Facebook Live and YouTube videos are all the rage these days and a lot of ministries and individuals have been using them to promote their work or their particular points of view. Some time ago, Apologia’s Cultish ministry decided to promote Lindsay Davis and her thoughts on Bethel. Lindsay Davis is an 18 year old young woman who was kicked out of Bethel’s School of Supernatural Ministry ostensibly for “preaching the gospel.” At least, that’s the reason she gives in her videos. Nevertheless, with the help of Apologia Church Davis has been able to garner a fairly wide following of folks and she now has her own YouTube channel where most recently she did a hit piece on the Pentecostal Evangelist Heidi Baker that has already received some 35,000 views at last count.
What I’d like to do here is not only review some of the content of the video on Heidi Baker but offer some more general comments about social media and how Christians might actually be misusing it. One of the things I dislike most about this YouTube/Facebook live video culture is that topics are considered, but they aren’t often considered with the sort of detail and care they might be in writing. We are doing a disservice to the church if all we ever produce is videos and meme-like material for believers, especially when we’re criticizing others for doctrinal or other errors. We need to remember that the Scriptures were committed to writing for some very good reasons and the best of what we have from previous eras isn’t in fact on any YouTube channel.
Next, of course, is the huge problem of equality that social media presents. Am I really supposed to evaluate an apologetic video made by an 18 year old woman the same way I would a pastor who has been in the ministry for 35 years? In one sense, the answer is very much yes because what should be evaluated is the truth of the matter. However, in another sense, the answer has to be no. Should two widely different voices have an equal say in any matter simply because they both have something to say? Do we need to pretend that each voice is equally informed? I would suggest that social media often levels playing fields in ways that don’t help the church and don’t help us with discerning the truth of a matter. In some cases, this can be a huge advantage for us but it doesn’t come without other risks. Social media has been profoundly capable in allowing people to speak in public forums that would have never had a voice before but that also presents a problem when the voice is uninformed, horribly biased, immature, or not even really telling the whole truth.
While it’s certainly true that any matter of disagreement between Christians should be looked at in light of the Scriptures in the spirit of Acts 17:11, that does not mean we do away with all of the proper distinctions and considerations a righteous judgement (John 7:24) might bring to the matter. So, that said, here are some things that bear consideration in terms of Lindsay Davis’ commentary on Heidi Baker and her ministry.
The first thing I’d like to point out is that Lindsay Davis says that Heidi Baker is not qualified to lead or be an evangelist in the church. I’m not really defending Heidi Baker here and really have only a passing familiarity with her ministry. But, has Heidi Baker even claimed to be a pastor sufficient to warrant the quoting of 1 Timothy 3? Does she have a church? I don’t know. But, why does an 18 year old feel qualified to speak to Baker’s qualifications when she doesn’t even know her or have any real qualifications of her own? There’s a problem here with how these criticisms come down. First, Lindsay Davis admits she doesn’t even know Heidi Baker so how she feels qualified to evaluate her is a mystery. But, more importantly, this belies another danger present in social media criticism like this. Is Lindsay Davis qualified to give anything more than her own personal opinion here? Yet, she invokes God’s name and the Scriptures in denouncing someone like Heidi Baker and accuses her of being demonic and imparting demonic spirits into the lives of those who listen to her. Furthermore, Davis explicitly claims that she personally has a duty to protect and warn the sheep — a pastoral duty. How is it Davis has this duty and when was she commissioned to do such a thing by her church? To me, this is a fair question to ask when you’re busy questioning the pastoral credentials of someone else in front of 35,000 people.
About five minutes in, Lindsay Davis begins to recount Heidi Baker’s testimony in terms of how she became a Christian and started her ministry work. When I watch her speak, it seems as if she tells the story in disbelief and with a fair amount of skepticism as the story moves along. I don’t understand the need to be implicitly critical here and wonder why the story can’t speak for itself without the obvious negative inflection present in its telling by Davis. What I believe this really signifies it that this critique is one that proceeds from particular biases already present because of Davis’ interaction with Bethel and her negative experiences in that regard. Or, at least, her tone opens Davis up to charges in that regard. It also strikes me as uncharitable. Is it really necessary to assume or imply that Baker has been lying about these experiences in recounting her story?
Of course, we learn later in the video that Davis thinks any kind of supernatural manifestation is more properly demonic or the result of demonic impartation. So, it’s no wonder that she recounts Baker’s testimony and subsequent ministry with the greatest of skepticism. But, the arguments she marshals against them are empty. One of the worst arguments offered is that manifestations are never seen in Scripture. This is, of course, an argument from silence and it also ignores the clear fact that the prophets and other biblical figures often used methods or engaged in behavior that today most would call extreme and discernment ministries would condemn (1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 13:21, Luke 8:43-48, Matthew 14:34-36, Acts 19:11-12). I’m not concerned to defend Toronto revival-like manifestations or Heidi Baker here, it’s just clear that Davis doesn’t prove anything arguing from silence and ignores the reality of religious experience as a result.
Equating the same sort of experiences of today’s Christians in so-called manifestations to demonic activity is also something that isn’t mentioned in the Scriptures so if Davis can criticize Baker via an argument from silence, why can’t others do the same with her own rather extra-biblical opinions? The Bible doesn’t teach that ministers of evil go around imparting evil spirits in people or even provide examples of such a thing. It’s almost like Davis has been watching too much Harry Potter. Her commentary here is simply theologically uninformed. Davis would be much better off just charitably admitting that Christians have notable differences of opinion on secondary matters of faith rather than claiming anything demonic is involved without warrant. I personally have no idea how Lindsay Davis can divine that spiritual manifestations are demonic when they have been found historically in different Christian revivals all across this planet, including the Second Great Awakening. I could buy the idea that manifestations are the physical and other outworkings of extreme religious enthusiasm, but the run to call them demonic seems out of place and wholly unnecessary.
I can certainly appreciate Lindsay Davis’ own religious enthusiasm in being so young and willing to spend so much time and energy producing videos on her experiences and how she views certain Christian figures in ministry. But, this is yet another place where I believe ministries like Apologia need to exercise some amount of judgement and care in making celebrities out of people in evangelical subcultures using social media. Lindsay Davis really needs time to process the experiences she’s already been exposed to and much more in the way of theological training and discipline before capable criticisms of the Pentecostal movement can be offered. For Apologia and other ministries, the capability to reach ever more numbers of people through social media and the Internet increases our responsibility to use that technology both graciously and with great care as to the truth of the matter. We certainly need watchmen on the wall to guard the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” and to keep people from error. But, we need to make sure our soldiers are capably trained and working with the real truth of the matter. Much as I think social media has huge things to offer the church, we still have to use it wisely and responsibly.