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.

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