Friday, July 8, 2022

The Power of Suggestion

A few years ago, I came across the results of The State of Theology doctrinal survey, put out by Ligonier, which had apparently found that an alarming percentage of professing evangelicals actually believe Jesus was a created being. When I looked at the survey itself, I found that this statistic was based on a question that went like this: “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. True or false?” A whopping 70% of participants either agreed with the statement or were unsure.

First off, it could very well be the case, and even seems pretty likely to me, that many evangelicals are fuzzy on their doctrine of Christ. I’m not disputing that. And the survey responses to this question in particular demonstrate that a lot of evangelicals don’t know what sort of errors to be on guard against.

Yet it also seems to me that the question is essentially a trick, or at least demonstrates the power of suggestion. The notion of Jesus being created sneaks in at the end of the sentence, making it feel secondary to what the question is primarily asking, and thus rendering it likely that many will overlook it and instead focus on Jesus being the “first and greatest being,” which of course sounds like something that should be affirmed.

It reminds me of the old joke I heard as a kid: “How many of each animal did Moses take on the ark?” Of course I confidently answered, “Two!” To which the other kid triumphantly declared, “It was Noah, not Moses!” This joke is effective at tricking people because the primary question being asked has to do with the number of animals taken on the ark. The person who took them on the ark is not being asked about, but assumed, which is what makes it easy to replace Noah with Moses without people realizing it.

Another example comes to mind. A teenager once asked me if Rome was still a country, by which I understood him to essentially be asking if Rome still existed today. So I answered yes. Someone else spoke up and said, “No, Rome’s a city!” Honest to goodness, I did know that Rome was a city and not a country. But the teen’s misidentification of Rome as a country simply fell out of my mind, as it wasn’t pertinent to the heart of his question as I understood it.

Similarly, in the theology survey’s true/false question, the primary concern of the question appears to be Jesus’s supremacy and greatness, not his status as a created or uncreated being. The notion of Jesus being created is assumed at the end of the sentence, and so people are naturally inclined to gloss over those last few words in the same way many gloss over Moses replacing Noah in the old joke.

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