Every blessing? (3) – truth and communication

5 05 2009

{After something of a delay, I’m returning to my previous posts on the Prosperity Gospel…}

“When you’re confronting error it’s not enough simply to speak the truth.”

I’m sure there’s lots of ways in which that statement is false.  But there’s at least one important way in which it’s true…

Here’s the issue: “to speak the truth” does not (necessarily) equal “to persuade”.

When you are dealing with an error like the Prosperity Gospel, there are lots of true things you can say in reply.  (Thanks to those who suggested several interesting ones earlier!) But – lots of approaches don’t seem to “work”.  You can say true things, and not persuade anyone of anything.  Discussions can degenerate into a barrage of proof-text-swapping, with neither side really engaging with the other.

When we want to persuade anyone of anything – truth is necessary, but its not sufficient.

On one level that’s obvious.  At the very least, we need to say things that are both true and relevant.  So, as a silly example, it’s no good replying to the Prosperity Gospel by saying “Genesis is the first book of the Bible.”  That’s true, but it’s not relevant.  But even truth and relevance together aren’t enough – if that’s all we have, we can still talk past one another.

What are the missing ingredients?  It’s not that easy to pin down exactly, but it’s got to do with “connecting” – saying something that makes sense, given where people are coming from, but also challenges where they’re coming from.  (Bruce is giving us an interesting worked example of this in his “Conversation with an Atheist Friend” posts.)

So for the Prosperity Gospel, that’s what I was attempting to do with my comments about death, and even more pointedly, that’s the direction that Michael’s suggestion about martyrdom leads.

Everybody knows about death.  You can try to ignore it, but you can’t suppress that knowledge very far.  I think the approach of speaking the truth about death “works” because it connects with something people already believe/know, and helps them realise there’s something fundamental they haven’t taken account of.  (And, ultimately, can’t take account of with the Prosperity system.)1

Why does truth often not seem persuasive?  Sometimes2 it’s because it hasn’t connected.

1 Even though I haven’t tried it out, I’m sure the same would follow with the issue of martyrdom, and might be even sharper.

2 Of course, this is not the only perspective we need to bring to bear on such matters. Not least there is 2 Cor. 4v4. But these perspectives are complimentary, not mutually exclusive. One of the ways the god of this age blinds the minds of unbelievers is precisely by hiding from them the relevance of the gospel’s truth.

Every blessing? (2)

4 03 2009
Visiting Writtle during the Starburst activity...
Image via Wikipedia

The quickest way into the Prosperity Gospel issue that I’ve found is to up the stakes – and talk about death.  Consider this statement:

Jesus has won every blessing for us at the cross.  In particular, Jesus has defeated death at the cross.  He has won for us victory over death.  So that means no Christian should ever have to die, if they’re putting their faith in Jesus.

I haven’t yet come across anyone who’s willing to let that argument stand without modification.  But once someone’s accepted the principle that this argument needs qualified in some way, then that often opens the door for a productive discussion about how “already/not-yet tensions”1 apply to blessings in general.

Sickness is small fry compared to death.  Yes, Jesus came to defeat sickness – but even more importantly he came to defeat death and sin.  So if the argument above needs modified in regard to death, it will need modified in regard to sickness as well.  (And also sin: the holiness movement2 made the same sort of mistake, but with sin instead of sickness.)

Now in some ways, this goes against my instincts.  My instinct is to begin with a verse from the Bible – that’s our ultimate authority after all!  But, on this Prosperity issue, I’ve found that people are more willing to take on board a specific Bible verse, after they’ve wrestled with a more general biblical concept first.  (Like the issue of death, above.)

In the next post, I’ll try to sketch out why I think that is.  Again, I’d value your thoughts on that in advance – so let me ask a specific question:

2 Tim 3v12 is pretty clear: “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” – but quoting it, or verses like it often isn’t enough.  Why not?

1 The language of “already/not-yet tensions” is a way of trying to describe how everything in history pivots around the coming of Jesus.  The Bible speaks of this “present age” and also of the “age to come”.  And it’s Jesus who moves us from one to the other – but with an overlap.  The cross and resurrection marked the beginning of the new age to come; but the present age won’t come to an end until Jesus returns.  So now, we are living in the overlap between those two ages.  The new age is already inaugurated, but not yet consummated.  The blessings of the new age are already inaugurated, but not yet consummated.  E.g. we are already co-heirs with Christ, but we have not yet received the full inheritence that will be ours in the new creation.  Death has already been defeated, but it has not yet been banished.

2 The holiness movement said that if you were really trusting Jesus then you should be able to eliminate sin entirely from your life, because Jesus has defeated sin at the cross.
Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holiness_movement

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