In my first semester of Seminary studying theology at Oral Roberts University, I sat in the chapel service led by President Richard Roberts. After the music stopped, he stood up and boldly proclaimed, “Your mind is the enemy of the Holy Spirit. If you want to experience God, you need to stop thinking. don’t be like one of those dead-in-faith seminary professors in the back whose theology destroys genuine faith.” That was the gist of his message and I sat there appalled. I remember thinking, “did he seriously just criticize everyone sitting here in the back of the room? Did he just call some of the most wonderful godly men I knew “dead in faith” because they used their mind? What I came to understand was that the Pentecostal/Charismatic brand of “Word of Faith” demands the rejection of the mind, abandonment of reason, and an embrace of the purely emotional as the source of truth.
Now before you tune out, give me a chance to demonstrate the truth of my observation from a recent story of a Pentecostal pastor who transitioned from what I am calling the Word of Faith to the world of the faithless. The NY Times published a story, From Bible-Belt Pastor to Atheist Leader, featuring the story of Jerry DeWitt. His background of how he came to faith is described as below:
DeWitt grew up in the church, but it was only at 17, after being “saved” during a weekend visit to Jimmy Swaggart’s church in Baton Rouge, that he became a passionate Christian. Weeks later he spoke in tongues for the first time. Soon after that, sitting in church, he heard his pastor call on him to deliver a homily. Terrified, he asked if he could have a few minutes to pray for guidance. He stepped to the pulpit with his finger on a passage from the Gospel of Mark, and spoke for 15 minutes on the “seed of David.” The crowd loved it. “It was the biggest high I’d ever had,” he told me. “I knew right then that preaching was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.” He married a local girl at age 20, and two weeks after the wedding, he received an invitation to speak at a camp meeting in Lucedale, Miss. There he preached to overflow crowds of whooping Pentecostals who were speaking in tongues.
This is not an unusual story in the Word of Faith movement. A man or woman has a personal encounter with God and they become anointed as ministers—no training, no education and no study of the Bible is necessary (and it is actually shunned). For DeWitt, his simple passion and feelings were the evidence that he is chosen by God to preach. He was no charlatan. He really believed what he experienced was real. He was just genuinely deceived by his own desire to be in power:
For the first time, he was treated with respect, even awe. “I had this whole prophet persona going on. I wouldn’t really mix with people before the sermon,” he told me. “All kinds of people were seeing miracles, and I believed it 100 percent.”
Now we see what happens when faith is built on the rejection of the mind to think and reason as DeWitt began to reject any form of orthodox theology:
DeWitt preached across the South, doing itinerant jobs to pay the bills. In 2004 he became a full-time preacher at a church near DeRidder. By that time, though, he had drifted away from the literal claims of Pentecostal doctrine and espoused a more liberal Christianity. He had begun reading more widely (he never got a college degree), starting with Carl Sagan’s books on science and moving on to Joseph Campbell and others. But equally, he told me, he found it unbearable to promote beliefs that only seemed to sow confusion and self-blame. He recalled how one middle-aged woman in his church who was suffering from heart disease asked him anxiously: “How am I going to believe for salvation when I can’t believe enough to heal?”
This last sentence is important to understand. As DeWitt began to discover the lies of the Health & Wealth / Word of Faith theology, he had no biblical foundation for reinterpreting his experience. All he had was a personal experience running in conflict of another persons’ personal experience and no way to reasonably discern between them. In an another article titled, Why a Pentecostal preacher gave up on Jesus and became an atheist activist, we can see the struggle DeWitt faced to justify his ego in light of his new experiences:
You’ve struggled to make a reputation for yourself as a man of God, a conduit of the Holy Spirit, who can bring spiritual hope and healing to the people around you. You’ve struggled to balance the rigorous demands of your religious calling with the pressing practical needs of your family. You’ve struggled to make sense of the contradictory teachings of the Bible; of the widely divergent and often contentious sects competing for your loyalty; of the deep conflicts between your deeply held Christian doctrine and what you know, as an ethical human being, to be right.
He began to see the conflicts people had over the Scripture and the conflict with his own experience, but lacking any foundation, or a decent education, he continued to rely on his experience and study of atheist literature as his guide. But experience kept showing just how abusive and wrong the Word of Faith doctrine he preached really was:
Many times the comfort religion offers comes at a very high price. This form of comfort is at the same time both temporally present and linked to an uncertain moment in the future. I’ll use the doctrine of Healing as an example. If you are ill, you may be comforted by the idea that God can heal you and may very well do so…one of these days. For some, this is more comforting then “knowing” you don’t know what the future truly holds.
The exorbitant price that is paid at the very same time that a measure of comfort is received is the emotional abuse one silently suffers while trying to receive/earn the promised Healing. Knowing that God could heal you immediately, but doesn’t, naturally causes the believer to ask, “Why not?” “What do I need to do to better please God?” “Is it God’s will for me to suffer?” “What’s God’s purpose in allowing this illness in my life?” The list goes on and on.
Now you see the truly destructive power of the Word of Faith / Faith-Healing doctrine—It is fundamentally a doctrine of works. In the WOF world, you have to work to earn God’s love. You have to work to curry God’s favor. Sometimes you have to prove your faith by giving money to the preacher. Sometimes, you have to stop taking medication to prove to God you really believe. But always… always… the person must earn God’s favor. And if you are not healed? Well, it’s your own fault for having a defective faith. This is the doctrine of oppression that DeWitt preached and the doctrine he rightly rejected. but unfortunately because he also rejected any meaningful biblical education, he thought the only alternative was to reject “God” and “Christianity” (at least his version of it that had deluded him for so many years.) He says:
Yes, by that point, reason, science and medication were all that was left for my illness. Had there been another line of religious thought for me to exhaust, I may have tried to do so.
Unfortunately, some dear souls still find a benefit in holding on to something that’s not working. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t allowed to do that. My love for truth and humanity, combined with my insistence on something that worked, forced me to look beyond faith.
The “truth” as DeWitt observes, is sadly much of the same. He just moved from one form of experience-based faith to another: atheism. Like many stuck in his position, DeWitt assumed faith, reason and science were in conflict because he did not know of any other options. Again, he describes how shallow his faith was because it lacked any grounding in the mind and then assumed his ignorance must reflect the faith of every Christian:
I think this is so common that it is the origin of most subsets of religion. Today’s “belief-ism” seems to be almost solely based on personal experience and/or feelings. (What feels right to me—not what’s right for the group.) It’s not uncommon to hear a believer say, “That’s not the Jesus I know!” This type of spiritual independence breeds religious independence. If my pastor begins to preach something that I’m not in line with, I can very easily use the bible to justify my ideas, changing churches or even starting my own.
Apparently my love for god, truth and humans kept me at least one step out of sync with whatever religious affiliation I was in at the time. So I did look to the bible for support for my ever-changing theological position. Due to the convoluted nature of the Christian bible, this wasn’t very hard to do, until I lost all confidence in the infallibility of the bible and its relevance to modernity.
DeWitt saw his feckless faith as the standard, and imposed it on every Christian. He failed to realize the flaw in his completely human-centered faith. DeWitt had fallen into the false idea that to reject the preacher is a rejection of God and when he rejected his own message, he wrongly assumed this meant a rejection of God. In the end, DeWitt’s faith was just another form of religious-narcissism replaced by another form of atheistic-narcissism:
If I was still supporting the minister that was being rejected by members leaving his church, it seemed obvious that they were being lead astray by the devil. Why else would they abandon the “Man of God”?
If, on the other hand, I (or someone I had confidence in) was the one doing the leaving, then it was God himself delivering me from a false prophet who had strayed from the straight and narrow. Again, it can not be overemphasized how personal and self-justifying the religious experience can be.
In this Huffington Post article titled, From Minister to Atheist in 5 Simple Steps, DeWitt discusses his book,Hope after Faith: An Ex-Pastor’s Journey from Belief to Atheism, that outlines his journey from Word of Faith to the world of the faithless. This is so important to understand because so many people I know are stuck in this same dead-end theology.
I won’t take too much more space outlining all the pitfalls to avoid, but I do want to point out more key to avoiding DeWitt’s brand of Faith-killing, experience-based belief. If I could give just one piece of advice to anyone seeking real hope in Jesus, it would be this: avoid grounding your faith in false teachers. Note for DeWitt that his early and most influential guide was the Pentecostal faith-healer William Morrison Branham:
A cassette tape containing one of the late Brother Branham’s messages was the very first time I heard a minister challenge the idea of Hell, and it wouldn’t be the last. Though Branham didn’t teach that God ultimately saves all souls, he did do away with the notion of eternal punishment, and did so while remaining the foremost Pentecostal of his day. For me this was a wining combination. Of course there were numerous versions of the concept of eternal punishment, but almost all of them were proposed by non-Pentecostals. This voided their relevance to me in the earliest days of my ministry. Later, I would grow out of my prejudices and would allow myself to be exposed to the works of Universalist from every ilk.
I myself first learned of Branham as a student at ORU. I had a class called “Signs and Wonders” where this man was held up as one of the great “heroes of the faith.” I attended a church for a short time called Higher Dimensions pastored by Carlton Pearson who also went on to reject Jesus as the only way of Salvation. DeWitt’s belief in a “god” who offers many paths to salvation reflects an inclusive gospel, shared by men like Branham and Pearson and popular TV stars like Oprah Winfrey—a that lies in direct contradiction to Jesus own words (John 14:1-6).
I know from my own experience that many reading this post are stuck in the same place as DeWitt and don’t know the way out. I have been working as the general editor for a new book titled Defining Deception by Costi Hinn and Anthony Wood published by SCSPress. This book speaks to the dangers of the Word of Faith teachers like Branham and DeWitt (before he became an atheist) who seek prosperity and healing through the rejection of the mind and the distortion of biblical truth.
Finally, let me say this. For those looking for more insight into the dangers of the Word of Faith / Prosperity doctrines, the book, Defining Deception, will be released in early February, so stay tuned. I pray anyone consumed by these messengers of a false Gospel will find freedom in the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep…
But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness…”
I have been working as the general editor for a new book titled Defining Deception by Costi Hinn and Anthony Wood published by SCSPress. This book speaks to the dangers of the prosperty gospel and leaders like Benny Hinn and Bill Johnson who seek prosperity through distortion of biblical truth.
As I read through this book, I am reminded so much of my days at Oral Roberts University and the deception I witnessed first hand—all in the name of greed.
Isn’t it funny how God’s path to financial prosperity always goes straight through the bank account of some TV preacher? The issue is not whether these folks have broken the laws of Government. Even if their actions are perfectly legal, I find them immoral. Not because they have made income from serving the Lord, but because they have done so using manipulation and deceit. I have personally sat and listened to many of these people tell listeners that they cannot be blessed by God unless they send in donations to their specific ministry. I have sat and heard them tell little old ladies that their children or grandchildren will not be saved unless they purchase the prayers of the televangelist. These modern deceivers have reinvented the same Roman Catholic practice of selling indulgences to receive the “blessing” that we Protestants rebelled against 500 years ago. The Scriptures are right… a dog will return to his vomit.
Let me tell you with some authority that a prayer hanky with the sweat of Benny Hinn will not bring any spiritual blessings–no matter how much you paid for it–and Bibles branded with the name of a TV preacher, and enhanced with their special teachings, will not contain any special revelation from God.
During the Dark Ages, the Popes built their Cathedrals on the backs of the peasants who starved their way into the Kingdom while the Popes ate well. Today there is no less shame for these “spiritual entrepreneurs” who have built their personal wealth on the backs of the spiritually weak, the poor, and emotionally distraught–God is grieved and angered!
But it is not enough to look at these few examples and think there is no guilt laid at the feet of the rest of the Church. Look inward my friends. Look at the practices of your own church, your own pastors, and your own leaders. Leaders, examine your own hearts and deeds. The American Church is in desperate need of another Reformation and I for one am ready to see it come!
Jesus said, to them,
Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.
Jesus also warns us
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? “And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Paul warned the church of Ephesus, and us,
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.”
and again to the church in Colossee
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience…
The book, Defining Deception, will be release in early February, so stay tuned. I pray anyone consumed by these messengers of a false Gospel will find freedom in the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Should anyone accused of sexual harassment be allowed to hold public office? This is a question Americans are addressing in, what I hope, will be a meaningful way. The downfall of the powerful Hollywood figure, Harvey Weinstein, has unleashed an avalanche of accusations from women who claim abuse by men in power (not to forget the men who have come forward claiming abuse by both women and gay men). Our once hidden views of sexual harassment are being exposed as we see how different Americans respond to accusations against their favorite politicians. Sadly, many people are willing to attack, or support, the accused based upon their perceived political advantage more than they are willing to support the women out of genuine compassion or concern for justice.
Most Americans are familiar with the recent charges against Republican politicians like Roy Moore alongside charges against Democratic leaders like John Conyers and Al Franken. Looking back to the 2016 election, Americans were given the terrible choice between Donald Trump, who had groped women, and Hilary Clinton who vilified the women who had accused her husband President Bill Clinton of rape.. Another case that did not receive much national attention was when the Democratic Mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner stepped down in 2013 amidst admitted charges of sexual assault. Most disturbing to me was that several local political groups defended Filner saying, “even if he assaulted these women, I’ll support him because he has always been a supporter of our cause.” This is my paraphrase of what I heard here locally at the time, but it illustrates a much bigger problem. According to reports, Democrats knew of Filner’s abusive behaviors for decades, but kept silent because they shared his political ideology. This brings up the serious question for both Democrats and Republicans, “Do we really care about the women who are sexually harassed and assaulted, or do we only care about how we can use their pain to gain more power?”
How then should we answers these questions of ethics? Looking back to my recent post, “Is,” “Ought,” and “Will be”… in search of meaning, I want to frame the original question using the following image:
The primary question being asked in our newspapers and around the office cooler is:
#1. Should anyone accused of sexual harassment be allowed to hold public office?
This is a question of applied ethics. However, we cannot answer this question without first asking a question pertaining to our normative ethics:
#2. Is it right to impose my own ethical standard on others through politics?
Both questions #1 & #2 lie within the “ought” (a description of what we would like to world to look like). We, as a nation, are trying to decide what is acceptable behavior and what behaviors disqualify someone from holding political office. To properly address these “ought” questions, we first need to move into the realm of “is.” Is there a truth that is universal that can guide our decisions? Is there any way we can know this truth? Question #1 is really a question of ethical meaning and that leads us into the realm of epistemological meaning through metaethics (epistemological ethics) where we must ask ourselves the following:
#3. How is sexual harassment defined?
Does the Bible give moral knowledge that applies?
The challenge as I see it is that the general discourse has yet to leave the arena of politics (applied ethics) and move into the arena of metaethics where we take the time to define our terms. How can we ever hope to have a meaningful dialogue when we are unwilling to even define our terms? But the challenge gets bigger. We cannot answer question #3 until we address the question of metaphysics which undergirds our epistemology. This brings us to the most fundamental question:
#4. Are men and women ontologically equal? On what basis is value ascribed?
Here is the key question of origin that everyone must answer before they can consistently answer the questions of meaning. If I were to craft my own answer to this set of questions, it would go something like this:
Sexual assault is morally wrong. Women are not helped by politicians or pundits or entertainers who use victims as tools to gain political power. Women are not toys. Any politician guilty of sexual harassment or assault while in office should not be allowed to keep their position of power. Any politician who defends the guilty party is devaluing the victim to keep their power and should not be trusted to hold political office. I make this conclusion because I believe that women are humans of supreme value, equal to men, made in the image of God, and therefore should always be treated with respect.
The use of the image above makes it clear that no one can have a consistent answer to questions #1 and #2 unless they have solid answers to questions #3 and #4. My answer is rooted in a Christian worldview, but how will other Christians answer the question? How will atheists answer the question in a way that makes their answer consistent and universal?
The questions presented in the image above are a work in progress so feel free to share your own answers or revised version of the questions. I would love to hear from you as we, as a nation, seek to address the problems of sexual harassment and sexual abuse and answer the question, Should anyone accused of sexual harassment be allowed to hold public office?
As our culture continues to fracture, we find fewer and fewer significant answers to the questions that matter most. One of the formative thinkers in my life is Ravi Zacharias who says there are four main questions of life.
Origin—Where did I come from?
Meaning—Why am I here?
Morality—How should I live?
Destiny—Where am I headed?
Beyond these questions, I have often wondered, how do they connect? In my conversations with people over the decades, I have come to believe that you cannot answer one of these without trying to answer all of them. In my study of epistemology, my colleague Ward Crocker (founder of Family Apologia), has inspired me to think more deeply about this topic. In our numerous discussions, he brought to my attention some writings by my former colleague, Christopher Cone who has written extensively on the topic of epistemology and metaphysics..The graphic below is Cone’s effort (as a presuppositionalist) to connect these basic questions. Cone writes:
© 2011-2017 Christopher Cone
There are four major areas of philosophical inquiry that make up the basic components of worldview: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and socio-political philosophy. Epistemology (the study of knowledge) addresses the question of how can know what is true and what is not. Metaphysics (the study of reality) addresses the question of what exists. Ethics (the study of what should be done) addresses the question of what we should do in light of what reality is. Socio-political philosophy (the study of ethics on a societal scale) addresses the question of how communities and society should behave.
The Components of Worldview Chart illustrates a logical ordering of these topics of inquiry. The arrow on the far right indicates that we begin at the bottom and move toward the top. We can’t address socio-political issues until we deal with ethics, we can’t handle ethics until we answer questions of metaphysics, and we can’t answer the metaphysics questions until we address the epistemological ones.
I appreciate Cone’s approach, but am unconvinced that we must begin with epistemology. I think there is another approach to Hume’s IS/OUGHT problem (a.k.a., the naturalistic falacy). I think most people begin with Ravi Zacharias’ basic questions of Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny which don’t always begin with epistemology. Science itself begins this search with sense-experience. In teaching my graduate students, I developed the following graphic that integrates all of the concepts above with some of my own ideas.
This is a work in progress, and I am sharing it today looking for your insights and ideas. The key aspects to my illustration are that we approach the “Is“, “Ought“, and “Will be” in four main categories:
These categories bridge the gap between Metaphysics, Epistemology and Ethics and treat them more as a web of integrated thought rather than a liner progression. Within these four categories I see six basic questions of life which help us connect our thoughts with this broader philosophical concepts:
- How did I come into being?
- What is purpose in life?
- What is the right thing to do?
- How can I fulfill my purpose?
- How ill my legacy be judged?
- What happens when I die?
In teaching my graduate course in Ethics, I refocus the above illustration as follows:
Here the emphasis is on Metaethics, Normative and Applied ethics. With this shift in focus, the six basic questions get a bit of a rewrite as well.
- How do we/I come into being?
- How can we/I know what is right?
- What is the right thing for me/us to do?
- What must we/I do now?
- How will our/my legacy be judged?
- What happens when we/I die?
Notice here that the questions bring into the discussion answers that are targeted at both the individual and the larger society. How many of these questions can be answered purely on the individual level and how many can be answered universally?
So again, this post is just a rough sketch of the ideas I unpack over many hours of lecture, but enough content, I hope, to give an idea of where I am taking these concepts so that you can give some feedback.
- What are the strengths of this illustration?
- What are some weaknesses?
- What ideas have I missed?
All ideas are welcome as I refine my thinking.