Friday, December 07, 2007

Early retirement

All my good intentions will not be realized with this Beth Moore bible study, The Patriarchs. I have come to the conclusion, as was predicted by one of my faithful blog friends, that my foray into the studies of Beth Moore will be brief.

I decided to do this bible study as a way to familiarize myself with the teachings of someone who is very popular among Christian women. I felt that to be fair, I should look at her material, and actually go through it before I really offered my opinion. This has been very hard, because it was not too long before I realized that this would be a challenge.

The question one needs to ask herself is, why do we study the Word of God? Well, obviously, there are many reasons, but primarily, we study it because it is the revelation of the God we worship. It is truth; it is the foundation of our faith. We study it to understand it. We study it to make it become part of us. We study it to know who God is. In my very humble estimation, I don't feel that Mrs. Moore's study is the best possible study in order to achieve this goal. Here are some of the reasons why.

First of all, from what I have seen in this book, she doesn't take the time to thoroughly establish the context. The study of the Patriarchs involves looking at Abraham, Issac and Jacob. This should include looking at one of the most important truths in Scripture, that God is a covenant-keeping God. What Moore has done so far is to read isolated sections and make pit stops to provide her commentary. Personally, I believe it would have been preferable to have the audience read through longer portions and explain the concept of the covenant with Abraham in its significance, rather than doing a "micromanaging" approach to application. She jumps around frequently, never seeming to finish anything. For example, she gives a cursory mention about Melchizedek (and to my irritation calls him "Mel") and then without really getting much into it, switches gears and begins to look at the phrase "God Most High" and the mysteriousness of God. She doesn't take much time with the whole issue of the significance of the priesthood before moving on to something else, and the "mysteriousness of God" of all things.

Something else she does that I struggled with is her frequent use of speculation and extrapolation. Case in point: she speculates for quite a while on the possible stress that could have resulted between Abram and Sarai when God called them out of Ur, specificially on what Sarai's attitude was with regard to leaving. This is not something to ignore necessarily, but I think she wastes too much time with this exercise. And her speculation about Sarai's attitude was just silly, in my opinion. Here is a little scenario she came up with:

"But, Abram, did God actually say, 'Take Sarai your wife'?"
"He didn't have to say it, Dear. We go together."
"What if I stay until we sell the house? The market should improve, let's say, in the next year or two."
"Get your purse, Sarai."
"The beaded one?"

Ha ha.

Now, that little scenario isn't harmful, I suppose, but what is the point? Moore seems to stop and park on incidents that don't require nearly as much exploration, and tends to leave the more serious issues untouched. It seems to me (and I'm not a theologian so perhaps I don't know what I'm talking about) that the departure of Abram and Sarai didn't need to be speculated upon with such thoroughness. Yes, they were called out of Ur, but what was the bigger picture here? We are never really given an opportunity to look at within the bigger picture. Perhaps it is just my own preference for learning and teaching, but I don't see how we can address any of the little incidents in the life of Sarai and Abram apart from the entire context.

Speculation doesn't introduce me to God. It may get my imagination going, and it may engage my emotions, but it does not help me understand God. The appeal to emotions and imagination is popular in "women's" bible studies, and it is understandable: women like that kind of thing. Emotions and imagination can be set apart for God, but to use them as bible study tools just does not sit well with me. My emotions and my imagination are frequently mistaken.

Here is another example. In between Genesis 16 and Gensis 17, there is a time period of 13 years which elapses. Moore assumes that in this time, Abram has not heard from God. She refers to it as a "period of silence" (p. 40). She then goes on to say this:

This time with no further word from God profoundly underscores the significance of the fresh revelation to Abram. He could easily have assumed that his lapse of faith resulting transgression with Hagar forfeited the fulfillment of God's promises to him. Ironically, the only way Abram knew God was still talking was through the testimony of an Egyptian slave girl (p. 41).

I think I am not alone in thinking that to assume that God was silent simply because the words are not in Scripture is a bit of a leap. Just because it was not revealed to us does not mean that nothing was going on in the life of Abram. At the end of the book of John, where we are told that the signs and miracles of Jesus were done so that we may believe, we are told: "Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25). In the same way, we should not assume that God was silent just because there is a time lapse between Genesis 16 and Genesis 17. Moore does assume, however. And she does so because it helps her to segueway into one of her applications, that God introduced himself "afresh" to Abram.

This whole concept of God being introduced "afresh" to people is something I hear in a lot of places. We in the 21st century love the new and the novel. Technology changes fast and the world is changing fast, so the idea of the "new" is often synonymous with "better." God doesn't re-introduce Himself to us; what happens is we walk away and get stale. We have to return to Him who waits for us. Abram didn't introduce himself "afresh" to Abram. He was there all along.

In another post on this topic, I discussed my intitial response to fact that Moore believes her readers need to be pulled from their mediocrity and to a "higher" plane of living. I would like to say one thing about that issue that came to my thinking. To imply that a woman's life is mediocre simply because it is routine and ordinary is a terrible thing to do. Plain and simple. Think of it. You are a young mother with small children. Your life needs to be routine and somewhat structured because you have a busy life raising small children. You may be lucky to get a bathroom break alone, never mind leaving your "familiar spiritual countryside." What kind of guilt trip is that to put on a young woman with children? Every Tuesday, I teach a bible study to women with small children. I can tell you how it makes them feel: inadequate before God. They want more time with God, but they are in a place where the demands of children and home are great. They don't want to be told their lives are mediocre. I encourage them weekly to be obedient to their roles as wives and mothers. What would their reaction to Moore be? How about a woman who is house-bound because of physical limitation? Should she feel "mediocre" because she can't leave her familiarity? There is nothing mediocre with learning to be content in the circumstances in which God places. If you ask me, if more women learned to be content in their circumstances, the Church would look very different.

My personal reaction to Moore may not be the same as others. She is overly emotional and dramatic. I find that tedious. I don't want tear-jerking stories. I want the Word of God. I don't want forced allegorizations; I want to know God more. Her style, I'm told, is quite dynamic. I listened to a few of her broadcasts. I don't care for her "dynamic" style. I am immediately on guard with speakers who rely on their dynamism. Let's say Moore goes through a personal trial and she loses her edge. Let's say she becomes rather mild and sedate. What will she be relying on then? One of the best speakers I have ever heard is S. Lewis Johnson. He spoke with such a calm, quiet, authoritative tone and manner. I learn so much from him. A bible study should NOT rest on the strength of the speaker; it ought to rest with the strength of how God's Word is presented and explained. When we rely on style alone, it becomes a matter of taking the Scripture and adjusting it to make us look more dynamic. That will invariably involve more personal narrative than exposition, and then where are the students left? Nothing wrong with personal narrative; it just should NOT form the bulk of the teaching.

And so, I am packing it in. As I thumb through subsequent pages of this study, I see that Moore does not diverge from her familiar approach. And I cannot continue in it. I have seen enough to know that. Neither can I endorse her studies. Women seem to want women to teach them. But why? Do they want a woman because they will get emotional, personal reflection style teaching? I care less about the gender of the one teaching me than I do about the quality of the teaching. Certainly, some topics are better presented by a woman. I doubt that the ladies of my bible study class would appreciate it if my husband decided to fill in for me as we discuss being excellent wives. I see the need for a gender-specific approach to some issues. However, if a woman is going to presume to teach other women, she should look first at her students as souls before God, and then as women. Applications of Scripture will differ from individual to individual; however, the truths are the same. The "higher living" approach, the speculation and disjointed approach to Scripture all combine to make me wary of Moore's bible studies. They also lead me to seek bible teaching elsewhere, and to suggest to women that they also look elsewhere.

We have a choice. Good, better or best. I want the best bible study I can find. I just don't believe this is the best.

A commenter from a post I wrote earlier today left this link that should be of interest to those who want to know more about Beth Moore. It is a review of a book by Moore that was first published in Modern Reformation. The link is to a church newsletter which received permission to reprint the article.