Be Wary of Experts


“How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?  When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). 

Someone said to me, “He may be an atheist but he has a Ph.D. in Greek and has studied the Scriptures in their original languages.  That gives his views a great deal of weight.”

I laughed.  Not even a little bit.

On the back of a book on prayer, a blurb described the pastor/author as an expert on prayer. I’m not sure why that offended me.  I felt as if one of my five siblings had claimed expertise in communicating with our parents. “What’s so hard about that?” I would have replied.  “They love us and are always available.”

I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just anyone calling himself an expert that bothers me.

I have read that FDR had an innate distrust of anyone called an expert. It’s not a bad philosophy.

There are so few people in this life who should be called experts on anything. Veterans, yes, and we will accept advisors and counselors and instructors.  But rarely expert.

I’m remembering that in the early days of Jimmy Carter’s administration, youthful Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell were called “consultants” or “advisors.”  Some commentator observed that no one should be called such until they are at least forty and have had one great failure in life.

Historically, experts have a spotted track record

What follows is from Columnist Walter E. Williams, Professor of Economics at George Mason University. His column appeared in our Clarion-Ledger on Monday, July 30, 2018…

–Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers predicted that if Donald Trump were elected, there would be a protracted recession within 18 months.  Did not happen.

–When it became apparent that Trump would be elected, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman warned that the world was “very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight.”

–In 1929, Irving Fisher, a professor of economics at Yale, predicted, “Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”  Three days later, the stock marked crashed.

–In 1945, Admiral William Leahy told President Harry S. Truman that the money spent on the Manhattan Project–billions of dollars–would be “the biggest fool thing we have ever done.  The (atomic) bomb will never go off and I speak as an expert in explosives.”

–In 1903, the president of Michigan Savings Bank advised Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in Ford Motor Company.  He said, “The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty–a fad.”

–In 1916 an aide to Field Marshal Douglas Haig watched a demonstration for tanks on the battlefield and said, “The idea that cavalry will be replaced by these iron coaches is absurd.  It is little short of treasonous.”

–I love this from the U. S. Commissioner of Patents, Charles H. Duell.  In 1899 he said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

–The New York Times’ own experts announced in 1936, “A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.”

–Isaac Newton (1642-1727), whose genius transformed our understanding of physics, mathematics, and astronomy, spent most of his waking hours on the pseudo-science of alchemy–the process by which base metal could be turned into gold.  He wrote volume after volume on the subject.  After his death, the British Royal Society said they were “not fit to be printed.”

–Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) achieved many great things in science.  But he predicted, “X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” And, “I can state flatly that heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”

The point of all this is to say that we can listen to experts but take what they predict with a grain or two of salt.

And a thought or two from Joe….

–We who dwell in the nation’s basement–i.e., the Deep South–pay scant attention to the number of hurricanes the experts forecast each year. We may as well ask a bunch of kindergartners.

–What is the stock market going to do?  No. One. Knows.

–People used to consider Seer Jeanne Dixon a great prognosticator for predicting the assassination of JFK, if indeed she did.  But anyone who paid the slightest attention to her predictions had to admit that she also said a ton of stuff that did not come to pass, thus devaluing the few times she got it right.

Scripture gives the test of a true prophet in Deuteronomy 18:17-22.  It’s not complicated.  The prophet must be perfect.  All his prophecies must be accurate. Otherwise, consider him a fake.

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, is on record as predicting that very tall men and women lived on the moon. They dressed like Quakers, he said.   When I asked an LDS representative about that, he replied that at the time, Smith was not speaking prophetically but just rendering an opinion.  So, that’s how it works, is it?  When his prophecies turn out to be right, he’s speaking in the Spirit. Otherwise, he’s just running off at the mouth and no more to be listened to than any other citizen.  The more discerning among us will want to question all the other revelations he is supposed to have had about God and eternal things.  Some of them have proven to be hoaxes.

I suggest that pastors never call themselves “Prophets.”  You see that ill-advised title on a lot of church signs. They are not prophets unless they are in the predicting business, and then they’d better have a perfect track record.

Personally, I’m a New Testament pastor (shepherd) and evangelist.  Just telling the good news. And that, my friends, has a 100 percent dependability rate!

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Joe McKeever
A native of Alabama and the son of a coal miner, Joe McKeever has been saved more than 68 years, been preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ more than 58 years, and has been writing and cartooning for religious publications nearly 50 years. He put in 42 years pastoring six Southern Baptist Churches– the last three were FBC Columbus MS, FBC Charlotte NC, and FBC Kenner LA– followed by 5 years as director of missions for the SBC churches of metro New Orleans. He retired in the summer of 2009.


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