What do I mean by cheating?
- Manipulating evidence so that it says what you want it to say to get people to do what you think they should do, even if that’s not what the Bible tells them to do.
- Making bad arguments on the basis of bogus statistics that you then use to prey on people’s emotions.
- Exploiting a vague sense of guilt people feel about something that the Bible does not condemn so that you can twist their arms to get them to do something you know they don’t want to do.
- Using unverified background material as illustrations to twist the text of Scripture into saying what you want it to say, so you can use it how you want to use it, usually to coerce people.
- Saying things that you know aren’t precisely true but that sound really, really good, things that give you the appearance of being more learned than you are, or that make a situation sound better than it is, or that present miraculous revivals that never happened, and in all this you pull the wool over the eyes of the ignorant to gain power over them.
- Creating straw men and constructing caricatures of people, overdrawing the foibles of enemies, misrepresenting their arguments, exaggerating their faults, jumping to unwarranted conclusions about their motives or the outcome of their lives, and generally treating human beings as less than human–the human beings you’re talking about and the ones you’re talking to.
These are some of the ways that people cheat. Writers, speakers, presenters, and others who want an outcome will use these strategies. They’re not trying to convince you by means of legitimate persuasion; they’re not respecting your intelligence; they’re not counting on you thinking carefully about their arguments; they’re not expecting their evidence to be analyzed; and they’re not honoring God.
The authors of the Bible never cheat. Have you noticed that? That may be one of the reasons the books of the Bible feel less glamorous than some of the sermons you’ve heard. I’m not saying that all glitzy sermons or sexy books about the Bible partake of sentimentality, but those that don’t have really accomplished something. Those that don’t are the work of craftsmen who are long tried pious poets. Those that do may have a morning in the sun but will wither and be gone in the heat of afternoon.
The truth is good enough. We don’t need to cheat. Don’t do it. There are things that really move people. Don’t trick them into tears. Don’t tell lies. God doesn’t need you to make it sound better than it really is. You won’t please God, and you will wind up discouraging people, loading them up with guilt, and causing some of them to go back and analyze your evidence and your arguments. And if you’ve cheated, those who have some experience with evidence and arguments will see it and draw conclusions about your character. These are the kinds of people whose opinions matter. These are the folks you want to persuade. These are the folks with the theological backbone to resist you, the hermeneutical sophistication to follow your tracks and see where you left the path, and they will then warn others not to follow in your footsteps.
Tell the truth. Don’t cheat. Don’t manipulate. Jesus wouldn’t do that to people, and you shouldn’t either. Follow the golden rule: try to persuade others as you want to be persuaded, by an open statement of the truth.
God knows what people need to do. God’s Spirit will convict God’s people to do what God wants them to do. God’s word is sufficient. Trust it. Teach it. And trust God. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost don’t need us spray-painting the grass to make it look green from the other side. They can send the rain, plant by living waters, and show leaves that don’t wither. They don’t need us making it look like a bed of roses when actually it’s a cross to lie down on.