Conflating The Preacher with Expertise

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He stood in his pulpit and looked intently at the 500 people attending. Then he made his pronouncement:

“All mental illness at some level is the result of sin in a person’s life.”

He went on to explain how depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, mania, PTSD, eating disorders, OCD, and a host of other disorders were caused by combinations of unrepentant sin, lack of faith, demonic activity, curses, and lack of knowledge of the Bible.

At one point, he claimed that all schizophrenia is demonic possession and the only cure is exorcism.

At the time, he had not written any books or appeared on television. Now, he has books, television and social media outlets, invitations to speak around the globe. Though he has downplayed some of his previous views on mental illness, in several interviews he has reiterated his global stance.

From the pulpit, preachers take similar approaches to other areas of “expertise”:

  • City Planning
  • Medicine
  • Law
  • Immigration policy
  • Monetary policy
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Business practices
  • Investment strategies
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Physical Exercise
  • Law Enforcement
  • Education (both grade school and college)

…on and on.

In our world, we rightfully acknowledge some people have attained levels of expertise in all these areas. Over the centuries, we have come to define the Experts by looking at their education, experience, what they teach, how accurate their assessments and proposed strategies have played out, how respected they are among their peers.

That is how we can identify an expert.

When members of the NRA spoke out against a doctor who criticized their position on gun ownership by telling him to “stay in his lane”, the medical profession hit back. What they said was extremely valid: those who are wounded by gunfire are treated by doctors and nurses. This is our lane!

Society would be foolish not to rely upon experts who are renowned and published in their fields. We would never want someone who has no expertise doing surgery, building a skyscraper, or flying an airplane.

Yet we allow preachers to make bold statements on subjects for which they have no expertise. Not only do they often disagree with the experts, but they demand congregations accept them as the Experts instead.

Why do preachers do this? And why do we allow it?

Most evangelical pastors have to become ordained by their denominations or societies. To accomplish this, they sign a doctrinal statement. One of the typical elements of those statements is a paragraph regarding the Bible. Here is the idea at the core of that statement:

“We believe the Bible is the only rule for faith and practice”. 

What this means is the preacher who is being ordained will use the Bible as the template for their teaching on what to believe theologically and how to live that out. That was the original intention of this position. But that is not what some preachers have done with it.

Allow me to reword what many preachers believe that doctrinal position means: “We believe the Bible is the only rule for determining what is true in our world and should be the foundation for what we believe about everything.”

Here is an essay by John MacArthur stating that the Bible supersedes psychology when working with mental illness. In this article, he is reacting to a lawsuit brought by the family of a suicide victim. The victim was told she only needed biblical truth and not therapy. As a result, she died. MacArthur, in his article, is stating the church has the legal right to make that claim about the Bible. He is correct. Anyone has the legal right to claim to be an expert.

This view would say that what the Bible teaches about medicine should supersede what doctors say. What the Bible teaches about mental health should have more authority than what researchers and psychologists say. What the Bible says about astronomy, political science, history, economics, physical therapy, dancing, sexuality, City planning, etc. has more credibility than what all the experts have taught on those subjects.

Logically then, the person who teaches the Bible has more authority to speak on those subjects than the people who spent their entire lives devoted to them.

A preacher with a high school education armed with the Bible is more of an expert on mental health than a Ph.D. from Stanford with years of experience working with PTSD.

The reason we allow preachers to do this is because it feels like someone has leveled the playing field for all of us regular folk. Admit it: We feel intimidated by the Experts. And we get angry because sometimes they truly are wrong. Every mistake they make just convinces us that we can’t trust them. But the Bible comes from God–and it is trustworthy. So, if we just go by the Word of God, then we don’t have to spend our lives feeling intimidated by the learned and the elite whom we dislike and disdain anyway.

Preachers instinctively know this is the reality and they use it. They know they have 30-45 minutes every week to be the Expert that all these people trust. As long as they use the Bible as the starting point, they can make claims on subjects they know very little about and can come across with more authority than the experts in those fields.

Are you having trouble with your sex life? I can give you the solution.

Are you struggling with depression? I know what to do.

Do you wonder if we should support the city building low-income housing in our area of the county? Here’s what the Bible says.

Are you uncomfortable about what teachers are teaching? Then the Bible says you should be their teacher.

It feels comforting. It assures us that there are simple answers to complex problems.

However, preachers have no business speaking on most subjects for which they have little, if any, knowledge or training.

What training do most preachers have? Theological training. Most of them take a few courses in counseling, problem solving, administration, human sexuality, statistics, etc. But the experts in those fields have spent YEARS perfecting their knowledge and skills. And they have learned to draw upon the work of thousands of other people in their disciplines. The preacher lacks access to any of that unless they also get a degree in those areas.

I have a preacher friend who is also an engineer. He regularly uses engineering illustrations in his messages. I appreciate that.

I know one preacher who is also a teacher, another who is a nurse, and another who has a degree in market research. When they speak on those disciplines, I take them seriously.

What does the Bible teach that we can speak authoritatively on? It shows us God and his nature. It informs us on the elements and effects of evil, sin, righteousness, and moral decisions. The Bible outlines both the past and future of our world. It reveals how human relationships work, and how anyone can be more loving.

And of course, those principles can be applied to any field and endeavor. A doctor can be more loving. A psychologist can recognize the existence of evil in the Dark Triad disorders. If a preacher brings principles to bear from the Bible, then all the Experts can be better informed on what the Bible says to them as they do their work.

My advice to preachers is to stop conflating their Bible teaching with Expertise in all subjects the Bible makes even incidental reference to. It diminishes the real value of the Bible and demeans the work other people have done to be good at what they do.

3 thoughts on “Conflating The Preacher with Expertise

  1. “It feels comforting. It assures us that there are simple answers to complex problems.”

    I agree. It is manifested in beliefs like the idea that women are responsible for men’s lust. Or that rape victims somehow entice the perpetrators. The simplistic — and inadequate — solution is to police how we women dress, how late we go out and with who, and even to characterize those of us who pursue a man as rebelling against some God-ordained gender hierarchy they imagine is biblical.

    That brings me to another point. Even some of the preachers who have degrees in that area don’t seem to use it in their messages. They disregard things like historical context.

    1. I just have to say as a long-time sufferer of depression and anxiety, I have heard too many sermons on David’s “depression” as though everyone has it the same way.

  2. I neglected to add that the rules applied to women are taught as though it will prevent rape and sexual assault. It’s a false sense of security. Not to mention that is results in victim blaming.

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