The Authenticity Trap


Authenticity is the new oratory device of the day for Christians. Self disclosure and complete openness have never been so popular among evangelicals. The days of leaders who spoke from a strong tower of knowledge, holiness, and utter discipline seem to be numbered. Over the past decade I have seen a communication shift that takes speakers and authors from a place of strength and knowledge alone and puts them in a more honest, imperfectly human dialogue context with their audience.

the authenticity trap

I have personally enjoyed this shift. It resonates with my fallen nature and helps me to know that even those whom I admire struggle like I do. Lately I have been concerned with the inevitable abuse of the authenticity device. As the pendulum swings from the bully pulpit of years past into the self-disclosing conversational approach of our social-media rich environment, it continues past center into what I call the “permissive confession.”

In short, this type of confession is not designed to right wrongs or to make amends. It’s often used to find sympathy and grace from your audience without having to do the hard work of repenting, changing your ways and paying retribution. The “I have made a mess of things” disclosure without a change in behavior is the permissive confession that elicits support for the unrepentant.

I need grace and forgiveness more than most. I truly do. But I hope we are not creating a culture that encourages people to be authentic about their sins but excuses them from doing the hard work of making things right. After all, shouldn’t we expect our friends and leaders to change the very thinking and actions that landed them in such a mess to begin with?

Have you seen this authenticity trend of permissive confession?

  • This trend (toward transparency) has been a healthy corrective, but I have seen it misused. Not abused by a speaker who was merely honest vs. truly repentant, but taken by audiences as permission to flounder rather than grow. 

    I think the safe rule is to share stories of failure only when you can also report that victory followed. 

    • I don’t mind confession, as long as there’s repentance and correction. My issue is the “confession for sympathy but with no change.”

  • deandeguara

    I never pinpointed it like you did, but your absolutely right on. We should be free to confess our sin, but not have community around our sin. Admit it, but not identify with it. Yes, we are sinners, but we are saved from sin. Just some random thoughts…

  • deandeguara

    I never pinpointed it like you did, but your absolutely right on. We should be free to confess our sin, but not have community around our sin. Admit it, but not identify with it. Yes, we are sinners, but we are saved from sin. Just some random thoughts…

  • Excellent ideas here Maurilio, recognizing, admitting to self, and then confessing our sins is just the beginning… Monumental to see it in action. Then, I believe it is through the genuine (and, if I may borrow the word, authentic) love and encouragement of fellow believers that we can truly repent and grow from our sinful experiences. Loved your thoughts today!!

  • I agree and I also prefer the communication style of transparency vs. bully pulpit.  I have lived through both and much prefer someone being real about life than the “do as I say not as I do” method.  Accountability in steps toward Godliness is the result of relationships built in community in small groups.  At least that is what should come from them…I pray it is in our church.

  • I completely agree that the shift is good, but I’ve also been concerned about the “pendulum shift”. Having grown up in a Lutheran church, our messages tended to end with: “Well, we can’t do it, so it’s lucky we have Jesus!”. While that’s true in one sense, we also need to proclaim the good news that Jesus frees us to repentance and putting aside sin in the power of His Spirit. So long as confession is within the context of gospel freedom, I think it’s a good thing.

    • The issue I see is confession for confession’s sake or sympathy’s sake with no change in behavior. That’s the troublesome dilemma.

  • Andy

    Never thought about authenticity being a trap before, but I think you’ve hit on a truth here Maurilio. In many ways, it is easy to stand before a crowd and “confess”, under the guise of being “authentic” and “transparent.”  This pseudo authenticity can be woven into the fabric of a message and leave both the audience and the speaker with a false sense of having experienced a form of confession and absolution – what you term “permissive confession.” Love that term by the way. I see where this permissive confession can be a dangerous thing. Confession without change is of no benefit to anyone, least of all the one doing the “confessing.” Real change, the kind Jesus wants us to experience along with confession, only comes through real confession in a more intimate setting than a speaker being “transparent’ to his/her audience. This usually takes place within the confines of a small, select group that has agreed and committed to each other to be held absolutely accountable to each other. Unfortunately, most are unwillingly to subject themselves to that kind of scrutiny. We delude ourselves by claiming we are “accountable” to a select group, when in fact, we only share what we want them to know, thus, no change. Accountability, without 100% transparency, is deceit. Thanks for another thought provoking post. 

    • Very well put, Andy. People are using social media, such as blogs and Facebook wall posts to “come clean.” What they seem not to be doing is repenting.

  • Joni Hannigan

    I like your blog on a lot of different levels. Finding sympathy and grace in today’s world can sometimes be bereft of the consequences of ones behavior. Too many can use their influence to escape accountability as they point to how many followers they have and how many they influence–while neglecting the hard work of their main ministry, calling or vocation.  Very thought provoking, to read the last line of Andy’s comment, which I just now glanced at as I was clicking away!

    • It’s easy to be absolved by the crowd and feel justified as we fail to repair the damage we have done to those  whom we have wronged.

  • Agreed! Brilliant insight!

  • Keithfife

    Very good insight and right on target!

  • Mteston1

    My friend we are at least one generation into this cheap grace mode. It has won the day and continues to be the toxic form of good news that makes a mockery of the full redemptive work of Christ. God forgive Us when we peddle this as Gospel and provide no real redemptive power.

  • Derek

    Very interesting…I have noticed this shift as well, but never really viewed it from the perspective of disclosure to gain sympathy instead of disclosure for accountability to others for past actions and (hopefully) future changes.  Thanks!

    • I wish it weren’t going that way, Derek, but unfortunately it is.

  • Rick White

    Right on target, again.

  • I’ve already seen that permissive confession in action, and it really bothers me. It’s one thing to be open and vulnerable. I try to be as much as possible with my college students, because they want authenticity and can tell if someone is lying. But to just say you sin without trying to repent is nuts, and shows others that it’s ok. 

    We should be striving to be open and vulnerable in our sins AND in our repentance.

  • Wow! Good points. I haven’t seen it yet, but I have no doubt it exists. Thanks for the reminder to make sure I have gone before God and repented before I tell others about it. 

Share “The Authenticity Trap” by Maurilio Amorim


Delivered by FeedBurner