By Elizabeth Prata
We hear a lot these days from our President about ‘fake news.’ Wikipedia defines this new term fake news as,
Fake news or junk news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media
I’m sure you’ve all seen examples of this. Fake news is news that the mainstream media publishes which turns out to have been twisted or are simply untrue.
Well, there’s fake news in the Christian world too. Sometimes it happens due to ignorance. Not that the person passing it on is an ignorant person, but is perhaps ignorant of the scriptures. Sometimes it happens because someone is lazy and doesn’t dig, research, or think it through. Sometimes it’s carelessness. We see examples of the carelessness aspect via Jess Pickowitz’s eye-opening examples in her series called, “Meme Heresies.” We women tend to pass along the beautiful scripture quotations on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram etc., but many of these contain heresies of their own, as Jess points out. She says,
#MemeHeresies is an effort to correct heresy with biblical truth and encourage women to reflect on the theological implications of what we’re sharing in the fast-paced world of social media.
Example of Fake Christian news
Well as I said, it happens in the Christian blogosphere media too. In 2007, John Piper wrote an article called,
Let me tell you about a most wonderful experience I had early Monday morning, March 19, 2007, a little after six o’clock. God actually spoke to me. There is no doubt that it was God. I heard the words in my head just as clearly as when a memory of a conversation passes across your consciousness. The words were in English, but they had about them an absolutely self-authenticating ring of truth. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God still speaks today.
The essay continued in this vein, with Piper extolling all the virtues and wonders of hearing the voice of God. It wasn’t until near the end of his essay that the punchline became evident, Piper was writing about hearing the voice of God via his own scripture reading that day. The article was actually a rebuttal to an article that had appeared in Christianity Today that week written by an ‘anonymous middle-aged professor of theology’ at a ‘well-known university’ and whose name was ‘on the masthead of CT’. Anonymous had written that he had actually heard the voice of God and it had been specific. He was commanded to give all the royalties of his book to a certain needy student.
Piper’s article was a rebuttal against this kind of extra-biblical communication. (Though Piper certainly doesn’t let us down. In typical Piper fashion he fails to state outright that extra-biblical revelation isn’t true because it destroys the sufficiency of scripture, but wishily-washingly says that ‘when’ it happens it should not supersede our joy in His written word…)
Anyway, Piper stated,
I grieve at what is being communicated here. The great need of our time is for people to experience the living reality of God by hearing his word personally and transformingly in Scripture. … It has increased my love for the Bible as God’s very word, because it was through the Bible that I heard these divine words and through the Bible I have experiences like this almost every day. The very God of the universe speaks on every page into my mind — and your mind.
Yet the person/s writing at a blog called New Calvinist, a Dr. ES Williams and friends, apparently did not read to the end of the article or missed the punchline. He spent a long essay “debunking” Piper’s stance, a stance Piper didn’t even hold. However, you as a reader would not know that unless you took the time to also read Piper’s original essay the Anonymous Professor was contending against.
Williams’ essay was a thorough and blow-by-blow takedown of Piper’s hearing from God stance that seemed legitimate because it contained scripture. And also because it was written in elevated language.
Fake Christian news exists, so how do we practice discernment and get wise against Christian fake news?
Debunking Fake Christian News
1. It seems to not need saying, but it does: when you read Christian blogs or news sites, have your Bible handy. Or have a Bible tab open on your screen. Look up the scriptures used in the article and determine if they are the right address, the full scripture, and used in context. Many times, one or all of these is incorrect. I always double check my own scriptures when I write, because a numerical typo in a scripture address will bring you to a completely different scripture. And typis ar eazsy to make, lol.
For an example of a scripture used out of context, in a book I’m reading now, the scripture referenced is Matthew 18:20 ‘where two or more are gathered.’ The verse is used to buttress the author’s point that wherever two or three are gathered, the Holy Spirit and/or Jesus is there with them. Yet that is not the point of the scripture. It’s about church discipline.
One off-reference is not a reason to throw away an entire book, but it’s the start of a discernment path. If an author uses one scripture out of context or to make a wrong point, what else might there be in the book/article/pamphlet etc? Discernment is usually a gathering of a preponderance of evidence, weighed against the Scriptures, and used in a prayed-for wisdom.
2. If an article is mentioned in your news story or blog essay, then go ahead and read the original article the author is quoting. Context is important in studying the scriptures, and it’s important in judging Christian news, too.
3. Look up the author by simply googling his or her name, see what comes up. Read reviews of your author on Amazon or Goodreads, I usually look at the 3-star ones. The middle of the road reviews tend to be more even-keeled with credible pros and cons.
4. Look up who the author pals around with. Is his book recommended by credible authors, or non-credible ones? If you look on the back of a book, or at the blogger’s blog roll, you’ll see and understand a lot of where this author is coming from by whose names are there.
5. You can read the “About” page of the author/s blog or his bio at Amazon or wherever. You can also do the same with a Christian News Outlet author’s hyperlinked name. When the author page of the news piece you’re reading comes up with a lot of headlines like “So-and-So exposed!” or ” You won’t believe…” then you know they like to use hyperbole to make their case or to entice readers. The point should be the glory of God and the deepening understanding of the reader of our Savior, not clickbait.
I’m sure you can think of many other ways to spot and combat fake Christian news. The biggest thing is to stay in the Word. Studying the real thing always reveals the fake.