Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Prosperity Preachers: Joyce Meyer, Part 2

Our attention now turns to the theological works of Joyce Meyer. As noted in Part 1, Meyer has over 50 books in print, so to produce this series in a timely manner, I have merely selected some of these works and issue a caveat that these may not represent all that she believes theologically. That said, since it seems that these volumes in themselves were highly repetitive, it may well be that these gave us a fairly complete handle on Meyer's theology!

The books chosen for this round were:

  • Filled with the Spirit [FWS]
  • Power of Simple Prayer [PSP]
  • Knowing God Intimately [KGI]
  • How to Hear from God [HHG] - I listened to this one as a CD, so that references indicate the CD number, and the track
  • Secret Power of Speaking God's Word [SPS] - which, unknown to me, was mostly a devotional filled with Bible verses and passages

We'll first return to our categories used in Part 1 of this series. Then, we will look into a new category, in which Meyer presents theological ideas related to her charismatic orientation (and which may not necessarily be unique to her teachings).

Once Again...Misused Scripture

As before, Meyer's misuses of Scripture are generally no more serious than any that might be heard from a typical pulpit on Sunday morning, and repeat some we have seen before in her self-help books:

  • Meyer uses Mark 16:17-18 (FWS 112) and 1 John 5:7 (KGI, 286), neither of which is recognized having been in the original texts. This may not seem a big deal, but in KGI (145) she uses Mark 16:15-18 to say that God intended for us to speak in tongues, but she does not mention handling serpents or taking poison.
  • Meyer's use of exegetical sources remains lacking; she uses the questionable commentaries of Dake as well as the dated commentaries of Henry and Clarke. (FWS 117) While this may not seem to be a serious matter, it must be considered again that Meyer reaches millions of people with her teachings, and therefore has a responsibility (as one James says will be judged more severely) to be up to date and accurate.
  • Meyer continues to read Biblical texts in terms of modern individualism, a concept foreign to the Biblical text. She also indicates relational terms with God that are modeled after modern individualism: "[W]e are individuals and God will lead us of us individually" (PSP 2) in terms of how to pray; Jesus "loves to work with us as individuals" and God "leads each of us as individuals." (PSP 6). "Developing your friendship with God is similar to developing a friendship with someone on earth." (PSP 10) Out of exegetical whole cloth, Meyer creates "four levels of intimacy available to all believers" and depicts God in far too personalized terms again: "We need God's presence in our lives; we need intimate fellowship with Him. The world in which we live can be a frightening place." (KGI, xvi) The idea of closeness is wrongly justified by appeal (KGI 94) to places where God speaks to Moses "face to face" supposedly reflecting intimacy of a modern sort; it does not, but refers rather to directness of communication.

    KGI 290 offers another rationale for reading such intimacy into the text: "If God had wanted some distant, businesslike, professional relationship with us, He would have lived far away" rather than taking residence in us. But this fails inasmuch as in the NT world, even people who lived in the same house and lived in the same family had what we would call "distant, businesslike" relationships. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit simply is not sufficient grounds to read modern intimacy into the text.

  • Meyer also teaches a "midrashic" use of the Biblical text in prayer, what she calls (PSP167) "Praying God's Word". For example (PSP 177), she notes that a woman used Jer. 24:6 ("For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up.") as a prayer that allowed her to keep a job in the same company she was working for, as opposed to moving into a new job in another place. Obviously, Jer. 24:6 has no actual bearing on such situations. Meyer would need a prophet's authority to claim a verse in such a way; and arguably, she may say that she does have that authority. In HHG 5/8, for example, she and her husband had been treated unjustly, and they flipped to Zec. 9:2, which they took as a promise that they would be avenged - which they were, she says (though no specifics are given as to how). In the end, however, this leaves us again with a "burning in the bosom" epistemology problem (see below).

    On the positive side, Meyer does give some sound advice concerning the nature of prayer: It can be short and concise; there is no need to have one's eyes closed or use stilted, KJV language; body position is not as important as heart submission. (PSP 30, 32, 34, 45)

  • Meyer offers several quite erroneous, often dangerous, interpretations. Exodus 32:9-11 is used (PSP 149-51) to suggest that "God changes his mind" (see commentary here). Matthew 18 is misused in the same way as noted last time (PSP 158). Using Rev. 1:4's mention of the seven "spirits of God" (KGI 100f) she finds throughout the NT, by creative extrapolation, what those "seven spirits" are; eg, Heb. 10:29 = "Spirit of grace" and less creatively, John 16:13 for the "Spirit of truth." We are left to wonder why she did not find spirits 8 and 9 in Rom. 15:19 ("spirit of power") and 1 Cor. 7:40 ("Spirit of judgment").

Again...Confirmation Bias and Verification Problems

As a reminder, we approach this topic in terms of looking for:

  • A system which has an unsatisfactory accounting for failures which makes it non-disprovable
  • A system that too easily redefines problems out of existence.

These problems appear again in Meyer's theological works; indeed, much the same examples come to the fore:

  • FWS 122-3: In terms of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, "…these things are very hard to explain to anyone who has not experienced them, but once you have experienced them, there is no denying the reality of this wonderful gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit." If it is hard to explain, we are warranted in asking if perhaps there is nothing to explain.

    Similarly (KGI 131-3), Meyer appeals to the "experience of multitudes who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit" and manifested gifts - would not some strictly documented cases of healings, or of actual tongues (eg, someone speaking in a language they do not know) be better than a vague, anecdotal reference like this?

  • There is also another (PSP 264) "parking space" sort of story, as Meyer recounts how the Holy Spirit told her to leave a store, but does not know why: "Maybe God saved me from some harm that was coming my way, or perhaps the people in the store were involved in something perverse."

    We are not demanding, as Meyer puts it, that God "fit inside the boundaries of your particular religious doctrine." [KGI 132] Rather, we are asking her to show that indeed those boundaries are drawn correctly, and show this by way of evidence.

  • PSP125: Prayer may not be answered right away because God "is developing our faith and helping us build our spiritual muscles as we learn endurance through prayer." This is an example of the sort of "hedge" or caveat Meyer frequently builds into her system to explain why her instructions for receiving answers to prayer are not granted. Admittedly not all of these hedges are necessarily invalid (eg, God can say "no" [PSP 131] or will not answer fleshly, carnal desires [PSP 128]). But Meyer does not add credibility to her system when she makes use of such non-rigourous epistemology.

A Warmer Burning in the Bosom

The most serious of Meyer's epistemic difficulties remains her claims to have direct communication lines with God, that the everyday believer can likewise possess. Most importantly, we would seek from Meyer some idea how one might discern that it is indeed the voice of God one hears - especially as she notes that (HHG 2/7) God can use your own voice to speak to you inside so that you think it is you!

Meyer admits that she has seldom heard God speak to her audibly (for example, while driving, FWS 70-3), but regardless of the volume level, we would like to know more of discernment. In the end, Meyer's tools for discernment are limited to:

  • Whether one experiences peace or pleasure when listening (FWS 73, KGI 84, HHG 1/6, 7, 2/4) or gets "intuitive promptings" (HHG 3/1)
  • A test disturbingly like the Mormon "burning in the bosom". Eg, FWS 146-7: "Put this book down and take some time to pray about it and think about it. Study the Bible for yourself and let God speak a word of confirmation to you in your heart." Then offer a prayer "in faith and sincerity." And, KGI 154: "Search the Scriptures for yourself and ask God to reveal the truth to you." We can only hope that Meyer is unaware of how precisely this matches the test Mormon missionaries offer to those who seek to know if the Book of Mormon is true.

In any event, Meyer remains steadfast that the Spirit speaks to her in various ways about various things - in some cases, for quite important things, much like a conscience (KGI 40, 52-3) but also for the trivial (KGI 77-8, 220): She refers to the Spirit reminding her where she put things she has misplaced, such as car keys, glasses, and the TV remote: "Immediately in my spirit I thought of the bathroom and, sure enough, that's where it was." KGI, however, offered three points which are rather unpleasant indications that Meyer does not wish to know if she is only imagining these things:

  • 35: "I am desperate for the manifest presence of God in my life, and I know that I cannot live in the flesh and enjoy that intimate fellowship." If this is so, how willing will Meyer be to examine the source of that "presence"?
  • 66: Meyer said it was "in my heart" to give someone $10, and that she carried that desire for 3 weeks before asking God, "is it really You telling me to give this person the money?" God's reported response -- made "clearly" - was: "Joyce, even if it isn't really me, I won't get mad as you if you bless somebody!" In essence, this evades the question.
  • Finally, 92: "Close your eyes, if possible, and ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen you. As you wait in His presence, you can often actually feel the strength of God coming to you." Once again I was reminded of something in a prior review here, of Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth:
    Beyond this, Tolle extends into the realm of metaphysical quackery with much of what he offers. For example, if you empty your mind and focus attention of some part of your body, and this results in a "slight tingling sensation" followed by a "subtle feeling of aliveness," this is you experiencing your "inner body" which is "like energy, the bridge between form and formlessness." [52-3]

The only good test Meyer offers for knowing whether one is hearing from God in reality (HHG 4/12) is that we may judge whether a message is from God by the character of message. This would certainly be helpful in eliminating many types of messages, but it simply is not enough to offer solid tests which are needed for every other kind of message we might think we receive.

Satan: Not So Much Here

Oddly, Satan doesn't seem quite so active in Meyer's theology books, though he is still engaged in remarkably trivial pursuits such as (PSP 112) "filling our minds with ungodly thoughts about other people." He is also about telling people who speak in tongues that (KGI 141) "their particular language is just gibberish they are making up." This relates to an interesting issue we will return to shortly.

Meyer and the Word of Faith

I wondered in Part 1 if I might find evidence that Meyer was of a "Word of Faith" persuasion in her theological books, and I did find some evidence of this, only in The Secret Power of Speaking God's Word (SPS). Here there is no doubt that Meyer directly teaches a Word of Faith principle: We are told (xiv-xv), "When we confess God's Word out loud, the angels hear it and go to work for us…….we need to release [the angels] by speaking or praying God's Word." That's admittedly not much, and it may be tempered by the fact that Meyer also considers the psychological effect confession can have, and does not go as far as many teachers of this doctrine have in saying we can get whatever we want (xvii):

Do not look at confessing God's Word out loud as a formula for getting everything you want. Do it in faith, knowing it pleases God when we agree with His word. Enter God's rest concerning the timing of the results. God is faithful and as we continue to do our part. [sic] He never fails to do His.

Meyer's Scriptural basis for this teaching is rather thin. She appeals to Is. 55:10-11, which is God speaking of how His word will not return void, but says little about our own "word" doing the same. Also appealed to is Ezekiel 34:3-4, 7, 10 (xxiv):

Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: [but] ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up [that which was] broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them….Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD….Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I [am] against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them.

"These Scriptures are a striking example of how things can change by prophesying (speaking forth) God's Word," Meyer says. Indeed. But Ezekiel was a prophet, an assigned broker for God. The rest of us are not. However, perhaps Meyer believes that she is and that we can be. Even so, the word here did not create the change; rather, it predicted and authenticated it.

Thus we do find minimal indication of Word of Faith teaching in Meyer; little enough that we may perhaps attribute it to naivete. I also found no "health and wealth" teachings in these books. We may therefore close with a new topical section.

The Charismatic Connection

Meyer's ideas in the following paragraphs are not unique to her, but are part of a more general charismatic leaning, and I intend to address these ideas more fully at a later date in terms of the broader charismatic movement. Perhaps others make a better case for these things than she does. I'd like to comment on two things Meyer discusses: the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the use of tongues.

The Holy Spirit: Meyer affirms (FWS 9), "I believe there is no way to live in total victory without receiving and understanding the baptism of the Holy Spirit…Much of the dissatisfaction that many believers experience in their Christian walk comes from a lack of power in their lives, power which only comes through the infilling of the Holy Spirit." This is quite a bold claim to make, and one would hope that Meyer has something to back this up - by showing, for example, that Christians of a non-charismatic bent are having more problems with "satisfaction" or power than charismatic Christians. One can only wonder what Meyer would make of Billy Graham in this case. Is he filled with the Spirit and unaware of it? How do we measure this? Meyer does not say. Her belief appears to be based entirely on experience - her own, and anecdotal experience from others.

Tongues: We find no sense in Meyer that it is worthwhile to validate a gift of tongues, and little to validate that it is at work today in any particular person. Meyer says of herself (FWS 75-6) that she uttered 4 words in a tongue, and later, found a dictionary with some Latin words "that I thought looked like some of the words I felt I received when I was asking God to give me the gift" of tongues. Then she tells us, "I discovered that all four of them meant something like 'Omnipotent heavenly Father.'" Indeed? What were these words? May we verify the meanings ourselves? The tongues spoken in Acts 2 were heard and verified by natives (and so, experts) in their languages. If Meyer is speaking Latin, it is not hard to find a Latinist who can verify this. The apologetics impact would be tremendous. (I also find it curious that Meyer says that when we speak in tongues [FWS 121], "We are saying things in a spiritual language that our enemy Satan cannot understand." Does Satan not know Latin, or how at least how to look it up?)

Unfortunately, this is another area where it seems Meyer is not open to having verification done. The reference above to Satan trying to convince people their "tongues" are not genuine regrettably makes it easier to shut the door to verification. Her single reply to criticisms on this point is (KGI 147), "I doubt that many people are making up languages and spending their time talking in gibberish just for the sake of thinking they are speaking in tongues." Simply being indignant is not an answer to serious questions people have on the authenticity of tongues. In this, then, it is ironic to see Meyer then say (KGI 148): "Sometimes we blindly believe whatever someone tells us, never bothering to check it out for ourselves…." Perhaps just as ironic are these words: "Once people are fully immersed in the Spirit, it is difficult to convince them that they are not filled with the Spirit and that tongues and the other gifts of the Spirit are not for today."

Indeed so. It is hard to escape the idea that Meyer has indeed made herself "difficult to convince" - by not looking closely at the evidence if it can be avoided.

Part Two: Conclusion

Thus far, then, my evaluation remains the same. Meyer sees things as more rosy than they are, and actively avoids disconfirmation. In Part Three, we will evaluate some of her television teachings, as well as seek out and evaluate criticisms of her ministry.

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