Writings by Cole Huffman

Test the Spirits

The filmmaker Oliver Stone once said in an interview he didn’t want integrity blocking his creative growth. He wanted the freedom to spin stories as he willed. One of his most famous movies, JFK (1991), presented a conspiratorial version of the Kennedy assassination that is still widely accepted by many viewers.

It becomes easier to accept unconventional explanations (“alternative facts”) for tragedies, controversies, and other cultural traumas when you believe you are persistently lied to by the media and governing authorities. This is largely why conspiracy theories hold appeal. That and an age-old draw to the secret knowledge or special insight of self-styled insiders.

No doubt we are lied to by media and authorities. We know network news is styled and politicos pander to their bases. Sometimes information is withheld from the public for good reason. There was a time, not so long ago, when questioning authority made you suspect. Now, it seems, if you don’t question authority, you’re suspect.

A friend of mine has a dog who swallows socks and other items whole. Recently, the dog experienced a massive bowel blockage. For three days he vomited and wouldn’t eat. Surgery to remove the blockage was going to cost much more than my friend wanted to spend on a dog with tastes for household objects. In consult with a veterinarian, he considered putting the dog down. But the next morning the dog squatted in the backyard and, with great strain, passed the object. He is just fine now.

I wish I could say with confidence this too shall pass in reference to the conspiracy theories believed by Christians. The church will live. But there are people I love in Christ who believe, or at least find plausible, things I cannot believe, like the stuff coming from QAnon.

When someone believes the gospel of our resurrected Lord, it is due to God the Spirit working. When someone believes conspiracy theories, it feels like a different spirit is at work. A spirit of fear. That spirit has never tempted me with “Q,” but it has other A–Z weapons in its arsenal.

We’re told by God to test the spirits. Here’s the full reference: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). In the interests of holding on to “whatever is true” (Phil. 4:8), I want to give you three main ways to test the spirits.

The Turning Test. Ask yourself: Do I hold beliefs that cause me to turn on or away from fellow believers, people I know love the Lord Jesus as much as I do? If I hold political beliefs and/or social convictions that matter to me more than God’s people, isn’t it possible I’ve lost perspective? Maybe I have itching ears, a taste for controversy?

The Demonization Test. As stated already, part of the appeal of conspiracy theories is frustration with lies, real and perceived. But when we demonize those who lie to us, we might permit ourselves to lie about them. This is a spirit of fear at its most spiteful. We demonize as a way of counseling our fears, but we just create more fears for ourselves and others by taking a route the Spirit of Jesus doesn’t lead us on to begin with. Ask yourself: Does my anger toward those I consider a threat to my family cause me to hold them in utter contempt? Do I condemn people freely? If I discovered tomorrow that something I circulate about the people I disdain the most is false, would I repent or shrug it off because I think so poorly of them anyway?

The Thing Itself Test. If the claims conspiracy theories make won’t stand up in court, the thing itself is untrue. Courts are not infallible but operate on laws of evidence, which we should respect and thank God for. If a conspiracy theorist doubles down on assertions discredited, tune him or her out. If they use not just inflammatory rhetoric but call for sinful action, like claiming Vice President Mike Pence should be executed for treason, he or she is not worth listening to on any topic. Ask yourself: Have I become blinded by fear, hate, or gullibility—my own or others? Maybe I’m being led by the blind?

A conspiracy theory may invoke God and Christianity, but it lacks Christlikeness. It may talk of Christ as King, but it will be infused with the cult of personality and syncretism. What Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapels, said in reference to doctrinal views also applies to conspiracy theories: “If you come to a strong personal conviction on one side of a doctrinal issue, please grant us the privilege of first seeing how it has helped you become more Christlike in your nature, and then we will judge whether we need to come to that same persuasion.”

Many are shaming and demeaning Christians dominated by fears. I’m trying to give myself to prayer on their behalf. I’m praying we’ll cultivate truth in our inmost being (Ps. 51:6). I’m praying we’ll practice more truthing in love (Eph. 4:15).

As a pastor, I see conspiracy theories as a kind of fear prison supporters put themselves into, the doors locked from the inside. It doesn’t have to be. If you know His truth, Jesus said, that sets you free (John 8:32).

Posted by Cole Huffman at 9:44 AM
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