers are charged to provide good, sound doctrine in their instruction. Any deviation from God’s Truth is heresy and must be addressed as such. The mandate is clear.
At the risk of repetition, you MUST be steadfast in your belief that doctrinal error exists—that it is truly a foundational (read: core value) issue in question and that the professor’s position is wrong. You MUST be humble and respectful in your interaction—always seeking restoration (as opposed to a “win”) and Truth as your primary objective.
At the end of the process, if your efforts do not satisfy the issue (read: the professor, when confronted with your information, does not repent and turn from his/her bad doctrine), that still does not grant you permission to publicly rebuke or revile (remember, they are still in a position of authority over you).
The rest of Matthew 18 can be used to guide the situation: Seek confirmation among other leaders to confirm that an error exists and re-engage the professor. The final step is not public rebuke or reviling, it is to go to the seminary administration (in place of the church as an application of this passage) and turn the matter over to their jurisdiction (which is good and proper). At that point, your duty is fulfilled and you stand before God as clean.