Thursday, April 26, 2007

Getting Meyered Down

A few weeks ago I asked someone to please explain why Joyce Meyer was selected to be one of the distinguished plenary speakers at the 2007 World Conference of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) to be held in Nashville, Tennessee this summer. A friend's recent inquiry about my estimation of Mrs. Meyer's teaching prompted me to elaborate on the reason for my befuddlement.
First, let me state that my confusion about and objection to AACC's choice has nothing to do with the fact that Mrs. Meyer is not a formally trained, professional counselor (a number of the other plenary speakers are not either). I would be the last person to insist that formal psychological training is necessary for one to be an effective counselor. As one commenter pointed out, Meyer has written numerous books (many of them bestsellers) on emotional and mental issues that would certainly be of interest to those engaged in the ministry of counseling. The cause of my consternation is theological. I can't understand why an influential evangelical organization (AACC has a membership of nearly 50,000) with a vision of "want[ing] to serve the worldwide Christian church by helping it become more mature in Christ" and a commitment to historic Christian orthodoxy, would endorse someone who has consistently dispensed aberrant teaching including the unbiblical doctrine that Jesus' atoning work was only partially accomplished by his death on the cross and completed in hell where he continued to suffer on behalf of sinners (see the following articles from the Christian Research Institute, the Apologetic Index, and Personal Freedom Outreach for details).

As Meyer's evangelical audience has broadened, she has distanced herself from Word of Faith leaders like Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagin. One would hope this is due to her having come to see the error of their teachings but a careful examination of her ministry's website leads me to believe that this dissociation is due more to savvy marketing than to any rejection of the erroneous tenets of Word of Faith theology.

Joyce Meyer Ministries tries to quell potential discomfort and/or suspicion on account of her Word of Faith ties with the inclusion of the following questions and responses in its FAQ's:
Is Joyce Meyer Ministries a "word of faith" ministry?
Joyce Meyer Ministries believes in the Word of God. Joyce teaches that God has made promises to us in His Word and as believers, we should trust His promises (see 2 Peter 1:3,4). However, it can be damaging when people place their faith in faith alone instead of placing their faith in God. Misappropriation of God’s promises solely for personal gain is not scripturally supported.
Does Joyce Meyer Ministries teach a "prosperity gospel"?
Joyce Meyer Ministries believes that God desires to bless His people. Joyce teaches that God’s blessings and prosperity apply to the spiritual, emotional, physical and financial areas of life. These blessings and prosperity are then to be used to bless others (see Genesis 12:1-3). A “prosperity gospel” that solely equates blessing with financial gain is out of balance and could damage a person’s walk with God.
Notice that in neither case does Meyer answer the question directly, allowing her to safeguard against alienating herself from either the Word of Faith audience with which she at one time more openly identified or mainstream evangelicals who would steer clear of anything that smacked of "name it and claim it" teaching. All she does is affirm belief in God's Word and promises, an affirmation with which every Christian (and many cultists) would agree. The critical issue is not whether Meyer believes that God has made promises in which we should place our confidence. It's whether what she believes the Word of God says is consonant with Word of Faith teaching in which case it is discordant with biblical teaching.

Meyer's caution against placing faith in faith instead of in God is hard to make sense of in light of her practice and advocacy of "positive confession." Linked to from her ministry's website is a list of confessions Meyer developed and began confessing over her life in the early 1980s. The following are some of the more interesting of the seventy affirmations with my comments in parentheses:
I love all people, and I am loved by all people. (cf. Luke 21:17)

All my children have lots of Christian friends, and God has set aside a Christian wife or husband for each of them.
I take good care of my body. I eat right, I look good, I feel good, and I weigh what God wants me to weigh.
I operate in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are tongues and interpretation of tongues, the working of miracles, discerning of spirits, the word of faith, the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom, healings, and prophecy. (Aside from the fact that the apostle Paul teaches that no believer possesses every spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12: 4ff), the omission of what Paul identifies as a higher gift is interesting in light of the following confession.)
I am a teacher of the Word.
I know God's voice, and I always obey what He tells me.
My car is paid for.
I am rich - very rich.
I receive speaking engagements in person, by phone, and/or by mail every day.
We have all the new furniture we need. We have a new car.
More on the power of positive confessions can be found in Meyer's commentary on "healing Scriptures" and her brief article "God's Prescription for a Sound Mind" in which she advises: "As you recognize a lie to your mind, always defend yourself out loud. That means speaking to Satan and the evil forces out loud, binding them in the Name of Jesus, and forbidding them to lie to you and to use your mind" (emphasis hers).
In an excellent article titled "Those Know-Nothing Christians," Michael Spencer describes and seeks to account for a widespread phenomenon in American evangelicalism - the desire on the part of high-profile Christian leaders to be as doctrinally nondescript as possible so as to achieve what Spencer calls "doctrinal invisibility." As he puts it:
Contemporary Christians want to go high-profile in every conceivable way except in saying what they believe. In doctrinal matters, the best most can do is a kind of generic "Jesus is Lord-ism," and the worst is to declare war on confessional Christians as divisive bigots harming the Body of Christ and driving away seekers.
Spencer identifies three contributing factors to doctrinal invisibility, among them - commercial interests. His comments on this point are relevant to the subject of this post:
Take, for example, the Christian publishing empires. A successful author such as Joyce Meyer now crosses any and all confessional lines and is marketed as a generic evangelical. Her books are as palatable to Pentecostals and Baptists as they are to Charismatic Catholics. The fact that Mrs. Meyer is a member in good standing of the Word-Faith movement of Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagin is not going to be emphasized. The day when a Word-Faith teacher would be unwelcome in a Baptist church are gone. Mrs. Meyer, who has many commendable applications of scripture, gives no evidence in her popular books of a specific commitment to anything other than the most generic kind of Christianity. One will read all her books without finding that Mrs. Meyer holds loyally to the bizarre views of Hagin and Copeland.
Such doctrinal invisibility is on purpose. The editors and publishers of the thousands of books Meyer sells will make sure that no hint of her own specific Word-Faith doctrines appear on to those pages. While there are some publishers that exist to present specific doctrinal points of view, the largest and most influential Christian commercial interests are the most skillful practitioners of doctrinal invisibility.
Perhaps Joyce Meyer speaking at the AACC conference is a testimony to the effectiveness of the kind of doctrinal camouflaging Spencer describes. I'd prefer to think the invitation was extended because of ignorance of her theological leanings rather than with full knowledge (though that raises other questions about the care taken in selecting speakers). Whatever the case, it's lamentable that the AACC is commending her to pastors, lay counselors and clinical professionals called to serve a church sorely lacking in biblical discernment.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Twenty Years of Pastors' Conference Audio

The good folks at Desiring God Ministries have made the last twenty years of their annual pastors' conference messages (a total of 127) available online for free! Looking over the themes, I think I'll start with 2001. What a gift this is to the body of Christ. Many thanks to Dr. Piper and everyone at DGM!

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Cold Compassion

In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre, Peggy Noonan considers the heartlessness of our media and therapy culture:
I wondered about the emptiness of the phrases used by the media and by political figures, and how pro forma and lifeless and cold they are. The formalized language of loss hasn't kept up with the number of tragedies. "A nation mourns." "Our prayers are with you." The latter is both self-complimenting and of dubious believability. Did you really pray? Or is it just a phrase?

And this as opposed to the honest things normal people say: "Oh no." "I am so sorry." "I'm sad." "It's horrible."

With all the therapy in our great therapized nation, with all our devotion to emotions and feelings, one senses we are becoming a colder culture, and a colder country. We purport to be compassionate--we must respect Mr. Cho's privacy rights and personal autonomy--but of course it is cold not to have protected others from him. It is cold not to have protected him from himself.

Death and Resurrection

Having recently performed the funeral of a dear friend and now watching another suffer with inoperable cancer, the subject of death has been frequently on my mind. The current issue of Christianity Today has an article by Dennis Ngien called "Picture Christ" that I found especially helpful. Ngien interacts with Martin Luther's "A Sermon on Preparing to Die" in which Luther identifies three ways in which the devil tries to use death to undermine a believer's faith. One way is to remind us that death is ultimately a sign of God's wrath toward sinners. Luther wrote:
In that way, [the devil] fills our foolish human nature with the dread of death while cultivating a love and concern for life, so that burdened with such thoughts man forgets God, flees and abhors death, and thus, in the end, is and remains disobedient to God.
Ngien explains:
Luther's remedy for this first temptation is to contemplate death all the more, but to do so at the right time—which is not the time of death. Instead, he exhorts us to "invite death into our presence when it is still at a distance and not on the move"—that is, in our daily lives long before death threatens us. Conversely, Luther counsels Christians to banish thoughts of death at the final hour and to use that time to meditate on life.
Luther's advice brought to mind a gathering of high school students I attended years ago in which the youth pastor asked how many of them had never attended a funeral. I was stunned by the number of hands raised. By the time I was their age I had been to a number of funerals and wakes. And, if my memory serves me correctly, at least one visitation service took place in a home! I'm sure many parents think they're doing their children a service by shielding them from the reality and pain of death but regardless of our good intentions we should consider whether what we're really doing is depriving them (not to mention ourselves) of opportunities to gain wisdom. "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting," the Preacher wrote, "for this is the end of mankind, and the living will lay it to heart" (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

Of course, the Christian contemplates death in light of Christ's resurrection and the resurrection of the righteous upon His return. This doctrine has taken on greater significance and become brighter to my mind's eye as I miss one brother and will soon be missing another. My yearning for the redemption of our bodies was recently stirred by two messages given by N. T. Wright last month at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke, Virginia. A friend to whom I had recommended Michael Wittmer's book Heaven is a Place on Earth, thought I might enjoy hearing Wright's talks and sent me the links. I listened and loved what I heard! One line I found particularly memorable is, "Heaven is a wonderful place but it's not the end of the world." Wright's point is that the end of Christ's redemptive work is the restoration and renewal of creation, not liberation from it. I think he's correct in claiming that this biblical emphasis often escapes our thinking and consequently does not impact our individual and corporate life as it should. For those who'd like to listen, here are the links:

Resurrection and the Future World

Resurrection and the Task of the Church

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Men and Friendship

Thabiti Anyabwile looks at the characteristics of meaningful friendships and what hinders men from forming them. He concludes with five helpful questions for assessing the quality and depth of our relationships:

  1. Is this person God's friend? (James 2:23)
  2. Can I share meaningful things with this person?
  3. Is my unwillingness to share connected with a character fault in the other or in myself (fear, distrust, etc)?
  4. Am I being too passive in the cultivation of meaningful friendships? If so, how will I change this pattern of behavior?
  5. Am I making myself available to other men for godly friendship?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Interview with Elyse Fitzpatrick

Lydia Brownback asks author and biblical counselor Elyse Fitzpatrick about women, sin and sanctification, and two of her books - Idols of the Heart and Because He Loves Me: How God's Love Transforms Our Identity and Life (part 1 | part 2). (HT: Justin Taylor)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"It Begins in the Mind"

This week's Kairos Journal update includes the following quote from A. W. Tozer on the origin and progression of idolatry:
Let us beware lest we in our pride accept the erroneous notion that idolatry consists only in kneeling before visible objects of adoration, and that civilized peoples are therefore free from it. The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place. “When they knew God,” wrote Paul, “they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
Then followed the worship of idols fashioned after the likeness of men and birds and beasts and creeping things. But this series of degrading acts began in the mind. Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.
Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God. - A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: HaperCollins, 1961), 3-4.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Letter from a Christian Citizen: A Response to Sam Harris

Covenant Media Foundation announces a new book by Douglas Wilson:
Last year, Sam Harris made headlines and topped bestseller lists with his “angry and honest” Letter to a Christian Nation. At its heart, this little book was an atheist complaint against Christians: Harris pointed an accusing finger at the church, telling Christians that they weren’t as nice as they thought they were and warning fellow agnostics that the Christians were out to get them. Prominent intellectuals and anti-Christians were quick to praise this little book; as one Harvard professor wrote, “Reading Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation was like sitting ring side, cheering the champion, yelling ‘Yes!’ at every jab.”
In response, Douglas Wilson has written his own little book: Letter From a Christian Citizen. As Gary DeMar writes in the foreword, “Douglas Wilson has taken the operating assumptions of Sam Harris seriously and has shown what life would be like if the world were consistent with atheistic assumptions.” Walking through Harris’ claims step-by-step, Wilson dismantles his arguments and demonstrates that honesty lies on the side of the Christians, not the atheists.
“Douglas Wilson has done the near impossible. He made me glad that Sam Harris wrote his anti-God tract because it provided an occasion for Doug to write such a literate, compelling, and engaging response. I hope Bible study groups and Sunday school classes across the country set aside their normal lessons for a few weeks and gather together to study and discuss Wilson’s Letter from a Christian Citizen.”
Craig J. Hazen, Ph.D.
Director, Master of Arts Program in Christian Apologetics
Biola University, La Mirada, California
“Douglas Wilson has written a book that can give Christians a place to stand in regard to Sam Harris’ book Letter to a Christian Nation. The primary usefulness of Wilson’s book is that it gives readers a point-by-point response to the arguments advanced by Harris in an engaging and compelling way.”
Dr. Leland Ryken
Professor of English at Wheaton College
“In the interaction between Doug Wilson and Sam Harris, one of them is wrong and one is right. If you can’t figure it out after reading this exchange, you never will.”
Hanna Rosin
Washington Post staff writer & contributing editor, The Atlantic Monthly
Since Newsweek got Harris to debate God's existence with Rick Warren, perhaps they can arrange a similar (though more evenly matched) meeting with Doug Wilson.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Correction Regarding the Isakson Stem Cell Bill

Last week I wrote in response to a Washington Times article about a bill (S. 30) sponsored by Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). According to the paper, the White House was in support of the bill which would allow federal funding for research on embryos deemed incapable of surviving in the womb.

A few minutes ago I received an email from Stand to Reason's Melinda Penner who, after reading my post, asked Scott Klusendorf for his take on the proposed legislation. Scott forwarded the following comments from National Right to Life:

[On April 11, the Senate will also vote on a second bill, S. 30, sponsored by Senators Norm Coleman (R-Mn.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), that would encourage federal funding for research into new ways to obtain different kinds of stem cells suitable for research, without harming human embryos. The Coleman-Isakson bill is titled the “Hope Offered through Principled and Ethical Stem Cell Research Act,” or “HOPE Act.” NRLC has no objection to S. 30.]
The Family Research Council offers further clarification:

Misleading reports claim that S. 30 would fund research on human embryos if they are "nonviable." In fact, S. 30 would fund all stem cell research, including both adult stem cells and stem cells that are "embryonic-like" so long as they are not derived from embryos that are harmed, placed at risk, or destroyed. The bill allows the funding of research on stem cells taken from naturally dead embryos--but not if their death was hastened in any way. We are neutral on S. 30 because, while it holds the ethical line, we want to be sure its safeguards are observed in practice.
I'm relieved to learn that the Times report was in error. I regret circulating misinformation and am grateful to Melinda and Scott for their help in clarifying the issue. Melinda has encouraged Scott to offer further analysis and explanation of the bill at Life Training Institute's blog so keep an eye out.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

O Sing Hallelujah!

Our Lord Christ hath risen!
The tempter is foiled;
His legions are scattered,
His strongholds are spoiled.
O sing Hallelujah! O sing Hallelujah!
O sing Hallelujah, be joyful and sing,
Our great foe is baffled - Christ Jesus is King!

O sin, thou art vanquished,
Thy long reign is o'er;
Though still thou dost vex us,
We dread thee no more.
O sing Hallelujah! O sing Hallelujah!
O sing Hallelujah, be joyful and sing,
Who now can condemn us? Christ Jesus is King!

O death we defy thee!
A stronger than thou
Hath entered thy palace;
We fear thee not now!
O sing Hallelujah! O sing Hallelujah!
O sing Hallelujah, be joyful and sing,
The grave cannot scare us - Christ Jesus is King!

Our Lord Christ hath risen!
Day breaketh at last;
The long night of weeping
Is now well-nigh past.
O sing Hallelujah! O sing Hallelujah!
O sing Hallelujah, be joyful and sing,
Our foes are all conquered - Christ Jesus is King!
- Lord Plunket - Bishop of Meath, 1629-1681

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3)

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Wanted: Moral Clarity at the White House

The Washington Times reports that yesterday the White House expressed support for a bill that would allow federal funding of embryonic stem cell research using embryos deemed incapable of surviving in the womb and/or that have died during fertility treatments. The article applauds the bill, authored by Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, as one that "skirts moral concerns over using embryonic stem cells while ensuring federal funding for the breakthrough science."

A White House spokesman is quoted as saying that the Bush administration is "very supportive" of the legislation and that "By intensifying support for non-destructive alternatives, we can advance medical research in valuable ways while respecting ethical boundaries. But it's mistaken and/or misleading to describe the proposed legislation as a solution to the ethical problem of embryonic stem cell research. Experimentation on already dead embryos poses no problem. However, harvesting stem cells from living embryos is destructive in that it terminates the embryo's life. That the embryos are going to die anyway because they can't survive in the womb is ethically irrelevant. A consistently pro-life stance acknowledges the intrinsic value of every human life and rejects pleas to take innocent life on the grounds that death is inevitable and countless other lives could benefit.

There appears to be a puzzling inconsistency in the administration's thinking. As the article points out, President Bush last year vetoed a bill providing federal funding for embryonic stem cell research because "he said taxpayers should not support research on embryos at fertility clinics, even if the embryos would otherwise be destroyed. Now he says that federal funding for destructive embryonic stem cell research is acceptable because the embryos to be used would otherwise be destroyed, only this time in the womb.

The Isakson bill is a compromise - a moral one.

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Evangelicals and Divorce

In today's Wall Street Journal, David Instone-Brewer, author of Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, notes the disparity between what the Bible teaches about divorce and the attitudes and practices of many evangelicals:
Many have privately abandoned the Bible's teaching on divorce. American law has pushed them along. For many years, divorce was a tort--legally possible only if one party to the marriage contract had violated it. Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, signed a no-fault divorce bill in 1970, and within 15 years every state in the union had a similar law. The cultural conversation shifted away from marriage's mutual obligations--codified in law--and toward personal fulfillment.
The recent emphasis on the rights of individuals has even been encouraged by the current crop of evangelical preachers. Joel Osteen, the senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, and Joyce Meyer, a Christian television and radio personality, have built their ministries on promoting individual development. It seems that this development can often be found in marriage, but also, for some, in divorce.
And since Joyce Meyer's name came up, now is a good time for me to air a question that's been bugging me for a few weeks now. Could someone please tell me why Mrs. Meyer is among the distinguished plenary speakers at this year's world conference of the American Association of Christian Counselors?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"A Creation-Affirming Doctrine"

Christianity Today "resurrects" a four-year-old interview with N. T. Wright about the Christian doctrine of resurrection and its implications. It's a necessary corrective to "evangeli-gnosticism" according to which escape from physicality, as opposed to the restoration of creation, is redemption's end:
I grew up with the view that in the early Old Testament period, there was no interest in life after death. In a middle period, represented by some of the Psalms, there were the beginnings of an interest in life after death. And then finally, with Daniel, you get resurrection, as though that's a progression away from the early period.
The view that I came to is that the main thing the whole Old Testament is concerned with is the God of Israel, as the Creator God who has made a good creation, and that what matters about human life really is that it's meant to be lived within God's good, lovely, created world. That is equally emphatic in the early period, where you get agricultural festivals that celebrate Yahweh as king over the crops and the land. It's equally emphatic there and in the doctrine of resurrection. From that point of view, the idea of a disembodied, nonspacio-temporal life after death appears as a rather odd blip in between these two strong affirmations of the goodness of the created order and the wonderful God-givenness of human bodily life within that created order.
So, instead of resurrection being a step away from the early period, it is a way of reaffirming what the early period was trying to get at: the goodness of creation.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Dever on Choosing a Seminary

Mark Dever identifies five factors those contemplating a seminary education should consider when selecting a school.

Infanticide by Any Other Name

Scott Klusendorf shares his strategic response to the charge that the pro-life description of partial birth abortion is misleading, extremist rhetoric:
When critics call our descriptions of partial-birth abortion extreme, I first ask them to describe the procedure:

"Obviously, you must be an expert on partial-birth abortion to call my description medically inaccurate and extreme. So here is your chance to set the record straight. Why don’t you explain the procedure so those listening can hear for themselves where my description is extreme?"
Once the question is put like that, the game is up. Without exception, my critic either 1) doesn't know the specifics of the procedure, or 2) knows full well the specifics, but tries to dodge the question.
Read the whole thing to find out how he develops his argument.