By Elizabeth Prata
False Teachers (as are politicians) are selling something. Will you buy?
It was a startling moment when at the October 2019 Truth Matters Conference, in reply to interviewer Todd Friel’s query to answer in one or two words to the name Beth Moore, John MacArthur forthrightly said “go home”. Even more startling is when he likened her and her ilk to hucksters selling jewelry on TV. (video here). It was true and thus it was a relief to hear.
False teachers are selling something. They have to. The holy Spirit isn’t in or behind their words propelling them into hearts and minds, so in order to get their message across, false teachers have to resort to sales language. Sales language appeals to the flesh.
If a Christian is listening to someone, the question to ask is, are they teaching or are they selling? If they are teaching, their points will be clear (because God’s word is). If they are selling, they will be vague, emotional, and evasive.
Sales language is its own unique kind of rhetoric. Politicians have honed this kind of speech to a high art. So have false teachers. Let’s explore what makes this kind of talk so useful and efficient in getting sales. For the politician, sales means votes. For the false teacher, sales means followers and buyers of their merchandise, eventually turning their followers INTO merchandise. (2 Peter 2:3).
The Bible speaks of false apostles being sales people, merchants of the word and not proclaimers of it.
They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. (Titus 1:11).
These men regard godliness as a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:5). Paul says here that such men are of depraved mind who are devoid of the truth.
Emotive language is their stock-in-trade
Politicians excel in a kind of speech that wins them elections. They use trigger words that evoke good feelings, such as liberty or freedom or prosperity. They make vague promises that are just specific enough to draw both a Midwest blue collar iron worker and a Wall Street CEO. They’ve made imprecision into a high art.
False teachers are imprecise too. The Bible talks about smooth speech and flatteries. The antichrist will take the kingdom by flatteries. (Daniel 11:21, smoothness, hypocrisy, intrigue, slippery). False teachers flatter – and lie. A flatterer does not care whether or not he is being truthful, says Psalm 5:9 and Romans 16:18. He has a goal and he sticks with it through truth or lie, often mixed.
In his excellent essay Politics and the English Language, George Orwell said,
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. George Orwell
Orwell notes that language is used by the false purveyor of truth as an instrument ‘not for expressing thought, but for concealing or preventing thought.’ Do you catch that? Some writers and speakers use language to conceal thought or even prevent thought. They don’t want you to have the Mind of Christ, so they rely on the heart’s emotions instead. The heart is deceitful, and so are they.
This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases … can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain. ~Orwell
The false teacher has a wide gap between his stated aim and his true aim. His stated aim is to get you to know Jesus better. His true aim is to make money off you and to introduce you to satan. In 1 Thessalonians 2:5, Paul says that the apostles had never resorted to flattery in spreading the gospel: You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed.
Vague Emotive Language is Even Better
The key to success in the false teacher’s language is the clever use of vagueness.
Recent research shows that politicians use vague words and phrases—like “Freedom,” “Equality,” and “The American Dream”—because they evoke an emotional response. Emotive words can influence our feelings toward politicians and their proposed policies, and, in the end, how we vote.
Beyond a gut reaction to proposed policies, individual voters will interpret—sometimes even misconstrue—the intentions of the policies to be in line with their own beliefs and intentions, … In other words, we hear what we want to hear. (Source)
Similarly, a false teacher will use emotional trigger words that allow the hearer to hear what he wants to hear. “Breakthrough” is a popular one. Who isn’t struggling with something, and wants to break through?
‘Favor’, ‘healing’, ‘downpour’, ‘encounter,’ ‘increase’, or ‘deliverance’ are also popular emotive words false teachers use. It is deception by vague language and emotional manipulation rather than a straightforward proclamation of Bible truth.
Con artists, for example, may use the emotive side of language
(a) to mask cognitive meaning by whipping up emotions so that reason is overlooked and (b) to dull the force of language so as to make acceptable what otherwise might not be. The latter task is often accomplished by means of euphemisms… Annenberg Classroom, The Language of Deception
Orwell translates a passage of good English into modern English of the vaguest sort using Ecclesiastes 9:11,
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Orwell translation, using vague emotive language-
Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
How did he do it? He erased the verse’s concrete illustrations of race, battle, and bread, etc.
Concreteness is anathema to the false teacher. (And the politician, snake oil hawker etc). Clever use of vagueness can obscure the meaning of a sentence easily.
Vagueness includes Euphemism and Question-begging
Orwell said in 1946, In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.
It is the same with today’s false teachers. False teachers use euphemisms like messy for sin or broken for depraved. Anything to dampen the truth and evoke positive emotions.
Gospel truths are often too brutal to face. Truths such as that we are depraved, have no hope of heaven, need a savior, and are mere creatures, are words and phrases many do not want to hear. So the false teacher resorts to question begging, euphemism, and of course vagueness to obscure the truths and appeal to the flesh and emotions. Frequently Beth Moore answers a different question than you ask her. People come away thinking she answered when she didn’t. Example:
Do you believe homosexuality is inherently sinful?
Do you believe that the practice of the homosexual lifestyle is compatible with holy Christian living?
Do you believe a person who dies as a practicing homosexual but professes to be a Christian will inherit eternal life?
Answer (after a delay): I hold firmly to a traditional Christian sexual ethic and continue to believe the Bible sets apart marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman.
She was not asked about marriage. Nor was she asked in general about a “Christian sexual ethic”. She was asked about “a sin.” Do you see the diversion, extra words, euphemisms, and vagueness?
We can never get to the bottom of what false teachers are saying, exactly. Why? Their father is the father of lies.
1. When you listen to a teacher and prepare to assess whether they are true or false, listen for emotive trigger words. Years ago I accidentally tuned in to Brian Houston at Hillsong Australia. I listened for a few minutes. In just 5 minutes he used the word ‘encounter’ so much it became a mindless mantra drained of meaning.
2. After you listen, a few hours or a day later, can you remember what was taught? Recalling is not a function of mental capacity or memory. True biblical teaching rests on Gospel truths, which the Holy Spirit makes clear (perspicacious, or the doctrine perspicuity of scripture). The false teacher’s linguistic vagueness and use of emotive words means that when the emotion dies away you’re left with nothing but a basket of gossamer you can’t attach to anything. So try to remember what they taught. Can you apply it? Did it bring you more clarity on who Jesus is? Or are you just left with remembering the emotions you felt?
3. If you have a question about something they said, does the teacher’s reply clear it up for you? It’s normal to have questions. If the false teacher only gives more vague blather, it might be a bad pattern. Worse is if they refuse to answer. (Beth Moore i.e. Open Letter). You will never, ever get Beth Moore to answer directly. Ever. It is not in her best interest, and for a false teacher, their best interest is all that matters. Remember, they are snake oil salesmen, they have to be vague in order to deceive.
“If you simplify your language”, Orwell concludes, “when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.” Political language — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
Here is a pastor-teacher giving his answer (in 30 seconds) to the same question asked of Osteen (and by the same person, no less) and Keller. Clarity! If you have time, go back and listen to all three and you will immediately see all the principles in this essay put into play, the wholesome ones and the not so wholesome ones.
Go to my other blog to hear the 30-sec video – (I can’t upload vids on this one). Thank you for reading!