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06 June 2018

The “prosperity gospel”: Mammonism disguised as Christianity.

When we’re not pursuing Jesus so much as all the stuff he might give us.

PROSPERITY GOSPEL /prɑs'spɛr.ə.di 'gɑs.spəl/ n. The good news that God doesn’t just want to save his people, but bless us materially.

That’s not an ironic definition, folks. That’s legitimately how the prosperity gospel is defined by those who proclaim it. God doesn’t just want us to come live in heaven’s kingdom with him. While we’re headed thataway, he wants us to be materially successful and comfortable.

For totally legitimate reasons, they claim. Remember when Moses was advising the Hebrews to follow the Law in Deuteronomy, and how he said part of the blessings they’d receive for doing so would be material? Oh you don’t remember that bit? Fine; I’ll quote it.

Deuteronomy 28.1-13 KWL
1 “If you happen to listen to your LORD God’s voice,
so as to observe and do every command I instruct you about today,
your LORD God will give you power over every country on earth:
2 All these blessings will come to you and overwhelm you, for you listened to your LORD God’s voice.
3 You’ll be blessed in city, field, 4 the fruit of your belly, the fruit of the ground,
and the fruit of your animals—what your cattle births, or your flocks produce.
5 You’ll be blessed in breadbasket, in yeast; 6 when you enter, when you leave.
7 The LORD will have your enemies which rise against you be struck down in front of you.
They’ll come at you from one direction, and run away from you in seven.
8 The LORD will teach you about blessing in your storehouses, in everything you undertake.
He’ll bless you in the land your LORD God gives you.
9 The LORD will raise you to himself: A holy people, as he swore you’d become.
So observe your LORD God’s commands. Walk in his ways.
10 All the earth’s peoples will see you call upon the LORD’s name, and fear you.
11 The LORD will give you a good surplus, fruit of your belly, beasts, and your ground,
in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors.
12 The LORD will open his good, heavenly treasury for you:
He’ll give rain to your land in its season. He’ll hand over every deed.
Many nations will owe you, and you’ll never borrow.
13 The LORD makes you the head, not the tail. You’ll go upward, not downward.
So listen to your LORD God’s commands. Observe and do what I’m instructing you today.
Don’t dismiss any words I command you today. Don’t go right or left, to follow or serve other gods.

This passage was addressed to the ancient Hebrews, and applies to whether they as a nation followed the Law in the land he gave ’em. Does it apply to present-day gentiles, not as nations but individuals, who live in all sorts of other lands, Christian or not?

Well, the prosperity-gospel folks certainly believe so. This, they figure, is why God’s made the predominantly-Christian United States so profoundly rich. (Ignoring the fact we’re up to our eyeballs in debt.) So if they individually follow God’s commands, refuse to turn right or left away from them, and serve no other gods but the LORD, they’re counting on God blessing them with growth and surplus.

Well… okay, they don’t always figure they gotta follow God’s commands necessarily. But if they follow God’s general principles, and believe really hard, they expect God’ll make ’em prosperous just the same.

Well… okay not all God’s general principles. Plenty of them have no problem with being as dishonest, covetous, and promiscuous as any pagan. They’re kinda focused on a few principles. Namely it’s these three:

  • ACT LIKE GOOD CHRISTIANS. In public, anyway. God wants to make his people rich so that pagans’ll get jealous and wanna become Christian. But it doesn’t work when his people don’t act Christian. So behave yourselves! Quit sinning. Get rid of the negative attitudes, and let everything which comes from your mouth be encouraging and confident.
  • GIVE, AND IT’LL BE GIVEN YOU. Loosely based on Jesus’s teaching about generosity Lk 6.38 but only applied to giving to one’s church. If you give sacrificially large amounts to your church, God’ll reward you tenfold. Or more, depending on the preacher. But giving to the needy isn’t so necessary. God doesn’t wanna give them wealth unless they practice these principles, so no going around him, okay?
  • NEVER EVER DOUBT. Unless you wanna lose your blessing, don’t ever, ever question prosperity beliefs. Not in your mind, not in public, not ever. You gotta believe, and keep believing, that God’s gonna enrich you. Even when he doesn’t. Even when he hasn’t for years or decades.

Stick to these three principles, and watch the riches come pouring in. Guaranteed.

After all, look at the preacher. He follows these principles, and as a result, his church is flush with cash, he has a seven-figure income, he has a Bentley and a Gulfstream and a really nice house, he wears expensive suits and gold jewelry—he’s been blessed! Follow his example, and you’ll be blessed too.

If this sounds like a giant scam to you, that’s because of course it’s a scam.

05 June 2018

The “Proverbs 31 woman.”

It doesn’t just mean a devout homemaker.

PROVERBS 31 WOMAN /'prɑ.vərbz 'θɜr.di 'wʌn 'wʊ.mən/ n. A productive woman, like the ideal wife described in Proverbs 31.
2. A complement offered to a valued wife, whether or not she matches the woman of Proverbs 31.

Among many Christians, the ultimate compliment you can pay your wife is to call her a “Proverbs 31 woman.” Properly, it means she meets the bible’s standard (more precisely, Lemuel’s mother’s standard) for an ideal wife. But since people don’t bother to read their bibles, Christians included, they really just mean she’s a good Christian. Whether she’s actually productive is a whole other deal.

Yeah, I’ll quote the relative part. It’s not the whole of the chapter; just this bit.

Proverbs 31.10-31 KWL
10 A capable woman: Who’s found one? She’s worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband’s heart trusts her, and he has no shortage of loot.
12 She pays him back with good, not evil, all her life’s days.
13 She asks for wool and flax. She’s happy to work with her hands.
14 She’s like a merchant ship: She imports food.
15 She rises when it’s still night. She provides meat for her house and her employees.
16 She organizes a field. She plants a vineyard with the fruit of her hands.
17 She belts herself with strength. She makes her arms strong.
18 She tastes her merchandise to make sure it’s good. Her lamp isn’t put out at night.
19 She puts her hands on the spindle. Her palms hold the distaff.
20 Her palms spread for the humble. Her hands reach out to the needy.
21 She doesn’t fear snow for her household: All her house are warmly clothed in red.
22 She knits herself tapestries. Her clothing is purple.
23 Her husband is recognized at the city gates. He sits with the land’s elders.
24 She makes and sells tunics. She gives belts to Canaanites.
25 Her clothing is strength and honor. She will relax in days to come.
26 Her mouth is opened in wisdom. The Law of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She watches the goings-on of her house. She doesn’t eat bread idly.
28 Her children rise and call her happy. Her husband praises her:
29 “Many daughters do well, but you surpass all of them!”
30 Grace can be false. Loveliness is useless. A woman who respects the LORD will be praised.
31 Give her back the fruit of her hands, and her deeds will praise her in the city gates.

Check it out. Only once does her devotion to God come up; in verse 30. And no doubt her good deeds are the result of loving God and wanting to excel for his sake. But the bulk of this passage is about the fact this woman works. Works hard. Gets stuff done, and does it well.

04 June 2018

Jesus interrupts a funeral.

But for the best of reasons.

Luke 7.11-17

Whereas Jesus mighta raised the dead before—though he insisted she was only asleep—here it looks like he definitely raised the dead. Only Luke tells this story, and sets it the day after Jesus cured the centurion’s servant.

The location is Nein, which is not pronounced as the Germans do. (The KJV has “Nain.”) It was a tiny village 14km south of Nazareth—and 40km southwest of Kfar Nahum, which is quite a day’s walk; and Jesus must’ve got to this place before sundown, as we’ll see from historical context. As you might recall about Nazareth, people in the region didn’t expect much of Jesus, and certainly never expected him to do anything like this.

Luke 7.11-17 KWL
11 This happened the next day: Jesus went to a village called Nein.
His students, and a large crowd, were traveling with him.
12 As Jesus approached the village gate, look: One who died was being carried out.
He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd was with her.
13 Seeing her, the Master felt compassion for her and told her, “Don’t cry.”
14 Walking over, Jesus touched the coffin and its carriers stopped.
He said, “Young man, I tell you get up.”
15 And the dead boy got up, and began to talk. Jesus gave him to his mother.
16 In fear, everyone praised God, saying this:
“A great prophet rose among us!” and “God visited his people!”
17 This word about Jesus spread in all Judea and all the region.

Skeptics like to point out this story is similar to pagan stories. Which stands to reason: Back then, people used to bury or cremate you when they thought you were dead. Or at least pretty sure you were dead… and yeah, sometimes if they really wanted you to be dead, and weren’t particular about how you weren’t quite dead yet. But more than once they buried or cremated someone alive. Every once in a while they dramatically discovered they were wrong—someone’d wake up from their coma on the funeral pyre, or after they were stuck in a sepulcher. Standard worst-nightmare stuff. And that’s where our urban legends come from… and of course our old myths.

Anyway the hero of more than one myth would check out the “corpse,” find out they were only mostly dead, and there’s your happy ending. Well, unless they died soon thereafter of whatever made ’em look dead.

For Pharisees it was a little more likely they’d inter someone prematurely: Their custom required them to put a body in the ground before sundown. It was based on God’s command to bury a hanging victim the same day, Dt 21.23 and if you gotta do it for a criminal, you should do it all the more for anyone else. So if it looked like someone had died, you didn’t always have a lot of time before you had to dispose of the body. Plenty of chance people would be mistaken.

But Luke said this boy was dead, so there was no mistake here. Jesus didn’t come across a boy who wasn’t really dead, so it only looked like a miracle. Jesus raised the dead. First time we know of that he did that.

01 June 2018

The “recovering atheist”?

Kirk Cameron, and how he describes his Christian experience.


Kirk Cameron, not keeping his eyes on the road in his new movie Connect.

A friend invited me to watch Kirk Cameron’s documentary Connect, which is about how he was naïvely gonna get his kids smartphones until he found out there are predators on the internet. Duh; but I guess Cameron had no idea this was going on. So he made a film about it.

This sort of documentary is basically what a lot of Christians watch instead of horror movies. It’s a bit like true-crime documentaries, except they get the thrill of being afraid of boogeymen. (Real boogeymen. Or at least they’re told they’re real boogeymen.) And unlike horror movies, the fear never, ever goes away. Isn’t meant to.

I passed. ’Cause these documentaries invariably annoy me. And ’cause I’m not a Kirk Cameron fan.

I’m not talking about his acting. I think it’s okay. Not award-winning good… but bear in mind he tends to take what he can get, or what he himself has produced. Which means he’s been hobbled by mediocre-to-terrible writers and directors. You realize Leonardo DiCaprio was his costar on his ’80s sitcom Growing Pains? Thanks to that steaming turd of a show, nobody could tell DiCaprio had better-than-average talent. For all we know Cameron could be an amazing talent. But he’s never gonna work with Martin Scorsese or Stephen Spielberg; best he can hope for is the one Christian assistant director on Sharknado. So we’re never gonna see his true potential.

What I object to is how Cameron leveraged his celebrity to promote lousy evangelism tactics, and now culture-war movies and documentaries. Dude seems to have wandered into the most mindless circles of Evangelicalism, and that’s where he’ll stay until the Holy Spirit pries him loose. Which is hard to do when you won’t engage your mind.

No, that “won’t engage your mind” comment isn’t just an idle insult. Cameron actually promoted turning off your brain when he works with Ray Comfort’s “Way of the Master” apologetics ministry.

31 May 2018

Gossip, prayer, and trustworthiness.

Sometimes it’s not a prayer request; it’s gossip.

The gossipy prayer request. High school likely wasn’t the first place I encountered it, but certainly the first time I became aware of it. We were in a youth group meeting, the pastor was taking prayer requests, and one kid raised her hand and proceeded to give us way too much detail about a girl most of us knew.

Definitely gossip. But that’s how gossips have discovered a loophole: Gossip may be bad, but praying for one another is good! So now they can gossip freely, on the grounds it’s all stuff we need to know. Right?

Wrong; rubbish. We don’t need to know a thing. All we need to know is someone needs God’s help, and that God can help. If your friend (let’s call him Vasko) needs prayer, all you gotta tell the prayer leader is, “Please pray for my friend Vasko; he’s having a rough time, and that’s all I can tell you.” A gossipy prayer leader will pry, but a wise prayer leader will say “Okay,” and respect it as an unspoken prayer request.

Yeah, you could try to leave Vasko’s name off it, but too many prayer leaders kinda prefer a name. They find it a little awkward to pray for “Jamillah’s friend,” or whatever your name is. But if you wanna conceal the name too, that’s fine; God knows who you’re praying about; tell the prayer leader, “Let’s call him [made-up name],” and that tends to work.

And yeah, if you’re in a roomful of immature Christians (namely kids) you might get someone who blurts out, “I know who you’re talking about.” Shut them up quickly: “Maybe you do, but I didn’t say who it is because I’m trying to respect their privacy.” Most times that’s enough of a rebuke to keep people quiet. Most times.