Awakening to Theological Manipulation

by Dr. James Willingham

Theological manipulation is a reality, but most people are not aware of it.  Moreover, it comes in all forms, shapes, and fashions.  There is the manipulation of perfectionism, the idea that one can be a better Christian, if one will only adopt what the preacher, speaker, or writer advocates.   Sometimes, the effort being made is not manipulation but a sincere effort to help the individual believer to strive for a better commitment to Christ, one that involves a more successful and fruitful service.  On the other hand, there are those who discourage such efforts and even encourage a more base response (let us sin that grace may abound).  Some people hate some doctrines, and they will do anything to divert any attention to or affection for such beliefs (the beliefs can be the doctrines of grace or some form of eschatology or being responsible in conduct).  History is replete with such examples (one of the advantages of studying that subject).  However, if the reader wants to consider an extreme example of manipulation with dire consequences, let him or her reflect on the Rev. Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre.   Or one might investigate the crusade against the Albigensians in Southern France in the Middle Ages.  During the sack of one town, the soldiers wanted to know what to do about people gathered in a Catholic Church, claiming to be Catholics.  The papal representative’s reply was short and to the point: “Kill them all!  God knows His own!”  As a matter of balance, perhaps I should present an instance of Baptist intransigence and its consequences. In the early 1820s, shortly before his death, The Rev. Dr. Richard Furman wrote an article on the Baptists and slavery.  In it he made the statement that Baptists would write in defense of slavery.  Forty years later his mindset and manipulation (in conjunction with the mindset and manipulation of others led to the Civil War which cost the nation somewhere between 650.000 and 750,000 casualties.

     Eschatological manipulation with the portrayal of Russia as the Antichrist nation (which it was to some degree) could have led to an atomic war which resulted in the destruction of the whole earth.  Interestingly enough, the writers of such inflammatory views seemed to have prospered very well, Thank you!  More could be said about a variety of theological concepts which have been the means to motivate people to action, one way or another, and the controversies they engendered have been the means to advance the personal causes and agendas of individuals whose altruisms in the conflicts are questionable to say the least.

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