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One of my favorite bloggers to follow is Vox Day.

I follow him not necessarily because I care what he is talking about. I follow him to learn how to analyze anything.

In my reckoning, the most valuable video/post Vox ever produced is called “7 Signs of an Intellectual Charlatan.” The video is well worth watching in its entirety.

Identifying charlatans is a skill that is woefully lacking among the Body of Christ today. And I am indebted to Vox for pointing out the core patterns of charlatanry. In retrospect, it seems obvious. But until it was pointed out to me, I didn’t quite know how to tell whether I was being duped or not.

So with the aim of equipping fellow believers to avoid the craftiness of false teachers, I’d like to share some observations on how Vox’s Charlatan framework applies specifically to deception in the church.

The 7 Signs of a Religious Charlatan

1. Uses imprecise biblical terms – Under the teaching of a charlatan, the Scripture loses it’s precision. For example, “sexual immorality” is made out to be anything from seeing a nude woman, touching yourself, or “pressuring” your wife to have sex. This gives religious authorities great leverage for guilt manipulation over men. But a quick check in a Greek lexicon shows that the word was simply used to describe prostitution and other forms of promiscuous sex.

2. Does not accurately quote the Scriptures – There’s a reason that Satan deceived Eve through the spoken word. It was easier to misquote God while still sounding correct. Always check what the Scripture in question actually says before believing a teacher. You’d be surprised how often it’s blatantly misquoted.

3. Uses theological jargon to answer simple questions – there are many things in the Bible that appear to contradict church doctrine. For example, the Bible teaches that God desires all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), yet church doctrine teaches that, at least so far, most people have gone to hell. So a simple question is, does this mean God is not able to bring about what he desires? An honest person will admit he doesn’t know yet or will have a straight answer. A charlatan will provide a long-winded theological explanation that leaves you scratching your head.

4. Uses systematic theology and catechisms to justify his answers – Religious Charlatans utilize the coherence theory of truth (do the ideas logically fit together?) rather than the correspondence theory of truth (does the idea accurately describe what I can observe?). Systematic theologies and catechisms are the most effective way to make blatant errors acceptable. The Apostle Paul warns us that immature believers are “being carried about by every wind of teaching, by human caprice, by craftiness with a view to the systematizing of the deception.” (Eph 4:14, Concordant Literal Version)

5. Quotes Bible teachers and theologians rather than the Scriptures – There’s nothing wrong with quoting other teachers to reinforce a biblical truth. But it should be an immediate red flag if the opinion of a famous teacher or theologian is used as the basis for an argument. Powerful rhetoric does not equal biblical truth.

6. Ignores the context – There is a world of difference between quoting what the Bible says and understanding what it means in context. Just because the Bible says something that can support an argument doesn’t mean that’s what the author meant or that what was said is even relevant to us. As Paul instructed Timothy: “Endeavor to present yourself to God qualified, an unashamed worker, correctly cutting the word of truth.” It’s the correct “cutting” of the word that matters. God does not give bonus points for creative uses of His Word.

7. Talks about the value of “theological training” instead of knowing the Scriptures – “Theological training” is code word for indoctrination. The more a mind can be trained to follow the pleasant grooves of a perfectly coherent system, the less he will question the underlying assumptions of the system. And the longer he is trained, the more he believes he is correct and the more passionately he will defend his inherited doctrines when they are criticized. Thus is error propagated into the church.