Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Moore is Less (On Beth Moore)

From the August 2010 E-Block.


Some time ago I made it less of a ministry emphasis to address Skeptics because it became clear that they were producing no new arguments that had not been answered here before. At this stage in our series of articles on popular Christian teachers, we have already hit the same sort of wall with the works of Beth Moore, which means that this will be the last article in the series for quite a while at least. 

To start, we’ll need to list Moore’s items we consulted:
  • Get Out of That Pit! [GOP – with apologies to the Republican Party]
  • Breaking Free [BF]
  • Believing God [BG]
  • Praying God’s Word [PGW]
  • David: 90 Days With a Heart Like His [D90]
Actually, on that last one, I found it sufficient to just read 45 days, and I did it in two days. There just wasn’t that much variability to report on.

The sum of the matter on Moore is that, like Kay Arthur in our last article, Moore’s material will do okay for infants in Christ, but I do wish we had someone more qualified doing these kinds of things. Her writing style is fairly good, though I imagine she and Lucado use the same ghost writer: Altogether the effect is one of William Shatner (as Kirk) telling stories on behalf of Erma Bombeck.

For the sake of being complete, I’ll start with notes about what I found in the department of the usual “pet peeves” this series has noted, before I get into the more serious applications for which I want to close this series – using each “peeve” as a basis for commentary.

Satan’s still there. Thankfully, Moore doesn’t go as far as Meyer in seeing Satan ruining family barbeques, but the devil seems to be pretty busy even so:

  • GOP37 “Satan is a master at using our own insecurity against us.”

  • BF69 “I am very aware that Satan will constantly cast idols before me….”
  • BF233 “[Satan] jumps on anything that could keep you from centering your thoughts on Christ.”
  • BG14 “Perhaps, like me, you could say that Satan has tried one ploy after another to destroy your life, your witness, and your fruitfulness.”
  • PGW305 “Satan proceeded with a well-executed web of schemes to destroy me.”
    And of course, in several places Moore asserts that Satan is described in Is. 14, a questionable supposition to say the least.

    I’ve expressed my reservations about this sort of thing many times, so rather than repeat myself, here are some concluding thoughts on how popular Christian teachers have this “thing” for scapegoating Satan on a micromanagerial scale like this. Oddly enough, it is linked to the whole genre of exhortational material that all of these writers – from Osteen to Stanley to Moore – produce. It also involves a bit of self-realization on my part. 

    I have to admit that I found a lot of material by these authors to be – well – boring. Exhortation heaped on exhortation heaped on exhortation, with substantive teaching (such as can be said!) inserted here and there in between. I wondered at this for a while, before I made a connection in realizing, while working on the Tekton Annotated Bible, that much of the New Testament (and the OT as well) is exhortation as well. 

    I’m not making a close comparison here, though. The people of the Biblical world lived a tenuous life where death haunted their every step. They were also group-thinkers who thrived on the validation and inspiration of their group leaders. They needed exhortation for far different reasons than people today do. Today, for many, this sort of exhortation is more like an addictive drug than it is a means of survival. It’s a way to inject a little happy distractedness into a day when most of us have no more difficult circumstances to face than a paper cut. (Ironic, since in GOP116, Moore criticizes feelgood sermons thusly: “Soothing words can become just another drug we swallow to dull our pain.” She rightly says we need to tackle “issues of sin, addiction, and defeat.” But she doesn’t realize that she’s as close to the feelgood sermons as she is.) 

    I won’t deny that there are people truly in need of exhortation today. Arguably a cancer patient is a modern analogy to a person in the first century in terms of suffering. But it is also clear that many who read these books are using them to distract from far lesser problems that they ought to solve themselves. And the reason they don’t, and the reason they keep reading them, amounts to the same problem: A serious lack of personal initiative

    JP Holding is a self-starter. I don’t need a kick in the pants from a Beth Moore Bible Study to give me buoyancy. If you try to kick me in the pants, you’re likely to flip into the air foot-first because I was on my way before you reared your leg back for the blow. That’s probably why I find books like these to be so boring, and well, useless. 

    In that light, those of us who are “self starters” will need to, as Paul would say, not despise the “weaker brethren” who need these punches in the arm as a sort of mental caffeine. And of course, I mean those who really need it, like that cancer patient, not the guy whose Audi had a flat tire while he was on the way to Jared’s to buy his wife a new $50,000 necklace. 

    I’m getting back to Satan on this, yes. The constant supposition that Satan is behind all these failures and disturbances would disturb me even if I were not a preterist. Moore warns readers not to give Satan too much credit, but I think she (and others) need to learn that lesson themselves. “Satan did X” has every appearance of becoming some sort of hopeful reassurance for why things go wrong, and a sort of rallying point to encourage these believers to persist in spite of odds. And that’s a recipe for epistemic disaster once it is realized that it’s hard to imagine Satan having any strategic interest in some of the things being attributed to him. The cognitive dissonance will eventually require a contrivance that, for example, Satan must KNOW that something important will happen if don’t get tempted to watch that TV show, or will realize that some greater good will result if I resist eating that donut. Not that I’m encouraging bad TV or dietary habits – the point is that we don’t need Satan as a crutch for our broader epistemology, and if anything, using Satan this way will make us less sensitive to our own failures as persons and what we need to do in terms of taking responsibility for them. 

    Parking space theology. Yes, it’s here too, though not as often. I saw examples at GOP42, BF118-9 (were Moore says God permitted her to be abused as a child so that eg, it would help her be compassionate to others in ministry), and at PGW17, which is the most poignant example: Moore relates the story of a woman addicted to both alcohol and tobacco, who was “[i]nstantaneously” set free from the tobacco addiction but still struggles with alcohol years later. Moore’s explanation: “The instantaneous release from tobacco addiction taught her that God’s dominion is over all things…However, if God had broken her free of every stronghold that easily and rapidly, she would never have learned to depend on Him.” 

    I’ve already said enough about parking space theology in prior articles, so I won’t repeat myself. I’ll just observe that this sort of reasoning is subject to the same weaknesses and dissonance as we find when we credit Satan for this or that disturbance in our lives. Eventually, we either end up building a skyscraper of rationalizations or end up like Dan Barker, in the middle of a field and later in the midst of an apostasy. 

    Exegetical Errors. Thankfully, Moore doesn’t make many of these, which is why I’d still say her material can be used for infants in Christ. For the sake of responsibility, here’s a sample of the few problems I found:
  • BF140: There are a few examples of turning Biblical people into modern ones: Here, for example, it is said that Amnon felt guilt for his actions (when what we call “guilt” would not emerge for thousands of years).
  • BG211: Moore suggests God had the Israelites walk around Jericho multiple times as an exercise in believing without understanding what they were doing. Hardly so: As Herzog and Gichon note in Battles of the Bible, this was in line with an ancient military strategem. Another example is offered by the Roman writer Frontinus:  When Gneaus Pompey on one occasion was prevented from crossing a river because the enemy's troops were stationed on the opposite bank, he adopted the device of repeatedly leading his troops out of camp and back again. Then, when the enemy were at last tricked into relaxing their watch on the roads in front of the Roman advance, he made a sudden dash and effected a crossing.
    The "seven times around the city" was not an exercise in getting Israel to “believe without understanding” but a way of getting the Jerichoans relaxed and used to the procession and giving them a sense of false security -- making them that much less prepared for the eventual attack.
  • PGW73 makes the same mistake regarding James 5:16 that we noted in our last issue of another commentator: Actually, there’s apparently some discussion, textually, over whether the right word here is paraptroma or hamartia, which all agree is “sin”. But it doesn’t matter, for two reasons. The first is that verse 15 says, “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” – and that’s definitely a hamartia in there. Second, uses of paraptroma elsewhere show that it isn’t just “faults” as in non-sinful imperfections, like having crooked teeth. Jesus speaks of paraptroma as something you must forgive in others for the Father to forgive yours (Mat. 6:15). Paul says that Jesus was delivered for these which we commit (Rom. 4:25; cf Eph. 1:7) and uses it to refer to Adam’s transgression (Rom. 5:17).
    I have to say that it is good not to see more such mistakes in light of the fact that Moore uses no more credible sources than lexicons, concordances, and word studies. To her credit, Moore in not necessarily against depth research. At GOP203, she knows enough about apologetics to joke about it: She didn’t know how to answer a tarot card reader because, she says, she “missed it in apologetics class somehow.” But there’s also a disturbing anti-intellectual undercurrent in BG47-49, where she says:
    In my life experience the most dangerously influential opinions have been those held by intellectuals and scholars who profess Christianity but deny the veracity and present power of the Bible…The obvious brilliance of these scholars supported by a convincing list of degrees tempts those who wanted to believe God’s Word to feel gullible and ignorant.
    Moore compares such scholars to the serpent in Genesis who said, “Did God really say...?” Further:
    If we can come up with a God we can fully explain, we have come up with a different God from the Bible’s. We must beware of recreating an image of God that makes us feel better….Flawless churches and Christian schools and universities don’t exist because they are full of flawed people just like me, but we don’t have to accept a lesser-God theology just because it’s prevalent.
    It’s hard to know what to say to all of this, since Moore never specifies any names of scholars who she thinks are doing this. Perhaps she means someone like (ergh) John Shelby Spong or Bart Ehrman. We can hope she doesn’t mean someone like Ben Witherington – or someone like me who asks teachers like Moore to please examine their premises. 

    Ominously, I have some signs that this may be so. I am an agnostic when it comes to the presence of charismatic gifts in today’s church. I certainly don’t deny that they could happen, but I want them to be proven to have happened, not just uncritically assumed. Unfortunately, Moore, in criticizing those who see such gifts too often on one hand or not at all on the other, does not reflect the critical spirit that the “prophet test” of Deuteronomy requires. 

    At BG61, she says to those who say miracles have ceased: “Hypercessationaist doctrines can knock the feet of hope from under us. Beloved, no one, no matter how brilliant, persuasive, or credentialed, should have the right to take away our hope.” Really? So if the evidence does not show actual miracles occurring, it doesn’t matter, because no one has the “right to take away our hope”? 

    Somehow that doesn’t seem to cohere with the spirit of Deuteronomy, which was quite ready to take away false hopes (in gods like Baal) and didn’t make any allowances for those who didn’t want it taken away just because it’s not what they wanted. If miracles do occur, let us by all means document them thoroughly and use them as an element in apologetics. As it is, Moore thinks (BG64) that we see few miracles in the West and many in the Third World because we “believe little.” But in so saying she also accepts those reports of miracles in the Third World as valid without any evidence of investigation. 

    I have written of members of the emergent movement as having the right problems, but the wrong solutions. Moore herself is not emergent, but does have the same dichotomy, as at BG2-3: “Our status-quo system of contemporary Christianity isn’t working…we’ve dumbed-down New Testament Christianity and accepted our reality as theology rather than biblical theology as our reality.” Very true. Bur her solution: “We’ve reversed the standard, walking by sight and not by faith.” Note that here, she does not mean “faith” as we define it, but simply as “belief” – and as something that apparently has no regard for evidence. Further (GOP118), she says: “We need lasting answers that don’t just target our behaviors.” Answers? As in facts, evidence? No: “ We need answers that tap the power of heaven and change the thoughts and feelings that drive those behaviors.” Or, as one of my teachers at a speakers’ conference argued, Christians are down these days because “they don’t have joy.” What though could cause greater and more secure joy than knowing for a fact that Jesus rose from the dead? What else shows the power of heaven, and has the greatest ability to change our behavior, than having to confront a brute fact that the tomb is empty because, “He is Risen”? 

    Teachers like Moore, of course, do not deny these facts. But they do place practically no emphasis on it, such that it may as well be an accessory. I can recall not one instance in any of these books where the Resurrection – without which our faith is in vain (1 Cor. 15) – was appealed to as a reason to set one’s life in order. 

    Something is definitely wrong with that. 

    Talking to God. Thankfully, there’s not much of this in Moore. In these 4 books, BF17 has the only instance of Holy Spirit talking to her in any conversational way: Here, she says, she bought a new Bible, but didn’t want to bring it to events right away: Rather, she wanted to use an older one, reasoning that she wanted to get accustomed to the new one. Moore says that the Spirit “seemed a whisper in my ear, ‘Sounds like pride to me.’ “ Er…pride? How so? “I didn’t want to have to struggle to find Scriptures in front of a group.” So she brought the new one and “flip-flopped my way” through it during her teachings.
    Pride? It sounded more like a matter of efficiency to me. In any event there’s no epistemic basis given anywhere for knowing when and how the Spirit speaks to one in this way. 

    Midrash Rash. I saved the worst for last, as it were, and what I say here could apply to many Bible teachers and many Sunday School lessons. I find that such teachers and lessons have a serious deficiency: They often strain mightily to make irrelevant texts more relevant. 

    How so? Here are some examples: 

    GOP13 says of Isaiah 24:22 that mentions a pit, that it says “that a pit is a place where you feel trapped.” Moore uses this to describe how life’s “pits” (troubles) are places where we feel trapped. 

    But Isaiah’s reference are not about life’s troubles. It says, “And they shall be gathered together, [as] prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited.” Yes, this does imply that a pit can be a place where one can be trapped (not just “feel” trapped). But the reference is to a literal pit as an analogy to those held prisoner. Moore’s usage is only homiletic. Of course that is an accepted form of preaching today, but it also gives readers the false impression that Isaiah is somehow a counseling guide for life’s daily troubles. The text is force-fitted into modern notions in order to strain it into relevancy and makes people think the Bible directly addresses their “pit”. 

    Moore is even willing to imagine extra events to make the text more familiar to readers. At BG87-8 she notes that Joshua shows no sign of weakness in stories about him, so she adds to text. For example, in Joshua 1:7: 

    Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law…
    Moore imagines that God adds the word “very” before “strong and courageous” because by that time Joshua “was quaking in his sandals” and needed the encouragement! This is simply imagination at work. Later she notes the name change from Hoshea to Joshua (Num 13:8) and suggests it was because “Joshua not only needed to know who he (Joshua) was, he needed to know who he wasn’t. He wasn’t God.” Ironically, Moore is right about how, in this social setting, one’s personal identity was set by those outside of you. But to say that Joshua “needed” this in the modern psychological sense of one who needed some sort of affirmation and assurance to assuage their insecurities is simply nonsensical. 

    The greatest example of this sort of thing, however, is found all through D90. Here are some examples: 

    4: Moore uses the story of David being anointed instead of his brothers to segue into a general commentary on sibling rivalry. 

    8: Moore uses 1 Sam 16:8-13 to ask readers such questions as, “What’s been the cost of not letting the Holy Spirit be in total control of your life? How have you noticed it most?” and (11) “How has God been working – all of your life – to prepare you for kingdom service? What experiences, lessons, talents, or even hurts do you need to present to Him for His use?” 

    9: Regarding Jesus being descended from David, Moore says: “To me, Christ’s flawed family history serves as a continual reminder of the grace of God in my life.” 

    16: Moore uses story of Hannah and Elkanah for a lesson on how “[w]ives need men who engage and participate.” 

    20: Moore uses 1 Sam. 1:9-18 for the question, “What’s your usual first response to troubling situations? And how has it typically turned out when you’ve tried handling your hurts this way?” 

    The problem with all of this is that, again, Moore is straining lessons from the texts that would never have been intended by the original writers. Yes, there might be sibling rivalry present in David’s story, but there is no way that the author of 1 Samuel intended for his narrative to be turned into a lesson on that subject. These efforts are little more than a vain attempt to market the Bible as “relevant” to modern life. 

    To show the folly of this methodology, let’s consider that we could select any passage at random from any work and do the same thing. Here, for example, is a passage from Book 2 of Tactius’ Annals

    In the consulship of Sisenna Statilius Taurus and Lucius Libo there was a commotion in the kingdoms and Roman provinces of the East. It had its origin among the Parthians, who disdained as a foreigner a king whom they had sought and received from Rome, though he was of the family of the Arsacids. This was Vonones, who had been given as an hostage to Augustus by Phraates. For although he had driven before him armies and generals from Rome, Phraates had shown to Augustus every token of reverence and had sent him some of his children, to cement the friendship, not so much from dread of us as from distrust of the loyalty of his countrymen.
    So what would a Beth Moore “study” of this passage look like? It might try to use the attitude of the Parthians towards foreigners as some sort of basis for a lesson on being tolerant of those who are of a different nationality than we are, or segue into some teaching on showing hospitality to strangers. It might ask questions like, “If you were taken a hostage like Vonones, how would you feel?” Or, “Are you a hostage to any patterns of behavior in your life?” Or, “Can you really buy friendship the way Phraates tried to buy it from Augustus? When have you tried to gain favor from God by giving Him tokens like this?” And so on. Tacitus would never recognize such lessons as reflecting his purposes, and nor would the authors of Scripture be familiar with the sort of lessons Moore and other Bible study authors are trying to strain from their texts. 

    In straining to make the Bible relevant to the busy thirty- and forty-something with this sort of didactic license, I cannot help but believe that teachers do more harm than good. It perpetuates the notion that God caters to each of our personal problems personally, and that the Bible somehow anticipated all of our daily struggles, even those most remote from the intentions of the text. That can only lead to an arrogant and imperialistic acquisition of Scripture for our own purposes, and is in its own way no less damaging than what “fundamentalist atheists” do when trying to find problems in the text based on their own anachronistic readings. 

    Biblical books like Isaiah do not need to be strained into relevance this way. Understanding them as family histories of the church, so to speak, will be more than sufficient to make them relevant to the modern Christian, save those whose self-centeredness allows them to maintain the illusion that the text is All About Me. All of this would be of no matter if writers like Moore were simply motivational speakers rather than motivational speakers posing as exegetes. But they are not. 

    I wish we could do better than Beth Moore for our Bible study “stars”. But as long as self is at the center, I’m afraid that we won’t.
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