Christianity 201

July 31, 2021

Being a Teacher, Influencer, Brings Responsibilities

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.
 – Deuteronomy 18:22 NIV

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.
 – 2 Peter 1:20-21 NLT

Do your best to win God’s approval as a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed and who teaches only the true message.
– 2 Timothy 2:15 CEV

Today we return to the writing of author Ed Cyzewski and an excerpt from a much longer article of which this is the second quarter of an essay he divides into four parts. The context for the article is about misinformation in the middle of the current pandemic, yet it applies to so many other things, including doctrinal/theological debate and discussion. Either way, it involves work; delving into studies, data, and the expertise of others. He notes that,

…[A]ll sources of research are the same. Defying expertise and scientific guidance can become a kind of lifestyle, a contrarian mindset, or even a rebellion against scholarship that seeks personal liberty from the supposed limitations imposed by experts. It seems at times that it almost feels irresponsible to trust an expert or to follow a scholarly consensus.

“Doing some research” can feel responsible and even necessary. Given the right sources, it can be very helpful. Yet, once you latch onto the wrong sources, the downward spiral away from useful research that could bring you and others some benefit can seem endless. In the worst cases, we end up with a kid of alternate version of reality with faux experts and faux sources scientific and scholarly consensus…

I encourage to click the header which follows to read this in its entirety.

The Problem with “I’ve Been Doing Some Research…” (excerpt)

…As someone who writes and preaches regularly for others, I am often mindful about the great responsibility I bear in what I communicate in the public domain as a commercially published author and lay preacher. One particular Bible passage looms in the back of my mind:

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes…” James 3:1-2a, NRSV

What I teach others can have a significant impact on their mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual health. Each line in my sermons and books is weighed against my confidence in their accuracy and the burden in my conscience to present ideas to my audience that are highly likely to be true.

A big part of what I do as a nonfiction author is research, and after working with several publishers over the years, I came to appreciate the rigorous fact-checking and source quality standards at each publisher. Several editors combed through my books to make sure my statements were accurate or backed up by sufficient reliable evidence.

For me, commercial success or popularity in my niche is not worth sacrificing the challenge of James to take my words with appropriate gravity. I won’t court attention by playing fast and loose with the truth, assuming the worst about another point of view, or stirring up a fight based on dodgy details. I’m grateful for editors who would hold me to a high standard if I ever made a compromise.

My drive to write or preach doesn’t come from wanting to be noticed. It’s just something that wells up from within and has been recognized by others as a gift to share. The honor of ministering to others with my words also comes with the weighty responsibility to examine my past failures and to prayerfully move forward with care.

I’m under no illusions about my limitations when it comes to research. I’m married to a university professor, and we have many friends who are professors. I’ve seen first hand the breadth of knowledge and analytical ability that experts in their fields have. When a consensus of scholars with expertise in their fields agree about something, you better believe I’m going to shelve my own research and listen to them.

Yet, with social media and YouTube, anyone can instantly become a teacher without necessarily weighing the consequences for others. That is true for people I agree with and disagree with.

Today, anyone can crank out conspiracy videos that “just ask questions” or that boast “having done some research” into vaccines. Greater visibility too often requires making the material more provocative or controversial, not truthful, helpful, or constructive.

At the foundation of our misunderstandings and disagreements about the “research” we’ve done is a massive quality issue. High viewership on television or lots of shares on social media doesn’t mean the ideas are reliable or the creator can be trusted to value good information over high engagement for profit.

There’s always a place for rigorous debate among experts when it comes to public health. Conspiracy theories and contrarian reporters tend to look for the outliers, the compelling exceptional anecdote, or the “lone courageous” voice taking on the scientific “establishment.”

We end up with a lot of dodgy ideas presented as “research” by amateurs that is suddenly considered on roughly equal footing with people who have devoted their entire careers to the scientific disciplines in question.

It’s a great narrative for a novel. It’s not great for a public health catastrophe…


Note: We might add it’s not great for anything with eternal consequences for us to trust amateur sources, or do an amateur job ourselves on matters that many people study for years in order to arrive at a authoritative conclusion. If your thinking on a particular issue deviates from what the church has always believed and taught, or migrates away from what trusted Christian leaders are saying today, you could be heading for a spiritual catastrophe.