CHRISTIAN CON ARTISTS?
Postmodernists call us a bunch of "con artists."
Surely they’re wrong. Or are they?
Like it or not, today’s churches have been
refused by both the 1st and 21st centuries. Agree or not, the
"managers of the sacred" have been rejected by both the early church
fathers and a spiritually hungry, postmodern world.
It’s not just us. It’s the way we "guide" people
to the Good News. Today, for example, people no longer live
doctrines. They no longer find renewal in refined rhetoric—or dead
rituals—or high-rise institutions. And, they no longer trust the
power of the powerful—or the charisma of the charismatic—or the
motives of the managers.
Because postmoderns think we’re a bunch of
"manipulators." (Their word, not mine.) They think religion is
simply "a tool of the privileged to manipulate those who are not
privileged."1 They believe our doctrines are simply
tricks of those "in the know" to control those not "in the know." In
short, they resent being played with. They resent "con
artists"—whether in the church or out of the church.
They can smell "baloney" a mile away.
Why can’t the rest of us smell it? What kind of
mistaken consensus have we consented to? Why, after all, would we
close our doors to the postmodern world? And why, in heavens name,
would we reject our only hope for an emerging church?
More to the point, why would we shoot ourselves
in the foot?
"If you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate."2
Easily Conned and Easily Used
Of course, people have always been gullible.
They’ve always been easily manipulated. And, they’ve always been
susceptible to gimmicks and quick fixes—especially "the ignorant and
unstable" who "twist and misconstrue (the Word of God) to their own
In truth, though, the postmodern world is also
gullible. Only now, people refuse anyone else feeding their
gullibility—they’ll "just feed themselves, thank you very much."
With postmoderns, in other words, God’s "word" is no longer somebody
else’s opinion—past or present. It’s whatever postmoderns want it to
be, whatever best suits their purpose.
It’s a "make-your-own world."
We all agree that endless manipulations have gone
on outside the church. We’ve seen it. Skilled psychological
entertainers—hypnotists, mind readers, magicians, and the like—are
masters of manipulation and control. For example, our body language,
eye movements, and clothing reveal almost endless personal
And, mind-reading tricks often involve vague
comments that apply to anyone: "You’re outgoing, yet with a shy
side." Naturally, people hear what they want to hear and easily
believe that what they want to hear applies to them.
Of course, we’ve also seen the snake-oil
superstitions of voodoo, witchcraft, and "black magic" that feed so
successfully on ignorance, hysteria, and self-obsession.
Yet—ignorant or not, and subtle or not—some form of manipulative
skill leaves all of us open to fake claims and unquestioning
We are easily conned and easily used.
Faith or Flesh?
It’s much harder, though, to admit manipulations
in the church. Yet, "Legalism, superstition and magic are closely
joined by their emphasis on controlling people and events."4
Also, just as often, cleverly "maneuvered" emotions sin as much as
they save—distort as much as they disclose—and lie as much as they
For example, many of us don’t really know whether
our passion is God’s power or our power—Spirit led or lying
manipulation—unselfish or selfish—faith or flesh—eternal or
temporal.5 So, deception remains an unfortunate fact of
"faith" throughout the Christian world. The "word" can become our
destruction as easily as our salvation.
After all, seraph and snake live side by side.
Never mind that "Everybody’s doing it." Christian
faith was never intended to draw its significance from illusions or
superstitions. Though truly inspired words and rituals always point
to a greater Power, they were never intended to replace that power.
And, though revered symbols and sacraments always reveal awesome
depths, they were never intended to manipulate those depths.
"I fear that we Christians do engage in truly
superstitious uses of words and rituals."6
©2005 Thomas Hohstadt
1. David Lochhead, Theology in a Ditigal World
(United Church Publishing House, United Church of Canada, 1988),
2. Romans 12:6-8, Message Bible.
3. II Peter 3:16, AMP.
4. Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a
Conversational Relationship with God (Downers Grove, Illinois:
InterVarsity Press, 1999) p. 140.
5. Thomas Hohstadt, "Warning: Test Your Emotions
6. Willard, p. 139.