September 23, 2014

Rod Parsley Ruins Christmas

UPDATE: A story at Baptist Press spreads similar Christmas cheer.

If anyone knows Michael Horton’s email, send this one to him please. He’ll appreciate it.

There are two kinds of evangelicals who read the Internet Monk web site. The first, like myself, find it increasingly hard to identify with evangelicalism. The metaphor of “the evangelical wilderness” is one they find apropos. Like myself, they look around evangelicalism and see a landscape being devoured like a scene out of The Langoliers. Like myself, they find shelter in what other traditions haven’t yet thrown out and look hopefully towards a new generation of evangelicals to discern better than their elders what has been lost and what is wrong.

The second group of evangelical reader is happily, confidently, certainly evangelical and stands in some version of frustrated amazement at what is written and said here week after week. These are evangelicals for whom their pastors’ explanations from the Bible answer all questions, for whom evangelical leadership speaks a sure word and for whom the good always outweighs the bad in the family. They are cheerful Freds to my mumbling, unconverted Scrooge.

These readers often see my posts critiquing evangelicalism somewhere between immature whining and malicious betrayal. Despite the complexity of situations that face those in the community that exists around this blog and its offer of a “post-evangelical option,” these readers are confident that with enough good preaching and the right priorities, even persons such as myself could be rescued.

I write this bit of reminisce with both parties in mind. For the first, I write to confirm your convictions or suspicions that evangelicalism continues its demise. For the second, I offer this post as further evidence that the nature of the wrongs in evangelicalism are far deeper than you want to admit as you sit safely in your “niche.” In fact, what I will share with you is a scene of an evangelical apocalypse, quietly unfolding before you.

So, let’s talk about Rod Parsley.

If you aren’t familiar with Rod Parsley, the Wikipedia article is adequate for basic facts and his place in the culture war. It is not adequate at all in placing Parsley in the prosperity Gospel movement, where his preaching and teaching plays a prominent role via TBN, his books and the World Harvest Megachurch’s many conferences and events.

If you haven’t watched Parsley, you certainly need to do so, for several reasons. For one, he is an imposing man with extraordinary speaking abilities. He is insistent on retaining the distinctives of old time Pentecostalism and is highly critical of those streams in the Charismatic movement that are reluctant to talk about the Baptism of the Spirit as a distinct second word with the evidence of speaking in tongues.

Parsley is intelligent and winsome. He possesses massive personal charisma, which he uses in a mixture of evangelistic preaching, crass prosperity fund-raising, angry culture war rhetoric and a genuine concern for pastors and the church.

I’ve always placed Parsley in a different niche than other prosperity Gospel shills. For one thing, while he believes in the full array of Pentecostal gifts and manifestations, he does not appear to be interested in misrepresenting himself as anything other than a preacher, albeit one obsessed with the culture war. He has a strong view of scripture. He loves the church. He often preaches the distinctives of the Gospel in a far clearer way than anyone else in his camp.

While Parsley’s culture war ambitions are deeply grounded in assumptions that I believe are wrong and do not share, he does not appear to be a political opportunist. In all his zealous causes, he impresses me as sincere and always has, even when he scares me.

That includes a sincere devotion to the cancer that is the prosperity Gospel, which Parsley regularly invokes to increase his support.

Now I have often said that I believe the prosperity Gospel has spread throughout evangelicalism, and I have plenty of actual and anecdotal evidence that this is true. While the crasser versions of prosperity nonsense are obnoxious to many evangelicals, most evangelicals believe in some doctrine of economic prosperity where their current lifestyle as they conceive of it will be sustained by God in return for their own giving, worship and general obedience. They tend to believe this in regard to their churches and businesses as well.

Evangelicals do not, by and large, want the economics of Jesus, or to even contemplate what such a thing might even mean. The vast majority of evangelicals believe Satan is behind high gas prices and God sends low ones. This is who we are.

But does it affect the Gospel that we believe? Again, most evangelicals would say “No.” Whatever is believed about economics and financial prosperity, the Gospel remains simple, pure and spiritually applicable.

So…..I was sitting in the living room an hour perhaps before leaving for Christmas Eve worship services at 10:30 p.m. A Rod Parsley Christmas special was on.

I watched. After the music, Parsley appeared, sitting at a kitchen table with an open Bible and a cup of coffee.

Parsley proceded to interpret the incarnation of Jesus as an illustration of the prosperity gospel. He did not deny the incarnation at all. Oh no. He simply remade it into the raw material of a talk on how you can get a Christmas miracle of your very own.

Do you want a Christmas miracle of healing or finances?

Mary got a Christmas miracle. How did she do it? You can do the same!

I realized immediately I was watching something every bit as hostile and heinous as some radical Jesus critic telling us that this little account teaches us about the hopes and dreams of oppressed peasants everywhere, but Parsley was safely within the walls of Bible-believing evangelicalism as he took the meaning of the incarnation and transformed it into 5 Steps to Get God to Bail You Out.

The point that stays with me was something along the lines of “2. God desires a pure womb for his miracles.” So you should get rid of whatever bad influences are in your life so that you, too, can be a pure womb for the Holy Spirit to bring a Christmas miracle to you.

That’s right. The virgin birth is an illustration of moralistic repentance. Clean up your thought life so you, too, can be a virgin’s womb….so to speak.

Now Parsley is plenty intelligent enough to understand the Gospel and the Incarnation. He’s not a rube. Nor are his thousands of followers.

But he’s corrupted by the prosperity Gospel to the point that he can, on Christmas Eve, take the story of the incarnation and interpret it as a series of steps for you to emulate on your way to a Christmas miracle of your own.

The incarnation of a parable. The incarnation as a set of instructions of how to get God to heal your spouse or send money.

Now, I particularly want to ask iMonk readers in the previously mentioned group 2 a question: What percentage of the first 100 evangelicals we can find in the phone book would recognize that….

1. Parsley has denied the meaning of the incarnation?

2. Parsley has poisoned the incarnation with the Prosperity Gospel?

I’ll play and say that perhaps 10-15% would realize Parsley just denied the meaning of the incarnation and replaced it with the Prosperity cancer.

And that, my friends, is where were are in evangelicalism in 2008. Parsley may be a fringe nut job to you, but in evangelicalism world wide, he’s main stream, Dobson approved, TBN safe.

For calling out Parsley on this web site, I’ll get a hundred angry comments and emails. Dozens of pastors will take notes on that talk and use it again. And worst of all, half of those who know it’s a twisted, perverse reinterpretation of the incarnation will find ways to apologize for Parsley.

After all, scripture can mean so many different things. And who knows what God may have done with that message in the lives of the audience.

So here’s wishing you, dear reader, and all of us watching the evangelical circus, a Happy New Year. And may each of you learn the true lesson of the Christmas story: stop thinking bad thoughts and your life can become a virgin womb for a miracle, just like Mary.

She got hers; you can get yours.

One last note. A bout 90 minutes later, I heard the homily at midnight mass. An older, retired priest had written out his sermon for the 20 or so of us gathered at my wife’s church. He had one message: The incarnation was and is real. In all the other things we do at Christmas, don’t forget that God became a human being, so he could come to us and to our lives today and every day.

It’s good to know I could hear the truth of the Incarnation somewhere on Christmas Eve.

Comments

  1. Obed-
    Have you never heard of the Cargo Cult? It’s an especially insidious heresy that’s found in Papua New Guinea and some of the other Pacific islands.

  2. Obed: The Prosperity Gospel is destroying thousands of evangelical churches in Africa. It’s everywhere, thanks to TBN.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    IMonk: Could you do a series (or at least a few postings) on exactly HOW The Prosperity Gospel is destroying Africa? You’ve been hinting at this for some time, and I’d like to see you do a series specifically on the subject.

    Africa’s been Earth’s hard-luck continent and continuing disaster area for at least the past few centuries; the LAST thing they need is a destructive import.

    Kat: And (as we’re seeing here) in rich countries as well as poor ones.

    Have you ever heard of the Seventies Western version of the Cargo Cult? Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods and the whole “Ancient Astronauts” cult it spawned? (Though VDK did have some predecessors preparing the ground — the “Space Brothers” UFO Contactee cults of the Fifties.)

    Now the Prosperity Gospel is our era’s Western Cargo Cult. Do as the preacher-man says, send in your money, and God will bring you lotsa Cargo.

  4. HUG: Blogging by request is beyond my capabilities. There is plenty of stuff online about it. Most native religions are prosperity/fertility related so the Prosperity spin is easy to promote.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    It isn’t about money or wealth (did you catch the show where one of the prosperity people was trying to turn Mary and Joseph into an upwardly mobile upper middle class couple? Wish I could remember who… — David

    Yesterday was Holy Family Sunday in the liturgical calendar.

    MARY & JOSEPH AS YUPPIES? WTF??? St Joseph was a carpenter/contractor, as blue-collar as you can get!

    What was he thinking, the Gospel According to Seinfeld? Did he just celebrate Festivus, Feast of the Seinfeld Sneer — or Christmas, the Feast celebrating The Incarnation?

    IMonk, Sonja, Aliasmoi: Maybe IMonk could do a posting or two about the status and treatment of women in Evangelical circles? The dynamic I see happening is is a synergistic reaction of Feminist female-supremacy and an Evangelical male-supremacy.

  6. I’ll play. I’d say 10% of evangelicals would be able to identify Parsley’s error. The overwhelming majority of us are just not thoughtful enough about theology to make the connection.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying only 10% are smart enough, only that 90% just don’t care enough about thinking very deeply about these issues. I lived in Columbus for 3 1/2 years, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that while most white evangelicals are mildly embarrassed by Parsley’s theatrical methods, hardly any of them are bothered by what he teaches.

    Michael, I’ll only disagree with you on one point: Parsley IS a political opportunist. He tried to make an incredibly fast leap from local political power (he was highly instrumental in getting the Ohio Marriage act passed in 04), to national political power this year by trying to become McCain’s religious spokesperson. Fortunately, it backfired when McCain ejected him from the camp.

  7. I saw African prosperity preachers at Amsterdam 2000 over 8 years ago. It’s been going on a long time over there. Joni Erickson Tada told the crowd that she had more than one pastor try to heal her at that same conference. One guy told her to stand up and walk. It boggles the mind.

  8. Bob: Make no mistake, James Dobson is as much of a snake as any of that ilk.

    Regarding the heretic:

    As Simeon said to Mary in the Temple regarding the Christ child, “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). The Incarnation was not a lazy July picnic for Mary, the Lady of Sorrows, hardly an example of the prosperity Gospel.

  9. As a few have mentioned, the birth of Jesus was NO miracle. It was a totally normal biological event. Conception, OTOH, was truly a miracle.
    The only miracle I find in/around Bethlehem was the angelic chorus appearing to the shepherds.

    While not as “up front” with the prosperity gospel, we Campbellites come close. Thanks for the challenge to all to reevaluate their conception of the Good News.

  10. The birth of the God-man was no miracle, but a totally normal biological event?
    I don’t think so. He was born (not just conceived) of a virgin. That’s enough of a miracle for Isaiah to mention it.
    Weird.

  11. Wow — American Evangelicals blaming other American Evangelicals for “making the Kings of the earth drunk with the wine of their [her] fornication.”

    Now that’s something I never thought I’d witness ….

  12. As a follow up, I was referring to “for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, etc.” and not merely “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”

  13. It’s not only Africa, the prosperity gospel is also ravaging it’s way across the church in India.

    I have no doubt that variants of it will appear in China – if they haven’t done so already.

    Anything that speaks to result based works righteousness will always strike a chord with people – be they in Africa, India, Europe, America, etc. After all, if I can learn to control God, then I can get him to do what I want, and control my own destiny.

  14. I think calling Dobson a snake is unwarranted and over the top, even while I am uncomfortable with the culture war emphasis his ministry has assumed.

    Bob: I believe it was culture war alliances that allowed folks like Parsons to don the evangelical mantle.

    BTW, the prosperity cult has its followers in Europe, as well; I also think that there is only a difference of degree rather than essence between the prosperity cult and the Prayer of Jabez craze which swept Evangelicalism a few years ago.

  15. Sorry, that should have been Parsley not Parsons in my comment above.

  16. When I started getting “inklings” and began investigating Christianity, I turned to the resources available to me. Unfortunately, one of those was TBN. At that time, I had a vague understanding, at best, of the gospel message of salvation. I watched hours of programming, said different versions of the lord’s prayer, and got saved several times.

    The main message I received from TBN was that Jesus suffered so I did not have to, and if I gave enough money to all the preachers, God would reward me ten fold in personal and financial prosperity.

    Thankfully that period did not last too long, and I never sowed any “seed money” to grow my miracle, or made myself a virgin womb for my miracle, or invested $1,000 in “God’s bank” for a guaranteed 10/1 rate of return, or paid money to get slapped on the forehead by Benny Hin.

    However, I do remember one particular item: a large cool looking sword. Rod Parsley wanted me to be a culture warrior for God, and with modest contribution, he would send me a battle sword. Now, he did not promise that his sword would heal or provide financial miracles, and there is nothing wrong with gifts in exchange for a tithe. But I remember thinking, “Really? A sword?”

  17. sonja, you are actually expressing the Catholic view of the matter. As the Catechism says:

    “490 To become the mother of the Savior, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace”. In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.

    492 The “splendor of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son”. The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love”.
    494 At the announcement that she would give birth to “the Son of the Most High” without knowing man, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responded with the obedience of faith, certain that “with God nothing will be impossible”: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word.” Thus, giving her consent to God’s word, Mary becomes the mother of Jesus. Espousing the divine will for salvation wholeheartedly, without a single sin to restrain her, she gave herself entirely to the person and to the work of her Son; she did so in order to serve the mystery of redemption with him and dependent on him, by God’s grace.”

    treebeard, I think you’re trying to say what St. Augustine is getting at here:

    “Now, beloved, give me your whole attention, for you also are members of Christ; you also are the body of Christ. Consider how you yourselves can be among those of whom the Lord said: Here are my mother and my brothers. Do you wonder how you can be the mother of Christ? He himself said: Whoever hears and fulfills the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother. As for our being the brothers and sisters of Christ, we can understand this because although there is only one inheritance and Christ is the only Son, his mercy would not allow him to remain alone. It was his wish that we too should be heirs of the Father, and co-heirs with himself.

    “Now having said that all of you are brothers of Christ, shall I not dare to call you his mother? Much less would I dare to deny his words. Tell me how Mary became the mother of Christ, if it was not by giving birth to the members of Christ? You, to whom I am speaking, are the members of Christ. Now you in your turn must draw to the font of baptism as many as you possibly can. You became sons when you were born there yourselves, and now by bringing others to birth in the same way, you have it in your power to become the mothers of Christ.”

  18. “After all, if I can learn to control God, then I can get him to do what I want, and control my own destiny”

    That is not Religion. It is the practice of Magic.

    Not Luther, but rather, Merlin.

  19. piratemonk says:

    Tieing Dobson to the prosperity gospel is way beyond a stretch. While his cultural war emphasis is susspect and no doubt smacks of dominion theology it is intellectually dishonest to connect the two.

    We outght to point to our own failure to police our own, or perhaps visit our outrage at our inability to stand united even in our demnominational diversions and put down this herisy that nuetuers the Gospel to merely a financial plan or Tony Robbins methodology. We ought to direct our efforts at protecting the poor, the downtrodden from this putrid American crap spewed across the airwaves all over the world.

  20. Charley – a sword? Man, all we get are Apostolic Blessings! ;-)

  21. Calling Dobson a snake might be going to far, but he lost his bearings a long time ago. The dominionism he preaches is at odds with the Gospel; it teaches that the kingdom can be brought on by force (a.k.a. political organizing in the U.S.).
    Plenty of folks in Palestine believed that Jesus was going to usher in the kingdom that way too. What a disappointment He turned out to be… ;-)

  22. Dobson may not be a prosperity teacher, but his underlying assumptions aren’t much different from the prosperity gospel. He doesn’t promise riches, but he uses the same pattern: Follow these three steps, ban this video game and sign this petition and your kids will grow up “safe” and never be corrupted by the world!

  23. Sorry if by saying that Dobson is a snake I was implying that he was involved with the Prosperity gospel. By “that ilk” I was referring to culture warrior televangelist loony tunes more than outright heretics.

  24. Dear HUG,

    May I suggest that you google, “Sheri Klouda” for an idea on how some evangelicals treat women. If you find Wade Burleson’s blog, you will find some more, especially in the extreme end.

    Personal experience, I did have some problems myself. Being almost ordered to lie, by another woman to a man, because I didn’t want to teach something in Bible Study. Only being allowed to teach adult women, not even a mixed group. Seeing men, with less time as Christians, (nor advanced study) being leaders over women with longer periods a Christian. Most took place in Southern California, but my first experience of the last type, Baptist college in Kentucky.

  25. Sam Urfer:

    Thank you for clarifying that because the reference to Dr. James Dobson as a snake was troubling to me as well.

  26. Amen on Klouda. A low point for Baptists, most of whom were totally unaware of what happened.

  27. From my book “The Hidden Kingdom: The United States in Biblical Prophecy” –

    I sometimes like to tell people that I know why the world is in such sorry shape. It is that God and his angels are too busy picking lottery numbers. I get this image of all the hopeful praying fervently that their respective numbers will come out — angels collecting those prayers in their bowls as heavenly facsimiles of lottery tickets and bringing them to the Throne of Grace — and God, in His Infinite Wisdom, deciding which numbers will be chosen.

    And then there’s this one angel who comes to the Almighty Throne with a problem — not numbers, but a real problem from some unfortunate earthbound believer.

    God looks over the situation and then impatiently asks the angel, “Well, what numbers does she want?” — to which the angel responds, “She didn’t pick any numbers, she just prayed for help with this problem.”

    And God says in consternation, “Well, how can I help her if she doesn’t play the lottery. Go back down there and tell her that she has to be in it to win it.”

    Actually, I believe that the only truly random events in the Universe may be which lottery numbers come out (at least the ones that aren’t fixed.) I don’t think God gets involved with lotteries at all, except on certain occasions when He might put His divine hand in to make sure that a certain special child of His doesn’t win big enough to damage his or her spirituality. pp109-110

  28. imonk good stuff, but i had to check out the grinning Zombie myself – man, honestly u can’t even make it up anymore (is it me? or is there something somewhat pornographic about it all? :)

    http://www.rodparsley.com/mediaplayer/index.aspx?EpisodeID=1207

    http://www.rodparsley.com/mediaplayer/index.aspx?EpisodeID=1208

    just remember, if u shoot one Zombie they’ll be 10 more to take his place

  29. rev.oldskool says:

    iv’e lived most of my life in lancaster.(near the world harvest church) iv’e spent most of my life dealing with the product of his teaching.as a co-worker of many from his flock,i often felt rebuke.i’m a very “rough around the edges” looking fella, as i am a “street evangelist”. i was spared a certain early death from drugs and alchohol.with that said,i’ll never make it in a prosperity based faith because i am reminded of jesus’ teachings that “those who will be first, will be last.” or perhaps reminded that we are not to “store our treasures on earth.” i’d rather use the money to “bring a friend.” didn’t JESUS tell the wealthy man and disciples in matthew 19:23″i tell you the truth,it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” it’s not for the weak of heart, living pillar-to-post! GOD has blessed my life enough with the gift of breath each and every day.

  30. rasselas,

    Why do people feel like they have to equate something that they don’t like in Christian circles with pornography?

    I hear or read the comparison made about once a month, and quite frankly its as distasteful now as the first time I heard it.

    I do have a sense of humor, but comparing anything Christian to pornography crosses the line for me.

  31. Ky boy but not now says:

    tanegeel
    “Dobson may not be a prosperity teacher, but his underlying assumptions aren’t much different from the prosperity gospel. He doesn’t promise riches, but he uses the same pattern: Follow these three steps, ban this video game and sign this petition and your kids will grow up “safe” and never be corrupted by the world!”

    I really stopped listening to Dobson when he got deep into politics. 10 – 15 years ago. This wasn’t his message back then. His message used to be work hard at raising your kids. Be humble. Pray. And God is in charge.

    I guess he changed?

  32. Clay Knick says:

    Michael this was splendid.

  33. I do have a sense of humor, but comparing anything Christian to pornography crosses the line for me.

    How are you on St Paul and Isaiah comparing works righteousness to used tampons?

    Thing is – I know what he means, there is something ‘pornographic’ about prosperity presentations. It’s like CS Lewis’s picture of a country where a men salivate in a room whilst a steak is slowly revealed from behind a curtain.

  34. Martha,
    Thanks very much for that St. Augustine quote. I never heard that before, and that articulates my understanding better than the version I heard previously.

  35. How are you on St Paul and Isaiah comparing works righteousness to used tampons?

    Thing is – I know what he means, there is something ‘pornographic’ about prosperity presentations. It’s like CS Lewis’s picture of a country where a men salivate in a room whilst a steak is slowly revealed from behind a curtain.

    “Filthy rags” are at least morally neutral. They are of no value according to Paul. Comparing facets of Christianity to pornography, takes it another step further.

  36. You’re welcome, treebeard. It’s all part of the Pavlovian RC conditioning, you know; mention “Mary” and all this stuff comes pouring out ;-)

  37. JayH (Histrion) says:

    I agree with dumb ox about Marian cults: when iMonk paraphrased part of Parsley’s message as That’s right. The virgin birth is an illustration of moralistic repentance. Clean up your thought life so you, too, can be a virgin’s womb….so to speak, all I could think was, “Wow, it’s like he’s stumping for acceptance of the Immaculate Conception.”

  38. Sigh.

    If (big “if”) evangelicals were to accept the Nicene Creed as an article/articulation of their faith, it might just be possible that people would start to see Parsley’s (and others) errors for what they are. (Or not.)

    I wonder when we Protestants will take a long, hard look at this kind of “teaching” and openly declare it to be that of another, highly syncretistic religion that’s making use of certain aspects of Christianity?

    (I could expand on that, especially given Parsley’s outright hate speech about Islam and Muslims, but won’t. You all ca fill in the blanks pretty easily, I’m thinking.)

  39. “Filthy rags” are at least morally neutral.

    Actually, they aren’t. Menstrual rags would be one of those things that would render an Old Testament believer unclean for a time – in a way that sin alone, which could be atoned for the next day wouldn’t. ‘Filthy rags’ doesn’t really capture the shock value of that statement.

    Comparing facets of Christianity to pornography, takes it another step further

    When the fruits of prosperity are carefully paraded in front of the screen whilst the preacher confidentially reveals how God can be manipulated into producing all of these for you, I don’t think the language of lust or indeed pornography is too strong or indeed inappropriate.

    Scripture values fidelity to God more greatly than middle class sensibilities, and knows of no sin more serious than idolatry. There is nothing Christian about trying to manipulate God into getting you what you really really want. Against the unfaithful believer, the Bible uses the language of Ezekiel 23:20

  40. Chris E.

    I surrender! :)

  41. I wish I had this earlier for this post, but Pastor Dieter Reida has an excellent list of “Thou Shalts” to consider when preparing a Christmas service. Take note of it, and refer to it again next year.

  42. When I hear messages like Parsley’s, I ‘hear’ e.g…the womb is the dark place where humanity (flesh) is conceived. And in that dark field of fleshly procreation… God planted a righteous seed. That precious seed was formed in darkness of the womb, born into darkness of the world, but unlike all His fleshly brethren, He was Life. His immersion into the Second death (death of His soul)…made it possible for each of us to come forth from the dark womb of death and pass ‘from death to Life. The Father then becomes my rock, shield, deliverer, fortress, and strength..(the real prosperity gospel)! Rather than wasting words condemning the words of other men..we might be better served speaking Words of Life.