Cold Reading

I’m reading Ian Rowland’s book on Cold Reading, and how it works in the context of the psychic industry. It is excellent, and fascinating, and I’ve been trying bits out, which is fun.

Anyway, last night a thought struck me. I’ve not come across this kind of psychic reading in a Christian context, and I wonder if I’ve missed something. Let me explain what I mean with a kind of example.

Emma goes to visit “Word of Truth Ministries”, she is shown into an office of “Pastor Mark”, who has pictures on his walls showing bible verses, a seminary certificate, a photo of him on the couch with Pat Robertson, and a bookcase full of fancy theology books. Mark welcomes Emma and says

“As you know, God gives us each spiritual gifts. He has given me a strong gift of knowledge, as the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians. Some pastors are called to be preachers and teachers, I’m called to the ministry of prophecy. I’m happy to use that gift to help you, with God’s grace. Shall we pray?”

“Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for Emma and her earnest desire to seek your will here today. Please bless me again through your holy spirit, strengthen your gift of knowledge within me. Bless Emma with a gift of wisdom and interpretation, so she can understand and apply what knowledge you give to me. In your precious name we pray, Amen.”

“Now, Emma, I am just a sinner, God has given me a precious gift, but as it says in the bible, I still see dimly, as through a mirror. Only in the life to come will things be total clear. So as God lays on my heart different things for you, it is important you use your gifts an intuition so we can hone in on the details of what God is saying… are you ready?”

And then the cold reading begins, with things such as

“God is giving me the picture of a young man, whose name is James, or Jay, or something similar.”

Emma: “My father’s name is James, but everyone calls him Jim.”

Mark: “Yes, it is your father that God is putting on my heart, but when he was a young man. His parent’s used to call him James, I think.”

Emma: “I don’t know.”

Mark: “They did, yes, and he is the same age as you are now. And he is worried you will make the same mistakes as he did. You need to ask him about that, because he’ll not tell you himself.”

Emma: “But he died a couple of years ago.”

Mark: “Yes, I know, that’s why he can’t tell you what he wants you to know, so you need to ask the question: ask yourself what might he have regretted, what you could do differently? God’s heart is to avoid you suffering the same pain he did.”

… and so on …

It strikes me that the story surrounding the cold reading could easily be made to fit evangelical theology. And it strikes me that evangelical anti-psychic rhetoric (which I’ve heard many times) means that significant numbers of adherents would never consult a psychic. So there is a big market. So why hasn’t it been tapped? If it has, can someone point me to it in a way that I can find out more about the scene? I would find it fascinating. If it hasn’t, is there a reason why not? Even if you think Christianity is true, there is no doubt there are plenty of hucksters around looking for an opportunity. Why is this not huge?

Just to acknowledge, I’m aware of larger group events, like Peter Poppoff and other healing service folks, where cold-reading techniques are used (Poppoff famously used hot-reading, of course). But I was thinking more of this one-on-one reading-style format. Any thoughts?

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Cold Reading

  1. I think you forgot to give this post a title.

  2. Ian

    Thanks, added now.

  3. I think Ian was trying to get us to cold read a title.

  4. Hi Ian, just wanted to say that, as an ex-evangelical who has since taken an interest in cold reading, I very quickly made this association after I lost my faith. Although your scenario is hypothetical, I’ve had a number of specific experiences which, in hindsight, had the stink of cold reading to them. Most of the people were innocent (i.e. genuinely believed in their prophetic gifts).

    In one instance, we were actually taught how to prophesy (and, by extension, how to receive a prophecy), and then all encouraged to do it with others in the group. In another, a lady with a “gift of prophecy” handed out prophecies to everyone in our home-church (she actually gave the same one to me and another guy the same age as me, but told us the interpretation would be different).

    And I’ve hung out in the crowds where certain individuals were prone to “impromptu prophecies” where they’d get a word from god in the middle of a conversation. The air of acceptance and conformity was strong enough that all prophecies, regardless of source, had to be taken with at least a little bit of seriousness.

    These prophecies have had strong impacts on lives. One lady prophecied that my parents were meant to be God’s witness in the UK; a few years later we shipped off. My parents didn’t even bother to check if our schooling in South Africa would be compatible with the UK system. It wasn’t, to bad effect (especially my brother, who struggled anyway and was suddenly catapulted a couple of years ahead). Not that I regret the move (I’m very happy over here), but that’s some serious stuff to have come from a woman who didn’t even know us.

    A high-profile example is Mark Driscoll, who, in private couples counselling, will claim to see visions of the wife cheating on her husband (even though she denies it).

    It happens. All the time. All over the world. It’s just behind closed doors.

  5. Ian

    Thanks blot, and welcome to the blog!

    I appreciate the stories, it is good (if rather terrifying) to hear those experiences. I can’t imagine moving country on the back of a stranger’s prophecy, even less doubting my wife’s fidelity on that count. The more I hear about Driscoll, the more plain evil he seems to me.

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