This week GraceLife Pulpit’s pastor Phil Johnson tweeted out a link to a Nautilus magazine article in a positive light. I usually like what Pastor Johnson likes, so I thought his positive remark to the article might be worth a read. It was. The article is titled “The Anatomy of Charisma“.
I first began hearing the word ‘charisma’ as a very young person. After President Kennedy was assassinated, which occurred when I was nearly three years old, the word became indelibly attached to Kennedy and then the Presidency itself. I used to hear it a lot. This Japan Times article notes that Kennedy set the bar for charisma and the Presidency.
It’s interesting to note that ‘charisma’ and ‘presidency’ are usually intertwined. Or any national leadership position. Truly charismatic people do not remain unknown. Their peculiar light ends up shining more and more brightly to ever widening audiences, until the top levels of leadership – or notoriety – have been reached. This happens due in part of course to the times, and the man, but also to his possession of the quality we are examining today: charisma.
So what is charisma?
Laying aside the interesting article above for a moment, we read the straight definition of the word:
compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.
If it sounds like possessing a charismatic personality can be dangerous to others, it is. ‘Inspiring devotion’ usually means the person receiving the charismatic’s shining light makes emotional decisions, not rational ones. The article opens with this paragraph:
For weeks I had been researching what science has to say about the power of charisma. Why do some people so clearly have it and others don’t? Why do we fall so easily under its influence? Charismatics can make us feel charmed and great about ourselves. They can inspire us to excel. But they can also be dangerous. They use charisma for their own purposes, to enhance their power, to manipulate others.
The article goes on to quote a Christian-turned atheist, Bart Campolo, son of preacher Tony Campolo. Bart uses his charismatic personality for manipulative purposes and in the article Bart plainly tells how.
Humanist chaplain Bart Campolo knows the dark side of charismatic leaders: “The essence of demagoguery is recognizing that appealing to people’s emotions is the most rational way to move them. After all, that’s where people make their moral decisions.”
The best way to inoculate one’s self against falling for a charismatic personality is to stay in the Word. The word is of the mind, it’s where truth resides. An effect from learning the truth can be an emotional one, but the first pass is always the mind. Truth sheds light and clarity on the Christian mind, and if we keep putting the Word in it, we can stay safeguarded against manipulation.
The second straight definition for charisma was: “a divinely conferred power or talent.” Many charismatic leaders do seem to infer possession of a divinely conferred gift. At least, they don’t deny it when their loyal followers intimate as such. Or say it right out. The Nautilus article goes on,
The early 20th-century German sociologist Max Weber wrote charisma is a quality that sets an individual “apart from ordinary men,” and causes others to treat him as “endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.” Such qualities, Weber wrote, “are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader.”
Pastor Johnson tweeted out the link to the Nautilus article from the angle of being interested in how one goes apostate. He wrote,
Atheistic “chaplain” Bart Campolo makes some telling analyses of charisma, his dad’s influence, & his own apostasy:
As I read the article though, another famous charismatic leader kept popping into my mind. The antichrist. I began to think how the pinnacle of charismatic leadership will be encapsulated in this man prophesied to come and delude the whole world.
I’m fascinated with this figure the Bible prophesies will appear in the very last days of the end time, during the Tribulation. He will delude the entire world, duping men from east to west and leading them into perdition. He will be the devil’s best and most successful tool, right until the moment Jesus decides enough is enough and comes back to earth to stop him.
In Daniel 11:21 we learn that the coming world dictator will obtain the kingdom by flatteries. This word actually means slippery. I think we have all read about or even have known someone we dubbed “slippery tongued’. Some say silver tongued. That will be the antichrist, using language to bamboozle and appeal to the emotions, where all rational thought will slide right out of their brains.
He will be a master of intrigue, Daniel 8:23 records. The word means dark intrigue, riddles. Once again the antichrist will use language to manipulate, a feature of all charismatic people.
He will deceive the whole world. (Revelation 13:14).
The fact that the entire world will be deceived (except post-rapture saints) is indicative of his powerfully charismatic personality. The world will be spellbound, taken in by his smooth words, flatteries, facility with language to confuse and deceive them.
Even though the world has not seen THE antichrist yet, many antichrists have already gone out into the world (1 John 2:8). Many charismatic men come along to deceive and twist the Word, to the detriment of the health of the sheep. Paul noted this in Romans 16:17-20,
Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. underline mine
In this second Nautilus article about charisma, Why Joel Osteen, “The Smiling Preacher,” Is So Darn Appealing, we learn that charisma is not only an inborn quality, it can also be taught and then used as a tactic.
But there’s a small but growing group of individuals who have another explanation. Using brain-scan technologies and modern statistical techniques, a band of committed academics in recent years have set out to decipher that mysterious quality from which legendary leadership is born. And some have reached what a previous generation of observers might have considered a dubious conclusion: That it’s possible not just to reverse-engineer charisma, but that it’s something, at least in part, we might learn to master.
During the Tribulation, the coming antichrist will delude all the people who do not have Christ. Even today with the church on earth, we see how easy it is to be taken in by wolves, especially charismatic wolves who manipulate your emotions and use rhetorical tactics that confuse the mind. So what’s the antidote?
1. The Word of Christ.
In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:16-17)
The sword of the word of God is both an offensive weapon and a defensive one. Staying in the Word is the best protection against the wolves, no matter who they are, whether they be charismatic or dull.
We are also to take heed and be on guard. The Christian life requires vigilance. Many, many verses urge us to be on guard, stay sober, be vigilant. That means admitting that wolves exist, expecting them to come, and testing them against the word, no matter how popular or well-liked they are. Do this every time. It’s what vigilance means.
3. Avoid them
Paul said in Romans 16:17 that of those who cause dissensions and strife, and teach what is contrary the Gospel, avoid them. Don’t dabble. Don’t eat the meat and spit out the bones. Don’t entertain them on TV or in books or go to their movies. Don’t rationalize that they might be OK. Avoid them. The word actually means ‘to turn away from’ which is a stronger action that passively avoiding. It’s a deliberate turning of your back to the wolves.
4. Submit to elders
Acts 20:28 tells the pastors and overseers to take care for the flock. Hebrews 13:17 tells us to have confidence n the overseers and submit to them. I know that many of you cry out that your elders are not doing their jobs, that they allow false doctrine in all the time. But in any case, the Bible tells us what to do. Pray for them, help them, and submit to them. We know what to do even if they do not. And if they do, all the better. God raised them up for a reason.
I’m sure if we scoured the Bible we’d find lots of directions for how to protect one’s self against the false ones. But these are top of the list. Pastors and preachers with charisma come along all the time. They come and go. Osteen has had some staying power, others are flashes in the pan. But there will be one particular religious seeming man who will possess all the charisma and power and signs satan can give him (2 Thess 2:9). He, and the ones preceding him, will be easily spotted if you do what we’re supposed to do, and compare what he says to the word of God. Not how he says it, not how he looks when he says it, but his actual words.
As always, it always comes down to God’s word. Praise the Lord He revealed Himself in it and to us!