Discernment as Free Speech
A Brief Study
παῤῥησία parrhēsía, par-rhay-see'-ah; from G3956 and a derivative of G4483 (Strong's); all out-spokenness, i.e. frankness, bluntness, publicity; by implication, assurance:—bold (X -ly, -ness, -ness of speech), confidence, × freely, × openly, × plainly(-ness).
“The word παῤῥησί... constantly denotes a freedom, liberty, and constancy of spirit, in speaking or doing anything towards God or men. See Acts. 2:29, 4:13, 4:29; 2 Cor. 3:12; Phil. 1:20; 1 Tim. 3:13.”
By Sarah H. Leslie
Peggy Noonan wrote in her weekly Wall Street Journal column this past December 4th her concerns that
The censorship movement is radical. It is starting to make everyone in the country feel harassed and anxious. It is odd to see candidates miss a rising issue that is giving pause to so many Americans.
I pray someone will address it. Literally, I just did.
This Herescope post is an answer to her prayers. It may be an unexpected answer and a politically incorrect answer, but nevertheless it is a response. It represents an exercise in the right of free speech and freedom of religion.
Noonan, a former speechwriter to President Reagan with conservative credentials, titled her article “The First Amendment Needs Your Prayers.” She was upset about social media reactions during the San Bernardino massacre, “even while it is happening,” especially from a U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (CT) who sent out a message stating, “Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing—again.” According to Noonan this heavy-handed ridiculing of people who were praying during the massacre “immediately won a name: ‘prayer shaming.’” Noonan then expressed more concerns:
...Americans are growing weary of being told what they can and cannot publicly say, proclaim and think. We all know what’s going on at the colleges, with the mad little Marats and Robespierres who are telling students and administrators what they are and are not allowed to say or do. This is not just kids acting up at this point, it’s a real censorship movement backed by an ideology that is hostile to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is led by students who, though they managed to get into the greatest universities in the country, seem never to have been taught to love the little amendment that guarantees free speech and free religious observance, the two pillars without which America collapses. And too bad, because when you don’t love something you lose it.
It is my impression that what is happening on the campuses is starting to break through as a real threat to what used to be called normal Americans.
Who Is Policing Whom?
Shortly after reading Noonan's article I received a telephone call from my friend Warren B. Smith. He read me an article by Laura Turner titled “Jesus Calling and the policing of theology.” Say that again? The “policing of theology”? Warren has been an outspoken critic of Sarah Young's book Jesus Calling and has published a book and booklet tracts about his concerns. Turner's article specifically named him and Tim Challies, another critic of Sarah Young. After I told Warren about Noonan's column concerning censorship and free speech we each decided these articles needed a response.
Here is Warren Smith's take on the Laura Turner article, recently published as 10 Scriptural Reasons Why Jesus Calling is a Dangerous Book:
On November 12, 2015, Religion News Service posted an article titled “Jesus Calling and the Policing of Theology.” It was a quick response to an article that reformed pastor and popular blogger Tim Challies had posted just the day before. The author of the RNS article, Laura Turner (a regular contributor for Christianity Today’s “Her.meneutics” blog), used her superficial criticism of Sarah Young’s best-selling book, Jesus Calling, as a smokescreen to actually express her disapproval of people who were issuing serious warnings about Young’s book. In a strange stab at free speech, Turner stated that “theology policing is a job best left to the Holy Spirit, and then to people who we know.” But in her effort to undermine Young’s critics by redefining spiritual discernment as “theology policing,” she does the very thing she accuses others of doing. Her entire article is a thinly disguised attempt to “police” those who don’t agree with her own take on Jesus Calling. After minimizing and marginalizing most of the issues that have been raised about Jesus Calling, Turner concludes that Young’s book is "a net positive" and “has been a tool through which many people have gotten closer to God.”
In her obvious endeavor to whitewash the many problems found in Jesus Calling, Turner is especially upset with Tim Challies. She goes out of her way to single him out and take him to task for describing Jesus Calling as a “dangerous” book. But in her rush to isolate and discredit Challies, she overlooks the fact that he is not alone in coming to that conclusion. There are many of us who completely agree....
Free and Open Exchange
In an effort to support her position, Turner ironically links to an article that actually supports the complete freedom of expression that she attempts to discourage in her own article. The article she links to was excerpted from a book written by her “friend,” Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior. Prior frames her piece with numerous and pertinent quotes from John Milton’s 1644 anti-censorship tract, Areopagitica. She writes that “Milton argued passionately in this treatise that the best way to counteract falsehood is not by suppressing it, but by countering it with the truth.” Prior states that the crux of Milton’s argument is that “truth is stronger than falsehood; falsehood prevails through the suppression of countering ideas, but truth triumphs in a free and open exchange that allows truth to shine.” Exactly! It is in this “free and open exchange” that Laura Turner has the right to say whatever she wants about Jesus Calling, but so does everyone else—even if they don’t happen to be “people who we know” and even if what they are saying and believing is that Jesus Calling is a “dangerous” book.
After this introduction, Warren Smith boldly goes on to exercise his free speech. His booklet tract lists ten reasons why he thinks that Jesus Calling is indeed a “dangerous” book. Hurray for Warren! You can read the rest of his article (published into a booklet) online HERE.
Why is it so “dangerous” to write a warning that something could be “dangerous”? Laura Turner makes a gigantic leap from exercising free speech into judging it wrongly. In her article she stated that
There is a difference between criticizing a book and calling it “dangerous,” and I think criticism ought to be fair game. But once we call something “dangerous,” we are precluding it from offering any good, and we are saying that our interpretation–our particular slice of Christianity–is the “right” one.
Turner seems to be offended that there are Christians who warn that something is dangerous. To her this means that we are claiming our interpretation “is the ‘right one.’” The implication is that Tim Challies, Warren Smith, Pastor Steve Hudgik, and other critics of Jesus Calling—an extrabiblical book that audaciously purports to be the very words of Jesus speaking—are somehow imposing our religion on Turner or practicing censorship. But we aren't! We are merely practicing our right to free speech by publishing a warning. We care enough to inform people that we have read Jesus Calling and think it is a “dangerous” book. That's it!
Sadly, Turner's generation can't seem to separate out pure freedom of speech, both in writing and speaking, from all of the postmodern “hate speech” mantras about censorship. To be fair, there is a valid reason why the Laura Turner generation may hold this viewpoint. Although the church is charged with teaching the Gospel of salvation (Matthew 28:20), there are certain leaders who over-extend this mandate to coercion. They believe all must obey their ecclesiastical/civil authority. These leaders are called Dominionists, and Laura Turner does get one thing right—most of them are men. This is their intention:
There are but two sorts of dominion;—first, that which is internal and spiritual, over the faith, souls, and consciences of men' and then that which is external, over their bodies and estates.... And two ways there are whereby supreme dominion in and about things sacred may be exercised;—one by making laws, ordinances, and institutions, religious or divine; the other by corporeal punishments and corrections of them who observe them not: and both these doth he exercise.
The Herescope blog has warned about the “dangerous” nature of the rapid rise of Christian Dominionism in America the past few decades. As this movement seeks to gain power, there has been an increasing prevalence of aggressive speech that is denigrating, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, dehumanizing, ostentatious, threatening, intimidating, bullying,... the list could go on and on. In fact, we have repeatedly warned about the rise in military warfare rhetoric coming out of Dominionist groups such as C. Peter Wagner's New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) and Mike Bickle's IHOP. We've actually feared that their provocative warfare speech could turn literal, at which time it could be rightly be construed as “dangerous.” We are not saying that these Dominionists should be censored. They have the right to their free speech and to exercise their freedom of religion. But history is filled with examples of men who desire to rule and reign as “tyrants” over others in the name in Jesus. It is for good reason that many fear their goals.
Note: It is incorrect to assume that anyone who espouses a conservative biblical or political worldview agrees with these strident Dominionists. Unfortunately the political Left and the clueless media often mischaracterize all evangelicals as Dominionists. However, our open publication of opposition to these leaders is proof that there some are still standing against this movement, albeit a small remnant.
“The Hoax of Free Speech”?
With the freedom of speech comes a corresponding responsibility, especially for those who call themselves Christian believers. The Bible verses that pertain to the use of the tongue apply to both written communication and spoken speech. For example, to spread gossip, half-truths and lies is not a good testimony. Just do a simple word search on “tongue” and see if you aren't convicted to be more responsible in how you conduct your freedom of speech:
- “Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.” (Ps. 34:13);
- “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.” (Prov. 12:18);
- “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.” (James 1:26);
- “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (James 3:5)
And then there is newspeak. When I was a newcomer to the political process during the decade of the 1980s I was trained by some Washington media types to do “spin.” (This would have been the same era when Peggy Noonan was President Reagan's speechwriter.) I learned how to do “spin doctoring” proficiently, including how to regurgitate pre-determined “talking points” issued by national groups with agendas. As a high profile leader who was frequently interviewed by the local, state and national press, I was expected to learn how to deflect questions by avoiding answering them directly. I was taught how to select certain facts and ignore others, thus presenting forth the best possible image. I have since repented of this, and regret that learning these behaviors became so ingrained that I sometimes catch myself still doing this. Perhaps Peggy Noonan should confess this, too.
- “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8);
- “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile.” (1 Peter 3:10)
In our media-saturated world there is now a dearth of decent and kind, not to mention truthful, free speech. The basic elements of politeness and remnants of civility are eroding rapidly, giving rise to commonplace “in your face” obnoxiousness and “gotcha” behaviors. The Internet and social media are crawling with a cacophony of cursing, crazed rants, name-callings, rudeness and other nastiness. And there is a disturbing increase in angry and threatening speech.
|Colson Center e-mail, 1/18/16|
Furthermore, each day our e-mail accounts are flooded with virulent anti-Islamic, anti-Semitic and/or anti-Hispanic propaganda. Some of the content is obviously photo-shopped. These e-mails are being forwarded by Christians. Seldom have the senders done fact-checking, or searched deeper to find out the agenda behind the people or organizations promoting these agendas. To forward such ramped-up hysteria and bigotry, especially without checking the veracity and source, is tantamount to spreading lies and gossip at best, and contributing to drumming up hatred at worst. Nevertheless, these e-mails represent free speech. Your personal freedom to engage in “censorship” is as easy as clicking your trash icon. You may also wish to confront those who are promulgating such awful fear-mongering.
All of this reminds us of Jesus' words about endtimes in Matthew 24:7, “For nation shall rise against nation,” which in Greek is the word ethnos from which we get our word ethnic or ethnicity. Perhaps this fact alone might make a few people think twice before they push the send button to forward on these incendiary e-mails.
By the way, we have never, ever seen an e-mail of this nature that speaks about the need to share the Gospel of Salvation to those of different ethnicity or religious belief. So... here is a truly radical exercise of your free speech: Why not step outside your comfort zone and gently and peaceably befriend your humanist, pagan, Hispanic or Islamic neighbor? Why not seek an open door to speak to them about Jesus Christ and how He died for our sins? Where is your Gospel? Hiding under a bushel?! (Matthew 5:15)
Be aware that this free exercise of speech is now considered to be “hate speech” by those secularists who would institute their own version of a humanist-dominated church-state. But is the mere act of free speech deemed imposing one's religion on another? Communication 101 teaches that this is a two-way street. Someone may say something you dislike, but you don't have to listen. You can ignore it, rebut it or walk away. Old-timers will remember that parents used to teach their children the little toughening-up ditty: “Stick and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” What makes public communication abusive? The power to actually bully and coerce, especially if this power originates from the civil or the church authorities. Heaven help us if the two merge into yet another historical manifestation of a church-state.
Karen Swallow Prior, the professor from Liberty University who was quoted by Laura Turner, cited John Milton and his 1644 Areopagitica as a good example of anti-censorship. We would suggest taking it a step further back in history to study the life of Roger Williams, whose life and beliefs influenced Milton and later the First Amendment. Williams is not a popular figure with the Dominionists who, over the past few decades, have resurrected the writings of the old Puritans. Williams stood against these old Puritans while they were trying to build their own church-state. He was continually harrassed by them for boldly declaring the radical ideas of freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. “Freedom of conscience was... proclaimed. [Williams'] colony became a safe haven for people who were persecuted for their beliefs, including Baptists, Quakers, and Jews.”
The Gospel As Free Speech
Many have already written on this topic but it is worth revisiting in today's oppressive climate. The model for every professing believer should always be the Scriptures, particularly the New Testament. The ability to share the Gospel of salvation is inextricably connected to the freedom to speak. This freedom is not extended by civic and church leaders, but by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
First, observe Jesus. In Gospel of John, chapter 8, Jesus told the Pharisees that, “But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God....” (John 8:40). The rest of the story is a wonderful teaching lesson as Jesus spoke the truth and the Pharisees resisted it. They got so mad at His words that they wanted to kill Him! From this example we learn there can be a hefty price for daring to tell the truth.
Second, observe Peter and John in the opening chapters of Acts. When these disciples were called before the authorities for preaching the Gospel of Salvation, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10), they were “commanded... not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20). What an astonishing proclamation of free speech!
Furthermore, their imperative to speak the Gospel was imbued with a holy boldness, a miraculous transformation of their nature brought about by the indwelling Holy Spirit. When the two disciples were brought before their council they courageously proclaimed that the 40 year old crippled man had been healed “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.... Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts. 4:10,12)
The reaction of the council is very interesting: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled....” (Acts 4:13). Which brings us back to Laura Turner's article. She made the statement that “Theology policing is a job best left to the Holy Spirit, and then to people who we know.” The theological and political incorrectness of Peter and John's qualifications, combined with their assertive proclamations about what constitutes truth, certainly wouldn't fit Turner's criteria. May we all be willing to be considered unlearned and ignorant if it will further the Gospel!
What happens next in the Acts account is illustrative. The the council acted like the Theology Police by threatening the disciples “that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:17-18) The emboldened disciples could not agree to this policy: “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20) Did they then run and hide? Did they shut down and decide to quit speaking? No! The disciples went back to join their little band and they prayed for even more boldness! “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.” (Acts 4:29)
God answered their prayers, but there were painful consequences. The two men were quickly arrested and thrown into prison. When the angel opened the prison doors, the angel commanded them to speak even more boldly: “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.” (Acts 5:20). So, sure enough, the two men obeyed and went back into the temple to teach the people. Once again they were apprehended. “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:27-29)
At this point and hereafter the bold proclamation of the Gospel became an act of civil/religious disobedience, and the disciples suffered beatings and more jailings as a result. Acts chapter 5 concludes with the words: “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” (Acts 5:41-42)
The idea of warning is interlinked with discernment. Practicing discernment is an act of free speech. Warren Smith wrote in his new booklet tract 10 Scriptural Reasons Why Jesus Calling is a Dangerous Book that there is a scriptural responsibility to be discerning, and that we should warn others when we know something is dangerous.
The Bible exhorts believers to be workmen who are not ashamed of what they believe because they are “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Scripture further instructs us to “search the scriptures” to see if the things being presented in a book like Jesus Calling are really “so” (Acts 17:11). Yet Laura Turner writes, “Should we be careful about what we read? I’m not convinced.” But in taking this attitude, she does her readers a great disfavor. While everyone should be free to read what they want to read, what they read should be read very carefully with great discernment—particularly with books that bring alleged “messages” from Jesus Christ Himself. Turner’s article overlooks every warning in the Bible about the danger of being deceived by false Christs and false teachings. While the apostle Paul expressed his “fear” that the Corinthian church could be deceived by false Christs (2 Corinthians 11:3-4), the true Jesus Christ warned that before His return, many would be deceived by false Christs (Matthew 24:3-5).
Warning someone does not mean that we are being Theology Police, nor does it mean we are imposing our view on others, nor are we engaging in censoring. In fact, we are compelled to warn others with a heartfelt attitude of deep humility, grief and tears. Believers experience dangers to their faith, from both without and within. Should we neglect so great a calling (Heb. 2:3)? Particularly when we have prior experience with something that we know firsthand to be dangerous?
The apostle Paul, in his parting words to the elders of the Ephesus church, gave the following admonition, which serves as a good example for all who feel compelled to warn that something is dangerous:
2. John Owen, D.D. (1616-1683), Exposition of Hebrews, Vol. 3, Reprinted by Banner of Truth Trust, 1991, page 562. Owen is expounding on Hebrews 3:6, "if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." The Bible verse citations in this quotation were updated to reflect modern style.
3. Laura Turner, “Jesus Calling and the Policing of Theology” (Religion News Service, November 12, 2015; http://lauraturner.religionnews.com/2015/11/12/jesus-calling-and-the-policing-of-theology/).
4. Warren B. Smith's NEW BOOKLET TRACT: 10 Scriptural Reasons Why Jesus Calling is a Dangerous Book, http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=18852 and http://www.lighthousetrails.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=LTP&Product_Code=BKT-WS-10-RS. Note that I took the liberty of altering the original footnote numbers in Smith's text to adapt his citations to this blog posting. Warren Smith also published his concerns about Sarah Young's Jesus in his book Another Jesus Calling: How False Christs are Entering the Church Through Contemplative Prayer. See http://herescope.blogspot.com/2015/12/merry-christmas-from-sarah-youngs-false.html and http://herescope.blogspot.ca/2013/11/another-jesus-calling.html.
5. Tim Challies, “10 Serious Problems with Jesus Calling” (November 11, 2015, http://www.challies.com/articles/10-serious-problems-with-jesus-calling).
6. Karen Swallow Prior, “Promiscuous Reading” (Posted at The Well, an InterVarsity online outreach to women, http://thewell.intervarsity.org/arts-books-media/promiscuous-reading).
7. Warren B. Smith, 10 Scriptural Reasons Why Jesus Calling is a Dangerous Book, Lighthouse Trails, http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=18852. Also see the following Herescope posts where we have previously published concerns about Jesus Calling: http://herescope.blogspot.com/2015/12/merry-christmas-from-sarah-youngs-false.html and http://herescope.blogspot.ca/2013/11/another-jesus-calling.html and
http://herescope.blogspot.com/2016/01/knock-knock.html and http://herescope.blogspot.com/2016/01/how-can-i-experience-presence-of-jesus.html.
8. Turner, Ibid.
9. Pastor Steve Hudgik authored and published RUN! It's Jesus Calling! Why You Should Throw Away Your Copy of Jesus Calling. See the Herescope posts: http://herescope.blogspot.com/2016/01/knock-knock.html and http://herescope.blogspot.com/2016/01/how-can-i-experience-presence-of-jesus.html. Pastor Steve Hudgik's book RUN! It's Jesus Calling can be purchased on Amazon. Here is the direct link: http://www.amazon.com/RUN-Its-Jesus-Calling-Should/dp/1517766869.
10. Owen, op cit, p. 568.
11. See the following Herescope posts, for example: http://herescope.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-battled-bride.html; http://herescope.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-battled-bride.html; http://herescope.blogspot.com/2011/07/ihops-new-breed-leaders.html; http://herescope.blogspot.com/2005/12/spiritual-war-fare.html; http://herescope.blogspot.com/2013/06/techno-dimensional-prayer-combat.html; http://herescope.blogspot.com/2006/04/joels-army-is-recruiting.html; http://herescope.blogspot.com/2007/03/emerging-apostolic-movement-will-be.html; http://herescope.blogspot.de/2011/10/c-peter-wagner.html.
12. Owen actually uses this descriptive term, contrasting it to a humble and obedient servant of the Lord.
13. This phrase is found in the lyrics to a Bob Dylan song, Caribbean Wind. Warren Smith pointed this phrase out to us.
14. Spin (public relations): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spin_(public_relations), links removed.
15. I was the President of Iowa Right to Life Committee in the years leading up to the 1988 Iowa caucuses. I have also had firsthand experience with many of the leading Dominionists.
16. Karen Swallow Prior, Ibid.
17. The current Wikipedia entry for Roger Williams is quite an interesting read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Williams
18. Warren Smith has a powerful testimony of coming out of the New Age movement. He knows firsthand the voice of a false Jesus. Therefore his warnings in his book and booklet tracts about the false Jesus of Sarah Young's Jesus Calling are especially poignant, and should be all the more seriously heeded.
19. We highly recommend Pastor Anton Bosch's book Contentiously Contending for those who are seeking to learn what the Bible says about how to contend for the faith. See http://herescope.blogspot.com/2010/07/contentiously-contending.html. Pastor Bosch says, in part, that his book was written because "I am deeply concerned that many who involve themselves in these ministries do so for the wrong reasons and/or with the wrong attitude. In the process they cause more damage than the very error they are trying to correct. My intention with these humble words is not to discredit or discourage those who sound the alarm, but to exhort such to use the right methods, with the right attitude."