Adorable And Dangerous

Negative GirlShe’s adorable with her big eyes, Southern drawl and funny (while also touching) stories that resonate with women. She makes the Bible seem so personal. And lately she assures women that Jesus longs to romance each of them–an idea that I can’t help understanding as a sort of divine polygamy. Okay, so I don’t adore Beth Moore.

Much has been written to document the problems with Beth Moore’s teachings. Erin Benzinger provides several critiques of her, as do Elizabeth Prata and Michelle Lesley, so I see no reason for me to reiterate their research. But today I participated in yet another conversation with a young lady who has lost friends because she dared to express concerns that Beth Moore teaches unsound doctrine.

I, along with several other women in the conversation, identified all too well with the young lady’s anguish. I lost a friend because I took a firm stand that Beth Moore twists Scripture, claims to receive personal revelation and teaches both women and men. Other women have also experienced vicious attacks and broken relationships because of their convictions that Mrs. Moore teaches error.

As I said, Erin, Elizabeth and Michelle already do excellent jobs of demonstrating Mrs. Moore’s faulty theology, so I want to address my concern over the way her admirers respond to those who criticize her teaching. This morning’s conversation reminded me that Beth Moore’s devoted fans may raise additional questions about Moore’s  ministry. In turn, I thought of Paul’s warning to the church in Rome:

17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. ~~Romans 15:17-18 (ESV)

My personal experience with a Beth Moore supporter, sadly, typifies what happens when anyone questions her doctrine. For quite some time, I incurred the wrath of a friend who had been “blessed” by Mrs. Moore’s books and Bible Studies. This friend expressed sadness that I’d read (and shared) articles by Moore’s critics rather than exposing myself directly to Beth Moore and consequently allowing myself to experience the blessing of her teaching.

So, wanting to be fair, I spent several hours on YouTube, watching videos of Mrs. Moore “minister” to women by twisting Scripture, telling funny stories and making veiled references to abuse she suffered in childhood that somehow validates her ministry now. I love her Southern drawl, to be sure, and couldn’t help laughing over some of her stories, but whatever blessing I should have received eluded me. I saw, not a woman skilled in expositing the Bible, but a false teacher who distorted the very Word of God she claimed to revere to fit her “gospel” of self-esteem.

When I’d show my friend instances in which Moore misconstrued Scripture, she’d deflect by calling me a Pharisee. How dare I withhold the “blessing” from people by posting articles on Facebook that question Moore’s teaching? (As if my calling Moore’s teaching into question had the power to prevent anyone from reading her books or watching her videos!)

When I posted Chris Rosebrough’s analysis of Beth Moore’s teaching, my friend couldn’t contain her anger. I asked her to show me, from Scripture, how Rosebrough’s actual analysis of Moore’s teaching erred. Rather than offering a reasoned answer with Scripture, she ended our friendship because I “ripped” her “friend.”

Apparently, many women become convinced that Beth Moore is their personal friend, even though at best they’ve only met her at a conference. This illusion of friendship creates an almost rabid loyalty that manifests itself in a willingness to sacrifice real-life friendships in order to defend Mrs Moore. Their disloyalty to actual friends for Beth Moore’s sake saddens me, but it also concerns me. Is it really so terrible to hold someone’s doctrine up against the plumbline of God’s Word? If this disregard for actual friends typifies Beth Moore’s followers, than Beth Moore is far more dangerous than I thought.

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Autobiography With Purpose: Well-Meaning Errors

PsychologyWe didn’t sit in staff meetings seeking out sinister ways to mislead people. Indeed, all of us at Love In Action honestly believed that pop-psychology and “inner healing” techniques complimented the Bible in helping people overcome homosexuality.

I had no problem with the psychological explanation that homosexuality resulted from a real or perceived interruption with a same sex parent and/or an over-identification with an opposite sex parent. I further accepted the theory that an inability to connect with same sex peers caused young people to sexualize the desire for companions of their own gender. I bandied around terms like “emotional dependency” and “defensive detachment” without batting an eye, seeing no tension between those paradigms and Scripture.

In agreement with Love In Action and the other ex-gay ministries associated with Exodus International, I regarded homosexuality as being simultaneously sinful rebellion against the Lord and a psychological condition that required incremental healing.  I firmly believed that my counseling letters on behalf of the ministry could include Scriptures about Israel’s conquest of Canaan and apply them to the process of overcoming homosexuality…as in this example:

The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you. ~~Deuteronomy 7:22 (NIV)

I know…I read a lot into the text in order to legitimize the psychological model. Sure, I had to concoct an explanation for the part about the wild animals (I can’t remember how I manipulated that clause), but I successfully upheld the idea that repenting of homosexuality happened gradually.

But my enthusiastic embrace of Love In Action’s psychological models stopped short of accepting the techniques of inner healing that they employed. By God’s providence, my role as the correspondence counselor kept me fairly insulated from that aspect of the ministry. Still, leadership encouraged me to read the books they used in ministering to the men and women in the residential program.

One evening, as I poured over LeAnne Payne’s book, The Broken Image (which, just to be clear, I do not recommend), a  close friend and co-worker came by my house to deliver stuff from the office. (I worked from home because the office was up two flights of stairs.) Instead of greeting him properly, I looked up from the book and complained, “A bunch of her stuff reminds me of the occult.”

Despite writing about her “deep concerns” regarding “Jungian Christianity,” LeAnne Payne believed heavily in many Freudian-Jungian models by which people could assess root causes of their homosexuality. Then, through techniques such as listening prayer, they could break free of the psychological forces that kept them in bondage to that sin. She particularly relied on dream interpretation as a tool for psychological healing.

My co-worker understood why I had problems with the book (as well as other inner healing methods that the ministry used), but he advised me to “chew on the meat and spit out the bones.” So I ignored my misgivings with the rationalization that the correspondence aspect of the ministry was somewhat divorced from the rest of their work.

The Lord may or may not have ministered to people through Love In Action. We honestly thought we presented a biblical response to homosexuality, and perhaps a few things we did drew people closer to Christ. He will make that judgment when we stand before Him. As for my part, I anticipate very few rewards. Yet I trust that the Lord will judge graciously.

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I’m Her Guest

Michelle Lesley graciously allowed me to write a guest post on her blog. Please go check it out:

A Clear Window View


While you’re there, I highly recommend that you spend time reading Michelle’s blog, which has been an encouragement to me. The Lord has given her a wonderful boldness as she guides  women toward biblical discernment, and she offers weekly Bible studies to help ladies dig in to God’s Word. Her blog is well worth your while.

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What More Can He Say

At my funeral, I want them to sing “How Firm A Foundation.” I want them to sing all five verses. On a basic level, I want them to sing it because it’s been my favorite hymn for the majority of my life. Its melody is an old Irish tune befitting my fondness for my Irish ancestry, so how can I help  but love it?

But its real treasure shines through its lyrics. The first stanza boldly affirms the sufficiency of Scripture by asking, “What more can He say than to you He has said?” Why seek anything beyond all the promises of grace and security that He gives us in the Bible? The next four verses pretty much show how His Word assures us of His grace, leaving us no reason to crave further revelation.

No one needs to attend my funeral in order to sing about the wonderful way the Lord speaks to us, or about how the Bible reveals everything He wants us to know about Him. By His sufficient grace, His Word is also enough to be our supply. As you listen to this precious hymn, praise God for this reminder that God’s Word gives us everything we need.

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He Could Have Turned Away

Broken HeartEach morning, he’d be there promptly at 7:30 to feed his wife. I never really saw her, though I lived at that nursing home for two years, but I knew she was in a “vegetative” state. If she knew he was there, she had no way of showing recognition, so it obviously follows that she couldn’t express appreciation, let alone affection or companionship. He’d feed her, change her Depends, and leave carrying a bag with her soiled diaper. Then he’d return each evening, shortly after 5:00, to feed her supper. Again, he’d leave with a bag.

He was good-looking, probably in his mid-sixties. He could have had an active social life….if he’d chosen to divorce his wife. Instead he’d come to the nursing home seven days a week, always cheerfully, and sometimes with goodies for the staff. If he came grudgingly, nobody ever could have detected such an attitude, for he had a lightness in his step, a smile on his face, and  gentle wisecracks calculated to entertain the nurses.

Over the years since I left the nursing home, I’ve regretted the fact that I never told him how deeply I admired him for his selfless devotion to his wife. He modeled the Biblical command for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved His Church (Ephesians 5:25-29), gaining nothing for his efforts but sacrificing more than anyone would attempt to imagine. I wish I’d told him how his faithfulness touched and inspired me, for I still think of him as a powerful example of how married love should manifest itself.

Today he’s on my mind, this time in vivid contrast to the deterioration of Biblical standards among those who claim to represent Jesus Christ and His Word. Specifically, in September of 2011, televangelist Pat Robertson famously advised a husband of an Alzheimer’s sufferer to obtain a divorce, assuring him, “She’s not really there anyway.” Somehow, I think Robertson has missed the mark. And that the man I watched twice a day hit the bull’s eye.

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Stubborn Truth

John Adams famously said, “Facts are stubborn things.” He spoke those words as the defense attorney for the British militia charged in connection with the Boston Massacre. The facts led to the acquittal of Prescott and his men, but made Adams understandably unpopular with his fellow colonists for a time. Those stubborn facts refused to yield to Adams’ immediate interests.

I’ve often resented facts for disturbing my preconceived notions. They often do, much to my consternation. As I’ve lived in the Greater Boston Area these past thirteen years, for example, I’ve visited many historical and literary sites. Usually such visits allow me to romanticize historical and literary figures. I enjoy fantasizing about their admirable qualities while ignoring the more inconvenient details of their lives.

A case in point would be my 2008 trip to Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts. This childhood home of Lousia May Alcott served as a model for the house in her novel, Little Women, which I’ve read many times over. John excitedly took photos, as I imagined Jo March (the character in Little Women that Lousia May Alcott patterned after herself) “scribbling” her stories in her garret. In reality, as we learned from the docent who spoke with us, Lousia wrote from her bedroom on the second floor, rather than from the garret, though I’m sure I spotted a small, white writing table through the third storey window!

In the years that followed the visit to Orchard House, I learned more about Louisa, including things that deeply disappointed me.  Her reluctance to write Little Women, her fascination with more lurid subject matter, her self-styled spirituality (influenced by Unitarian beliefs) and her ambiguous sexuality that lead some scholars to speculate that she leaned toward lesbianism all tarnish my image of her. In short, she wasn’t who I wanted her to be. The facts,  being as stubborn with me as they were with John Adams, refuse to conform to my fanciful imagination, and I resent their intrusion.

The facts of the Gospel can feel just as intrusive to non-Christians and false converts. They run counter to all that we desire to believe about God…and about ourselves. We detest the very idea that He claims the right to establish standards for our behavior. We reject His teachings about hell and judgment. We rebel against the Bible’s authority. Most of all we resent Jesus for claiming to be the only means of salvation.

Yet He claimed exactly that. And He claimed it on the basis that He is Himself the Truth.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” ~~John 14:6 (ESV)

As the Truth, Jesus lays out the facts of eternal life, regardless of whether or not we want to hear them. We don’t get to tailor Him to our preferences any more than I can tailor Louisa May Alcott to mine.

Facts are indeed stubborn. But embracing the facts of the Gospel leads to the most profound joy imaginable. Jesus, as He reveals Himself in Scripture, by far exceeds every idea we can concoct of Him. Praise God for the glorious facts that can’t give way to our little fantasies. They stubbornly provide security.

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Heresy, Or Honest Disagreement?

Tulip daisey frameFighting for sound doctrine certainly is important, and too few evangelicals engage in  contending for the faith. Partly, laziness keeps people from digging into Scripture. Many Christians my age and younger read the Bible superficially, more intent on finding a “personal word for the day” than patiently mining it to learn what the Lord has revealed about Himself and His plan for history. Such study requires a time commitment, an abandonment of self-referencing and good old-fashioned hard work!

People also shy away from doctrine because it divides, and one cannot deny the nobility of that motive. Many New Testament passages  command unity among believers. And arguably, a Church (meaning Christians as a whole rather than specific congregations) at war with itself can often discredit the Gospel before a watching world.

We walk, therefore, in tension. On one hand, we see the enormous responsibility to uphold sound doctrine, studying both carefully and tirelessly to understand the Lord’s perspective and His nature. And on the other hand, we appreciate the value of setting aside disagreements for the sake of unity. As usual, the Lord calls His people to both postures…presumably to show us our complete dependence on Him.

This tension presented itself to me a few years ago as I scrolled through my Twitter feed. I noticed a Tweet from a woman who shares my Calvinist convictions. Quoting Michael S. Horton (with whom I agree 99% of the time), she tweeted:

“The evangelicals who faced this challenge of Arminianism universally regarded it as a heretical departure from the Christian faith.”Horton

As a former Arminian, I had great difficulty characterizing my old approach to theology as “heretical.”  While I now believe salvation is exclusively God’s work, and that the Bible overwhelmingly teaches election rather than free-will, I recognize that my Arminian friends study Scripture as diligently as I do and have drawn slightly different conclusions about man’s role in salvation. Obviously, I no longer agree with them, but I know the verses that lead to their theology well enough to understand how they’ve formed their views.

Some Arminians, please note, sincerely believe Calvinists are heretics. As they see it, we teach that God is a capricious manipulator Who reduces us to mindless robots. For that reason, they can’t see a possibility of us actually loving the Lord. Furthermore, they believe the doctrines of election and predestination cancel out the need to evangelize the lost. I well remember holding such opinions of Calvinists.

Those characterizations of Reformed theology show a misunderstanding of its doctrines, and I do see good reason to question the Arminian doctrine of free will. I confess that I easily forget how tenaciously I once clung to that very doctrine, sincerely convinced that Scripture substantiated my position. I need to remember that I held those beliefs out of an honest love for God and His Word. My Arminian brothers and sisters have a love for Christ, and come to their conclusions because they love Him.

Do I now think Arminianism is wrong? Yes. And I’m much firmer in my Calvinism than I ever was in my Arminianism. Reformed theology has been like coming home for me; it makes sense of Scriptures that I’d always allowed pastors and Bible Study teachers to explain away. So I do disagree with that approach to Scripture.

Christians in both camps, however, believe that salvation comes through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Even though Arminians would emphasize human responsibility in “accepting” God’s grace, calling them heretical seems extreme and uncharitable. Can’t we pray for them to better understand the doctrines of grace, perhaps helping them see how Scripture supports our position, and still recognize that they do adhere to the fundamentals of the Gospel. Doctrine should divide us from false teaching, not from variations within the truth.

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