Monday, March 10, 2014

The Emperor's New Prayer Robe

I am not an issues blogger. In fact, I don't just not write about issues; I've had to learn to ignore them altogether. I've seen one too many fractious internet debates and social media harangues, so I generally steer clear of them. Otherwise, they would feed my criticial spirit.

Having said all that, this could be seen as an issues post, and I guess it is. D. A. Carson writes, "There is a way of using theology and theological arguments that wounds rather than heals." I pray that this post will not be the wounding sort. It's not written with a critical spirit or an intent to pick a fight. Rather, it's the result of my own observations and questions as I've tried to work through the theology that holds many women captive today.

As a young evangelical in the 1990s, I was capitvated by Experiencing God. The book became a bible study, became a daily devotional, became a bible, became a musical. The Prayer of Jabez soon followed, as did t-shirts, wall hangings, and a children's book. Two decades later, only the titles have changed.  Jesus Calling and The Circle Maker - and their associated products - are sweeping the evangelical landscape. They promise to revolutionize our prayer lives, bring us closer to God, and cause us to fall more deeply in love with Him than we could ever imagine. 

What makes us crave the spiritual high? The obvious answer, of course, is the Fall. I believe it's a woman's sinful nature to be easily swayed by passions (see 2 Timothy 3:6). And what could be more passionate than a meaningful, loving experience with God?  The inner workings of our wicked hearts have made us easy prey. In our eagerness to go deep with God, we forget that He has already given us everything we need to have the relationship He created us for.

His Word shows us how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13) and when to pray (1 Thess. 5:17). He has provided the blueprint of the Christian life (i.e., Micah 6:8; 1 Cor. 10:31).  Yet we continually look to man-made programs for an easy way to achieve intimacy with God. (All the while, the money changers are in the temple, hawking their latest spiritual wares. It's nothing new. Luther fought against the Catholic church's sale of indulgences in his day.)

It's certainly no sin to read books on bible study or prayer. I often use Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions as a resource for guided prayer. I do so because the Puritans didn't promise some new experience of God. They offered up heart-felt prayers, cries to the Lord from sinners who recognized their need of a savior. No gimmicks. No guarantees.

In Chapter 13 of Hebrews, the author encourages us to
 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith...Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. (vv. 7, 9)
We need to sit under leaders who point us to the Word of God, not the latest best-seller or how-to method. Rather than devoting themselves to pure spiritual milk (1 Peter 2:2), the masses are consuming sugary fluff posing as theology. The resulting decay is inevitable.

There is something in us that is greedy for the easy, new-and-improved way to get to God. We are fascinated by thoughts of finding the latest no-fail method. Have we forgotten that Jesus is the same yesterday, today & forever (Hebrews 13:8)? We should be looking to the unchangeable Word of God as our guide. Anything else is like the Emperor's new clothes; writers, publishers, and advertisers may convince us that what they're offering is revolutionary, but there's no substance.

For Further Reading (by those much wiser than I):

~Jesus Calling by Carl Trueman
~Movements and the Means of Grace by Todd Pruitt
~The Truth is Never Sexy by Aimee Byrd
~Out With the Old? by Aimee Byrd


  1. Thank you for this post! I was recently flipping through a Christian book distributor's catalog and had to sigh at what was "best selling" is so important to use discernment in our reading and pass over the "sugary fluff posing as theology" as you put it! And of course we need to be deeply rooted in the truth of scripture to even recognize it as such.

  2. Your words are so true. I rarely read a book if I don't know the background of the author because it usually ends up being scripture taken out of context.