For all of the fallacies that were in the hit film Inception (2010) I was struck by something that was the main premise of the movie and where the title came from, which was the idea that in the science-fiction world the film presented that if thoughts could be extracted from someone’s mind that perhaps a thought, a simple thought which would lead to a chain of actions, could also be placed with subtlety into a person’s mind; a simple thought or impression that would change the course of a person in their decision making process. I was struck with how true this is, how a person can have such simple thoughts put in them that over time they deviate in their perception of truth and thus their conduct from day-to-day.
This has been seen to happen throughout history, seemingly innocent fallacies and exploratory mind-sets that set the course of civilizations. The Enlightenment period of history began, without committing blatant blasphemy, to exalt man, giving us among other things an idea of inherent rights of divine origin that mankind has. This idea seemed innocent enough and was embraced by much of Christendom, but the problem is that the road such a thought led down did not lead to a cross-centered, Gospel-oriented way of thinking and reasoning over time but to subjectivity, humanism, and arrogant exaltation of the rights of man (namely life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness/property) over a sovereign God who has so mercifully worked redemption for men that according to their nature had sold their rights for a piece of bread and retained no rights except to rightfully perish. It is no small wonder that the root of secular humanism is in a thought, the mere tweaking of perspective.
That is why we leaders, whether in the church or at home, should with humble reliance on God’s grace seek to be free from all thinking that is not rooted in Gospel. I have heard many messages from many pulpits over my few years, some of them have held obvious error, very few of them were rock-solid Gospel truth, and a great many of them had a little something in them that was not rooted in Bible. I think that the later often came from preachers who were very well-meaning, but just not very careful. Here are some observations of why and how this may be happening:
1. The one speaking, whether in a small group or before a large congregation, means well and is well grounded in truth. In preparing for the message he hears a quote or comes up with an observation or anecdote that in his mind packages the truth quite well. The problem is that though where he is coming from with this thought may be clear to his well-grounded and mature hearers, it may be something that someone who is shaky in doctrine or a baby in the faith will hear and run with in a different direction than the speaker intended. Fathers should also consider this when leading family devotions as to which books they should use or what curriculum their children should be exposed to.
2. Another issue is perhaps when by the fear man, and this can often occur in cross-cultural, pioneer church planting, one will be tempted to articulate or avoid Biblical truth in such a way that will not offend, rather than in such a way as to make it most clear. This is wrong for many reasons and most who have been involved in the work mentioned above have probably been guilty of this at some point. The long-term result, if you are even succesful in planting a church, will be an eventual breakdown in the doctrine of the church.
3. One of the worst scenarios is that the teacher, with sin in his own life that he is seeking to justify, may decide (perhaps unwittingly) to tweak the paradigm behind a teaching and then feed that to his flock as a way of easing his own conscience as he sees the nodding heads of relieved audience members and they then will walk away feeling like, “Here is what that passage says, but Pastor —- says…. Isn’t that comforting that our Jesus is like that?” One of the biggest warning signs that we as teachers may be doing this with a passage is if we find ourselves inserting into one of our sermons a line like “…now I am not saying that it is wrong to….” or “God doesn’t expect you all to go out and….”
4. Many of us need simply a good dose of the Gospel and careful study of God’s word to combat the influences of the world. Much teaching goes awry simply as a result of the “inception” of thoughts contrary to God’s objective truth that have been planted in our minds over the years (via errant teaching, friends, education, entertainment, etc). Our struggle as leaders in this world is to be constantly combating lies.
A thought is a potent thing and most often it is a subtle thing because usually a cocktail of thoughts produces a perception, a worldview. If one of those thoughts is contrary to real, objective truth then it produces a weak link in our thinking process. No one is immune to this and at this moment every one of us has a number of weak links in our chain of reason, but this should not lead us to the subjective, fatalistic mind-set that “Well, no one has it all together” or “No one has perfect theology”. This is a dangerous thought in of itself! Instead, knowing that as fallen people that we have weak links, we should with great humility and vigor approach God’s word and seek a life of combating lies with truth, For, as potent and powerful as a false thought is (partial truth is false) truth is even more powerful for the Holy Spirit bears witness to the truth.
The bulk of this has been addressed to those that teach on some level, but sadly there a not many faithful teachers, though many mean well. The implication of this for the rest of us as hearers is that we learn to be careful, God-centered, truth-saturated hearers. The Bereans in Acts were such and we should aspire to be as they were, ever studying the Word to see if what is being taught is true. Glorify God in your hearing by seeking out faithful, truthful teachers for yourselves and not ones who will “tickle your ears”. Here are a couple of pitfalls for hearers:
1. How often I have heard a preacher say something that sounded good and seemed true, but the wording and reason behind it if followed did not lead to truth or agreement with the whole council of God’s word. I have often latched onto things like this, only to discard them by God’s grace at a later date.
2. Emotions. A sticky one that is tied to the first. We will believe something to be true because it resonates with our heart and feels right or we will interpret what we are hearing based on our emotional inclinations. A huge pitfall that will lead to the ruin of many. Our passions and emotions are poor discerners of truth. We should use Scripture to teach us what is true about what we are feeling or in spite of what we are feeling and not our use feelings to verify what is true. When we ride the wave of emotion we often fail to see the rocks and reefs lying beneath the foamy surf waiting to dash us to pieces.
3. The last of many warnings that could be written is the call to not harden your heart by grasping for words and teachings that will authorize the false peace that you are speaking into your heart in the midst of unrepentant sin.
4. All of this has so far been in the context of teaching and preaching but it should be noted that some of the most potent thoughts that are placed in our mind are placed there by sources outside the church which eventually leak inside. One primary avenue is entertainment. Through entertainment we are presented with a myriad of thoughts that run contrary to sound doctrine and we eventually find ourselves desensitized to these ideas. Beware of what you watch and read and what you allow your family to watch and read. It is not maturity to say “I am mature so I can discern what in this film should be discarded from my mind” for a truly mature person recognizes his fallen tendency to gravitate towards lies and with sober vigilance recognizes and rejects untruth. Flee dangerous thoughts, exposing them for what they are before they become rooted in your mind and lead to a course of action that ends in ruin.
Pastors, take care. Fathers, take care. Children of God, take care. Satan would wish to perform “inception” on you. To place a thought, however small, in a man’s mind is a powerful thing that shapes civilizations! It is not very often that we will overnight decide to deny the deity of Christ, reject total depravity, deny the exclusivity of the Gospel, etc, but with the right thought we might down the road and if not us then our posterity will. The Enemy can be very show great patience about these things, subtlety is after all one of his primary attributes.
There is much more that could be said, but I would like to close on a positive note. We can do war against the untruth that has bled its way into our hearts. By the grace of God, the light of His word, and the help of the Holy Spirit we can begin to replace the weak links in our chain of reasoning with unbreakable links forged of the unchanging, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God Almighty. Our God is faithful to keep his elect in the truth, so with that knowledge we should fill ourselves with the truth, knowing that he will root it in us. We can praise God that as the years come and go and lies arise and perceptions decay, that we have a sure standard of truth that we can always look to. If you look to God’s word and see where you have been in error, humble yourself, repent and return to the truth.