“Heads Up” on that “Pit”

Beth Moore is an engaging, effervescent speaker, a captivating storyteller, and an enjoyable read.  She can have my vote for Ms. Congeniality any day of the week and twice on Sunday.  But this “evangelical superstar” has also been criticized for her “proof-texting” propensities and “dangerous Bible twisting.”   Is this criticism valid? Let’s take a quick look at Moore’s Get Out of That Pit (Imagery Publishers, 2004) and see.

GOOTP’s 200+ pages include ten chapters on When You’re Thrown, Slip, and Jump Into a Pit, Getting Out, Three Steps Out of Your Pit, Waiting on God’s Deliverance, Make Up Your Mind, Singing a new Song and Our Pit-Less Future.  These chapters are followed by six pages of daily “Scripture prayers” divided into days of the week and a 20-page GOOTP “Discovery Guide” to “help you interact with the biblical passages that prompted those ideas, especially Psalm 40:1-3.”

Kicking things off, Moore writes:  “I’ve come to the conclusion that vastly more people are miserable than not.  Far more feel defeated than victorious… Masses of believers are totally bewildered – if not in outright despair.  Yep, poker faces aside, they’re in a pit.” (p. 13)

Three Kinds or Characteristics

Moore identifies three kinds of or characteristics of “pits” based on Psalm 40:1-3.  She defines as pit as: 1) A place where “you feel stuck” (p. 15); 2) A place where “you can’t stand up” and “you feel ineffective and utterly powerless against an attack” (p. 16); and 3) A place where “you’ve lost vision” (p. 17.)

In chapter two, When You’re Thrown Into A Pit, Moore evidences her habit of swirling through stacks of loosely related subjects like a sirocco through the Sahara.   She touches on forgiveness, injustice, spiritual warfare, and child abuse.  She starts with Joseph, Job, and Abraham, races from Genesis to Job, pulls a brodie at Psalm 40, skids into Jeremiah 29, and burns rubber though Psalm 103, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Mark, and Revelation before dashing back to Genesis.   And that’s just chapter two.

Structure

Structurally, Moore tends to be redundant at times … redundant at times… says essentially the same thing again and again… the same thing again and again… the same thing again and….

For example, chapter 9, Singing a New Song, starts out with “You will have a new song in your mouth, a hymn of praise to your God vis-à-vis deliverance from your pit. Every one of us was born for a song” (p. 183).  Fine.  But Moore spends the next five pages hip-hopping into a car ride “belting it what that CD,” “fifty-fifty integration,” The Temptations, a trip to Washington, D.C, a concert at Kennedy Center, people-watching and a quick tour of Bravo-ville, complete with voice-overs.  We finally return to “a God song” on page 188.  Nice.  But did we really need five pages to tell us what could have been said in one?  (If you’re pressed for time, read the first coupla chapters and the last two.  You’ll get the gist of it.)

Hit the Brakes?

Make sure you’re buckled up, cuz you may have to stomp on those brakes.  Hard.  Like on page 132.  Why?  Two main reasons.  For one, Moore has a peculiar exegesis of Psalm 40, which purportedly anchors GOOTP.  The other may be construed as a mighty close skate onto Word of Faith ice.

Exegetically, Psalms 38 through 41 are prayers for relief from troubles or serious illness and enemies coupled with a confession of sin. Psalm 40 is a prayer for help when troubles abound.  The causes of David’s distress aren’t specified in this psalm, but he indicates that they’re result of his sin (see vs. 12). Moore acknowledges this with a passing nod, then roars into an expansion of the territory that may exceed the textual geography.

Also notice that Psalm 40 doesn’t stop at verse three, as Moore does.  In fact, Psalm 40 continues for fourteen more verses.  Aren’t you slightly curious why, in 200+ pages, Moore never even brushes the canvas of the remaining text – not even with a brief background stroke or two to round out the context?

Your Mouth

In The Three Steps out of Your Pit, Moore continues with the cry out, confess, and consent steps introduced on page 119 to get out of your pit.  She emphasizes that “each involves your mouth.”  She goes on to say:

“The ironic part of the process will be that you will most likely use your mouth before you use your faith.  Here’s why: for most of us who have failed over and over, our faith nearly disintegrated because somewhere along the way we confused faith in God with faith in ourselves.  … The process can’t just begin with our faith, because our faithlessness is our biggest problem.  It’s got to begin somewhere else.” (p. 132)

Did you catch that?  According to Moore, “the process” doesn’t begin with faith in God – which we’ve confused it with “faith in ourselves” – but with you and “your mouth.”

Whiplash, anyone?

Moore continues:

“Repeat these steps over and over until they fall effortlessly from your tongue and stitch their way into your gray matter.  If you’ll let them, they will be life to you.”

Really?  A mantra reiterated “over and over until they fall effortlessly from your tongue…Will be life to you?”  Isn’t John 14:6 clear: the Lord Jesus is ‘the way, the truth, and the life”?  What about John 10:10?  What’s “ironic” is that Moore presents a verbal mantra or program rather than relationship with the Lord Jesus as the source of life.

“Speak(ing) It Out”

Moore continues with how to get out of that pit: “We’re going to learn to speak it out.  And I don’t mean mumbling under your breath.  I want you to learn to cry out, confess, and consent using God’s Word.  And to do so, when at all possible, out loud.  (emphasis in original.) Volume is not the point.  All you need is to have your own ears hear it.”

Why?  Because according to Moore (page 133): “Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  Your faith will be built by hearing your own voice speak the words of Christ.… God’s Word carries its own supernatural power.  It’s His very breath on the page that, when you voice it, you release it into your own circumstances (see II Timothy 3:16).”

Not quite.  In the NIV, Romans 10:17 reads: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”  The word “consequently” is an important connector.  It should draw the reader back to Paul’s prior comments in which he expresses his “heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (verse 1).

In context, the “message” of Romans 10 isn’t about building your faith “by hearing your own voice speak the words of Christ.”  It’s about saving faith.  Salvation is a consequence of this kind of faith a la inward belief (“with your heart”, verses 8-10) coupled with an outward confession (“with your mouth” – verses 9,10).  Moore’s exegesis of this text requires a fair amount of torque.  Ditto her curious interpretation of voicing God’s Word and thus releasing “it into your own circumstances.”  Notice the twist. God’s Word has to be released “with your voice”?  “Released” from what?  Where’s it hiding?  Who’s holding it captive?  God’s living and active “double-edged sword” (Hebrew 4:12) is somehow dull or anemic until you “voice it”?  Who’s the authority in this model – the Word of God or your mouth?  Moore’s take on II Timothy 3:16 is also interesting.  So is this:

“You have to begin speaking words of faith over your life. Your words have enormous creative power. The moment you speak something out, you give birth to it. This is a spiritual principle, and it works whether what you’re saying is good or bad, positive or negative.”

Sounds like the next page in GOOTP, huh?  Nope.  That’s from the mega best-seller, Your Best Life Now, by Word of Faith adherent Joel Osteen.  Osteen is “committed to the notion that faith is a force, that words are the containers of the force, and that through the force of faith, one can create their own reality.”

The similarity between Osteen and Moore’s assertions may be unintentional, but it is nevertheless glaring – and problematic.

Assumptions and Generalizations?

Moore has also come under fire for her tendency to make sweeping assumptions and generalizations about a perceived problem, deficiency, or difficulty and then applying a hermeneutical “cure” that can be as wobbly as a newborn colt.  See how she explains why she wrote Breaking Free in GOOTP (note the underlying assumptions):

“Mom,” Moore writes, “people are hurting so badly.  They don’t need another motivational speech. They need freedom from countless abuses and addictions.  They’ve been through all sorts of sufferings.  They need to see the power of God’s Word at work in a real, live fallible person.  They need people like us to fess up to our pain.”  (p. 172, emphasis added.)

A worthy objective, right?  Sure.  But let’s unpack this a bit.

Why isn’t God’s Word alone sufficient to set people free “from countless abuses and addictions”? Also notice “another motivational speech.” As in, more of the same, indicating that Moore’s standard stock and trade isn’t so much solid biblical exegesis or Bible teaching as it is “motivational speech(es)”?  Nothing wrong with motivational speeches, but they shouldn’t be swallowed unthinkingly or substituted for sound biblical exegesis.  (Exegesis is reading the meaning out of the text and allowing the text to speak for itself, as opposed to eisegesis, or “Rohrshak hermeneutics,” which  is reading one’s own ideas into the text.)  Says one reviewer:

“But in these recent books (GOOTP and So Long, Insecurity), Moore focuses more on popular psychology and personal experience than on the Scriptures.”

There’s much in GOOTP that’s helpful, uplifting and encouraging.  The style is brisk and engaging.  Witty and warm.  Moore’s talent as a storyteller is prodigious.  But her exegesis can be problematic as Halee Gray Scott points out in First Came the Bible:

Although Moore claims Get Out of That Pit is a biblical analysis of the ways people get into “pits” and the ways they can get out, the book is primarily grounded in human experience, though reinforced with an initial word study and peppered with proof-texts.”

Congeniality aside, a gifted storyteller does not necessarily a solid Bible teacher make.

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