Chris Carpenter has discernment on his mind. Well, that and train travel, apparently. But discernment is his main preoccupation. Recently, he had a guest on his podcast who has identified ‘7 Lies That Can Really Mess Up Your Faith.’ You’ll be happy to know that proper discernment fixes all of them! But you’ll never guess how to develop proper discernment. We’ll be tackling that question and more today!
(Previous posts about discernment: The substitute for critical thinking; How ‘Before You Lose Your Mind’ uses discernment for false certainty. From introduction: Acts 2; Wikipedia’s entry for Acts 2; possible 160CE date for Acts; no, it’s not historically trustworthy; the difference between Hebrew and Aramaic; Jesus’ likely languages.)
(This post initially went live on Patreon on 7/25/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there as well and should be available now!)
A quick refresher about discernment
Discernment is one of the official spiritual gifts that Jesus supposedly grants to very special followers. It’s simply the ability to identify whether a given message, situation, or person is divinely-influenced or not. People with particularly good discernment are considered blessed with the gift of discernment. But every Christian should have at least standard-issue discernment. Some folks simply call that good common sense, but Christians gotta Christian.
Discernment keeps Christians out of trouble. With it, goes the common conceptualization, they exercise good judgment regarding new information. Without it, they fall into mischief and error.
Evangelicals in particular stress the importance of discernment. One can see why. They’re among the most whackadoo of all Christians, with thousands upon thousands of competing flavors vying for an ever-shrinking pool of potential recruits. The more false beliefs a group adopts, the more important discernment seems to be for its members.
A long time ago, some folks in my first Pentecostal church thought I had this spiritual gift. Sometimes, I’d just blurt out something incredibly profound or insightful. But I also thought that speaking in tongues literally involved a real human language and that the Rapture would happen for 100% sure by Fall 1988, so I’m not sure how much stock anyone should have put in that notion.
Everyone, meet Alan Parr, who is very concerned about false teachings
Our guest star today is Alan Parr. He runs a YouTube channel called “THE BEAT by Allen Parr,” which is devoted to evangelism and preaching. The channel has 1.1M subscribers as of this writing. Depending on how clickbaity or au courant his titles are, his videos get anywhere from 30k-290k views.
His most recent video describes progressive Christians as hellbound. Videos in the past few months discuss Satan attacking “millions of Christians” and all the reasons that competing flavors of Christianity are dead wrong.
In October 2017, he released a video titled “7 False Teachings Christians MUST Avoid!!” As of now, it has 1.4M views, making it one of his most popular. And yes, he included two exclamation marks. He’s serious! These are super bad!! They’re two exclamation marks bad!! Here’s the video:
And last month, he published a book called Misled on the exact same topic. It contains quite an informative introduction. It seems that Parr got bitten by the zealotry bug in college in the 1990s. The group he joined, however, did not share his scrupulosity. They spoke in tongues, though they don’t sound Pentecostal. If he’d bought into Oneness theology, I’m sure he’d have mentioned it. Perhaps his churchmates were Assemblies of God, since—at the time at least—they spoke in tongues, but they were Trinitarian heretics.
This group, he says in his introduction, pressured him to speak in tongues when he didn’t feel he could. Apparently, some of them even tried to induce in him that state known as slain in the spirit. To become slain in the spirit, a super-psyched-up Christian touches another, and the other person falls down and seems to be in a stupor. It’s a lot like this video of Benny Hinn’s greatest hits:
But worst of all, his (male) pastor sexually assaulted him. Parr got away, though it took him years to escape that church’s toxic environment. In his introduction, Parr specifically notes that the pastor used Bible verses to rationalize his desire for men.
The next-to-last thing I want to note about his book’s introduction is the snide Jesus juke toward the end:
I am a Bible teacher, so it’s no surprise that this book is filled with Scripture. I know that’s not too popular these days, but God’s Word is what we need most.
That is just the chef’s kiss, right there. The last thing is that his list of “7 False Teachings” seem to have changed over the years.
This past week, Parr appeared on Chris Carpenter’s podcast Crossmap to talk about his book. In today’s post, we will be looking at the podcast interview, Parr’s 2017 YouTube video, and the Amazon preview of his 2023 book.
“Seven False Teachings” have evolved over the years
Of interest, Parr’s YouTube list of “7 False Teachings” varied quite a bit from the 2023 book. Four items remained the same, while he replaced the three others. Of the remaining common points, these were mostly rearranged as well. I was so interested in these changes that I made a comparison chart:
These changes don’t mean Parr lied or anything like that, of course. His priorities simply and understandably changed between then and now. One thing remained the exact same, though: the first item in both lists. He just changed his focus a bit. Now his list appears to be a general set of grievances addressed to non-Calvinist Christians.
Initially, Parr disagreed with how Christians who speak in tongues elevate it to a requirement for safety from Hell. By 2023, though, he focused way less on the practice’s superfluity, and way more on the way that tongue-talkers in a church look down on church members who don’t do it.
(They’ve always been like that. Source: Was a non-tongue-talker in a church full of tongue-talkers.)
Also of great interest, Parr does not mention his 2017 video at all in the podcast. At least, I listened for such a mention, but I never heard it.
Discernment totally short-circuits the twisting of Scripture!
In his book’s introduction, Parr refers to his ex-pastor’s use of Bible verses as “twist[ing] Scripture.” We could consider this the opposite of discernment. He thinks discernment prevents twisting Scripture from working on any Christians who utilize proper discernment.
Twisting Scripture is a fascinating bit of evangelical Christianese. It refers to the spindling, folding, and mutilating of Bible verses to rationalize a position that the judging Christian doesn’t like.
Just like we see with abortion, the only moral twisting of Scripture is the judge’s own twisting of Scripture. At such times, it stops being twisting Scripture and becomes discernment.
One very important variant on this concept is watering down the Word. Here, our judge has decided that a competing flavor of Christian has twisted Scripture to create a less harsh or onerous interpretation than the one the judge likes. Evangelicals often accuse a competing-flavor pastor of offering his flocks watered down sermons.
In the podcast interview, Parr describes the worst threat he perceives against “the Church” (meaning Christianity as a whole). Both derive from a lack of discernment: Biblical illiteracy and spiritual immaturity. On pastors’ side, these result in “watered down sermons” that seek to entertain audiences. On the flocks’ side, these result in a clear preference for such sermons.
As you have likely noticed, the Doctrinal Yardstick governs all of these definitions. It must, because all of them are completely subjective. One Christian’s watered-down Bible is another’s legalism, and vice versa. There always exists some other Christians who are far stricter than the judge could ever be, and others still who are far more lax. Without an objective measurement system, nobody in this religion can establish any objective lists of requirements for anything at all.
Discipleship leads to greater discernment, apparently
Remember, discernment functions as one of the named “gifts of the Spirit.” Christians think Jesus himself bestows discernment on specially-picked followers. But every Christian should be knowledgeable enough about the Bible to be able to spot obvious false teachings.
Ah, but whose false teachings?
I say that because I know of three separate claims regarding the loss of salvation alone.
Parr thinks it’s impossible because it’d make a mockery of Jesus’ godhood. That’s a standard Calvinist teaching, incidentally. If someone leaves the judge’s flavor of Christianity, that person was just never really saved to begin with. And those who believe this idea offer plenty of Bible verses to back up their opinion.
Other Christians think that yes, Christians can and do lose their salvation. This is an element of Arminianism, which teaches that humans have an element of free will regarding Christianity. And yes, these Christians have Bible verses too.
And as we saw last time we met up, a more progressive Christian at Redeeming God believes all Christians will go to Heaven. Some, however, won’t be hardcore enough for Jesus to appoint them co-rulers over Heaven. That guy offers Bible verses to support his opinion as well.
Just as Parr perceives competing viewpoints as “twisting Scripture,” these other Christians probably think he’s doing the exact same thing.
How discernment really works in evangelicalism
As I mentioned earlier, evangelicals completely lack a tether to reality for their Christian beliefs. Thus, they cannot use reality to judge any new claim that flies their way. They possess only one way to evaluate new claims:
The new claim has to fit in with their existing raft of beliefs.
That new claim can push the boundaries of those existing beliefs. It can extremify them as well. But it can’t pull back on their wingnut throttle. There’s no way anything can do that, barring some extreme event that simultaneously crushes a number of taps feeding water into the wingnut’s faith pool. Wingnuts only spiral further up and higher out. As a result, all one needs to convince wingnuts of any new claim is to ensure that it confirms and amplifies whatever they already believe. Their own antiprocess shields will take care of anything else.
That’s why it’s so funny that Parr seriously thinks that non-evangelicals will buy this book and be swayed by it. According to the podcast interview, that’s his big hope for the book. He hopes that a general Christian audience will read it, get all convicted of their doctrinal errors, and adopt his views instead.
(Convicted is Christianese for Jesus making a Christian feel guilty about doing something wrong.)
No, only evangelicals will take Parr or his book seriously. And they will only take him seriously if he parrots their existing beliefs back at them. If they share beliefs, then his readers will consider him quite a wise and discerning fellow indeed.
Anyone else will just respond to it with their flavor’s canned responses to competing claims, which we have already seen. At most, he might bag some people suffering from scrupulosity. People panicking about Jesusing correctly might well fall under his sway. But in time, just as he eventually did, they’ll find someone claiming extra-correct Jesusing—and they’ll leave.
Teaching discernment through discipleship
In the podcast interview, Parr had a lot of things to say regarding discipleship.
For Calvinists, discipleship is their endgame goal. It’s why they pushed so hard for literalism to enter Southern Baptist beliefs, and why they pushed so hard to get Calvinists into Southern Baptist seminaries. Literalism was never their endgame goal. Literalism was always just a means to an end. It allowed Calvinists to push through ultraconservative doctrines like a ban on women pastors—and support of discipleship. By now, even non-Calvinists buy into literalism—as well as its offshoot concepts.
In discipleship, congregations subjugate themselves to their church leaders and their lieutenants. They obey their Dear Leaders’ commands in all particulars. Those leaders harshly punish all disobedience. Leaders also carefully teach and indoctrinate their underlings to the point that everything underlings believe comes directly from their leaders. Followers may not ever hold any competing beliefs.
If this arrangement sounds absolutely freakin’ brimming with the potential for abuse, it is. It’s not even a red flag. It’s a black flag, end of conversation! I wish Christians knew enough to immediately flee any church that makes any moves toward this wicked practice. A church practicing discipleship is one hiding vast abuses under the surface. It’s only a question of when those abuses will break into public awareness, not if they exist.
Needless to say, Parr loves discipleship. In fact, he thinks that a lack of discipleship in churches has led many Christians to adopt false teachings like the ones on his list. Properly discipled Christians would never!
This is why I think this guy is a diehard Calvinist. It’s not just that all of his list items are Calvinist, though they certainly are. Discipleship is just a very Calvinist practice. Other flavors don’t really have anything like it. Calvinists push so hard on it because they think, mistakenly, that it prevents churn and extends affiliation. So if a church adopts discipleship, chances are very good that it will be adopting other Calvinist doctrines and practices. Similarly, if Allen Parr can talk a Christian into seeking out a discipleship-practicing church, chances are extremely good that that Christian will end up in a Calvinist church.
The pseudo-discernment that results from this rigidly-authoritarian indoctrination has nothing to do with “wisdom,” as Parr claims.
What I agreed with in these lists
That’s not to say I solidly disagreed entirely with Parr or his two lists. I already mentioned speaking in tongues, but there were plenty of other points I liked.
Prosperity Gospel, manifesting, etc: When Christians promise that Jesus can and will work miracles in followers’ lives, it can indeed, as he says, lead to great disappointment. Unfortunately, the Bible repeatedly makes such promises. Further, the Bible makes clear that miracles require the requesting Christian to have faith that the request can and will be fulfilled. Thus, if someone suffers misfortune or doesn’t get a request fulfilled, it’s exceedingly easy for other Christians to blame that person for having too little faith.
Prophets and prophecy not being the real deal: Yes, there are indeed tons of Christians styling themselves as prophets on social media. They make a whole lot of prophecies, too! Alas, the Bible says that the gift of prophecy is real. And evangelicals long ago stopped enforcing the Old Testament’s rules about false prophets. With zero risks and infinite possible rewards for prophesying on social media, nothing hinders any scam artist from opening shop.
Progressive Christianity as a threat to evangelicals: Well, yes. One of the biggest problems they create is showing Christians that there’s some other way to Jesus. Increasing numbers of ex-evangelicals find a soft landing with these groups. About half of LGBTQ people are some kind of Christian, as well, and they seem to end up with progressives more often than with evangelicals. At the moment, it’s hard to tell exactly how much of a threat they are. Researchers aren’t really delineating them yet. I can say that mainline groups represent more of the Christianity pie than in years past, while evangelicals’ share of that pie shrinks in comparison.
Unfortunately, Parr’s book won’t change any of that stuff.
Lists tell us so much about their creators
In the 1990 movie The Russia House, a normal guy (Sean Connery, having a blast playing against his James Bond type) acts as a spy for the UK and America in the 1980s. One of his duties involves taking a list of questions from his side to the Soviets. In the movie, various spymasters discuss the importance of such lists: They speak volumes about what their creators don’t know.
Lists like these “Seven False Teachings” tell us similar volumes about their creators. They tell us what their creators see as their biggest obstacles and their most potent competition.
In 2017, Parr’s focus settled on specific practices that he saw as threatening to his flavor of TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. And for the most part, they kind of were. But they were also specific. He didn’t like “manifesting,” which is speaking things into existence. He objected to Prosperity Gospel and denials of Hell. As well, he didn’t care for throwing out all of the behavioral rules evangelicals like.
In 2023, Parr focuses more on doctrines that compete with Calvinism. Even that bit about speaking in tongues relates to Calvinism, which generally holds to a far more regimented view of the topic. It’s not that he denies that it’s real (it’s not), but that he doesn’t want Christians to feel like it’s necessary or that it makes tongue-talkers superior to them. The same thing is happening with his objection to prophets on social media: They distract Christians from proper church-based discipleship.
My prediction: Like every other book of its nature, Misled will be loved by those who agree with it, disliked by those who don’t, and each side will offer Bible verses galore to shore up their position. Parr and his fans will claim that those who agree with the book’s conclusions are exercising true discernment, while those who disagree will lament their lack of discernment—and pray that Jesus grants it to them so they may change course.
It’d take a god, wouldn’t it, to tear down that no-man’s-land.
Too bad no gods seem interested in doing it!
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