Who Determines Credibility?

Do you ever wonder how authority is established? Or how about credibility? Who (or what institution) determines that the comments/worldview of a particular person maintains credibility? For example, conservative evangelicals refuse to note as credible the likes of Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, and fairly enough any other Christian who disagrees with their religio-politico agenda. But who determines the "credibility" of conservative evangelicals? Better, who deems them as credible? Is their imagined credibility of divine origin? No? Then, again, who deems them as credible?

In college, none of the professors at this Southern Baptist school allowed their students to quote from John MacArthur's Bible commentaries, insisting that they are not scholarly; they maintain no credibility because they are not peer-reviewed. But even among peer-reviewed material credibility sustains a subjective prejudice. Consider the work of Dr. Robert Gagnon regarding the subject of homosexuality. Is he competent in his field? Yes. Is he qualified academically to lend opinions about the subject? Yes. Are there some who find his conclusions incredulous, unacceptable, and unreasonable? Absolutely! (I am among them.) Why? Because Gagnon is bombastic in some of his assertions regarding same-sex sexuality. (I mention this in passing and offer no examples.) The same is not true, however, for Dr. Mark Yarhouse. Though Dr. Gagnon and Dr. Yarhouse perpetuate much the same worldview, at least where homosexuality is regarded, the credibility status of the two are as night is to day.

What of the "credibility" of Bible prophecy teacher "Dr." Jack Van Impe? (His alleged doctorate is stated to originate from the unaccredited Pacific International University in an unknown field.) Van Impe boasts over 70,000 hours of study in Bible prophecy and dogmatically warns his television students weekly that the end and return of Christ is upon us; and there are people (even in my own family) who believe his every word -- he maintains his "credibility" by those who subjectively deem him credible.

What objective credibility do I retain? None. Nada. Zilch. I hold a B.A. in English and a B.A. in Biblical Studies. I once hosted a successful blog on the subject of Arminianism, including the life and teachings of Jacob Arminius and his successors, the Remonstrants. Many Arminians considered my writings authoritative and/or credible because I sourced all my findings. Many Calvinists did not consider my posts credible. Hence the biased nature of credibility and authority. If I had been a Calvinist blogger, writing in the same vein as I did concerning Arminianism, I would have been lauded by Calvinists as credible. But much the same sentiment is true even now of this blog.

I have struggled with the manner in which I want this site to appear and have wrestled with featuring the header, which used to be viewed on the Home page, of two guys holding hands. Someone could argue that I might gain more credibility by choosing another header, as though a different picture determines my credibility. No. Because I am not convinced that authors Moses and St Paul are condemning homosexuality, at least as we understand homosexuality today, I am without credibility to most conservative evangelicals. I could post pictures of the Bible, or of Jesus or a church, but that will not matter. What I write is what matters.

Worse, though, is that now my own relationship to God, by grace through faith in Christ, is in serious question to many conservative evangelicals -- I may not be "saved" because of this theological-anthropological belief. Yet, ironically (not really), LGBTQ-affirming folk now deem me a more credible witness to biblical sources regarding homosexuality. Should I "return to my senses," as conservatives might state the matter, then I will regain my "credibility" within evangelical circles -- and, of course, lose that "credibility" with LGBTQ advocates. Our collective incongruity is alarming. We freely offer and quickly thieve credibility toward others as though bias were a moral value or a spiritual decree -- as though we are the arbiters of pure and Godlike objectivity.

I could appeal to others that what I am in search of is truth but that will convince no one that I am credible. I will only ever be credible, mostly, to those who agree with my views. This may just be the proverbial plague with which we all suffer: we prefer to affirm those with whom we agree and find methods of disparaging those with whom we disagree. So, Southern Baptists will continue to mock the likes of Rob Bell, while his supporters will demean the likes of Al Mohler. Someone like Franklin Graham will continue his crusade against liberals, whom he labels "godless secularists," and we "godless secularists" will seek to expose him as a religious fraud. (link/link/link)

Are there not better scholars and worse scholars among us? Are there not better reporters and worse reporters, better teachers and worse teachers, better authors and worse authors? Yes, but who is privileged to determine who fits into those categories? I do not agree in toto with Dr. Mark Yarhouse concerning homosexuality but I do think he is a credible source and a rightly-perceived authority on the subject. I think David Barton, Robert Jeffress, and Kent Hovind border on lunacy; I think the so-called evangelicalism of Franklin Graham skirts literal insanity; I think the likes of Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Mike Murdock, Steven Anderson, Kevin Swanson and the Westboro Baptist cult are rank heretics who will split hell wide open. Yet there are some well-meaning but, I think, deceived people who praise those listed here. Do you see the problem? Credibility and authority are entirely relative and suspect.

At some point in the life of one who dares to publish one's thoughts, she must not concern herself with critics and those who deem her without credibility, and continue being truthful to what she regards as truth -- biblical or otherwise. As long as each one of us remembers that the Lord "opened the mouth of an ass," and she spoke (Num. 22:28 KJV), then be certain God is capable of using the views of us, too, for the benefit of others and for the glory of our triune God; even when those views are not those of God. For, you see, each one of us perpetuates error to others all the live-long day of every week of every month of every year. Our imagined credibility is a farce at best.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.