Gurus, Groupies, and Gullibility by Tony Cooke

Gurus, Groupies, and Gullibility
Tony Cooke

gurus, groupiesIf you are my age or a bit older, you may remember the hysteria surrounding the Beatles when they first became popular. In addition to “Let it Be” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” you may recall teenybopper fans who were beside themselves, screaming, crying, and swooning in their presence.

This phenomenon of being caught up and carried away in a frenzy of unthinking enthusiasm is not restricted to teenage girls and rock stars. Sometimes it is far more sinister with deadly results. Adolf Hitler said, “What luck for rulers that men do not think.”  One of Hitler’s leading henchmen, Herman Goering said, “I have no conscience. Adolf Hitler is my conscience.”  The ability and courage to think clearly in the context of truth is essential if one is to avoid being deceived in large or small matters.

The very word “gullible” is thought to have been derived from “gull” – the bird. The words “gull” and “gullet” refer to swallowing and the throat. Gulls (as in seagulls) were said to swallow anything that was thrown at them. Likewise, a gullible person is easily deceived, accepting the thoughts of others without intelligent consideration as to their veracity.

Believers sometimes become enamored with certain charismatic leaders and blindly embrace every word they say, putting them on pedestals, and forgetting all of the Bible’s admonitions about our need to operate with keen discernment and scriptural intelligence. Not only does it take spiritual insight to discern the truth, but it also takes courage to stand up for the truth and not be swept away with the swooning masses. It is important to remember that not everything that is popular is principled.

I have been reading “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.”  This is a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who was executed for his opposition to Hitler and his policies during WWII.

In the Forward of the book, Timothy J. Keller addresses the capitulation of the German church to Hitler. “How could ‘the church of Luther,’ that great teacher of the gospel, have ever come to such a place?  The answer is that the true gospel, summed up by Bonhoeffer as costly grace, had been lost. On the one hand, the church had become marked by formalism. That meant going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone, so it doesn’t really matter much how you live. Bonhoeffer called this cheap grace. On the other hand, there was legalism, or salvation by law and good works. Legalism meant that God loves you because you have pulled yourself together and are trying to live a good, disciplined life.”

Bonhoeffer demonstrated what it meant to be an independent thinker. Educated in the midst of extreme theological liberalism, he defied many of the “academic giants” of his day and later actively withstood the evils of Nazism as well. I am not writing this to endorse all of Bonhoeffer’s theological positions, but I do admire his courage and the deliberateness of his thought processes.

Bonhoeffer’s independence reminds me of Paul’s tenacity and stand for the truth in the light of what he saw in the church at Antioch. Galatians 2:11-13 says, “But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”  The Phillips Translation of verse 13 says, “…the force of their bad example was so great that even Barnabas was infected by it.”

Peter and Barnabas were no doubt good men, but in this unfortunate moment, they became “groupies” who were simply following the crowd. In this particular situation, they lacked the insight and/or the fortitude to stand up for what was right.

The Bible provides numerous admonitions about the need to not be gullible, but to use study, wisdom, and discernment in our lives.

Proverbs 14:15 (MSG)
15 The gullible believe anything they’re told; the prudent sift and weigh every word.

Romans 16:19 (MSG)
19 I want you also to be smart, making sure every “good” thing is the real thing. Don’t be gullible in regard to smooth-talking evil. Stay alert like this…

2 Corinthians 11:3-4 (NLT)
3 But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. 4 You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed.

1 Thessalonians 5:21 (AMP)
21 But test and prove all things [until you can recognize] what is good; [to that] hold fast.

1 John 4:1 (NKJV)
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Not only does all of this involve knowing the Bible and being led by the Holy Spirit, but it also involves a skill known as “critical thinking.”  A few of the many definitions of critical thinking include:

    1. “Critical thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe and do.”
    2. “…interpreting, analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing information to form a good understanding, judgment, or solution.”
    3. “…an ability to evaluate information and opinions in a systematic, purposeful, efficient manner.” 

Being a “critical thinker” does not mean you are a critical person. We typically think of critical in the sense of someone who is always negative, griping, tearing others down, etc. This is not what we’re saying. Neither does critical thinking mean that you are narrow-minded or unwilling to consider other points of view. I remember a spiritual leader sharing about a time when he was listening to another minister preach, and he recalled that he disagreed with some of the things the minister had said. Instead of shutting him off because of a disagreement, the spiritual leader continued listening (even though he was filtering as he listened), and later, said this minister communicated an outstanding truth that answered a question he had been wondering about for years. He said he was so glad that he didn’t shut that minister off just because he’d said some things earlier in the message that he disagreed with.

Job 34:3 says, “The ear tests the words it hears just as the mouth distinguishes between foods.”

While we must be careful not to exalt our reasoning above God and His Word, God does want us to use our minds (guided by His Word and Spirit) in discerning truth. In Isaiah 1:18, God said, “Come now, and let us reason together…” Notice that we are to reason with God, not to reason against Him. Logic and reason certainly are not our gods, but they are tools to be used in establishing our beliefs and practices. This is why Paul said, “Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, AMP).

As leaders, God has not called us to be gurus. As followers, God has not called us to be groupies. And God has certainly not called any of us to gullible. May God help us all as we seek to discern, embrace, and proclaim truth.