“Artificial Authority”: Why not all Opinions are Right and How to Know Who to Listen to

August 14, 2018

By Bill Jack

Believe it or not, Popularity ≠ Authority

If you were to peek behind the scenes into the world of radio or television advertising, you’d find that celebrities will often use their talents to endorse and promote products. Typically, the celebrity will anonymously narrate the TV or radio ad and talk about the unique qualities of whatever product they happen to be promoting.

Why do they stay anonymous? Studies show that if the viewer does not recognize to whom the voice belongs, the effectiveness of the ad is very high. However, once someone figures out the narrator’s identity, the effectiveness plummets. For example, J.K. Simmons who does the well-known Farmer’s Insurance television ads also is the voice for the Yellow M&M in another ad. If you’re familiar with J.K. Simmons, that will bring a new image to your mind from now on if you watch Yellow on M&M commercials, won’t it?

Actor Jeff Bridges is the narrator for Duracell Batteries and Ving Rhames, known for his character in the Mission Impossible movies, is the narrator for Arby’s. Is Bridges an electrical engineer or Rhames a gourmet? Does actress Julia Roberts really understand personal economics as she promotes Nationwide Insurance? What training or advanced degree is former Vice President Al Gore leaning on when he speaks authoritatively on climate change?

These endorsements are examples of “Artificial Authority” in which someone who has earned accolades or recognition in one arena then tries to transfer that recognition into an arena in which they do not have authority.

We’ve been warned

In Colossians 2:8, the Apostle Paul warns us not to be taken in by “philosophy or empty deception according to the tradition of men rather than according to Christ.” Why? Because Christ is the Maker and sustainer of all things. Christ is THE Authority. Yet, the culture encourages all of us, adults and students, to accept the authority of celebrities, politicians and academics touting advanced degrees as they speak in areas of life in which they have no expertise or authority—areas such as origins, life choices, sexual identity, relationships and even true authority.

Those educational authorities with advanced degrees cleverly lead myriads of Christian students astray in the first year of college. Sadly, parents often encourage Christian students to listen to their professors in order to get a “good” education. However, much of what is taught in the classroom and promoted as sound thinking comes from professors who assume authority beyond their expertise. Professors proclaim as fact the pseudo-science of evolution. Celebrities use their fame to advance the propaganda of the pro-abortion agenda. Politicians speak authoritatively from a position of biblical ignorance on the role of government.

Meanwhile, the Bible is constantly dismissed as irrelevant, at best, or at worst, denigrated as harmful to a student’s life. Yet, as Christians, we must remember that the Bible is the only reliable source of knowledge and the absolute final authority in guiding one’s decisions in living, loving, and learning. The Bible is the only True Authority.  

Amid the din of so many voices of “Artificial Authority” how can Christians keep their focus on true authority?  

#1: Have the right kind of fear

In Luke 11:52, Jesus told lawyers, “…you have taken away the key of knowledge…” What is the key to knowledge? Proverbs 9:10 tells us, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” Christian parents must instill into their students the fear of God rather than the fear of men. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Parents must help their children understand that once they fear the Creator, He removes our fear of everything—and everyone—else.

Christians may recognize that intellectuals, politicians, and celebrities may have authority in their respective fields, but Christians start with the fear of the Lord to seek wisdom.

#2: Remember these four words

Christians parents must constantly remind their students that the purpose of life is not fame or fortune, accomplishment or recognition, nor is it to achieve a position of authority. Everything a Christian does is motivated by four words. These four words should drive the Christian student to earn good grades, to master his subject, to study diligently, to stand out from the crowd, to achieve recognition. These four words put all of these lofty goals in perspective and keep pride from poisoning one’s character. The four words that motivate one to accomplishments, that drive one to seek excellence and mastery in one’s field, and that will keep one humble in all his endeavors are these: “Because of the Creator.”

When we are asked by what authority we speak on a topic or act on crucial issues in our lives, when we’re asked why we are kind to siblings and respectful to the elderly and seek to protect the weak, when challenged as to the goals we pursue, the answer that trips immediately off our tongue should be, “Because of the Creator!”

#3: Stick with the true Authority

Third, Christians must rely on the true authority of God’s Word rather than the Artificial Authority of man’s wisdom to determine what is good and right and true and pure and lovely. (Philippians 4:8) Man’s so-called wisdom untethered from the authority of God’s Word is constantly changing. People who might be very knowledgeable (just like the lawyers Jesus addressed) but do not fear their Creator certainly are not wise and should not be consulted for answers on life’s important questions. The Bible is the one true authority.

R.A. Torrey said, “The truly wise man is he who believes the Bible against the opinions of any man. If the Bible says one thing, and any body of men says another, the wise man will decide, ‘This book is the Word of Him Who cannot lie.”

Bill Jack

Bill Jack is married and has three children. He is the cofounder and faculty advisor of Worldview Academy, an academic leadership program that seeks to train Christian students to think and live in accord with a biblical worldview so that they will serve Christ and lead the culture.