Monday, August 23, 2010

Waivering Wanda--My Review of Beth Moore's "Get Out of That Pit"

Beth Moore couples a profoundly deficient understanding, interpretation, and application of Scripture with her desire to assuage her audience’s feelings of loneliness and failure, thereby creating a landscape in which we are told that God will not help us out of our various pits, and we must save ourselves. Moore’s lack of theological certitude causes her to systematize a strange theological formula in which she seems to borrow from both the Calvinist and Arminian camps, creating a God who is far removed from us and our suffering, as God’s sovereignty is a constant basis of appeal for Moore, and an anthropology where man is not only able to save himself, but actually desires to do so. This flies in the face of Scripture’s teaching about man and the work of the Redeemer. In Moore’s schema, Jesus is no longer the all-sufficient Savior from sin, death, and the devil, but rather man’s help-meet, who soothes us in the midst of our mistakes. In short, Moore’s theology, as presented in this book, fails to proclaim God’s work on behalf of sinners, and has such has no basis from which to deliver on its subtitled promise of “straight talk about God’s deliverance.”

Moore defines a pit and its impact: “a pit is an early grave that Satan digs for you in hopes he can bury you alive. Should you fall into it, make no mistake; he cannot make you stay. Ironically, neither will God make you leave. Like it or not, some things are simply up to us.” This definition lays the groundwork for Moore, and it is not difficult to see how this would create a multiplicity of complications for the unsuspecting reader. Despite Moore’s various attempts to define a pit, or even how we can get out of the pit, the reader is left with little other than mystical language which is more than slightly nebulous. Granted, Moore does go on to further qualify by explaining how to recognize when one is stuck in a pit, but again she fails to do this without resorting to language which is entirely centered on the individual and his or her sense of reality. Moore tells us that one may recognize herself as a pit-dweller when one or several criteria are met.

Moore’s first indication that one is caught in a pit is that one feels stuck. She draws this conclusion from Isaiah 42:22, which, according to her paraphrase, describes a pit as a “place where you feel trapped.” The trouble is that this is not what God is telling us in Isaiah 42:22. Rather, God is describing the exile which Israel must endure as the result of her faithlessness. Oddly enough this verse is sandwiched between a plainly Christological description of God’s servant who will not break a bruised reed or quench a burning wick (Isaiah 42:3, ESV),who will “open the eyes that are blind, bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:7, ESV) and an on-going description of God as Israel’s deliverer in chapter 43. It is clear from the context that God was not describing a pit figuratively as an emotional place in which one feels stuck, but was literally describing the fruit of Israel’s faithlessness. God also goes on to say that He is Israel’s deliverer, He does not give them steps to climb out of a pit of emotional despair but promises a future servant in whom God’s “soul delights” (Isaiah 42:1) and furthermore promises deliverance from the turmoil that will soon seem to engulf them. Even if God was simply illustrating an emotional difficulty in one’s life, these chapters make it clear that escape from the pit is not at all left up to us, but is rather fomented by God’s direct intervention in humanity through His Son the Servant and Savior.

The second way we may know that we’re in a pit is when we “can’t stand up.” For this criterion Moore takes her cue from Psalm 69:2, where David laments his weariness in the face of seemingly insurmountable enemies. Interestingly enough, this very psalm looks to God as the deliverer. After pouring out his heart to God, David proclaims “But I am afflicted and in pain; let your salvation, O God, set me on high!” (Psalm 69:29, ESV) David expounds on this point further and concludes the psalm by rejoicing in the Lord’s salvation. David looks to God. Moore, however, seems to overlook this somewhat obvious point, and chastises her readers for failing to take the devil’s schemes more seriously:

"If you’re not already convinced, it’s time you accepted the biblical fact that your soul has a very real enemy, and he is not flesh and blood. We can’t keep on ignoring someone who is systematically trying to destroy our lives. The passivity has got to go. Ephesians 6:11 implores us, ‘Take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Your stand. No one can stand indefinitely for you. If you and I are going to be victorious people, we’ve got to stand with our own two feet on solid ground. Ephesians 6:13 exhorts, ‘Stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.’"

Moore is correct inasmuch that the devil is indeed the enemy of our souls. Scripture tells us that we do not wage war against flesh and blood. However, Moore’s broader assertion is far more troubling, especially when placed in its correct Scriptural context: first Moore puts the weight of deliverance upon us, and claims that Scripture does the same. This is so far from the truth it is astonishing. Moore claims she is quoting Ephesians 6:11 when she is actually only providing a summary of the verse, and a profoundly misleading summary at that. The verse, according to the English Standard Version, actually states: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” But what is even more telling is that the verse which precedes this tells us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Moore tells her readers to stand under their own strength when these verses tell us explicitly not to do this but rather we are to stand against Satan in the Lord’s might, not our own, protected by the gifts the Lord has given to His children.

Lastly, Moore states that we can recognize we are in a pit when we have “lost vision.” It is difficult to discern what exactly it is Moore means when she uses this phrase, as she speaks of it in terms of an “endless echo of self-absorption” and also a failure to “overflow with an effervescent life, stirring and spilling with God-given vision.” Her descriptions here are starkly mystical, and as such it is unsurprising that even given her somewhat unscrupulous use of Scripture, she is unable to find one to support her case here. This simply is an assertion which is entirely without Scriptural warrant: even Scripture put to rather creative uses.

From her description of a pit, Moore goes on to explain three different means of arriving in a pit, and our various means of escape. One may find herself in a pit when she is thrown into it by life circumstances, by slipping into it by neglecting the things of God, or by jumping into it by committing willful sin. The distinctions Moore makes between these pits are essentially the result of Moore’s anthropology. She spends many pages discussing the devil’s schemes, but never addresses man’s sinful condition, and his ensuing war against his own flesh. Thus, a pit is always Satan’s trap, which we fail to avoid through our own lack of commitment and earnestness in our Christian walks.

Of the three descents into a pit that Moore describes, the most troubling is her description of the pit into which we fall. She uses as an example Joseph’s slavery in Egypt, but not only as an example of an event in a biblical character’s life, and also as a rubric for recognizing and conquering one’s pit. What is of particular concern is the theological perspective she brings to the pit that some of us may have been thrown into as victims of abuse or misfortune. Moore approaches the theodical question from the basis of God’s sovereignty rather than grounding the question of God’s goodness in the face of suffering in the cross of Christ. Moore attempts to comfort her readers with the knowledge of a sovereign God who orchestrates difficult events in their lives to ultimately bring a better end. Superficially, it may seem that Moore has a biblical case; however, she is delving deeply into the hidden will of God. We know that God can take all pain and suffering and bring good out of it--the cross itself is proof of this. However, there is a profound difference between God bringing good from the intentions of the evil one, and God actively orchestrating evil events in our lives. The truth is we cannot always know the specifics of why a terrible ordeal was suffered by one person and not another. We can know, however, of the God who comes to save sinners, who takes all our infirmities upon Himself. We can know that God loves us and we can comfort people with this knowledge by pointing to Christ. We cannot point to God’s sovereignty in an attempt to comfort hurting people; and this is not how God would have us comfort others. The God of Christendom is a God who steps down to humanity in His incarnation, and continues to meet humanity in His Word and the sacraments. As He promises, He is with us always, even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20). An appeal to God’s sovereignty in the midst of suffering leaves room for one to despair of God’s love. Moore makes God’s love into an abstraction when God Himself illustrates His love on Golgotha.

Unsurprisingly, Moore solves the problem of life’s various pits with an unhealthy dose of watered-down law. Rather than dealing with biblical categories of sin, repentance, faith, and forgiveness, she deals almost exclusively in the categories of mistakes, mishaps, misdeeds, our human decisions, and our relationship with Christ. Moore sees a stronger relationship with Christ as the answer to all life’s ills, but fails to give the reader tools to understand how this relationship is fashioned. One would not expect a Southern Baptist to be sacramental in her counsel to despairing sinners, but one can expect her to at least demonstrate a clear grasp of the gospel. Moore does not demonstrate this, but rather tells a struggling sinner to get her act together by deciding to put her trust in Christ. She imagines it is comforting to be told “He’s all yours if you want Him [Christ].” She tells us that the way out of the pit is to make the decision to give Jesus our whole heart, mind and soul: when we have done these things we can know we are out of the pit. It seems obvious, however, that if we could keep the first commandment, which is all Moore is really asking of her readers, then we really would not need a savior.

Moore simply does not grasp that she is speaking to sinners with a bound will who do not naturally seek the things of God. Because Moore does not understand the fallen human condition, she fails to understand and communicate the all-encompassing work of Christ. Without pure, unfettered gospel there is simply no means to deliver Christ to despairing sinners. Moore approaches sinners in despair, and tells them how to feel forgiven without really proclaiming Christ’s forgiveness. This is where her confusion of law and gospel becomes the most apparent—and the most disastrous. Because Moore seeks to make sinners feel better, she does not allow the law to condemn to its full extent, but rather softens the effect. She also does not communicate unconditional gospel promises, but rather restricts the gospel’s promise with words like “all you have to do is…” This structure, and this confusion of law and gospel, has one of two likely outcomes: the despairing sinner could be lead further down the road to despair as she realizes her inability to clean up her own mess. Or, perhaps even worse, she could imagine she has cleaned up her act, and in terms of the law, is managing very adequately. This places the weight of one’s deliverance and salvation upon one’s own good works rather than on Christ’s perfect work. For this reason one has to conclude that Moore’s theology is nothing less than toxic.