My reliable source for the culture war, prosperity gospel, and all things “trend-a-gelical” is The Christian Post. They call themselves “the nationâ€™s most comprehensive Christian news website…delivering up-to-date news, information, and commentaries relevant to Christians across denominational lines.” Actually, most of the time it’s like walking into a bad Christian bookstore with mostly bargain book quality material.
Nevertheless, it keeps me informed about what’s happening in some of the main rings of the evangelical circus.
Exhibit A: today’s article about Joyce Meyer, with the tagline, “Charismatic televangelist and bestselling author Joyce Meyer on Thursday opened up about the death of her younger brother David as part of a message on the life of self-pity versus the life of diligence and faith.”
I usually don’t bother commenting on such prosperity gospel mavens as Meyer, but this message is such a glaring example of the false “American Gospel” and prosperity message of self-righteousness that I am making an exception.
In Thursday’s message at the C3 Conference at Fellowship Church in Dallas, Joyce Meyer got personal. She told the sad story of her brother, a Marine Corps veteran who became addicted to drugs and whose life turned into a series of bad choices spiraling down to a tragic death. His decomposed body was found after Christmas in an abandoned building after he had gone missing for thirty days. He left only a few meager personal effects.
My jaw dropped when I read her comment. She said, “My personal effects and his personal effects are sadly different. What are your personal effects going to be when your time here is up?” Apparently a person’s life DOES consist in the abundance of his possessions.
This contrast became the sum and substance of her message: what made her life different from her brother’s?
Her text was John 5, the story of the paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda whom Jesus healed. When Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be healed, he responded with self-pity, complaining, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” (5:7) For thirty-eight years, the man had laid there without being healed.
Joyce Meyer likened this to what her brother did. “He (David) just wanted to lay by the pool another year, feel sorry for himself, blame somebody and remain crippled.”
Even though Meyer herself experienced sexual abuse at the hands of her father and had a difficult childhood, she chose another direction. Even though the crippled man in the gospel story couldn’t move much, Meyer suggested he could have at least wiggled to the edge of the pool. Applying this to herself, she testified, “I got tired of laying by the pool and I decided to wiggle.”
So, this is the application: “I think sometimes God has a miracle for people but he sees if they’re going to wiggle first,” she said. “Next time you’re having a pity party and want to give up, I hope the Holy Ghost whispers in your ear, wiggle!” Or, as the Christian Post summarizes the point of her talk: “it’s up to the person’s determination to follow God’s plan, not his circumstances, that allow him to reap God’s promises.”
And finally, the inevitable prosperity gospel mantra: “God operates on the seed principle of faith, Meyer pointed out. No matter how pathetic the attempt is, if we try our best then God will bless us, she said.”
This is classic. So classic.
First, draw a stark dramatic contrast that captures the audience’s emotions and defines the “winners” and “losers.” On the one hand you have Joyce Meyer’s brother, who made an absolute mess of his life (read her message for detailsâ€”and believe me, they are gory), and met the most tragic, dreadful end imaginable. LOSER. On the other hand, you have the heroâ€”Ms. Meyer herselfâ€”world-renowned preacher and wealthy, happy Christian celebrity, with millions of books sold and TV programs broadcast all over the world, who overcame the worst odds and achieved the greatest success. WINNER.
Second, find a Biblical story that has a line or two that seems to apply and which confirms your point and your audience’s prejudices. The only line in the Gospel story that seems to apply at all to Meyer’s personal narrative is the complaint uttered by the paralytic. And she interprets it in remarkably American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” terms. You see, this man’s problem was not that he was paralyzed, but rather that he was expecting others to help him rather than try to help himself. And so he just laid there (for 38 years!) griping and complaining.
[Joyce! I want to shout. The man was paralyzed! He DID need someone to help him! Maybe it's even part of the story's lesson that a man like that could lie near the Temple for years without receiving any help.]
Meanwhile, the audience is nodding and agreeing. We all know people like that lazy paralytic! Won’t move a muscle to help themselves!
Question: Where’s the grief over Joyce Meyer’s brother’s death? If that happened to my brother, I would be devastated; probably so profoundly saddened by it that I couldn’t speak. Instead, less than two months after her brother was found, we not only get a profusion of words, we get a message that roundly condemns him for his wasted life and needless death. Condemnation! You can’t call it anything else. The big brother of Jesus’ Prodigal Son parable apparently has a sister.
Third, leave the Biblical story altogether and make your own point, condemning the sinner and exalting the righteous. Somehow Meyer introduces the idea that this man had the capacity to at least “wiggle” himself over to the water by himself, but he refused to do it. Would you be surprised if I told you that is nowhere in the text? No, I’m not surprised either. Because this is not about understanding and living in the Biblical story, this is about making my story the most important thing, and forcing everything to fit to that. This is about taking the place of the Pharisee and saying, “Look at me. I did it right. But not him. He blew it when he had the chance. See here, the results prove it. Thank God I’m not like him!”
Fourth, drive home your point and motivate your audience to pursue this self-righteousness by trying harder, doing more, giving more. If you read the Gospel story, you don’t read anything about the paralytic’s faith, determination, willingness to “wiggle,” or any such thing. He simply utters his sad story, then Jesus takes over completely and says, “Get up and walk!” And the man does! This is not about making the right choices, being determined to lay hold of God’s blessing, or any such thing. It’s about Jesus and his power to heal with sovereign, loving grace, period.
But Joyce Meyer and those who preach the bad news of self-righteousness are not interested in Jesus. They only care about disseminating the great American dogmas of personal effort, positive thinking, and opulent prosperity. They care only about condemning those who won’t “wiggle” when they should be trying to pull themselves up out of the mire. Through our faith and determination, we have become winners, they proclaim. You can become winners too, if you’ll just get off your butts and do something to get God’s attention.
This is most definitely NOT good news in the spiritual sense. It has nothing to do with Biblical Christianity. It serves only to enrich the prosperity preachers and enslave the audience in legalistic and moralistic self-righteousness. It is Christ-less, grace-less, hopeless “Christianity.”
In contrast, Jesus announced, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”â€”the ones who have nothing to offer, who are spiritually bankrupt, who have no “wiggle” whatsoever in them. They have no “seeds of faith” to plant. They are the helpless ones, who have no resources whatsoever. They are the prisoners who can do nothing to set themselves free, the incurably blind, the lame who cannot move move a muscle to get into the pool when the angel stirs the waters. The message of self-righteousness has nothing to offer these peopleâ€”who by the way represent all of us, you and me, and everyone who walks the face of the earth.
Joyce Meyer has disrespected the dead and done a disservice to the living with this message. Let us call it what it isâ€”bad news of self-righteousness.
Shame on Christian Post and anyone else who promotes it.