Friday, March 30, 2012

Robert Faid Marks the Beast

From the February 2009 E-Block. Unexpectedly, I'm actually behind on posting stuff from the 3 year mark.

***

Our next entry in this series features a popular attempt to "name that beast." Throughout history we have had all sorts of persons designated the bearer of the conspicuous 666; it has ranged from Nero (my own view) to Hitler to Prince Charles, and here, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Like Edgar Whisenant, Robert Faid was a scientist -- a nuclear engineer, specifically. I have used the past tense for him as it seems (per the ever-reliable Wikipedia) that he died just this past year (2008). He also authored other books of a seemingly apologetic nature that apparently argued for Christianity based on scientific principles, but our report here will be on an item titled Gorbachev! Has the Real Antichrist Come? that was issued in that fateful year of 1988 which also spawned out last two entries in this series.

I remember this book very well from its day, and was surprised to find on reading it again just how little of it is consumed with actual argument for Faid's identification of Gorbachev as Antichrist. Indeed, only the first chapter lays out the case for this; the remainder -- the bulk of the book -- consists of Faid's predictions based on this identification, combined with midrashic readings of Biblical texts. Many of the predictions Faid offered were terrifying, with pictures of Christian children starving because their parents would not take the Mark of the Beast; the vision was especially grim from Faid as an adherent to a "post-Tribulation" Rapture thesis.

As is my normal practice, I'll divide my commentary into thematic sections which illustrate Faid's methodology (and mistakes).

The Case for Gorbachev. By what means did Faid identify Gorbachev with the Antichrist? His case involved sixteen clues which devolved to two categories of arguments:

  1. Midrashic readings of Biblical texts. Faid attempts to pair Gorbachev with descriptions of the Antichrist derived from Revelation. For example:
    • Rev. 13:1 speaks of the beast "rising out of the sea." Faid legitimately reads the sea in terms of humanity, but arrives at Gorbachev by saying that like the beast, he "burst upon the world scene in the same way as John's beast arose from the sea." [15] This is something of a vague description; Gorbachev's biography (see here) reveals a slow and steady rise through the ranks, of the sort that might as well reflect that of any American Presidential figure as well. In short, Faid's application is so vague that it is not unique enough to be meaningful -- and there's not much reason to say that "Satan was responsible" [25] for Gorbachev's gradual rise to power.
    • Faid gives Gorbachev the likeness of a leopard, the feet of a bear, and the mouth of a lion (Rev. 13) based, respectively, on the "cunning and cruelty" of Soviet ideology, the Russian use of a bear as a symbol, and that when a Soviet leader talks, people pay attention as they would to a roaring lion. [26] These are again rather too vague; over time, the three beasts here have also variously been read in terms of, for example, Britain's symbolism with the lion, Germany with the leopard (because of its rise from a group of smaller nations), and Russia as the bear. It is simply not hard to find associative characteristics with these animals -- especially if we expand our range of possible applications to the entire world, named persons, and social organizations. (This speaks well, incidentally, for limiting the applications to a specific time period, as is required by my own preterist views...but I'll keep that for another time!)
  2. Numeric equivalencies. Faid employs the standard practice of computing Gorbachev's name with letter-number equivalencies. There is a tad of fudging involved in doing so, however.
    • He decides not to use all of Gorbachev's name; he only uses first name, middle initial, and last name when making his computations. Obviously, this permitted a certain degree of flexibility in what he could calculate.
    • He employs principles from a system called theomatics which sought similar numeric values throughout the NT text. It is not our place here to fully evaluate that system (pubished some time ago in a 1977 book, and still promoted today), but it can be seen that theomatics helps increase its odds for success by use of a "clustering" concept -- essentially, a phrase need not have the exact numeric value you are looking for; it can miss by one or two, and still be in a "cluster," or perhaps it can be a multiple of the number you want, or within a "cluster" for that.

      So, for example, Faid calculates Gorbachev's name in Russian to be numerically 666 x 2 -- though off by three.

    Perhaps it may be argued that this isn't too bad; it's still very close, isn't it? I'd like to say so, but I have not been able to verify Faid's attempts [7] to establish numeric values for the Russian alphabet. Indeed, the one source I could find for it here substantially disagrees with several of his assigned values for letters used in Gorbachev's name. Since Faid does not cite a source for the numeric values he assigned, it is difficult to assess his accuracy on this point.

  3. Faid also attempted numeric equivalences to Gorbachev's name in Hebrew and Greek. For Hebrew, he admits that an expert in Hebrew found "a number of equally correct transliterations" of Gorbachev's name (how many is not said), but he found one, apparently, that came out to a value of 666 x 2. How many other transliterations were rejected would seem to be important, but we are not told how many there were.

    In Greek, Faid had an expert in Greek transliterate Gorbachev's name for him and reached a multiple of 888 (which is also the numeric value of the name "Jesus"), with a deviation of one (1777 = 888 x 2, +1). The values do add up, but there seems to be some fudging; there's no equivalent to "v" in ancient Greek, so a "b" was used at the end, and there are two letters that seem to not make sense, so that Gorbachev's last name would seem to be "Gormbachob".

  4. The reader may say at this point, "Well, this is still pretty amazing, isn't it?" Perhaps, but not for an equation of Gorbachev with the antichrist. Let us put it this way: Revelation says that the number of the beast is 666 -- not, "a multiple of 666, with a deviation of 2 or 3." If John had meant that the beast's number was 1329 (666 x 2, minus 3) then there is no reason why he should not have said 1329 was the beast's number. Faid's application of the theomatic principles ignores this plain fact.

    Related to matching Gorbachev with the "sea" prophecy of Rev. 13:1, Faid noted that the numeric value of "Satan" was 276, and that at the time Gorbachev was put into power, the population of the Soviet Union was "276 million." Was it? Maybe....for a few seconds. I have found estimates of the population of the Soviet Union for that year ranging from 272 million to 280 million.

A Cracked Crystal Ball. As persuasive as Faid's case for Gorbachev may have seemed in 1988, it may well have been added to by the dire predictions he made for how the rest of Revelation would be fulfilled in the months to come. As is often the case with the Ghosts of End Times Past, hindsight makes the wisdom of the author seem less stellar than it was when the threat was originally hanging. Among the events predicted by Faid within the next few years:

  • A communist revolution in Mexico, leading to enormous waves of illegal immigration to the US
  • The complete takeover of the African continent by the Soviets
  • Revolutions in Central and South America
  • The economic collapse of the West -- due to defualts on loans to the Third World
  • Oil reaching an "astronomical" price of $50 per barrel, resulting in a worldwide depression
  • The predicted "big one" earthquake in California -- probably in 1992 or 1999

Needless to say, Faid's skills at prognostication would not have set him in good stead under the Deuteronomic prophet test.

Miscellaneous:

  • Reflecting Cold War fears, Faid makes much of the Soviet Union's imperial ambitions by pointing out the Russian word for "peace" also means "world" so that "When Gorbachev says, 'I want peace,' he is really saying, 'I want the world!' " [21] Unfortunately for those who see some conspiracy in this, it appears that this synonymity came about somewhat coincidentally, due to a reform of the Russian alphabet in 1918. It seems rather convenient than linguistic evolution accommodated Soviet imperial ambitions and their expression so far ahead of time.
  • Faid needed a ten nation block to fulfill Rev. 17:12, and found two potential fulfillments. The first was in a list of nations dominated by the Soviet Union [30-1]. Here though, the counting procedure is a bit fudged. Faid counts formerly independent states to get up to nine: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, East Germany, and Bulgaria; then adds Afghanistan to get #10. Of course, we may all smile now, knowing what has happened to these nations since; but if we wish to be this liberal with definitions, why didn't Faid also count other dominated nations -- Belarus, the Ukraine, Moldova, or even Kazakhstan or Cuba?

    Faid's second option for the ten elements comes from a time when, under Gorbachev, the Soviet Union's Politburo had, apparently, exactly ten members. Unfortunately, the Politburo ceased to exist three years after Faid wrote his book -- and at the time, it had 24 members, and at the time of Gorbachev's actual rise to power, the number of Politburo members was 10 including Gorbachev, and the number of members swayed year by year after that (see here). Additionally, it seems that Faid fudged a bit by not counting what were called "candidate" members.

    Faid has a little more success identifying the seven heads of the beast with the seven nations of the Warsaw Pact. [37] That identification was at least numerically plausible until that organization fell apart in 1991. Likewise, the identification of Gorbachev with the eighth "king" of Revelation (17:10-11) looked just fine until 1991, as he was indeed the Soviet Union's eighth leader.

  • And of course, there were the standard midrashic applications so common in modern end times literature; e.g., fire brought from heaven (Rev. 13:13) might be a nuclear holocaust [58] and the image of the beast (13:15) might refer to television broadcasts. And yes, wars, famine, increasing crime, AIDS, and earthquakes -- wherever they were -- were signs of the imminent end, though Faid fudges a bit to get what he wants regarding the severity of earthquakes increasing; rather than appeal to geological measures, he points to number of deaths caused by quakes as follows [73]:
    • 500 AD to 1900 AD -- 2,315,000 deaths
    • 1901 AD to 1985 -- 1,522,00 deaths

    Of course, that world population also increased from around 250 million in 500 AD, to 1.6 billion in 1900, and then to 4.8 billion in 1985 -- to say nothing of the increase in earthquake hazards for death (e.g., buildings), does not seem to occur to Faid as a factor in the relative increase in deaths over time. (As a NASA page here notes, "Earthquakes almost never kill people directly. Instead, many deaths and injuries result from falling objects and the collapse of buildings, bridges, and other structures. Fire resulting from broken gas or power lines is another major danger during a quake. Spills of hazardous chemicals are also a concern during an earthquake.")

    Most ironic is Faid's ominous prediction that the Challenger diaster was "the beginning of the fall of the United States." [135] He pointed to the failure of NASA to successfully launch anything since that time up until May 1986, as several launches of other rockets failed. One wonders what Faid made of successful shuttle launches resuming in September 1988.

  • Citation of sources often seems a difficult task for Faid. Many critical claims are not documented. For example, he refers to a "team of archeologists from a university in Texas" who joined with Israeli archeologists to locate the remains of King David's Feast of Tabernacles booth. [82] It would be nice to know what university in Texas this was; or the name of some of these archaeologists, or what journal this was reported in. On the other hand, we may not want to know what Faid's source was, as he also uses the Weekly World News as a reputable source [83] for a report of Russian cosmonauts seeing an angel. (In fact, you can see that story commented on here.)

Faid's prognostication record seems to have been somewhat unsuccessful, to say the least. Is there any hope for it? Not much. Gorbachev is still alive as of this writing, and as reported here, the 77-year old former leader of the Soviet Union is looking to re-enter Russian politics in 2011. Could Gorbachev be distributing the mark as part of a program for the entire world by his mid-80s? Will he overcome Vladimir Putin's 88 percent approval rating, and his own status as a "widely reviled" person, to once again assume control?

Somehow, I doubt it.

But at least we can say this for Faid: He didn't take Gorbachev's noticeable birthmark as evidence that he bore "the mark of the beast."


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Stone Sabbath

From the February 2009 E-Block.

***

One of my core articles here discusses the role of the Old Testament law in the life of the Christian today. Recently an e-mailer brought to me an interesting (to say the least) argument that was apparently intended to argue that the Ten Commandments -- particularly, the one to observe the Sabbath -- was still in force today. I will quote two lines that speak for the case:

I meant the 4th commandment Yahweh wrote with His finger

I believe that if Yahweh wrote a commandment in stone, it is pretty safe to *assume* he meant it to be permanent for humans, not temporary.

Thus the argument boils down to this:

  1. Yahweh wrote the 4th Commadment in stone, with His own finger.
  2. Any commandment so written was intended to apply to all humans for all time.
  3. Therefore, we ought to obey the 4th Commandment and observe the Sabbath.

It is not hard to see that a rather significant assumed premise lies behind Step 2 of this argument. On what basis may it be argued that commands written a) in stone b) with Yahweh's own finger extend beyond the bounds of any covenant within which that rule is offered? As I note in the linked article, other commandments in the list may be argued to be in force on other moral grounds (e.g., "do not kill"), but it is a little difficult to arrive at such an argument for the Sabbath command. But what of our e-mailer's arguments?

Writing in stone. As I pointed out to the e-mailer, stone was a common medium for all kinds of documents in the ancient world. There was no sense in any of these documents -- whether they were business contracts or civil laws -- that their being in stone extended their provisions beyond the bounds of those with whom the covenant or agreement was made.

When told this, my e-mailer replied somewhat petulantly:

Yahweh could have chosen a scroll. He didn't. It is the only thing He has ever written Himself. This has no significance in your mind. Got it.

Of course, all those who wrote their business contracts in stone could have chosen a scroll as well. But why were things even written in stone at all? The likeliest answer is that they were meant to be preserved for periods longer than paper products could allow. Business contracts might well extend over a lifetime. The Ten Commandments evidently were meant to be passed on (along with Aaron's rod and the jar of manna) as evidence for future generations of Yahweh's covenant. Heaps of stones were used to memorialize events for future generations. None of this indicates an extension of the provisions or observances to other peoples outside the covenant.

The finger of God. What then of the second point, that Yahweh wrote the Ten Commandments with His own finger? Once again, the use of God's finger indicates something else: It is used to indicate something done by the Spirit of God, as these parallel passages show:

Matt. 12:28 But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.

Luke 11:20 But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.

If Yahweh's writing of commands with His finger makes them applicable to all men at all times, then what is applicable to all men at all times when Yahweh uses His finger to cast out devils? There is simply no reason to see a component of universal application in actions involving God's finger.

In the end, it is no surprise that my e-mailer resorted to this retort:

I don't look at Yahweh as a man, and therefore, the actual reasons he wrote on stone only He knows. I have my guesses. You have yours.

Indeed. But some "guesses" tend to be far better informed and more reasonable than others.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Snap: Bart Ehrman's "Did Jesus Exist?"

I'll start with what would be the most obvious point from me: No, Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? (DJE) has no prospect of displacing my own edited volume, Shattering the Christ Myth (STCM), as the most thorough volume on the subject of the existence of Jesus. Far from it. Though Ehrman does cover exactly the same range of subject matter within that question -- everything from "pagan copycat" charges to the "silence of the epistles" canard to the existence of Nazareth -- he does so overall with such breezy incompleteness that we may easily predict that the mythicist crowd will immediately claim he didn't come anywhere close to doing the job.

Which of course, he did not, and yet for good reason. In DJE I detected something in Ehrman's tone that I didn't find in his other books: A sort of hapless, "why me," "what the %&$#@ am I doing this for" exasperation which, if I drew Ehrman as a cartoon to represent it, would have him lying on the floor with his tongue hanging out. Not that he wasn't right to be this way, which represents the paradox of dealing with the mythicists. Their clear objective is to confuse and overwhelm readers with so much information -- so much of it bad information -- that it would take, as Ehrman rightly says, three times as much effort to refute them point by point.

Years ago, when G. A. Wells made the mistake of writing a response to my evaluation of him, I noted that Wells was rather typical of those whose chief tactic is to "hurl the elephant" -- throw out a huge complex of ideas and arguments all at once in order to make their ideas seem more formidable. It was for this reason that I determined that STCM would be as comprehensive as it was -- the way to reply to a hurled elephant is to have a blue whale at your disposal to hurl back. Under such pressure, Wells and other mythcisists like Doherty, Price, Humphreys, and even Murdock collapse like a house of cards.

DJE, as noted, doesn't succeed in this respect; it serves as warthog rather than elephant. Even then much of it seems to be padding, especially the last chapters where Ehrman goes on about Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet. And yet Ehrman can hardly be blamed for this. Even as lacking in honesty as I consider him to be, I believe he doesn't deserve to waste time on issues like this one. It takes a lot of time, patience, and fortitude -- and a good deal of personal masochism -- to deal in detail with such inanity as the Christ myth theory.

As expected, and even as Ehrman predicted, the process of fundy atheists throwing him under the bus has already begun. It's sort of fascinating and amusing to watch, and we might comment on it here again in the future. For now, I'd like to spend this Ticker entry discussing the contents of DJE which struck me.

18 -- One new bit of information DJE offered to me: Robert Price has released a new book titled The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems. Naturally, it's not with a credible academic publisher; American Atheist Press is doing the job. It's available by Kindle and I've already picked it up. (A word search shows that neither I nor STCM are mentioned – and that Tacitus is dismissed as merely repeating hearsay. Nice of know Price is continuing his personal tradition of violently ignoring or dismissing anything that would cause his insane theories any difficulties.)

49 -- One of Ehrman's more frequent themes has to do with the paucity of information about ancient persons as a whole as a retort to the alleged problem of lack of information about Jesus. On this page, for example, he notes that although there are no eyewitness accounts of Jesus (he of course dispenses, we think wrongly, with the relevant Gospels), there are also none of Pontius Pilate. He rightly notes that low literacy is part of the reason for this, as well as the simple lack of survival of source material.

54 -- Naturally, I was interested in comparing Ehrman's treatments of certain subjects in DJE with my own in STCM. One I'll compare with is Tacitus. Ehrman spends barely three pages on Tacitus, half of which is descriptive. Then he spends a paragraph on the notion that Annals 15.44 is an interpolation, rightly noting that this is not believed by any classicist or historian, and suggesting that mythicists just don't want the passage to be there. That's likely true, but it doesn't do much for an argument.

From there, Ehrman goes off the deep end: Whereas STCM spends pages establishing Tacitus' reliability and professionalism as a historian, Ehrman simply decides that Tacitus based his information on hearsay, and even -- incredibly -- accepts as valid the argument that Tacitus wrongly identifies Pilate as a procurator (the alleged significance of this as assigned by mythicists is debunked in detail in STCM). In this at least Ehrman plays himself right into the mythicists' hands.

66 -- Ehrman also notes that the argument that Jesus' miraculous powers ought to have drawn the attention of historians, and he answers with the expected response from him that the historical Jesus actually had none. Our own answer is quite different, which is that a snob like Tacitus would immediately discount such notions as false and not dignify them with a report, even if they were true. Even so, since mythicists share Ehrman's disbelief in the miraculous, this is an argument they are compelled to modify or reckon with. Indeed it reflects a hidden inconsistency in their own epistemology!

134 -- A critical argument of many mythicists -- particularly Wells and Doherty -- relates to epistalory silence about life details and other aspects of Jesus. Ehrman rightly notes that such things mean little even on the surface: There is no reason for Paul to mention certain sayings; the epistles were written to people who had long been Christians and knew about these things; and Paul is also silent about a lot of his own personal information. Here Ehrman did a fairly good job, even if a summary one, but there is no mention of the NT world as a high context society -- a coup de grace to mythicist arguments in this regard.

167 -- Interestingly, Ehrman takes on some of Richard Carrier's claims in his Not the Impossible Faith (NIF) concerning the idea of a humiliated messiah. In this Ehrman is on the same side as I am where I responded to NIF in its online version. What makes it interesting moreso if that if he is aware of NIF, he must also be substantially aware of what and who Carrier was responding to -- yet there's no hint or explanation of it whatsoever. Hmmm...

(Update for those looking for problems: And no...I'm not "miffed" about it. I simply find it curious given Ehrman's use of arguments that somewhat resemble mine in TIF with respect to crucifixion. Why would I be "miffed"? Because I want to sell TIF? Gee, if people look up Carrier's book because of Ehrman, they'll learn about mine too, right? Guh...golly... :D )

193 -- Rene Salm's Nazareth-myth is also briefly treated but here as well Ehrman does a fairly good, even if summary, job of it.

199 -- Ehrman also makes much the same response I do (borrowed from Albert Lord originally) to those who claim the story of Jesus was ripped off from the OT: It would be easy, he says, to tell the story of Richard Nixon using the template of a Shakespearian tragedy -- especially of one is allowed to select freely from the bard's vast works.

212 -- Alleged correspondences between Jesus and Mithra are another of my fave projects. Ehrman spends only 2 1/2 pages on this, much of it descriptive, but he does well to make the point succinctly that there are no Mithraic texts that show Mithras was born of a virgin on 12/25, died to atone for sin, and was raised. I'd have liked to have seen more detail, but at least the footnote refers readers to the works of Mithraic scholars (Beck and Ulansey).

244 -- On the downside, Ehrman responds to one of Wells' theories that Jesus was based on the figure of Wisdom in Jewish literature, and this section offers some amazing howlers, and also resorts to dodgy answers such as Col. 1:15-20 not being applicable because Paul didn't write Colossians, and dismisses the direct designation of Jesus as Wisdom in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 as meaning only that Jesus' acts embodied God's wisdom -- the same excuse made by some Unitarians, which fails to respect Paul's direct language of equivalence. Ehrman also does not grasp that meaning of Paul designating Jesus as God's "power" in context (it's also an indication of hypostatic identity), and doesn't even touch the consistent equivalence of Jesus with the Proverbs 8 figure (and that of intertestamental Jewish works) throughout the NT.

252 -- Some detailed attention is offered to Doherty's thesis of a "spiritual realm" in which Jesus was thought to be crucified. My own treatment of Doherty's other arguments made it unnecessary for me to discuss it in STCM (some of my guest writers do), but Ehrman does well to point out that Doherty's thesis in this regard is simply created out of whole cloth. Unfortunately it's not all complete: He dismisses Doherty's suggestion of 1 Thess. 2:14-16 as an interpolation by merely saying it is a explanation of convenience for Doherty.

332 -- Ehrman recounts a personal story in which he received an award from the American Humanist Association and was surprised by two things. The first was how "religious" many of the atheists and agnostics there were -- and I find it significant that Ehrman fails to recognize the same symptoms in himself, even as mild as his "fundy atheism" is. The second surprise he has was how many of them were mythicists -- and how many of them were surprised that he wasn't one.

That's what struck me most from DJE; I'd say that most readers won't want to order it, but it might be worth a look in your local library, which is sure to carry it. I'll be keeping an eye on it and what the atheists out there say about it -- it's sure to make for an interesting time.

Friday, March 23, 2012

March 2012 E-Block

I've received my copy of Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? and will have a review up Monday here on the Ticker. (So far -- no -- it's nowhere near as thorough as Shattering the Christ Myth.) For now, here's the skinny on the newest E-Block:

The Paul Fan Club 2, Part 1 -- Back in 2009 I dealt a blow to Dougls del Tondo, one of a breed businessman named Craig Winn, who spends his time these days composing long, threatening sermons on the same subject, which are interspersed with the occasional argument -- which, now and then, actually comes out a bit coherent. I just looked at his intro and first two chapters this time -- which took up 71 typed pages. The man can talk, but his arguments are worse than del Tondo's when he gets to them.

Irresistibly Disgraced -- Continuing a series where I respond to a shamed and unnamed critic of my TULIP series, he has yet more gaffes in reply to my material on the I petal. As in previous entries there are times when he doesn't even get my arguments right -- and this time he even extends the same courtesy to Bruce Malina.

Nor the Bart -- In a recent book, a scholar took a closer look at Bart Ehrman's claims regarding Matthew 24:36. Here I distill a popular summary of that scholar's essay.

Purtian Files, Part 3 -- the entry this time is a twofer: William Guthrie and John Winthrop. One is a guide to Christian behavior, the other a book on how to be sure you're saved. Didn't find any real problems, just a few observations.

Journey Through Orthodoxy, Part 1 -- a longtime reader who is a member of Eastern Orthodoxy suggested I have a look at some of their works and investigate it. So, I picked up an Linkitem by John Romanides which outlines some key Orthodox doctrines. Romanides is more of an expositor than an apologist, so he didn't really defend Orthodox doctrines. However, he offered enough for me to lay out some initial considerations.

Avalos vs America, Part 1 -- guest writer W. R. Miller tackles some of Hector Avalos' claims about Christianity among the Founding Fathers.

Subscribe to the E-Block.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Storm Beginneth: Ehrman's "Did Jesus Exist"

No, this is not a review...my copy is on the way. But given that Ehrman tackles the big name mythicists, I wanted to get some advance notice out to a thread I started on TheologyWeb on the book.

I'm hoping that someone at some point -- maybe Justin from Unbelievable, or my friends at Amador Christian Center -- will set up a debate between Ehrman and one of the major name mythicists (whether Price, Carrier, or Humphries). It would be more fun than a wrestling match.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Book Snap: Clinton Chisholm's "Revelations on Ras Tafari"

From the February 2009 E-Block.

***

I first encountered the work of Clinton Chisholm some years ago when doing my research on Rastafarianism for this article. Little did I know at the time that Chisholm was "THE MAN" for Christian apologetics when it came to this topic. Even less would I know that he'd one day write me e-mails, and even become a near neighbor of mine (we'll be having lunch someday soon).

Chisholm has impressive credentials as an apologist -- he's attended Biola University as well as special seminars hosted by John Warwick Montgomery. So while you'll find this book to be an excellent tool for addressing Rastafarian claims, you'll also see Chisholm dipping into other wells, too, and doing it in a way that I deeply appreciate. Chisholm digs deep into sources and knows how to use the scholarship. (Ah....someone else who cites Ben Witherington! And I guess I should note this too...he also cites my article on Pope Leo X. Why does he does that in a book on Rastafarianism? Heh heh, just wait and see...)

The first few chapters deal specifically with Rastafarian truth claims and how they are rebutted:

  • The Rasta movement traces its origins to specific beliefs about early 20th century Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie. Unfortunately, they do not even get basic information about Selassie, upon which their beliefs are based, correct: particularly matters concerning alleged divine titles he held, and a reputed biological connection to King Solomon.
  • The Rasta movement bases some of its beliefs on incorrect ideas about Biblical geography, the fate of the Ark of the Covenant, and the origins of Christianity.
  • The Rasta movement bases some of its practice on incorrect understandings of the pronunciation of the name of Jesus, and upon the idea that Jesus was a black man.

As part of his study, Chisholm turns as well to arguments that are not specifically Rastafarian, but which are borrowed by their apologists from other sources as a way to respond to orthodox Christianity. Rastafarians make extensive use of revisionist "Afrocentric" apologists (such as Yosef ben-Jochanon) for such issues as the reputed etnicity of ancient Egyptians, and also dip into other resources of questionable credibility. Yes, that's where the appeal to my article on Pope Leo X comes in. A leading Rastafarian apologist, Ikael Tafari, in a debate with Chisholm, made use of (hold on to your hat) Tony Bushby as a source. To that extent, much of Chisholm's volume records the bankruptcy of Rastafarian apologetics as well as it documents the thin foundation upon which Rastafarianism itself rests. (But really, this is hardly surprising, given the Rastafarian, postmodernish rejection of fact that we've documented in my own article.)

We highly recommend Chisholm's book as a source for those interested in the Rastafarian movement's truth claims.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Vindication of the James Ossuary?

Decided to do the third entry of the week today to bring attention to this news item:

Link

That sound you hear? It's Earl Doherty's head exploding.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Snap: Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth"

From the February 2009 E-Block.

***

I'm having a strange sense, these days, of Deja vu -- that books I read have been reincarnated!

I had no idea what I'd be in for when I read Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, but what I found is that it is of a piece with that which has gone before -- ranging from the chapters of Wayne Dyer in the past to the teachings of Joel Osteen in the present. Tolle, of course, is closer to the Dyer side of the spiritual weight room; but it remains that all three of these have written works that can be roughly divided into the same three sections.

Good Advice to Be Had

Yes, Tolle gives some good advice. Most of it can be summed up nicely in the turn of phrase, "Make it all like water off a duck's back." With Tolle, this comes by way of Eastern (notably Buddhist) perceptions that you can eliminate a lot of your suffering if you get rid of your desires (especially the more pedantic, materialistic ones). You'll find that in Dyer and Osteen as well, not because it is honed to any particular religious template, but because it's just good sense: We inflict a lot of our own pain with senseless worry, and desire for that which we don't have and don't really need. We also, as Tolle notes, inflict on ourselves a lot of harm because of ego.

That said, Tolle's understanding of "ego" is such that his advice to kill it amounts to identity-euthanasia; his recommendations effect a cure by killing the patient. "Ego" for Tolle is more than just inflated self-image; it is also "identification with form" [22] in the material world (as opposed to the mystical oneness of Consciousness), and all sorts of human behavior considered otherwise normal or acceptable (as well as, of course, certain immoral behaviors) turn out to be guaranteed ego-feeders ready to send you into Tolle's "hell" of non-enlightenment:

  • "The quicker you are in attaching verbal or mental labels to things, people, or situations, the more shallow and lifeless your reality becomes, and the more deadened you become to reality, the miracle of life that continuously unfolds within and around you." [26-7] Indeed? There's no logical connection to be had here; Tolle has merely declared, arbitrarily, that attaching labels is shallow; and has also arbitrarily declared that "reality" lies in not doing so. How does he know or justify this? He does not. Moreover, is not this a sentence filled with labels of what will be -- deadened, shallow, lifeless -- if you do not follow his advice? Tolle's advice to avoid labels presupposes labels as a way to identify the problems that labelling supposedly causes.
  • "In normal, everyday usage, 'I' embodies the primordial error, a misperception of who you are, an illusory sense of identity." [27] I found this statement ironic, given what I had learned before about Rastafarian beliefs:
    Rastafarian everyday language reflects this cosmic perception of oneness with the Creator. Of particular note is what may seem an excessive use of the personal pronoun I, which actually exhibits a deep philosophical significance. Rather that saying "we," a Rastafarian may say, "I-n-I" -- symbolizing "a rejection of subservience in Babylonian culture and an affirmation of self as an active agent in the creation of one's own reality and identity." [35] Rather than say "I went home," the Rastafarian may say "I and I went home" in order "to include the presence and divinity of the Almighty with himself every time he speaks." The two "I"s constitute the individual and the Creator who resides within. [36] Recognizing one's oneness with the divine is what constitutes Rastafarian soteriology: "(P)roblems in human conduct result from inadequacies in consciousness, not from an ontological dichotomy between creature and creator." [37]

    Given Tolle's premise, Rastafarians are under far greater influence of this primordial illusion than anyone else!

  • Even complaining in a restaurant about your soup being cold can be an exercise in ego [63]. Tolle reassures us, though, that as long as you stick to facts ("this soup is cold") and don't involve yourself ("how dare you serve me cold soup") you're not actually indulging the ego. Indeed, be careful, because you have a "me" inside you that "loves to feel personally offended by the cold soup and is going to make the most of it" because it makes someone else wrong. [63-4] In fact, this ego is such a sneaky fellow that it it can even contaminate simple assertions of fact, any time you make a self-reference such as "me" or "I", and even telling someone news of something creates "an imbalance in your favor between you and the other person" that feeds the ego. [82] (Hmm, I had always heard that newscasters had enormous egos; perhaps now we know why?)

Tolle's solution to all of this "ego"? Again, it amounts to a form of epistemological surrender: Don't ask yourself who you are, or what your purpose is; inner peace will be granted only if you simply admit that you don't know the answer to either of these questions. [90] Don't defend yourself when insulted or even when accused of some moral failing. [199-200, 215] Live only in the present moment; what you do in that moment is your purpose. [263] Accept uncertainty as the way things are rather than fighting it [274].

To some extent, there is indeed wisdom in these directives. Humility, and not worrying about the future, are sound courses, and if that were all Tolle were offering, it would be non-controversial. However, Tolle's advice simply swings the pendulum too far. In essence, it is a baby and bathwater solution, little different than Dyer's prescription to define problems out of existence. It is also not likely one that is able to be fully and practically implemented; Tolle of all people certainly enacts a role and a purpose, even if he might deny that he thinks he has one. And one can only be amazed at all these minor things Tolle labels (despite his admonitions against affixing labels) as effects of the ego. Indeed, it seems rather ironic that one who sees such serious offense in even sharing news with others, describes human wars and conflict as the result of "extreme collective paranoia." [120] It seems, rather, more paranoid to see "ego" as so insiduous that one cannot even share the news of one's birthday or graduation without indulging it.

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] I am not a physician, but I have a sneaking suspicion that some other, more mundane explanation could be provided for such phenomena by a competent neurologist.

Similarly, all of Tolle's professions concerning ego are apparently rooted in a conception that "attention....is a form of psychic energy" [85] upon which the ego feeds. And, "the universe" itself effects a form of karmic justice so that the more you cooperate with others, the better things will go for you, while the more you exclude others, the less happy your life will be. [123] It seems peculiar that at the heart of so much of what Tolle offers, we manage to find a conveniently non-disprovable premise, without which the entire thesis collapses.

Tolle's quackery seems to be confirmed by other odd statements as well, such as this one in service of remedies like homeopathic medicene: "According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, medical treatment is the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer in the United States." [75] Unfortunately, we are given no reference for what issue of JAMA contains this fact; but investigation reveals that the source of this claim is from a study that does some terminological shimmying to reach that conclusion (see here for a discussion of the article). As it is, "medical treatment" is still not taken to be an official category when evaluating causes of death such as cancer and lung disease.

Nor is Tolle particularly well-versed in history, as he manages to attribute between 3-5 million women's deaths to the Inquisition. [156] Tolle is mixing up the Inquisition with the witch hunts, and in either case overstating the number of deaths by a factor of 100.

However, Tolle's most fantastic invention of all is his equivalent to the Christian who thinks that Satan is doing things like stealing car keys [121f]: What Tolle calls the "pain-body." We'll talk about this more in the last section.

Biblical Reimaginings

A writer like Tolle who is not a Christian (just like Dyer) for some reason inevitably finds it useful to fold Jesus into the recipe; they never seem able to just say, "Well, Jesus was actually wrong, so we will not use his teachings." ("Some reason" is perhaps that it will be necessary to borrow from the Bible's moral capital in the Western world in order to persuade readers that his system is viable.) Just as inevitably, using the Bible means severely decontextualizing it; and just as Dyer did, Tolle reimagines Biblical texts in mystical, Eastern terms foreign to the original contexts. (Tolle's own religious outlook is indeed roughly Eastern and pantheistic, as he speaks of all life-forms as "temporary manifestations" of Consciousness [capital C intact] [4] and advocates reincarnation [292].) Thus it extends, even to lingusitic exegesis:

  • The NT Biblical word for sin, hamartia, means "missing the mark." Tolle reads this to mean that we "miss the point of human existence." This is arrived at, we are told, by removing from the term "cultural baggage and misinterpretations." [9] What justification there is for stripping a specific Greek word of its specific contextual meaning is not explained.
  • The "new heaven and earth" means "the emergence of a transformed state of human consciousness" and its resultant physical manifestatios.
  • Jesus' admonition to let one who takes your cloak also have your tunic is turned from a shaming device against a greedy prosecutor, into a lesson on "letting things go."[41]
  • Jesus on the cross is an archaetype of suffering, which is good experience for "burning up the ego." [102]

There are many more such forced interpretations in Tolle's work; for a more complete analysis, please see the work of regular Tekton guest writer Nick Peters here.

The Failsafe System

No book like this is complete without a conveniently non-disprovable system of getting what you want, designed in such a way that it is always your fault if you fail (and you can't prove otherwise). Osteen does it with his misapplication of the principles of Christian prayer; Dyer does it with careful and impossible qualifications, and infinite caveats for patience. For Tolle, there are more than a couple of unmeasurable roadblocks to universal enlightenment that are well beyond our control:

  • The "collective ego" represented by things like old religious institutions will "defend itself and 'fight back.'" (In that case, Tolle has bought himself plenty of time, given the prominence of the monotheistic faiths in the Third World these days.)
  • A big roadblock is one we alluded to briefly earlier: the so-called "pain-body." According to Tolle, we are all inhabited by one of these beastly things, which is essentially a psychic entity that feeds upon our own suffering and that of others. For Tolle, the pain-body explains why some infants cry for no apparent reason: They have a "heavy share of pain" taken either from the collective of humanity, or else they have been "absorbing energy from their parents' pain-bodies." It is also why so many people relate to the figure of Christ on the cross (clearly, Tolle is not aware that this is an image that people of the first century did not relate to, but found repugnant).

    The pain-body explains quite a bit more as well. It "seeks emotional negativity" [145] and lives through you. It looks to provoke other people and feed on their pain [148]. It takes over the body itself when a person is drunk [149], provokes us to watch violent films [153], causes traffic accidents [162] (in which people "unconsciously" want the accidents to happen), and is especially active in women during menstruation [155]. We need only rewrite Romans 7 and put in "pain-body" where Paul wrote in "sin" to get the whole picture.

    What to do about this "pain-body"? Since it can't be located with an MRI and extracted, Tolle recommends, once you recognize that you have one [161], that you shrink it by no longer identifying with it. "The energy that was trapped in the pain-body then changes its vibrational frequency and is transmuted into Presence," [162] and we'll be happier. Tolle also advises us to live in the present moment, and not classify events as good or bad, for those labels are "ultimately illusory." [196]

    Tolle's explanation here sounds a little too much like Joel Osteen's famous "parking space" story: Tolle appeals to a theoretical example of a man who was in an accident that sent him to the hospital, which in turn meant he was not home when a fire broke out at his home that would have killed him. My reply to Osteen on that point serves hauntingly just as well here:

    Second, his system too easily redefines problems out of existence. Thus in YBL (41-2) he gives the example of searching for a parking spot in a crowded lot. Osteen thanks God for a good space when he finds one, but what if you do not find one? Then, he says, "....you get out and walk, and with every step, you thank God that you are strong and healthy and have the ability to walk." And he explains further of a time when he didn't find a parking space close by (43):

    "...God has my best interests at heart...He is working for my good. A delay may spare me from an accident. Or a delay may cause me to bump into somebody that needs to be encouraged, somebody that needs to see a smile."

    There is good reason for this methodology to disturb us. 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.

    The only difference in the system is that whereas Osteen appeals to a God of providence, Tolle appeals to karmic justice. Nevertheless, the results are the same: The system is conveniently non-disprovable, and must be rescued through contuining epicycles of rationalization.

  • Finally, by the time you get to the end of Tolle's book, you're wondering what the ultimate solution is to become enlightened, or receive "awakening," as he calls it. On that Tolle has bad -- but rather convenient -- news: Getting awakening started is not something you can do yourself; it is an "act of grace"! [259] No logical steps. Nothing you can do to get it going. The ego can delay it, though, and if you read Tolle's book and got yourself a burning in the bosom [260], you might already be on the way. Otherwise, to use the parlance, if you're wanting enlightment -- you're out of luck. There's no greater failsafe than a system where you can't even control the start of the program.

With failsafes like these also comes a marked inability to detect internal inconsistency in one's system. Tolle, for all his counsel to kill ego and self and relinquish arrogance, has not actually abandoned it but rather sanitized it -- into an egotism so pure that it is completely unaware of itself. How else to read that Tolle sees his work as being a tool for the transformation of all human consciousness? How else that he sees himself free to reimagine Biblical texts and install his subjective reading apart from informing contexts? How else that is just so happens that Tolle is one of those "rare individuals" [16] who experienced the necessary shift in consciousness that is otherwise so hard to get, if not indeed impossible to get? How can Tolle dismiss words as being unable to "explain who you are, or the ultimate purpose of the universe, or even what a tree or stone is in its depth" [27] after writing a 300 page book full of words?

Tolle's explanation for the latter point, that words are not truth but only "point to it," [71] is merely epistemological gibberish: Simply put, religious theorists of Tolle's variety have contrived explanations like these in order to make "the truth" inaccessible and conveniently non-disprovable. In The New Earth, what we have is the latest in an endless series of works which have promised the moon to humanity. Inevitably, we have to wonder when readers out there will realize that Tolle is indeed offering nothing different than what Osteen, Dyer, and countless others have already offered -- and that if it didn't work before, it won't work in this new package, either.

Monday, March 12, 2012

What's NOT in a Word

I deal with a lot of ignorant fundy atheists. Here’s an example of how ignorant they can be. Really ignorant.

In my article on Wisdom (link below) I note the equation of Jesus with hypostatic Wisdom. As part of explaining the background, I say:

In Hebrew and Ancient Near Eastern thought, words were not merely sounds, or letters on a page; words were things that "had an independent existence and which actually did things."

One particularly ignorant atheist I’ve dealt with a few times made this comment:

So, apparently because of ancient superstitions about wisdom, all of the sudden this incarnation makes sense? It's a common human mental bias to externalize things and treat it like a personal agent. This sounds like a textbook case of that.

Um, no. It sounds like a textbook case of some snotty modernist atheist assuming the worst possible reading of something in accordance with his assumption that ancient/religious people were bone-in-the-nose savages, desperately in need of enlightenment from a member of Uncle Whitey McSam’s world, who believe that “words” actually physically exist and zip around invisibly bopping into people, like in one of those old Electric Company skits where the guy would say a word like “DONUT” and huge Styrofoam letters spelling out “DONUT” would fall out of the sky and crush him like an eggshell.

Yes, fundy atheists can be that presumptively bigoted and ignorant. They are all the time.

Housekeeping first. One, I didn’t appeal to this point as a defense of the incarnation – which isn’t even the subject of the article. The original usage this fundy atheist appeals to was in a place where I used the article to defend the point that Jesus was believed to be divine by the NT authors, and also that he taught that he was divine. The article was not written as a philosophical defense of the mechanics of the incarnation. (It’s also typical of fundy atheists to lose track of those sort of thing, too, precisely because they regard what religious people have to say as so far beneath them that it does not deserve serious attention.)

Second, on “externalize things and treat it like a personal agent.” No, that’s not what was being described here, and it would not have taken a lot of effort to find out what was being described. The quote in question comes from Barclay’s commentary on the Gospel of John, and while in editing I inadvertently removed the source note, the quote is not hard to find and can even be uncovered in Google Books. A serious researcher would have looked for the quote to learn more, but fundy atheists, generally not being interested in arriving at the truth of a matter where their former faith is concerned, presume that their supreme rationality has given them all the insight that they need.

Sadly, that’s most often when they put their feet in the mouth at supersonic speed. Did Barclay really say this with the idea that the Hebrews thought words were like some sort of personal agent?

Not at all. Here’s the material following that quote from Barclay which explains what he did mean:


So clearly, Barclay’s idea is that the Hebrews recognized the power of words to change and affect people. This is in contrast to the notion that words are “only words” and that they have no effect on people and things (as summed up in the popular “sticks and stones” children’s ditty, to use a well-known example). There is nothing here on saying the Hebrews granted words some objective external reality to the extent that they were personalized. Rather, the matter is one of what we would recognize as the psychological effect of words on human behavior -- and the objective reality granted to them is understood in those terms.

Of course, whether words do really hurt, or in some other way affect people, is a matter of discussion, and also depends greatly on the sort of person they are addressed to. Words have little impact on me. Others break down at the slightest verbal provocation. The Hebrews would be on the same side with those today who are engaged in advocacy against verbal bullying (see link below for example).
The fundy atheist, who naturally assumes ancient people are stupid, however, looks at things like the irrevocability of the laws of the Medes and Persians, and Isaac’s irrevocable blessing of Jacob, or even the Muslims example above, and supposes this has behind it some notion of words as magic spells that run around hitting people. Of course, if that were the case, there would be no reason why they’d be irrevocable; you’d just be able to send out some more words to cancel out the effect of the others.

So why were these things irrevocable? One scholar suggested of the Medes/Persians example that it was because kings were assumed to be inspired when they made decisions, so whether they were aware of it or not, what the initially said must reflect some divine attention. I prefer an explanation related to the agonistic tenor of their society: You can’t draw your own words back because to do so would be to dishonor yourself before witnesses.


Either way, in sum: Fundy atheists, who have their heads in the clouds of their own perceived intellectually superiority, would naturally prefer to read such things as the above account about Smith, and the account of Jacob and Esau, as reflecting some sort of magical thinking about words. In reality, Barclay is saying merely pointing out that the Hebrews recognized more distinctly the power of words to change people from within and to alter their circumstances.


But of course, that’s not the narrative the fundy atheist wanted to hear, is it?


Trinity article

Bullying article

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Propsperity Preachers: Joyce Meyer, Part 3

To close out this series, as with the last one on Joel Osteen, I endeavored to watch as many television presentations of Joyce Meyer as I could. As before, I ended up finding nothing new, save one particular point which was perhaps not so much new as poignant.

In a talk before a large audience, Meyer related a story (whether true or not was not clear) of someone with a doctorate, and a ministry with ten people, who asked her "what right" she had to have a ministry and teach as she did. Meyer indignantly replied that she was like the man born blind in John 9, beings someone called by God to testify; and her only qualification for ministry - apparently sufficient, in her eyes - was that she "just loves Jesus".

In a microcosm, I think Meyer's answer represents the heart of the problem that lies within Meyer's ministry. Putting it as mildly as possible, Meyer simply does not realize that "just loving Jesus" is not a sufficient qualification for running a teaching ministry.

A ministry of compassion - yes, that would be very important, and mostly sufficient. But not a teaching ministry. More than this, there is a certain arrogance implied in her response, to the effect that because the other ministry has only ten employees, it's own voice is undeserving of a hearing. One wonders then what to make of Jesus' ministry having only twelve "employees".

Teaching ministries are meant to broker knowledge which leads people to join and serve the Kingdom of God. Inaccuracies in teaching are therefore difficult to countenance. In a compassion ministry, such as serving at a soup kitchen, delivering bad information is the equivalent to passing out soup laced with botulism. Arguably, some have more resistance to illness than others, but the point remains the same: "Just loving Jesus" is not enough qualification to maintain a teaching ministry. What it provides is the heart to do such ministry - but not the head needed to responsibly pursue it. Let us keep in mind that even the Moonies claim to "love Jesus."

Which leads to the matter of criticisms of Meyer, which is our subject for this installment. I do not know whether Meyer is fairly characterizing her critics with stories like the above. But needless to say, on both sides of such exchanges, there needs to be, initially at least, a certain approach taken. The criticizing ministry needs to be fair and document problems - which is what I have striven to do here. On the other side (Meyer's), the ministry needs to listen carefully and not simply dismiss criticism because e.g., "the Holy Spirit guides us" or "we love Jesus" or even because "so many people are blessed by it" (to use a well-worn analogy, many people like candy too). Once again, the Moonies, Mormons, and many other groups with false beliefs could say the same thing.

One common non-theological criticism of Meyer is that she is often arrogant, haughty, or seems too sure of herself in her teachings. Having been accused of much the same thing myself at times, I do not make much of such criticisms by themselves. However, coupled with verifiable claims that Meyer's teachings are deficient or lacking in substance - something which we have indeed found - this criticism takes on a new light. One can only hope that Meyer is willing to listen to a well-reasoned presentation showing where her teachings have erred.

I may have more to say on such things in the future. For now, let us discuss criticisms I have found of Meyer's ministry. As it turns out, there seems to be only a handful that are regularly repeated, apart from issues of wealth (which is by far the most common criticism I found), so this item will be unexpectedly shorter than I imagined.

Criticism: Too Many Pies?

Judgment: Open.

One criticism of Meyer which is frequent, but beyond our scope to fully address, is that her ministry, so to speak, has too many fingers in too many pies. Meyer's ministry offers outreaches outside of her teaching ministry (e.g., for AIDS victims and orphanages), and it is said that Meyer's ministry is in the process usurping more capable and efficient ministries better suited to the jobs.

I am not qualified to assess this criticism in practical terms, whether indeed Meyer is displacing better-qualified ministries. I can only say, based on Meyer's comments such as the one noted above, that at the very least the criticism is believable. I would expect Meyer to that say "because we love Jesus, we're qualified to do this ministry." That of course may not actually be the case, and in such cases Meyer may simply be unaware of how such ministry should be done and not see the long-term effect her less efficient methods have on the situations as a whole.

Of course we do not condemn Meyer's intentions in such actions. However, if the technical aspect of the criticism is actually true, it bespeaks a need for Meyer to step back and evaluate her sub-ministries and decide whether she is letting "love for Jesus" mislead her into thinking her ministry is best suited for the job.

As noted, Meyer' ministry has also been criticized for careless financial management, and for living a luxurious lifestyle ill-suited to a minister of the Gospel. Once again, since our concern is with theological matters, this is beyond our scope, but we may note again that this would fit in well with a perception that "loving Jesus" has allowed Meyer to take less care in such matters than she ought to. We may also note that Meyer's insufficient understanding of Biblical teachings, we have found to some extent affects her understanding of whether it is a good thing to live such a lifestyle.

It is, however, fair to note that Meyer's ministry has recently (March 2009) been accredited by the Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability, which hopefully indicates that such difficulties have been overcome.

Criticism: Meyer teaches "Word Faith" principles.

Judgment: Plausible.

In the final analysis, this is the one criticism from a theological perspective that I found most often repeated.

Much as with Osteen, we found that this criticism was a bit off the mark. In my readings and viewings I found only one statement (see Part 2) that actually made a cause-effect connection between faith and God doing things for us: "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 could be read as Word-Faith; or, it could be read in terms of a Frank Peretti novel. It is certainly not a verifiably correct teaching, but it is not uniquely Word-Faith.

Meyer also has taught other ideas associated with Word-Faith, such as Jesus descending into hell; but as we have noted before with Osteen, this is something also taught in the Apostles' Creed (albeit, I think, in error). She has likewise (as Osteen) taught ideas of "reaping what you sow" - giving to God in order to get something back from Him. But I have not found evidence that she goes as far as e.g., saying Jesus became an evil being on the cross.

In summary, I think it is fair to say that Meyer, while not teaching Word-Faith principles in full, has been unduly influenced by them, or else is uncomfortably close to such teachings. I therefore reiterate for Meyer my assessment on Osteen: Meyer is imitating some of what he has heard from WF teachers, and does not know (or care) how they have misused it.

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.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Prosperity Preachers: Joyce Meyer, Part 1

Over the next three entries -- barring something worth attention otherwise -- we'll be reprinting the E-Block series from early 2009 on the teachings of Joyce Meyer. Here's Part 1.

***

It is inevitable that I will draw, in my own mind, comparisons between our last subject in this series, Joel Osteen, and the subject for the next installment, Joyce Meyer.

Both are popular television preachers - but whereas Osteen is tied to a church, Meyer is a "free agent."

Both have written books - but whereas Osteen has written only two to date, Meyer has written well over fifty!

Both are accused of being "prosperity" teachers that are part of the "word-faith" movement - but we saw that that charge may be overstated with Osteen; and though I have much more to check where Meyer is concerned, what I have read so far seems to be pointing in the same direction. I judged Osteen to be naïve, unaware of the impact or meaning of many of his teachings; so far, Meyer seems to be the same - though I have yet much more to study where she is concerned.

Because Meyer has produced, indeed, many more books than Osteen, I have elected to divide this series on her into three parts. The first, this one, will be devoted to a look at several of Meyer's books in the self-help category. The second article will be on books she has written that are more theological, and the third will be about any additional insights gained from her television program, and an evaluation of criticisms.

Once again, my desire will to be as objective as possible; and since I have never before this study ever read or seen anything by Meyer, I believe that this will be able to be accomplished. (For the record, my beloved Mrs. H wishes to note that she has seen some of Meyer's television programming...and that she doesn't trust her!)

The Reading Roster

For this article, I have read, essentially, 14 of Meyer's self-help books. Their titles, and abbreviations used, are as follows:

  • Seven Things That Steal Your Joy [7T]
  • Help Me! I'm Married [HMM]
  • I Dare You! [IDY]
  • Conflict-Free Living [CFL]
  • Approval Addiction [AA]
  • 100 Ways to Simplify Your Life [100W]
  • Straight Talk [ST] - this is actually seven of her smaller books in one volume.
  • The Secret to True Happiness [STH]

In many cases these volumes were repetitive.

Once Again...Good Advice!

As it happens, Meyer's similarity to Osteen also allows me to use the same categories in describing their work. The first category was good advice - and Meyer has plenty of it in her self-help books. As with Osteen, some 90-95% of Meyer's material is uncontroversial and falls under this category. Here are some samples from 7T:

  • 41 An admonition to avoid legalism and unwarranted guilt, and let it overcome your enjoyment of life.
  • 55 Admit your flaws and imperfections.
  • 60 Pray all through day. (Meyer correctly understands 1 Thess. 5:17 to refer to short prayers all day.)
  • 70 Keep your plans simple.
  • 73 Don't worry so much about what others think.
  • 89 Take breaks for your mind to be still.
  • 112 Get rid of anger.
  • 169 Be content with gifts you have.

Other books were filled with the same sort of advice. HMM in particular - a book of advice on how to be successfully married -- I found to be an excellent, insightful book that Mrs. H and I could have written ourselves. STH 35 contained the best advice of all, advising readers to find their identity in Christ. In this Meyer's advice is the same as that of on Matzat's, which I have recommended elsewhere here.

With that said, even though up to 95% of what Meyer says is non-controversial, what remains of that 5% does give us some cause for pause.

Once Again...Misused Scripture

Meyer does not have the pastor's burden that Joel Osteen has; but as a popular Bible teacher attended to by literally hundreds of thousands of people, she does bear the weight of judgment of those who teach, as James says. I did indeed find in Meyer's self-help books several examples of Scripture being poorly used; but as with Osteen last time, the incidence of such was no more than might be found in any typical sermon today.

Much of the incorrect application of Scripture had to do with Meyer wrongly reading modern, Western values into the text - in the same way Rick Warren does. This is perhaps not surprising inasmuch as Meyer makes no use of credible exegetical sources for her material. In 7T [191] she uses the badly outdated commentaries of Matthew Henry and Adam Clarke as sources, and in all of her books, the questionable works of Watchman Nee are appealed to (though not necessarily for an incorrect point).

We'll discuss some of the instances of "Westernizing" Scripture below; but here a few samples otherwise from the various books of exegetical error:

  • 7T, 78 -- 1 Cor. 1:21 is said to refer to the "foolishness of preaching" as a method; in actuality it refers to the shame of crucifixion.
  • 7T, 80 -- Deut. 6:4, "God is One," is recruited for a message of simplicity versus having to sacrifice to multiple pagan gods. It is rather doubtful that the inconvenience of sacrificing to multiple gods had anything to do with the attraction of Judaism at this time.
  • 7T, 143 - Matt. 7:1 is misapplied to judging others for having good things. That's a good lesson, but Matthew 7:1 is about judging hypocritically.
  • HMM, 97 -- Meyer applies Is. 61:1-4 midrashically to every Christian, where there is no warrant to do so:
    The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.

    Isaiah was a prophet, and Jesus was divine, and could apply these verses to themselves easily; for Meyer to apply them universally is extremely presumptuous.

  • HMM 198 - in support of tithing, Meyer says, "the New Testament never does away with anything in the Old Testament." Indeed? What of Temple sacrifices? Further: "God did not do away with the Ten Commandments, but He did give us the grace to keep them through Jesus Christ." Truly? Then is Meyer a Sabbatarian?
  • IDY, 221 - perhaps the worst abuse of Scripture I found by Meyer, as she says:
    You will discover that you can actually 'think yourself happy.' In the Bible Paul said, 'I think myself happy' (Acts 26:2 KJV), and if it worked for him, it can also work for us.

    Note the full context of this passage:

    I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews…

    Meyer has illicitly turned this statement of eschatological hope by Paul into a message on behalf of the power of positive thinking! The irony is that just a few pages later [229], Meyer rightly admonishes readers not to let yourself interpret Scripture via your experiences.

  • ST, 78 -- Luke 10:16 is appealed to:
    He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.

    Meyer interprets thusly: "When people reject us, Jesus takes it personally." This applies, she says, even when someone slights us! But this is said by Jesus in the context of Jesus sending out his followers on missionary journeys and has nothing to do with everyday slighting or insults. Meyer's application is unjustly broad.

  • STH, 212 - Meyer somehow reads out of Jesus' instructions to missionaries in Matt. 10:10-14 the lesson that our response to criticism should be to, "Shake it off." This is not the case at all, though it may be good advice: When Jesus said to shake the dust from their feet, it signified condemnation for the community. Meyer also wrongly states that Jesus simply ignored criticism, based on his refusal to answer charges against him in Matt. 27:11-12. Not only does this neglect the point that Jesus powerfully responded to his critics (like the Pharisees) in public settings; it neglects the fact that Jesus' silence was a way of shaming his accusers and indicating that he did not think they were worthy of response. It is not merely "shaking off criticism." (A similar mistake is made at CFL, 24, where Meyer says that Jesus "was accused of wrongdoing regularly, yet never once did He attempt to defend Himself." It is also said that Jesus did not "have a problem with His self-image," which is true, since problems with "self-image" did not come to exist until excess leisure time permitted humans time for introspection.)
  • CFL 30-1 -- Matt. 18:19 is appealed to as a way to get blessings: "God responds to the prayer of agreement when it is prayed by people who agree." As noted here, this verse has to do with church discipline, not prayers of request.

Many of Meyer's misapplications have to do with reading a message of "self-esteem" into the Biblical text (see again above link re Matzat's book). Meyer teaches as part of her program a message of self-esteem for those down on themselves, as for example in AA 80, where she tells readers to hug and affirm themselves: "I accept myself. I love myself. I know I have weaknesses and imperfections, but I will not be stopped by them." Meyer tells readers to do this several times a day, and perhaps, arguably, this has some use for persons who have been abused by others, as indeed Meyer herself was. Nevertheless, one may also wonder if Meyer has not swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction.

As noted in the article linked above, true Biblical self-image is realistic, and self-esteem as understood in the modern world was unknown. Meyer is simply wrong to say, (IDY, viii): "Over the centuries millions of people have asked, 'What am I here for? What is my purpose?'" Not at all: This sort of question only emerged in the modern world, when the growth of leisure time permitted the luxury of introspection. Meyer, regrettably, often imposes ideas of self-esteem on Biblical characters, saying for example (AA, 81) that Mephibosheth lived in a small town because of his poor self-image!

Again...Confirmation Bias and Verification Problems

In our examination of Joel Osteen, I referred to a significant problem of Osteen giving advice that was subject to "confirmation bias" and which also was not subject to verification. I find much the same problems recurring in Meyer's work, under two of the same categories:

A system which has an unsatisfactory accounting for failures which makes it non-disprovable. In many cases, we find Meyer advising people to "wait on God" to work out problems such as finding the best marriage partner. [7T, 3] To the extent that this counsel is given in order to keep people from wasting time and mental energy worrying, this is good advice. However, Meyer often takes the lesson too far, to the extent that if followed literally, her advice amounts to passive non-action which leads into epistemic disaster - of the sort that is no more open to verification than the Mormon "burning in the bosom."

In 7T, for example, we are told [45]: "trying to figure everything out is a joy stealer that causes us to listen to our heads instead of our hearts." Is it a joy stealer? Not really; what steals joy is trying to figure things out and failing to do so. My own life as an apologist is such that I find joy every day in "trying to figure everything out." Perhaps Meyer's advice ought to be recast: "Trying to figure anything out that is beyond your abilities is a joy stealer." Without this qualification, Meyer's advice becomes a sort of anti-intellectualism.

In such cases, "listening to your heart" is not a sound recourse. Inevitably, the law of averages is such that a person who takes this course will often hit on a successful solution; and yet, confirmation bias leads to ignoring stories of failure by those who "listened to their heart" and got burned - or else redefining what happened so that it was not a failure after all (per the next point).

CFL 30-1 provides another example. Above we noted that Matt. 18:19 was misinterpreted, but there is more. Meyer says, "God responds to the prayer of agreement when it is prayed by people who agree." Inevitably, this can be used to claim that prayers were unanswered because of some hidden or unknown disagreement in one's household.

CFL 215 offers another example, as Meyer advises readers to live by "discernment." What is discernment? Meyer defines that not in terms of thinking or perception, as indeed it ought to be, but as vague feelings of unease. She adds that you should attend to these feelings even if you have no reason to do so - and by the way, you may or may not discover the reason later on! Epistemically, this advice is simply disastrous.

Meyer would likely deny that her advice leads to passive non-action. Indeed, she says later in 7T [127], "It is true we need to wait on God and not get into works of the flesh. But on the other hand…God cannot drive a parked car." And later [252] she says, "To receive healing from God, we often have to be patient and steadfast. Miracles often occur instantly, but healing is frequently a process that takes time." And [254]: "I don't believe there is a requirement we must meet in order to receive supernatural healing." But, we should take medications if necessary. Indeed. Yet Meyer cannot see that this ends up with her giving advice that is inherently self-contradictory. Yes, logically, there could be some times when one must "wait on God" and other times when God wants us to move. But Biblically, the only way to determine which is the present condition is to have an inspired prophet give us the word - and with access to such rather limited today, Meyer's advice inevitably leads to either passive non-action or to the second option:

A system that too easily redefines problems out of existence. With Osteen, I gave this example, from which I will quote extensively:

Thus in YBL (41-2) he gives the example of searching for a parking spot in a crowded lot. Osteen thanks God for a good space when he finds one, but what if you do not find one? Then, he says, "....you get out and walk, and with every step, you thank God that you are strong and healthy and have the ability to walk." And he explains further of a time when he didn't find a parking space close by (43):

"...God has my best interests at heart...He is working for my good. A delay may spare me from an accident. Or a delay may cause me to bump into somebody that needs to be encouraged, somebody that needs to see a smile."

There is good reason for this methodology to disturb us. Atheist Dan Barker, in his original book Losing Faith in Faith (and now also in Godless, a book reviewed in this very issue), 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.)

In light of the above, I could not help but shake my head to see this in Meyer's STH [66]: "Maybe not getting the parking place we wanted kept somebody from pulling in next to us and denting our car." It seems that parking provides all too ready an example for teachers of this variety! But another example from ST [375] is much the same: Meyer writes of a woman who prayed a prayer of protection while on a boat. When a wave hit, she bumped her head, and asked God why this happened when she had prayed a prayer of protection. To which, God reputedly replied: "You aren't dead, are you?" Meyer concludes that angels did protect the woman, so that she only bumped her head but did not die. One can anticipate a Dan Barker replying with the valid point that if an angel can stop someone dying, they can certainly also stop them bumping their heads. And then what? Someone like Meyer with no sound theology of prayer will be reduced to saying that God wanted the woman to have a bump on her head for a good reason. And what is worse, readers of this issue of the E-Block will see that Eckhart Tolle offers the same sort of reasoning as Meyer does - only, as I say there, he appeals to the power of karmic justice rather than to providence. But in neither case is the system epistemically sound.

We must acknowledge that Meyer's trust in God is admirable; but she has left too many holes in her epistemology for it to be satisfactory. In ST 270, for example, this is her answer to faithful people who pray for years and get nothing, while others pray and get results at once:

I don't have a pat answer to that question, but I do know this: We have to believe above everything else that God knows what He is doing. It is amazing the peace that comes with that belief.

In essence, this is putting off the problem of inconsistency in Meyer's system. "Don't think about it, just trust God." That there might instead be a flaw in Meyer's epistemology of prayer is not even considered.

ST 277 offers a memorable account of how to have ministry like Meyer's: "...if God calls you, He opens the doors. He apprehends you, prepares you, provides the money, gives you favor, and makes it happen." Indeed? Some years ago, the same advice was given me by a Christian magician named Felix Snipes. Snipes engaged in tactics like "pew packing" to build his audience; and yet he would say that if people did not show up for your ministry services, then this indicated that the Holy Spirit was not in what you were doing. Nonplussed, I asked Snipes how one might discern between the Holy Spirit not being in what one was doing, and the audience simply not being receptive to things they needed to hear and see. Snipes had no answer for me on this, but merely fumbled about vaguely saying that that was something you needed to figure out. Indeed so. Meyer and Snipes arrive at their views via a notion of God as a micromanager; why is it not simpler to say that this is a view of God that is wrongly read into Scripture?

But as we will now see, this sort of conclusion is something that Meyer's theology simply will not permit.

A Warmer Burning in the Bosom

Meyer's Christianity is assuredly derived from the Charismatic tradition. Within that tradition, it is not infrequent for believers to claim to hear direct messages from God. One recalls Pat Robertson's professions on the 700 Club to hear from God about everything from a viewer's cancer to the future in politics. Yet few see that the lack of specificity in such predictions acts as a safeguard. If Robertson can say someone is cured of cancer, can he not name them also? (Contrived replies like, "It is not God's will for the person to be named" merely highlight the artificial nature of the system.)

Meyer, too, professes to hear the voice of God in very specific ways; but there are times when, quite frankly, we might find it hard to believe that she is hearing the voice of the same God who manifested Himself upon Mt. Sinai. Among the things God (or God through the Spirit) reputedly has told her:

  • ST 110 - The Spirit speaks to her about being worried about her hairdresser, and tells her to pray that the hairdresser will be "anointed" to do her hair right.
  • ST 149, 152 -- God can use "mild boredom" as a warning sign that we need to change things in our lives, even hairstyles or pantyhose.
  • ST161 -- the Spirit tells her to smile while she is in the shower.
  • STH 221 --God tells her to bring someone coffee.
  • 7T 47, 82 - The Spirit speaks to Meyer in her heart, telling her to stop being particular about what she was dressed in.
  • HMM 88 -- God tells her to make fruit salad for her husband: "The Holy Ghost said, 'Fruit salad.'"
  • HMM 147 - God also tells her to open her eyes during sexual intercourse with her husband: "It's time to open your eyes."
  • HMM 200 - Not only Meyer hears from God, but her friends as well. Meyer prayed to God for 12 dishtowels; later a friend later came by and said, "…I believe God told me to bring you a dozen dishtowels."
  • CFL 196-7 Even God's anointing may be distributed for the most pedantic affairs: "People laugh when I say this, but there is an anointing that comes on me to shop." A person can also be anointed to shop for groceries, "if she will exercise her faith and release the anointing."

It is, quite frankly, difficult to see this as anything but Meyer's imagination at work as she remakes God into her image - not as the holy dispenser of judgment known from the Bible; not as the active agent of grace and practical, agape love that sent Jesus to die for us - but as perhaps all this, and some sort of personal lifestyle counselor. The question: Can Meyer seriously believe that this is indeed God speaking to her of these matters? Is there even a Biblical precedent for such things? We see God speaking to persons like Paul of matters like where to conduct missionary work, but never of such trivialities as what toga to wear!

The question which arises: How does Meyer know that it is the voice of God she hears, and not her own imagination? How can she differentiate this voice from something like a Mormon "burning in the bosom"? Objective criteria are not easy to find, at least not so far, in the self-help genre of Meyer's books. In STH 221, she says, "Every time we disobey God, it becomes more difficult to hear Him the next time He speaks, but every time we obey Him, it gets easier to hear and be led by His Spirit." Disturbingly, this resembles far too closely a model of deepening self-deception, and tells us nothing by way of discernment. At 7T 157, Meyer describes the voice of God: She has heard God's voice audibly, she says, but this is "rare" - mostly she says, God speaks by a "still, small voice". With this, we still are not offered any way to distinguish between revelation and imagination. Only once, at 7T 159-60, does Meyer offer any sort of epistemic guidelines:

You may be unsure that God is really speaking to you, and you won't find out if it is God until you do the thing He is prompting you to do. If it is God telling you to do something, you will feel joy once you obey Him.

And yet, this is as useful as the burning in the bosom is: Is not the joy just as well because you are convinced that you obeyed God - even though you have no idea whether it was actually His voice? Christians who accept such ideas will find themselves ill-prepared to meet serious challenges to their faith.

What we find, indeed, is that Meyer adheres to a rather well-known idea (especially in Charismatic circles) that one may hear God's voice, or "rhema". As she says in 7T 155:

...if you want to hear God's voice (His rhema), you have to study His written Word (logos). Any other way in which God speaks to you will always agree with His written Word...The more knowledge you have of the logos (written) Word, the more God can speak a rhema (personal) word to you when you need it…When a Scripture comes to life for you and is full of sudden meaning, you need to hang on to it, because that is God talking to you.

Objectively and epistemically, this is a disastrous teaching (one I have addressed before here). Every step of the process is subjective and externally unverifiable or unfalsifiable. This is a far cry from the strict test for prophets laid down in Deuteronomy for those who claim to hear God's voice.

It is one thing to say that God is personal. It Is quite another to claim that God is personalized. Ironically, even Meyer realizes this, as she warns in ST 111: "Many people treat God merely as their buddy, one who is too kind and merciful to discipline them, ask them to sacrifice for Him, or require them to adjust their attitudes and behaviors." Such people, she says, need "reverential fear."

One can only conclude that Meyer's understanding of "reverential" is much colored by Western individualism.

Satan Here and There

Not only does Meyer see God as involved in her life on the most minute level; it seems that Satan, too, is quite the micromanager! Throughout her books, Meyer blames Satan for nearly every bad thing that might be conceived to happen, though to be fair, she does so in a way that does not absolve humans of responsibility for evil, as some teachers do, and does (ironically) counsel readers to not blame everything bad on the devil (ST 82). However, what Meyer does attribute to Satan is quite difficult enough to countenance:

  • ST 174 -- Meyer says she was attacked by a "spirit of condemnation" that caused her to feel guilty.
  • 7T 73 -- Satan doesn't want us to have any joy; he would even want to ruin a barbeque you have with your friends.
  • IDY 34, 286 -- Satan suggests that we procrastinate. He "will do everything he possibly can to keep you emotionally distraught."
  • CFL 42 -- Satan knows each person's buttons to push.

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.

Meyer and the Word of Faith

Though I expect to return to this issue when I consider Meyer's more theological works, it is natural to consider the question, "Is Meyer part of the Word-Faith movement?" I may find otherwise in those theological works, but in the self-help books, at least, Meyer seems to be no more "Word-Faith" than Osteen was. Some of Meyer's statements, taken alone, seem to bespeak a Word-Faith orientation, such as these from 7T:

  • 179 -- "Faith reaches into the spiritual realm and believes what it cannot see and feel, and waits for it to be manifested in the natural realm."
  • 199 -- Regarding the story of Jesus casting people out of the little girl's room before healing her: "I believe it was because He needed to be surrounded by faith, not by doubt, unbelief, fear, and mourners. He wanted an atmosphere that He could work in."
  • 243 -- "We cannot expect life (good things) if we are going to speak death (negative things).
  • 251-4 - Regarding healing: She believes God will do it; her ministry will send people a list of healing Scriptures "we recommend they confess out loud."

Also, from CFL:

  • 17 -- "Words are containers for power. They can carry either creative or destructive power."
  • 84 -- Because the 10 spies sent out by Joshua saw themselves as grasshoppers, "their enemy saw them as grasshoppers, too. We reap what we sow. How can we expect others to accept us if we reject ourselves?"

And, from ST:

  • 128-9 - concerning confessing Scripture: "When we do that, we are establishing things in the spiritual realm by the words we are speaking in the physical realm. And eventually what is established spiritually will be manifested physically."

And, from STH:

  • 192 -- "...[I]f we speak negatively, we will have negative experiences…If we speak positively, we will see good, positive things happen in our lives."

None of these statements, however, lays out a clear cause and effect in terms of how our words affect our circumstances. The examples Meyer offers seem to concentrate on the psychological impact of words rather than attributing to them any sort of inherent power.

The most clear statement I could find among the self-help volumes appears in STH 49, and would seem to deny Word-Faith principles, if anything: "Living by faith is looking at everything in a positive way, not trusting in the power of positive thinking, but trusting in the power of God, who loves us and wants the best for us." However, there still seems to be some room for doubt. It remains for me to see if Meyer will be more specific in terms of that cause and effect in her theological volumes.

Health...and Wealth?

A charge seemingly less difficult to assess against Meyer is that she teaches "prosperity." But is it the prosperity message of the Word-Faith movement, or something more general, such as is taught by Osteen?

So far, the results indicate the latter, but it seems that Meyer has unusual difficulty reconciling her message with both Scripture and the reality that most Christians simply are not materially prosperous. Meyer's prosperity message is hedged about with caveats and confirmation bias, as can be seen:

  • 100W, 5-6 -- "…I believe it is God's will for His people to be prosperous in every area of their lives, including finances and material goods. Psalm 35:27 says that God takes pleasure in the prosperity of His people. I find no scripture saying He is pleased when His people do not have their needs met." The word used in Ps. 35:27, however, is shalom, meaning peace, and has nothing to do with finances or material goods.

    In IDY 225 Meyer seems to have either realized this, or else a need for qualification, as she notes her reply to a TIME interviewer who asked if God wanted people to be rich: "…I could not answer his question with a direct yes or no because I believe we can be rich in many ways" such as having a good job or marriage.

  • IDY 227 also introduces readers to Meyer's "law of gradualism" (not justified at all with Scripture) whereby God will increase people as they are ready. (The obvious question would be, how can this be validated without confirmation biases intact?)
  • IDY 231 - One might wonder how Meyer deals with the simple fact that many Christians today, especially in the Third World, and Jesus and the Apostles themselves, are and were not wealthy. Some prosperity teachers contrive to make Jesus into Bill Gates, but Meyer does not, thankfully, take that tack. She admits that the apostles did not have material goods, but says that "they were the ones who taught people to give so they could reap an abundant harvest." Paul, in Ephesians, says that "…God was able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond all they could dare to hope, ask, or think. That certainly doesn't sound as if He wanted His people to barely get by!" And yet, the simple fact is that this is the condition of most Christians in the world today - if not even worse than "barely get by." It is clear that Meyer struggles with this, and one can only hope that she will see that it is her interpretation of the Gospel, not the Gospel itself, that is in error - for it is an unfortunate fact that many claimed apostasies have resulted from this sort of misapprehension of the nature of God's provision.

All of this said, Meyer does advocate responsible use of wealth (which can be considered apart from any charges - with which we are not here concerned - that she does not practice such responsible use in her own life). In 100W 6, she notes that wealth can be a distraction, but it does not have to be, and "we should learn how to handle (abundance) properly." (Here at least, the Spirit goes somewhat beyond trivialities, and orders her to prune her possessions and give things away.) In HMM 195, she counsels readers to enjoy themselves, but not love money, and to buy wisely. IDY 28 tells readers to stay out of debt, and observes that : "...our culture today is almost totally self-absorbed." (! - Regrettably, Meyer does not see how that might apply to her own "personalized" vision of God.) And most significantly, unlike the popular "health and wealth" teachers, Meyer sees prosperity as something earned through obedience (IDY 128) rather than something God owes us.

Part One: Conclusion

As noted, we have much more to consider in our evaluation of Joyce Meyer's teachings, but this much may be said so far: As a popular Bible teacher who is drawn upon by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, Meyer has an immense responsibility towards the Body of Christ. Based on the above, I do not believe that Meyer is taking this responsibility seriously, any more than Joel Osteen is, but is rather trapped in the same "vision of sugarplums" that causes her to see things as more rosy than they are. This is indeed a peculiarity, since Meyer's heroic recovery from childhood sexual abuse is well known, and her ministry engages so many worthwhile causes in the eradication of poverty.

But perhaps, we will find more clues in Parts 2 and 3 of this series.