Truth, fake news and Christian maths
Truth is the currency of the gospel so why do Christians embellish their stories with fake news? We should be passionately committed to truth. Christians rejoice in the truth so why do we manipulate it? Is it to make each other feel better? Is it something we have imbibed deeply from our culture? Is it because we do not believe that gospel message is powerful? Or we fail to understand that God is really in control, that Jesus is reigning at the Father’s right hand and his kingdom will be established despite all appearance to the contrary?
We expect falsehoods in our media. Fake news is a thing; stories are invented as clickbait for advertising revenue or political gain. All news outlets tell their stories from an angle for example last week there was this about the A-level results:
From the BBC: ‘A-level students have been awarded the highest proportion of As and A*s since 2012, amid changes toughening the exams in England’.
From the Guardian: 'The proportion of students in England gaining C grades or above in A-levels fell back this year, driven by a relatively weaker performance among girls.’
Both chose a perspective to push. If you were uncharitable, you could imagine reasons why each chose the take that they did. Truth comes in a context. Spin has existed as long as people have told each other stories. Telling a story from a perspective is not fake news, but it can be misleading or economical with the truth which is a fancy way of excusing lying.
I have coined the phrase, ‘Christian maths’. It refers to overstated reports about the numbers that have attended or responded to an outreach event. It is rare to hear that they went badly. Even events that were poorly attended with little response are inflated and rounded up, 7 becomes 10, 16 turns to about 20, etc. At a recent evangelistic event the speaker asked everyone who trusted Jesus to raise their hand and then told a story afterwards of how 100s responded to Christ, with no acknowledgement that most of the crowd were already professing Christ and the dynamic of the group meant many raised their hand without any intention of taking the message seriously.
Reasons we should avoid Christian maths;
Numbers indicate nothing. If we are to learn anything from the scandals coming out of the megachurch movement in the USA, we must learn this. Large numbers do not validate ministries.
It is a misunderstanding of the nature of encouragement. We should encourage one another with the truth of the gospel. It is Gods means of salvation, and there will be a day when a multitude will be before the throne of the Lamb celebrating. Our ministry now may receive a hostile response or an enthusiastic one. We persevere in the face of opposition and rejoice in the salvation of others and encourage one another with the promise of Christ’s return.
It undermines the gospel because we are not telling the truth. The gospel needs no exaggeration on our part. Spinning our stories directs our gaze not to Jesus but to ourselves. It teaches us to look for encouragement from our experience rather than from Him.
It stops us from examining our ministries honestly and working out how to reach out with the gospel in our culture where we are struggling to make Jesus known.
We are not in the business of spin but proclaiming the truth. And in our post-truth culture people desperately need to hear the truth spoken. We must be realistic about the Christian life now and the nature of Christian ministry. If we don’t the message of Jesus will be doubted too.