I recently heard a story on The Moth podcast about a boy who followed the lead of another boy in picking on another child and it got them both in trouble. Why did he follow? Because the other boy was the fastest runner in the fourth grade, and naturally that gave him total credibility. I remember those days like they were yesterday, when someone’s athletic ability or attractiveness made them the de facto leader. In fact, they were yesterday—and today and tomorrow.
We live in a society in which credibility in one area is granted based on success in another. Actors endorse presidential candidates, and people listen. Musicians write books, and people read them. Athletes pontificate on same-sex marriage, and are given a platform. As egregious as these examples are, pastors are often lifted to even higher heights, as people turn to them for advice on such nuanced and complex subjects as sex or finances.
We have failed to recognize two simple truths. First, expertise in one area doesn’t grant a person expertise in another. And second, fame and influence don’t equal wisdom or discernment. We are such a status-driven country that if a person gains a significant enough reputation in just about anything they are given carte blanche to hold forth on any subject of interest. It matters not a bit whether they have any well-formed thoughts, all that is needed is a platform. In America, a platform equals wisdom.
Just because there are plenteous voices sounding off around us doesn’t mean we can’t gauge who is the pundit and who is the fool. There are four helpful filter questions we can ask of anyone to help determine their credibility.
Does the speaker have experience or obvious skills in the field on which they are expounding? Can the musician trying to author a book write well, or is your pastor a good financial example to follow? Expertise is not everything, but, if someone has it, it gains him a significant amount of credibility capital.
Are the values and lifestyle consistent with the excurses? If a person is promoting a political party does he have any known history of supporting its policies? And just in general, is the person known to be trustworthy and upstanding? If the answer is no, it’s an easy write-off.
Is the speaker doing so with logic and reason? Does his argument make sense and mesh with truth to the extent you are aware of it? Even an inexperienced person can offer wisdom and insight into a subject outside of their area of expertise if they exhibit the quality of a reasoned and clear mind and mouth.
Last, and most importantly, is the one expounding doing so in a manner and direction consistent with biblical principles? This doesn’t necessitate him being a believer, but it does necessitate truth, morality, and an intention to build up. People can only be truly credible if their insights are consistent with God’s reality.