How Should a Christian React to the CIA Torture Report?


Unless you have been living in a cave with no wi-fi internet, you have probably heard about the recent release of a CIA torture report. There has been a lot of discussion about the motivation of the report, the truthfulness of the claims made by the report, and whether torture is justified in wartime.

Unfortunately, the primary discussion surrounding the report has been political rather than moral. If one is a Democrat, than one is supposed to condemn these acts of torture and call for George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the entire Bush administration to be rounded up and tried for war crimes. If one is a Republican, then one dismisses the report as a smear campaign, and either argues that the interrogation techniques used by the CIA were justified, or that the report is simply false.

Certainly we cannot entirely separate the report from politics. After all, whatever the CIA did, it was acting on behalf of the US government and its elected officials. However, this is primarily a moral rather than a political issue. Rather than taking our cues from political talking points, Christians should start with the transcendent moral law of God, which is written in the Scriptures and upon our hearts (Romans 2 : 6-16). A Christian’s political convictions should be drawn from what the Bible says, not the other way around.

Christians Believe in Objective Morality

Christians believe in and teach that morality is objective and transcendent, handed down to humanity from God. In fact, all human beings are incurably moral creatures. Although we do not know or practice moral duties perfectly, reasonable people agree that theft, dishonesty, unprovoked violence, murder, etc. are immoral. Recent scientific studies suggest that moral intuitions start at a very young age.

Christians believe that this is by divine design. Christian apologists even argue that our sense of morality points beyond itself to God. A transcendent moral law requires a transcendent moral Law Giver. This moral law entails real moral values and duties. If morality were merely a human invention or the result of an unguided evolutionary process, than it would not be real, but only a figment of our imagination. A real moral law would be true whether we believed it or not. For such a law to exist, it would need to come from beyond humanity. The best explanation for the origin of such a law is God, and this law is grounded in His perfect nature.

A moral argument for God’s existence is not my point here. My point is that Christians believe that there is a real right and a real wrong. It is at the heart of Christian doctrine, which teaches that we are all violators of God’s law, and justly subject to God’s wrath. We are saved only by grace received through faith in Jesus Christ. If morality is just a matter of opinion, or the concensus of society, or an evolutionary survival mechanism, then Christ’s death was unnecessary to atone for anyone’s sins, and Christianity is meaningless. Moral relativism is not an option for Christians.

Imago Dei

In addition to objective morality, Christians believe that all human beings have inherent worth because God created them in His own image and likeness.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” – Genesis 1:26, ESV

This Christian idea of human dignity has led Believers to oppose abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, slavery, suicide, and unjust war.

What About Violence and War?

The Scriptures are clear that Christians are to love their neighbors, even their enemies. Since all people are created in God’s image, all people should be treated with respect as intelligent and moral being who reflect the divine (even if they are not redeemed, in a distorted way). They have certain rights as human beings created in the image of God, we have certain responsibilities to treat them humanely, and vice versa.

Some Christians would argue that on this basis Christians should renounce all violent action, especially war. I do not believe this is necessary, and is actually problematic in the face of real evil. If someone breaks into my house to steal my property or attack my family, it is my right to defend my family and property, possibly with lethal force. It is not only my right, but my moral duty. The Bible supports this:

If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him. – Exodus 22:2, ESV

It may appear to be an exception, but I am not certain it is an exception. Here it honors the value of human life by affirming that it is worth defending.

The same kind of thinking could be extended to wars of defense. Dr. Albert Mohler provides a good summary of Christian just war theory in The Briefing 12-17-14.

The conclusion of Christians throughout the ages, the Christian consensus, is that war in the first place must always be the last resort possible. The only conceivable justification for the use of deadly force is that it would stop an even greater injustice or evil. That’s a recognition that in a fallen world sometimes the use of violent force is necessary, even what is rightly described as war.

One of the principles of Just War Theory is that war must always be defensive, never offensive. That is to say, it must be started as the last resort in order to defend oneself or one’s nation against an impending threat or an actual invasion. It must never be about the conquest of territory or the gaining of some kind of political or military advantage. Furthermore (and this is very important), Just War Theory is divided into the grounds by which war will be justified and then the acceptable grounds on which a war can be conducted. And one the most important principles of the Christian biblical thinking in terms of just war theory is the principle of what is called discrimination; which is to say that Christians, based upon the biblical worldview, must specifically discriminate against fellow combatants and civilians and must take every reasonable precaution in order to protect civilians and to direct deadly force only against those who are trying to initiate deadly force. – Dr. Albert Mohler

There were even guidelines for war in the Mosaic Law. In Deuteronomy chapter 20, the children of Israel were commanded to offer their enemies terms of peace before attacking a city. They were commanded to kill male combatants only, sparing the women, children, and livestock. They were even commanded to refrain from destroying any trees unless they could not be used as a food source.

Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? – Deuteronomy 20:19, ESV

It is true that the passage sets the land and people of Canaan apart, advising

But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 20:16-18, ESV

However, there is a solid biblical case that this was hyperbolic language. For example, Joshua 10:40 records that Joshua “…left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed…” in the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes.
Later on after Joshua died, “…the men of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites who lived in the hill country, in the Negeb, and in the lowland” (Judges 1:9, ESV). There are several other examples of this in the Bible. In addition to the Biblical evidence, language such as “utterly destroy” and “you shall save alive nothing that breathes” was common in other Ancient Near Eastern texts about warfare. Just as in the Bible, there is utter destruction language used in cases we now know did not involve complete annihilation. Lastly, there is no archeological evidence of civilian populations in the fortified cities such as Jericho and Ai which were overthrown by Israel. The biblical language suggesting nations, including women and children, were completely wiped out is not much different than present day folks saying one sports team “creamed” or “slaughtered” their opponents.

The Torture Report

Now that we have established a consistent Christian moral standard, emphasizing human worth and dignity, we can judge these enhanced interrogation techniques according to Christian standards. Unfortunately, nowadays many Christians make judgements according political party lines before considering what God has revealed on a matter.

What does the CIA report tell us?

Here is a list of some torture techniques employed per the report:

1. The CIA force fed/hydrated subjects through their anus in order to establish total control over the detainee. At least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. This technique resulted in symptoms typically associated with violent anal rape.

2. Interrogators threatened to murder or rape family members of prisoners, including children.

3. At least one prisoner died of hypothermia while being interrogated in 2002.

4. Prisoners with injuries such as a broken foot, sprained ankle, or amputated leg were forced to stand on their injuries for extended periods of time.

5. Prisoners received death threats during interrogation, and several prisoners were subjected to mock executions. In at least one instance, a prisoner was threatened with a power drill and a gun. The interrogator played Russian roulette with the prisoner. This agent was subsequently sent home early.

6. During waterboarding, several prisoners became completely unresponsive and nearly died of drowning.

7. Prisoners were forced to remain awake for over one week (180 hours).

8. Prisoners were forced to use buckets for toilets, and were punished at times by having the buckets taken away.

9. One prisoner was placed in a coffin sized box over 11 days and was also placed in a box 21 inches (53 cm) wide, 2.5 feet (76 cm) deep and 2.5 feet (76 cm) high for 29 hours.

10. A report by the Federal Bureau of Prisons noted

The had never been in a facility where individuals were so sensory deprived i.e., constant white noise, no talking, everyone in the dark, with the guards wearing a light on their head when they collected and escorted a detainee to an interrogation cell, detainees constantly being shackled to the wall or floor, and the starkness of each cell (concrete and bars). There is nothing like this in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

11. Enhanced techniques included unauthorized forms of torture such as forcing a prisoner to stand with his hand over his head for 2 1/2 days, putting a pistol next to his head and bathing him with a stiff brush.

12. One prisoner who was later released because the CIA had mistaken his identity was forced to take ice water baths and endured 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation prior to being released.

13. The CIA used torture on suspects prior to evaluating whether they would be willing to cooperate in at least six instances.

14. The torture techniques utilized by the CIA during interrogation resulted in
hallucinations, dementia, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm including suicide. In one instance, the prisoner was psychologically traumatized to the point of being “a broken man” but CIA operatives stopped short of completely breaking him.

I found a New York Times article entitled “7 Key Points From the C.I.A. Torture Report” helpful.

Some claim that the enhanced interrogation techniques do not fit the legal definition of torture. For the purposes of this writing, I am much less interested in technical legal definitions than what you or would consider torture if these sort of techniques, such as rectal feeding/hydration, were applied to us or our loved ones.
The report indicated that interrogation techniques have downplayed by defenders of torture as relatively slight. In fact, it revealed that interrogation techniques were actually more severe than previously portrayed. For example, medical officer described waterboarding as a “series of near drownings.” CIA officials Scott Miller and James Pavitt were told that rectal exams of at least two prisoners had been conducted with “excessive force.”

The report also revealed high levels of deceipt surrounding the program. Not only did the CIA downplay the harshness of the techniques, but exaggerated the effectiveness of the techniques in order to gain support. The CIA also lied repeatedly about the number of detainees held.

The report states that the C.I.A. resisted congressional oversight, restricted access to information, declined to answer questions about the program and “impeded oversight” by the agency’s inspector general by providing false information. – from “7 Key Points From the C.I.A. Torture Report”

Thou Shalt not Bear False Witness

Perhaps most damning to the case of torture defenders are instances in which intelligence was obtained without enhanced interrogation techniques, which were later used anyway. Defenders of the CIA’s methods excuse the savage nature of the techniques as necessary to obtain intelligence that could not have been obtained otherwise. Per page 462 of the report CIA records show that Abu Zubaydah was taken into CIA custody in March 2002. He cooperated with the CIA interrogators by providing information on al Qaeda’s activities, tactics, leadership, etc. without being tortured. However, they considered him “uncooperative” because he did not provide any information on the next attack planned on the US, or al Qaeda’s agents in the US. The isolated him for 47 days, followed by waterboarding. They were unable to obtain additional information via torture. As a result of the torture, Zubaydah’s eye was so badly damaged that it was surgically removed. The justification for Zubaydah’s torture was so weak that then CIA Director Michael Hayden felt the need to lie about it in his testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2007.

The CIA also colluded with American media in a propaganda campaign to sell the effectiveness of torture to the American people. Judging from what I have seen on social media, it was fairly effective. With a wink and a nod from the CIA Director, agents shared classified information with reporters. However, the report notes that the subsequent news reported and books written included inaccurate claims about the effectiveness of CIA interrogations.

If torture really served a practical purpose of obtaining vital security information, it might be argued that the enhanced techniques were justified to save lives. However, as we have seen this is simply not the case. To be frank, I am not convinced that forced rectal hydration or threats to rape or murder the prisoners’ loved ones are morally justifiable, even if such techniques resulted in useful intelligence. Torture was apparently so ineffective that the CIA felt the need to lie to the Senate and create a deceptive media campaign in order to justify it.

Another Horrible Pro-Torture Argument

There is a popular meme circulating on social media of a picture of the man who leaped from the World Trade Center on 9/11 with the caption “This is why I don’t give a #&*! about how we obtained information from terrorists!” We have already thoroughly debunked the myth of “torture saves lives.” The other fallacy of this meme is that the barbaric actions of Islamic extremists justify barbaric torture techniques of the CIA. I might add here that the terror attack on 9/11 does not justify drone attacks on wedding parties and children. The awful truth of the war on terror is that the US government does not occupy the moral high ground. We cannot consistently condemn Islamic acts of terror while promoting democratic acts of terror. It is time for Christians to take a conscientious stand against all terror acts–those committed by Islamic extremists and those committed by our own government.


Christians should make moral decisions based on a biblical standard of morality, confirmed by conscience and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To many believers make moral judgements of government actions along party lines before considering what the Bible says. The Bible presents a strong, objective sense of morality with an emphasis on the value of human life and the inherent worth of every human being.

It has recently been reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee that the inherent dignity of prisoners was violated by the CIA, when they tortured them under the pretense of gaining useful intelligence. The report may have been politically motivated, but the acts reported were still immoral. Any political backlash against Republicans is bound to backfire anyway, since torture almost certainly continued under the Obama administration. For the most part, President Obama has followed Bush plans and policies regarding the war on terror.

Defenders of torture have argued that torture critics have blown the severity of enhanced torture techniques out of proportion. According to the report, the techniques were actually more brutal than previously reported. The torture resulted in significant psychological damage, and in some cases substantial bodily damage, and even death. Whatever the technical legal definition of torture may be, the average person would recognize the techniques used by CIA interrogators as torture. They would be outraged to discover government agents had done such things to their loved ones. On the basis of a biblical moral standard, Christians should condemn these acts of torture.

Defenders of torture have argued that torture resulted in obtaining information that saved lives, but the evidence does not support this. In fact, the case that life saving information was obtained via torture was so flimsy that the CIA Director felt it was necessary to lie to the Senate Intelligence Committee about its efficacy, and the CIA conducted a propaganda campaign in cooperation with the media to convince the public that torture was necessary.

Defenders of torture have argued that torture is justified because Islamic terrorists are guilty of horrible atrocities, including the attack on 9/11. Acts of torture conducted by the US government are no better than acts of terror by religious zealots. The latter in no way whatsoever justifies the former. In order to be morally consistent, Christians should condemn all immoral actions, whether committed by Islamic extremists or the US government.


God’s Not Dead Conference Speaker Profiles: Dr. Kevin Birdwell

Dr. Kevin Birdwell will be presenting a talk entitled Cosmic Creation Event. The scientific evidence for the origin of the universe points beyond the universe to a supernatural, personal Creator. In fact, there are striking parallels between the scientific evidence and the biblical accounts of creation. Science and Christianity are not in conflict, but complement one another in important ways. Come hear his presentation at the God’s Not Dead Conference at Freedom House Church of God on September 26th.

Dr. Kevin Birdwell attended Iowa State University, Central Bible College (Evangel University), Murray State University, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He holds degrees in Bible (A.A.), Geography/Math (B.S.), and Physical Geography (M.S. and Ph.D.) with emphasis areas in math, remote sensing, meteorology, paleoclimate, and environmental change. He has been a Christian apologist for more than 20 years and a physical science researcher in the Knoxville area for 25 years. He is currently on the part-time faculty of Lee University (teaching earth and space science). Dr. Birdwell is a licensed minister (exhorter) with the Church of God. Dr. Birdwell is also a regular visiting scholar with Reasons To Believe in Covina, CA where he focuses on the relationship between climate and human civilization.

The God’s Not Dead Conference will be held at Freedom House Church of God in Knoxville, TN on September 26th at 6pm. The conference will be held downstairs in the youth room.


This can be a heated debate between Christians. However, I think that Jason Wisdom accurately describes both sides of the debate while maintaining a neutral “mere Christian” stance.

Ecclesiastes 7:19 ESV

Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.

How Apologetics Saved My Faith | Pastor Matt

The linked blog by Pastor Matt Rawlings really encouraged me to continue studying and using apologetics in my Christian witness. It really is important that we provide outstanding answers to tough questions about the nature of God, the Bible, and the world around us. If you need some evidence that apologetics works, or if you are a Christian apologist in need encouragement, please read.

Ecclesiastes 7:19 ESV

Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.


I wanted to open up this post with some of the same scriptures quoted in my previous post.

Isaiah 43:8-13; 44:6-8, 24-25; 46:5-10 (ESV)

Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!   All the nations gather together, and the peoples assemble. Who among them can declare this, and show us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to prove them right, and let them hear and say, It is true.   “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord , “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.   I, I am the Lord , and besides me there is no savior.  I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord , “and I am God.  Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?”

Thus says the Lord , the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.   Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.  Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”

Thus says the Lord , your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord , who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,  who frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners, who turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish.

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?   Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship!   They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble.  “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors,  remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,   declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'”

These passages paint a vivid portrait of the sovereignty of God. Before Him no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Him. Besides Him there is no savior. He is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega. There is no one like Him. He alone calls the end from the beginning and His purposes are always accomplished. He is what the theologians and philosophers call maximally great. Anselm called God than which nothing greater can be conceived.

The sin of Lucifer, and the original sin of Adam and Eve was that they thought they could be their own god. That is why Lucifer fell, and that is why our forefathers fell. Yet, even within the Church there are people who essentially see themselves as sovereign over their lives, rather than the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

Jude admonished us to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Today one most dangerous heretical factions preaching another gospel is the Word of Faith movement. It is not the faith once and for all delivered to the saints; it is preaches doctrines of demons.

Word of Faith teaches that we create reality with the words we speak, that God is bound by His Word to bless us if we follow the right steps, and even that we are little gods. Even where the little god doctrine is not taught explicitly, it logically follows from the other teachings. Much has already been written about the leaders of the movement, but I would like to focus on the false doctrines here.

1. Does the Bible teach that our words create our reality?

The Bible does have a lot to say about our words and their power. For example, it does teach that death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits (Proverbs 18:21, ESV). In fact, there are several proverbs on the power of our words. Proverbs says that a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1, ESV), a gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit (Proverbs 15:4, ESV), and to make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is (Proverbs 15:23, ESV)! There is a lot more that Proverbs has to say about our words that I have left out for the sake of brevity.

Other books of the Bible also have some things to say about the power of the tongue. James wrote,

James 3:2-10 (ESV)

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

Jesus Himself said,

Matthew 12:33-37 ESV

Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

Clearly, the Word of God teaches us that words are potent. But do any of these passages actually teach that our words create reality? I don’t see it. These verses indicate that our words can affect the world for good or ill, but nothing here indicates reality is created by the words we say. The most popular proof text for words creating reality is Romans 4:17. The Word of Faith advocate will tell us that we are to calleth those things which be not as though they were. Is this what the Bible is telling us here? Let’s look at the passage in context, using a straightforward modern translation (the Authorized King James Version is an excellent translation, but the archaic language makes it easier to misunderstand or twist the meaning).

Romans 4:13-25 ESV

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Abraham did not calleth those things which be not as though they were or
[call] into existence the things that do not exist–from nothing. Instead, he put his faith in God, who alone can create ex nihilo–from nothing. Abraham did not receive God’s blessing by making a positive confession, but by believing what God had said. In this instance, the only One wielding power with words was the Almighty. This is the lesson that Paul wanted us to learn from the life of Abraham, that he was justified by his faith just as we can be justified by faith-faith in God, that is. Positive affirmations and Bible verses recited as incantations won’t do us any good.

The truth is that this doctrine of creating reality with words is not derived from the Bible, but from an occult form of spirituality called New Thought. New Thought is not a monolithic movement, but is actually an umbrella term for several religious movements such as Religious Science, Unity Church, and Church of Divine Science, along with other ideologically similar groups. New Thought churches use the Bible as their primary text, but their spiritual practices more closely resemble New Age and Eastern mysticism. They affirm belief in God, the divinity of human selfhood, the value of mystical experiences, that the highest virtue is love, and that our mental states manifest reality. Positive affirmation and affirmative prayer play an important role in manifesting the desired reality, just as in Word of Faith. Both New Thought and Word of Faith teach that all the believer needs to do is “name it and claim it,” and it will come to pass. Christians ought to derive their theology from scripture alone, not from occult religions.

2. Does the Bible teach that God is bound by His Word to bless us if we follow the right steps?

As with most effective deceptions, this has a grain of truth. God does not lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2), and in fact it is actually impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18). Therefore, if God made a promise in scripture, by His very nature He must fulfill it.

Where the Word of Faith teaching goes awry is in determining what the promises in the Bible are, assigning promises of financial prosperity where none exist. This is why the Word of Faith movement is often called the Prosperity Gospel.

For example, the Word of Faith teaching on Luke 6:38 is that if the believer gives financially the believer will receive back financially good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. However, the context of the passage, Jesus is not teaching about money but inappropriate judgment, condemnation, and forgiveness.

Luke 6:37-42 ESV

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

Another misappropriated promise can be found in Matthew 13:23 (or Mark 4:8, 20). According to the preaching of Word of Faith ministers, the believer who gives to a ministry can expect to receive back from God financially in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty, depending on the “quality of the soil” i.e. the quality of the minister. Jesus’ teachings here have nothing whatsoever to do with material wealth or prosperity, but are spoken as part of an explanation of the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-9. His disciples ask Him to explain the parable (Matthew 13:10-17), and so He gives the plain meaning of the allegory in Matthew 13:18-23 (ESV).

Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

Can you read these passages and “show me the money”? Jesus is not teaching about money at all, but the spread of the word of the kingdom–the gospel.

Child of God, if we would only read our Bibles we would not be taken in by these hucksters. I myself used to watch various Word of Faith television ministries on a daily basis until the Holy Spirit opened my eyes. This is only the tip of the iceberg. I recall even hearing one minister teach that the believer could receive the anointing of a minister if they financially supported that minister’s ministry. Apparently, this particular minister had not taken the account in Acts of Simon the Magician (Acts 8:9-25) to heart.

In addition, because of the borrowed New Thought dogma of creating reality with our words, a strange emphasis is placed on receiving biblical promises by “speaking them forth.” Believers are encouraged, for instance, to “name their seed.” If the believer has a need such as healing, or a financial breakthrough, or salvation of a family member, or even a want for a new car, or house, or success in business, they are taught to make a positive confession over their financial offering. The affirmation and the financial offering are actually thought to aid in the fulfillment of the affirmative prayer. In scriptures that seem to mention any kind of speech, the references to speech are overemphasized as an example of the efficacy of verbal affirmation. For example, it isn’t faith alone that moves mountains–the believer must speak to the mountain, since whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ will move the mountain by faith (Mark 11:23). Even in a key passage on salvation, the tongue is necessary.

Romans 10:8-10 ESV

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

The Word of Faith teaching is that we are not saved by faith alone, but by a positive confession that Jesus is Lord! Yes, you read that right. As much as I wanted to keep specific names out of this, I’m going to have to use one since I will be using a direct quote from the Kenneth Copeland Ministries website, because the claim that the Word of Faith movement actually teaches that verbal confession is actually necessary for salvation is difficult to believe without direct evidence. In an article written by Kenneth Copeland and posted on his own ministry website, he writes that

To be born again, you use your mouth and you use your heart. First, you believe in your heart that God’s Word is true; then you confess it with your mouth because you believe it.

That cuts directly to the heart of the gospel. Taken to its logical conclusion, the mute individual, or the special needs person who lacks the mental capacity to speak intelligibly cannot obtain the promises of God, even salvation, because they are unable to “speak it forth.” To be fair, the average Word of Faith believer does not, in most cases, logically follow these doctrines to their absurd conclusion. However, I would encourage the Word of Faith Christian to drop these doctrines of demons that they cannot live consistently with. I would advise them to stop supporting Word of Faith ministries, and pray for the souls of Word of Faith ministers.

3. Does the Bible teach that we are “little gods”?

Let me return to our opening passages from prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 43:10b, the God says, Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. We are not “little gods.” We are His sons and daughters–by adoption (Romans 8:14-17). We are created in His image and likeness, but this doesn’t mean we are “little gods” either–only that we were created by Him to be like Him in ways His other creatures are not. We come from the dust, and to the dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19; Ecclesiastes 3:20). We cannot calleth those things which be not as though they were; only the El Shaddai has the power to create ex nihilo.

In Conclusion

What is the best remedy against the Word of Faith movement? There are plenty of websites devoted to exposing the error of its teachings and the corruption of its leading ministries. Another blog post will not topple these empires built on deceipt–at least not by itself. C.S. Lewis once wrote,

For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.

The appeal of the Word of Faith movement is that it emphasizes a powerful and victorious God who wants us to prosper, and has intervened supernaturally to guide the believer by His Word and imbue him/her with spiritual authority. Apart from the distortions of Word of Faith theology, these are all good and biblical concepts. We must be careful, if we are to expose the errors of these teachings not to inadvertently portray our God as a distant and wrathful tyrant, who allows the forces of evil to run rampant and even capriciously afflicts His children “for His own purpose and glory.” That is how some of us sound to the average TBN watcher when we condemn their pet movement. The victory of Jesus Christ over evil, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the goodness of God are the spiritual bread and butter of the Christian. When we deny this food to our brothers and sisters in Christ, they may begin to gobble down the teachings of the Word of Faith movement.

Christianity is, by its very nature, a supernatural religion. Our God created the universe ex nihilo–from nothing. He has intervened in the lives of His people in dreams, visions, prohetic words, plagues, angelic visitations, and miraculous signs and wonders. The founder of Christianity was not merely a good teacher, or a prophet, but God the Son, incarnate in human flesh, who was crucified and rose from the dead on the third day. Some Christians, perhaps in an attempt to seem more respectable, or to avoid the abuses of the overt supernaturalism in movements such as the Word of Faith, or because it makes them feel uncomfortable, seem to want to deny the supernatural aspects of the biblical Christian faith. This needs to stop. I am convinced that part of the reason many mainline Protestant denominations are diminishing while Pentecostal denominations continue to grow is that many of these older, more respectable churches eschew the supernatural in one way or another. Avoiding the strange theology of Word of Faith should not mean throwing the baby out with the bath water by denying the supernatural.

There are various levels of devotion to Word of Faith teaching in the Church. Some Christians fully embrace Word of Faith doctrines I have denounced, along with other tall tales about Jesus suffering the torments of hell and nine persons of the Trinity (or I guess the “novinity”). Many Pentecostals and Charismatics are mostly orthodox in their beliefs, but accept a few Word of Faith teachings on money or faith. A good number of evangelicals embrace the positive vibe of Word of Faith ministries they see on television, and remain blissfully unaware of the oddball aspects of the theology.

I want to point out that I do not mean to imply that all Word of Faith believers are damned to hell. Make no mistake, these teachings are demonic and dangerous, and lead the believer away from sound biblical doctrine. However, most Word of Fathers, as far as I can tell, have a real and loving relationship with the Lord. They have no conscious intention of usurping the throne of God. They need to be patiently and lovingly shown the error of some of their beliefs. When Jesus returns, I believe all of us will need to revise our theology in many areas, so we need to point out these errors with humility, tact, and grace.

Ecclesiastes 7:19 ESV

Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.

Christianity and “Autonomous Reason:” Drawing an Important Distinction

Christianity and “Autonomous Reason:” Drawing an Important Distinction.

Can, or should, we utilize “autonomous reason” — that is, reason apart from God’s revelation? I found this very helpful in working that out.

There are simply some things, like logic or our own mental states, we can come to know “on our own” in the local rather than the ultimate sense. If rational autonomy necessarily entails the denial that God gave us our rational abilities, then Christians sin each time we balance our checkbooks, teach a child the difference between a square and a triangle, or report to a family member about how we feel at the moment. But this is thankfully untrue. All humans are rational beings, made in the image of a rational God (Isaiah 1:18). Let us use that rationality to buttress our faith with justification for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15). – Sarah Geis

Did God Actually Say…?

Why do we believe what we believe? Recent neuroscience suggests that most of our beliefs are unconsciously directed by a thousand different sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings before we even begin to rationally consider them. In fact, some studies suggest that our conscious thoughts and feelings rarely (if ever) deviate from the unconscious thoughts and feelings, even though from our point of view it seems as though we have made an educated deduction based on facts we have weighed carefully in our minds. We think we have rationally considered our opinions, when in reality our opinions were formed almost automatically at a subconscious level. We tell ourselves that we are forming rational opinions, when in reality we have only rationalized how we come to believe what we believe after finally becoming conscious of our thoughts.

Of course, if we take this interpretation of the data too far we end up sawing off the very limb we are sitting on. The studies themselves must be more than the inevitable result of biochemical fatalism to be trustworthy or meaningful.

The most recent Unbelievable podcast featured a former Seventh Day Adventist pastor, Ryan J. Bell, who has decided to try atheism for a year. Unfortunately, he seemed to be taking his cues from the New Atheists. He defined faith as “saying we know what we cannot possibly know.” At one point he even referred to God as a “sky friend.” He admitted he was skeptical of “foundations.” At the same time he wanted to hold on to conventional views of morality-and use them to question Christianity. The other guest on the show, New Zealand philosopher and apologist Matt Flannagan, did a fine job of picking Bell’s views apart. Even Justin Brierly, typically quite neutral, asked some compelling questions of Bell.

I don’t want to be too hard on the guy just based on what I heard on a podcast. For all I know, he was playing the part. Nevertheless, by all appearances Bell’s views were rather typical of many atheists, agnostics, and “spiritual but not religious” folk I have encountered. That is to say that when it comes to authority, they don’t look to the Bible, or tradition, or even a church. They see themselves as the only authority worth considering, and their personal experiences and judgment reign supreme. In fact, many professing Christians today are their own authority, at least in practice.

Have you ever thought about why you believe what you believe?

We tend to take things like morality, math, and logic for granted. We assume that the laws of nature will remain the same. We learn in school that 2+2=4. We generally trust that our sensory perception of the world around us is a reflection of reality. Most people don’t question these things. Even nihilists who deny all objective meaning and purpose live as though everything had meaning and purpose. In fact, they know it does, and their actions betray their true beliefs.

None of these things make sense in a world without God. I don’t mean some vaguely theistic creator either; I mean the Christian God of the Bible. When atheists, or even people trying atheism like Ryan J. Bell, assert trust in morality, or logic, or science, they actually have to steal from the Christian worldview. In a world without God, made up entirely of matter, mere particles and waves, why should we expect anything need be logical, orderly, mathematical, or moral?

Such things make perfect sense in a worldview that says, “In him we live and move and have our being,” or even that, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” If God did not exist, we would not even have any good reason to think that our senses were truthful, or that our thoughts meant anything.

The most important thing to know about reality is that science understands it well enough to rule out god, and almost everything else that provides wiggle room for theism and mystery mongering. That includes all kinds of purposes, including even ones that conscious introspection suggests we ourselves have. Conscious introspection was shaped by natural selection into tricking us about the nature of reality. We need always to be on our scientific guard against its meretricious temptations. Treating the illusions that rise to consciousness as symptoms, instead of guides to meaning and value, is crucial to enjoying life. It’s not easy, but taking science seriously is the first step, despite the difficulty consciousness puts in the way of understanding it.
~ Alex Rosenberg, from The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: An Interview with Alex Rosenberg

This is not what Alex Rosenberg actually believes. Despite his denial of the existence of God, meaning, and value, during his debate with William Lane Craig, he couldn’t help but bring up the suffering of his family members during the Holocaust. In a godless world without meaning or value, the violent torture and death of Dr. Rosenberg’s kin wouldn’t matter. To his credit, he admitted to everyone watching the debate that it did matter. However, in admitting this, he unwittingly admitted that God exists and he knows it.

I am reading a very interesting book right now by a missionary named Jonah Haddad entitled, Insanity: God and the Theory of Knowledge. When I’ve finished the book I’d like to write a full review, but what I’ve read so far is penetrating. Haddad observes that thought divorced from God is insanity, and all of us fallen human beings share in this insanity to one degree or another. God is the only true foundation of knowledge. Godless thought devolves into either skepticism or blind faith in our own autonomous reason. Our only sure intellectual rock is divine revelation. Haddad writes,

My purpose is to demonstrate the sanity of a “Christian” theory of knowledge by showing that the most reasonable theory of knowledge must be one informed by an understanding of God. That is, God as revealed both in his creation and in his Word, the Bible. Man-made systems of knowledge will only and always lead to insanity. True knowledge is something given to us, never something made by us. This is surely a bold claim that, for many, borders on insanity. However, it is a claim that I ask my readers, both Christian and not, to consider with utmost openness and honesty. We are liable to knowledge and obligated to truth by nature of who we are. So let us hasten to seek the truth, and in doing so, form a worldview that best allows for and values this truth.

And so we see men like Bell and Rosenberg deny the existence and lordship of Jesus Christ in one breath, but confirm their knowledge of Him in the next.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.

Romans 1:18-22 (ESV)

We all know the truth about God. What will you do with this truth?