- Thursday, May 30, 2013
An Anglican friend urged me to check out Joyce Meyer on TV, to explore something of the populist magisterium enjoyed by one of the world’s most influential Christian (nondenominational charismatic) teachers — not as some smug or otherwise cynical errand of intellectual or inter-ecclesial elitism, “seeing just how bad it really is,” but rather to find for myself something of the good there. Though Meyer has been criticized for her corporate jet and multiple homes, and her organization challenged for less than satisfactory financial transparency, Joyce Meyer Ministry is engaged in an impressive array of humanitarian aid around the world, detailed on her website (joycemeyer.org), and her signature program, Enjoying Everyday Life, is broadcast in 61 different languages on over 1,000 television and radio stations.
I readily agreed to watch the program, though I can’t say my heart leapt at the invitation — anticipating, as I was, a somewhat annoying trudge through half-baked teaching that would require separating the wheat from the chaff. Several months later, I was a fan. And I’d like to note some of the consistent themes in Joyce’s teaching redolent of a classic, “catholic” faith and discipline that we might term Augustinian.
- Rule of life. Meyer maintains a rigorous daily discipline of prayer and Bible study — every morning, often for several hours. As a result, 37 years into her ministry (she is 69, a mother of four, married to her husband, Dave, for 46 years), she has deeply digested Scripture — all of it, and especially St. Paul, as a kind of culmination of scriptural teaching, drawing together the Old Testament and Jesus in a single sweep of providence. Without benefit of college or seminary education, Joyce has nonetheless spent most of her adult life studying and teaching the Bible, showing forth thereby the tenacious progress in the spiritual life human beings are capable of simply by turning the whole of their minds and spirits over to God in an act of self-offering. With such conversion, as a daily discipline over many years, comes a mature habit of hope, our minds fixed on the Lord in joyful obedience, even and especially amid the humble and tiring tasks of day to day life: taking care of children, doing chores, listening to and loving a spouse. The result is a sustainedly theological way of thinking — approaching problems the way Jesus did: by speaking Scripture back to the Father, “saying things that agree with God’s word,” in praise and petition both. This is Christian fervency, in the mode of surrender, the end of which is joyful faith (Rom. 4:20). This is holiness.
- Divine primacy. In a classically evangelical — and catholic — mode, Meyer gets fired up about grace, not in a dryly doctrinal manner, set up as a straw man contra “works,” but because God in his love reaches out and rescues. On this count we can know him personally, and know about him and his character, above all through the revealed truth of Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit. To be justified — “saved” — means that we are living “in Christ”: our lives are hid in him, and the Holy Spirit dwells in us and will answer when we cry out. This is Christian confidence, like Abraham, hoping in faith when all human reason for hope is gone: “I believe that it will be exactly as God has told me that it will be” (see Rom. 4:18; cf. James 1:5-6).
- Humility. From this follows a keen sense of dependence on God; “I can do nothing without God who strengthens me.” And Joyce gets endless mileage from the teaching in all of Scripture that God works especially through our weakness (1 Cor. 1); that he lifts up the lowly (Magnificat); that he calls precisely the shepherd boy (David), the man who cannot speak (Moses), the frightened prophet (Elijah, hiding in a cave). God tracks us down, sets us back on our feet, and says: Bear true witness to me, ring out your joy, for your sins have been put away and forgotten; and in my son — following his example of humility (Phil. 2) — you can do “all things.” But do not “think of yourself more highly than you ought to think” (Rom. 12:3).
- Contentment. Related is that classic, desert discipline of apatheia — a certain holy passivity with respect to the world around which is out of our control. Here Joyce goes to town on our maturing in Christ and reflecting the fruit of the Spirit, including peace, patience, and self-control. She is merciless on Christians who gossip, who are angry with one another or persist in unforgiveness, who stoke arguments and division, and a prime target of her teaching is pride and self-righteousness. She is big on quickly confessing our sin to one another and reconciling, lest Satan get a foothold. And she urges use of Scripture in this way — following our Lord’s example by talking back to Satan when tempted in the desert. “Set your mind and keep it set,” says Joyce, echoing Paul; and then renew and “gird up the loins of your mind.” Indeed, decide to do what God has told you to do: “Go forward” (Ex. 14:15)!
- Works of mercy. With the freedom of the Christian comes a willed discipline of love of others, especially the poor and the poor in spirit, “living beyond our feelings.” This is courage; “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7) — a sound mind, in Joyce’s preferred translation.
Is this the fullness of Christian truth? Probably not. I’d like to see more about the continuity — apostolicity — of the Church down the ages; a deeper wrestling with the people of God in Scripture, ordered around God’s faithfulness to Israel; more about the Church’s worship. But it’s a good chunk of the gospel, reliably delivered, and it inspires in me a desire to love and trust the Lord more surely and devotedly, and to bend my mind to the question of holy discipleship.
“Don’t you give up,” says Joyce, “because God is faithful. God is faithful.” Amen, sister.
Thank you, Joyce Meyer, for your good example. May the Lord continue to bless your ministry, and draw many to himself through it.