Monday, November 5, 2012

The Propserity Preachers: T. D. Jakes, Part 1

From the July 2009 E-Block. Part 2 will be Wednesday unless something noteworthy happens.

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Our next subject in the Prosperity Preachers series is T. D. Jakes. Examining Jakes in succession after Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer produced, as before, a sense of déjà vu: By now, I am wondering if all three of these authors employ the same ghost writer, for in many cases - especially with exhortational material - it seemed as though I could cut and paste material from each of the three authors' books and replace it in another, such that there would be no material difference in content. 

But this is not so much a point against these authors as individuals, perhaps, as it is a point against the genre of self-help literature. I am hoping by now that people are not buying books by all of these authors, becoming "addicted" to self-help literature, as it were, using it as a sort of drug rather than addressing whatever lies at the heart of their personal difficulties. 

Jakes, to be sure, does not present us with perfect mirror images of Osteen and Meyer. Most of his books (there are at least 20) are of the "personal advice" nature, and Jakes seems to have rarely stepped into theological matters, and then to no serious depth beyond what was required for a self-help message. He does not present us with the excited tone of Osteen or Meyer; but his language is often frank and straightforward, in a way that some who are less sensitive may not appreciate: e.g., referring to believers being "impregnated" by the Holy Spirit so that they may bear the fruit of the Spirit. 

The books surveyed for this article are as follows: 

Maximize the Moment [MM]
Before You Do [BYD]
Peaks and Valleys [PAV]
The Ten Commandments of Working in a Hostile Environment [10C]
Intimacy with God [IWG]
Release Your Anointing [RYA]

As with our critiques of Osteen and Meyer - I will note this for the benefit of new subscribers - there are certain caveats. I am aware that the above is a sample only of Jakes' material; it is simply impracticable to read all of them at this time. Thus any findings here may be subject to further reports.

My second article on Jakes, in the next issue of the E-Block, will consist of evaluations of some of his televised material, and of criticisms made of Jakes. The two charges made most frequently against Jakes, that I have seen, are:

Jakes is a member of the Word-Faith movement. He is accused of offering prosperity teachings.

Jakes teaches a heretical view of the Trinity. Jakes is said to teach a variant called modalism, also associated with the Oneness Pentecostals. In this view, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are merely "faces" presented by the one God; they do not exist as separate persons. 

I will say to begin that I did not find sufficient evidence to support either of these views in the books surveyed. But when I seek out criticisms of Jakes, I will see what might be offered in support of these criticisms. For now, my approach as with Osteen and Meyer is to try to retain the highest objectivity before reaching a conclusion.

We'll now proceed with the same questions that have been asked of Osteen and Meyer.

Does Jakes Misapply Scripture?

For the third time, our answer is "yes, with a caveat" - I found a fair number of examples of poor use of Scripture, but no more so and of no worse quality than might be heard in any Baptist or Presbyterian church on a Sunday morning. And again, the most frequent errors involved anachronism, or midrashic application of the text. For example:

MM 27: Satan played on Adam and Eve's "desire to be loved and valued, their desire to feel good in the moment without considering who their Lord had created them to be." Such self-perception and dependence on feeling good simply would not exist in the ancient society of the Bible.

BYD 260: A common misapplication of Matthew 5, in which the "peacemakers" commended by Jesus are said to refer to those who stop conflict from happening. As we have noted elsewhere, the idea of "peace" in the Biblical world simply meant order and stability - such as was often achieved by means such as brute force (e.g., the "Pax Romana" or "peace of Rome," as enforced by Roman military might).

PV 18: It is said, "Jesus was able to ask Peter, 'Who do you say that I am?' because He already knew the answer!...to ask someone to define you without first knowing the answer within yourself is dangerous." This is perhaps true in a modern, individualist society, but in the collectivist world of the Bible, one always defined one's self by way of what other said, without any reference to what answer they may have had "within themselves." In essence, Jakes has unwittingly referred to a normal mode of personality development in collectivist societies as "dangerous."

That said, Jakes commendably tells readers that they should seek their identity in Christ (something that would cohere precisely with a collectivist orientation; see here) and the statement (PV 59) that Jesus' ministry "could not begin until the Father laid hands upon Him by endorsing Him in the midst of the crowd" also reflects that sort of view. Jakes may not realize that this ideologically contradicts his statement made on p. 18 above.

PV 50: Jakes refers to John's descriptions of Jesus in Revelation: "...John said Jesus' feet looked like they had been in the fire..." From this, Jakes midrashically concludes that the appearance of Jesus' feet meant that he has been through trials and tribulations, and uses this as a point of exhortation.
The appearance of Jesus' feet in terms of bronze reflects pictures such as the one found in Daniel 7, where the figure of the Son of Man is similarly described (but with arms and legs of bronze), as well as divine figures in even pagan representations. Midrashic extension to the trials Jesus went through are without warrant.

10 C 115: An anachronistic application is made in which David, engaged in playing a harp for Saul, is paralleled to experiences in a modern workplace: "David had that sought-after ability to work effectively with difficult people." It is doubtful that this is a better explanation than one which concerns the politics involved in a member of a prominent and wealthy family like Jesse's (David) being pledged into contractual service to the king of the nation. It is also rather too much to place Saul's assassination attempts under the rubric of him as a "difficult person" as though he were a fellow office worker stealing one's paperclips or hoarding the coffee machine.

IG 12: Paul is described as a "multicultural person" because he knew many languages, traveled widely, etc. The sentiments associated with what we today call "multiculturalism" simply did not exist at this time. Paul did these things for practical purposes, not because he had any special appreciation for cultural variety or diversity.

RYA 47: Jakes makes use of 1 John 5:7, though this was clearly not in the original of 1 John (see here). Elsewhere he makes use of Mark 16:19, which was also not in the original text.

As a whole, however, I found that Jakes used the Biblical text responsibly, not deviating from its meaning to any significant or abusive extent in these books. He would do well, however, to make better use of scholarly source material. As indicated in IG 131-2, his sources include badly outdated commentaries by authors like Adam Clarke and Matthew Henry; but he also makes use of some that were composed closer to modern day.

Confirmation Bias and Verification Problems

I noted in reports on Osteen and Meyer problems that are encapsulated in the following, in which I discussed how those writers claimed that unfortunate circumstances ought to be read in terms of God blessing people: e.g., if we get a poor parking space, Osteen and Meyer would say, "God may have made that happen so you could get exercise, or miss an accident, etc." To this I said:
Atheist Dan Barker, in his original book Losing Faith in Faith…tells much the same story of his quests for parking spaces - even having used the same Scripture that Osteen does, Romans 8:28: "All things work together for good to them that love the Lord." Before long, the logical strain becomes apparent: What of the person whose delay in finding a space caused them to get into an accident? To be sure, we are counseled to always be thankful to God, and we should be. Nevertheless, if we persist in a vision of God as a micromanager to this extent, then inevitably, we are compelled to rationalization as Barker was, ending up as he did, driving in random directions under the prompting of an inner voice, and ending up in the middle of a vacant lot thinking it was a test of our faith.

I am not saying of course that God cannot by His power arrange for a good parking space! However, I do find it presumptuous to think that He does such things on the microscopic scale that Osteen envisions. To claim this is to leave the system open to rationalization at the crux point of failures. (As for Romans 8:28, it is probably best to read it as referring to God working out things for "those that love him" in a collective sense -- that is, the church, as in the whole of the passage -- rather than for individual concerns.)
Jakes himself offers some of this type of thinking, though it appears far less often than in the prior writers:

PV 132: "...God may be grooming you right now for a new level by exposing you to opposition and criticism."

RYA 123:"Why aren't more believers hearing from God? Many are not walking in obedience and do not have the fullness of the Holy Ghost. Jesus only reveals His secrets to those who are trustworthy and have intimate fellowship with Him."

10 C 10: "...ultimately, no, God wants much more for you than what your present workplace requires you to endure. The reality is that God often uses ordinary circumstances as a training ground to perfect our character."

10 C 124: "So often God uses trials with these difficult persons to build our character and to increase our own store of maturity and wisdom...be grateful when difficult personalities create challenges in your workplace and know that God is indeed equipping you for your future."

These four examples pale in comparison to the frequent and insistent use of such reasoning by Osteen and Meyer. To that extent, I would consent to an opinion that it is less of a "stopgap" measure for Jakes and more of an earnest attempt to see God's actions in the world: For the more frequently such appeals are made, the less believable they become.

Even so, the logical difficulty involved here - the confirmation bias - does not change. We should be cautious about using such explanations ("Maybe God is trying to do X") when evidence of divine activity is lacking; and the more mundane and unimportant the event, it is fair to say, the less likely such involvement is.

Question: Is Jakes of the "Word-Faith" movement?

Most of the books in the above list (and Jakes' books as a whole) have little in the way of theology to offer, and so I found little that was relevant to the question. The commentary I found that came closest to sounding like "Word Faith" theology was in IG, where Jakes speaks of having the faith of Jesus Christ:

IG 65-67: "Our confidence to move into deeper spiritual waters and take on spiritual adversaries does not rest in our own faith, but the faith of Jesus who lives and abides within us."

According to Jakes, faith gives us confidence and boldness. This is not out of line with the contextual understanding of faith (see here) as loyalty though it is not inherent to its meaning.

IG 72: "The only thing that was alive when Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was His faith-spoken words."

IG 72-3: "Jesus went to His death and the grave and hell believing that the Father would raise Him up. He rose from death and the grave and ascended to His Father because of His believing and the Father's response to His believing….Jesus proved that faith in God's Word works!"

These last two sentences do sound uncomfortably like Word-Faith theology. But if we take Jakes' definition of "faith" in terms of something that inspires confidence, it does not quite reach Word-Faith theology. Rather, this seems to become something more on the order of a cause-effect relationship between our faith and our action. To that extent, this would cohere with the contextual definition of faith, inasmuch as one could say (with respect to the last quote) that a "faithless" Jesus would not have been raised, because the Father would not enact the Resurrection of an ungrateful, disloyal subject. (Whether Jakes understood his words in this own sense, however, is open to question.)

There is further good reason to read the above in a more charitable way: It is also clear that Jakes does not maintain a "get whatever you want by the power of faith" approach:

MM 95: "Prayer releases the favor of God while work releases the force of man. When God's favor coincides with your force, you become unstoppable. I am always saddened by the many Christians who think that prayer replaces effort. It will not."

PV 27: "No amount of praying through parched lips and tear-stained eyes will cause God to avert what He knows is best for you."

PV 123: "Anytime you use prayer to change God, who is perfect, instead of using prayer to change yourself, you are miserable. Stop manipulating God!"
Here, it is said that the Father is the source for what is fulfilled in faith, which is not in agreement with Word-Faith principles:

IG 84: "What the Father commands us to do and equips us to do is done...When we speak His Word by His faith and in His name, we will always accomplish what He wants accomplished!"

It is also clear that Jakes does not adhere to the common Word-Faith proposition of prosperity as a sign of holiness:

BYD 85-86: Jakes comments concerning churches where a display of wealth becomes more important than learning to love God - he does not have a positive view of them!

PV 52: "Christianity's foundation is not built upon elite mansions, stocks and bonds, or sports cars and cruise-control living. All these things are wonderful if God chooses to bless you with them. However, to make finances the symbol of faith is ridiculous. The Church is built on the backs of men who withstood discomfort for a cause."

IG 16-17: "You obey [God] regardless of how you feel at any given moment or about any given thing...How many Christians today would be willing to go to a city and preach the Gospel if they knew the result of their obedience could be imprisonment or death?"

IG 103-4: "I'm not against prosperity, and I believe in being healthy and blessed, but let me assure you that the people listed in Hebrews 11 - the great giants of faith - didn't prove their faith by the things they acquired or by how much they possessed at the time of their death!"

It is certainly hard to imagine a certified "prosperity" teacher making such a statement.

And finally, Jakes seems to separate himself from what he considers to be a more radical position on the role of faith:

PV 51: "The fanaticism of some faith theology has intimidated many Christians from faith concepts as they relate to the promises of God...Faith cannot alter purpose; it only acts as an agent in to assist in fulfilling the predetermined purpose of God."

"All of us may not have to die for Christ in the physical sense, but we must all die to self in the spiritual sense."

IG 22: "If we don't understand what the Church is and ignore the New Testament epistles, humanism will pass for the Church, psychic readers will pass for prophets, mind-power and familiar spirits will pass for the Holy Spirit, positive thinking will pass for faith, and Satan's supernatural ability will pass for God's presence and power."

In summary: While some of Jakes' comments on faith are not in coherence with the contextualized understanding, some of them surprisingly are. In this regard he is indeed farther from error on this point than either Osteen or Meyer were.

Question: Is Jakes a modalist?

As noted, there was not much in the way of theology in any of these books - even the most theological ones - but in what few relevant comments there were I found no sign of modalism. The persons of the Trinity are spoken of as separate persons.

The most direct statement on the Trinity has Jakes merely declining to comment on the mechanics of the doctrine:

RYA 47: "The concept of the Godhead is a mystery that has baffled Christians for years. With our limited minds we try to comprehend a limitless God."

Jakes then notes (but does not endorse) the ice/water/stream analogy, and an analogy whereby a man can be a father, son and husband. But he bypasses any further comment and moves on to role of Spirit in life of believer.

These two analogies, unfortunately, do tend to represent the modalist view of the Trinity. But at the same time, I have heard the first one used by orthodox Trinitarians, who are apparently unaware of its inappropriateness. I can reach no conclusion from these sparse comments that Jakes actually endorses a modalistic view of the Trinty - as opposed to being someone who does not realize the inappropriateness of the analogies.

One comment does suggest, unfortunately, that Jakes is not particular about such issues:

BYD 77: "Too often constituents align themselves in the church with certain doctrines, dogma, and denominations. Instead of inspiring unity, it frequently results in factions, divisions, and disputes over issues that need not become the focal point."

If this is inclusive of foundational doctrines like the Trinity - then it would be indeed an unfortunate statement.

I am aware of some serious charges that have been made in this regard and will investigate them more closely in Part 2 of this series. Elsewhere Jakes has been criticized for using some very specific language associated with modalism, and we will check into this in detail.

Charismatic Issues

As with Meyer, certain issues emerge from Jakes' alignment with charismatic theology. However, they do not show up with the same frequency. Jakes less often than Meyer makes comments like these:

10 C 180: Satan "is busy on your work site stirring up unhealthy relationships so that he can hinder and limit your usefulness."

10 C 197: "Satan is always out to steal our joy and to rob us of our peace."
My comment on Meyer in this regard applies as well, save that I would replace "a barbeque" with "worksite relationships":
As a preterist, it is my view that Satan is currently bound and doing none of these things, or anything else; but even if that were not my view, I would be somewhat startled to hear that Satan (or his minions) has so much leisure time at his disposal that he even takes the time to ruin a barbeque. One suspects rather that Meyer is also remaking Satan in an "image" in the same way God has been remade.
But as noted, Jakes is much more sparing in his use to this sort of appeal. He is also much more sparing in claiming to hear the voice of God; the only direct example I found in these books was this, and it is not even claiming an audible voice:

PV 112: "I feel by the Holy Spirit that somewhere there is a reader whom God wants to make sure this principle gets in his spirit."

Nevertheless, the same epistemic problems govern these matters whether it is an audible voice, a "feeling," or the Mormon internal witness, and Jakes encourages believers as well to listen to (IG 57) the "still small voice of the Holy Spirit within us…" But he offers no epistemic test for discerning Spirit from imagination, save that he says if we truly worship God, "we know that He is speaking to us continuously throughout our day, leading us and guiding us and giving us revelation, wisdom, and even insight into the future." Mormons would say the same thing, unfortunately, leaving us with no discernible tests for authenticity.

And yet, it is good to see that Jakes on the same page offers this caution:
"The problem with many people is that they experience a 'word' from the Lord and then go off by themselves to build a entire movement on one word. The prophetic word of God's wisdom and knowledge is ongoing and must be continually weighed in light of the Holy Scriptures."

And yet, it is also somewhat troubling to see the word "ongoing" used without the addition of discerning controls.

Jakes also mirrors a claim by Meyer concerning tongues:

RYA 14-15: Tongues are a way to get messages to God without Satan intercepting them: "[Satan] cannot make out what we are saying. Praying in the Spirit is a frequency that satan cannot pick up."

RYA121: "By speaking in secret code, God ensures that the devil does not understand the strategy of the church. This enables us to make an unannounced surprise attack because the secret code bypasses the radar and defense system of the satanic forces in opposition to us..."

No defense is offered against the fact that in the NT, tongues were clearly supposed to be a known language, not a "private" language that could not be understood. In addition, it seems hard to see why tongues as a "secret code" would do more than infinitesimally delay a response by Satan, who, though not omniscient, would certainly be a keen observer of circumstances, our responses, and our actions.

However, as before, we will reserve depth criticism of these matters for a time when we consider them as ideas, rather than as propositions offered by persons.

Our evaluation of Jakes will close next time, as is custom, with evaluations of some of Jakes' television productions, and of criticisms directed towards him.

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