A Response to the Blog post, "The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying"

There’s a popular blog post going around much in the last couple months called, “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-dannemiller/christians-should-stop-saying_b_4868963.html). It’s written by Scott Dannemiller, a worship leader and former missionary in the Presbyterian denomination. I won’t tell you what this post is about because I want you to make up your own mind.

I read this blog post months ago and have reflected on it since then. I appreciate what I think he’s trying to say, but what he actually says is wrong on several points.

I thought I should I write a response to this blog not as an example of one Christian beating on another one. No. I just want to breakdown the things he says in the hope that thinking carefully about things he says—which prima facie sound right—are actually not based on solid biblical thinking. My hope is that this exercise helps you also think critically when reading religious blogs (including my own, of course!)

First, you need to read what he wrote. So, click on that link above and read it. It won’t take you long.

Second, I’ll post some of his major points italicized and then reflect on them in blue.

First, when I say that my material fortune is the result of God's blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers. I can't help but draw parallels to how I handed out M&M's to my own kids when they followed my directions and chose to poop in the toilet rather than in their pants. Sure, God wants us to continually seek His will, and it's for our own good. But positive reinforcement?

(1) God’s giving gifts doesn’t “reduce” Him to a “sky-bound fairy.” That’s nonsense. Is that what Abraham said about God when God granted him land (and the cattle and produce that came with it) with descendants? Of course not. (E.g., Gen 28; also see Joseph’s “blessing” over his fields and house in Gen 39:5 and the same kind of thing in Lev 25:21 and Heb 6:7)

(2) Moreover, it’s fallacious again to imply that God’s giving gifts are necessarily “random.” Why suggest that? What about gift giving makes it inherently random? There is no reason to assert or assume that (and the Bible completely suggests otherwise).

(3) Finally, “positive reinforcement” is precisely why Israelites were given positive consequences to staying faithful (and in the NT, like in 1 Pet 3:9). Again, his assertion here is not grounded on any biblical or logical grounds. Finally, if positive reinforcement is good enough for Jesus, then why not for us? (e.g., Mk 13:13; also see 2 Tim 2:12)

God is not a behavioral psychologist.

What does this have to do with anything? Why does using “positive reinforcement” make God a “behavioral psychologist”? I understand it if he’s intending rhetorical flare; as an author I get it. But, if the methods used by these psychologists are similar to God’s, then why is that immoral or sinful?

Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong. For starters, it can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day.
This is also fallacious. (1) Something is not “plain wrong” because it’s “offensive” to people. That’s not how morality is decided, and most certainly not in Christianity.

(2) Moreover, this is completely counter to the biblical worldview. (Certain) ancient Israelites clearly would have believed that Abraham’s “blessings” of material things would have been a sign that God was good and real. It would have not have been an implicit message that “God must really hate poor people.”

(3) Finally, this is simply illogical. It does not follow that because one person is given a gift, it must mean that God (a) has not given another person any gift at all or (b) that I need to be able to explain what God is doing or not doing in other persons’ lives. Analogy: If Paul gave me $5 and I thanked him for the gift, and no one else received it and got all mad at me because they didn’t get it and said, “You have no right at all to say that Paul gave you a gift! You know how that’s offensive to me! You need to explain to me why Paul didn’t give me the same gift as you before I believe that you received a gift from Paul.” I would say that’s all nonsense. I know a gift when I see one and I’m thankful for it!

During our year in Guatemala, Gabby and I witnessed first-hand the damage done by the theology of prosperity, where faithful people scraping by to feed their families were simply told they must not be faithful enough. If they were, God would pull them out of their nightmare. Just try harder, and God will show favor. Of course he’s right here.
The problem? Nowhere in scripture are we promised worldly ease in return for our pledge of faith. 

In those exact words? No. But, apparently he’s never read Deuteronomy (or Is 30:18), where this general sentiment is spread throughout the book. I’m not saying this theology is right (=something Jesus taught), but it is most certainly one of the strands of Jewish theology in the Bible (it appears in multiple books in the Old Testament). It’s called “Deuteronomistic theology” in scholarship.

Then he spends some time speaking about the Beatitudes. This is mostly right. Of course, where’s he’s wrong is suggesting that Jesus’s use of being “blessed” is the only way to use or understand the term in the Bible. (It's not; it's used in many ways.)

The truth is, I have no idea why I was born where I was or why I have the opportunity I have. It's beyond comprehension. Just because he has no idea why he was born when and where he was, it most certainly doesn’t follow that “it’s beyond comprehension.” That’s silly. He’s ignorant of “why”; it doesn’t follow that knowing why is beyond human comprehension.

But I certainly don't believe God has chosen me above others because of the veracity of my prayers or the depth of my faith. Still, if I take advantage of the opportunities set before me, a comfortable life may come my way. It's not guaranteed. But if it does happen, I don't believe Jesus will call me blessed. OK. Here, he’s moved from “people should stop saying things” to now, “here are some things I believe.” Fine. If he wants to believe these things he certainly can.

If I were a bettin’ man, I’d suggest that Scott’s chief target is the Word of Faith or Prosperity people that characterize a great majority of charismatic or Pentecostal churches (though not all). If I’m right, then I completely concur. “Naming it and claiming it” and “making declarations” and “speaking it over someone” does not, any way, shape, or form represent the cross-bearing, Kingdom-ushering message of Jesus of Nazareth. Unfortunately, if that was his target, he said a bunch of other stuff that misrepresents certain biblical themes and beliefs.

Think on these things. . .