You must read this article from Mere Orthodoxy: Evangelicals and the Loss of Prophetic Imagination. It begins about politics, but please keep reading for deeper insights into the general loss of prophetic truth in evangelical culture as a whole. As someone who works with women, the author narrows in on the problems with too much of women’s ministry being about self-affirmation. Here is an excerpt:
“This year I realized the prophetic impotence of self-help messages. Encouragement does have its place, but as I considered the state of women’s ministry and the disciples we were making, I realized something: knowing you are “beautiful” will not embolden you to acts of true courage. At its heart, these messages are fundamentally about us, which means they are powerless to resist a narcissistic culture….Both in women’s ministry and American Christianity, we are witnessing the fruit of inadequate spiritual formation. When our spiritual formation winks at, or embraces, cultural idols, we will produce individuals who are totally unable to resist the culture. That is why we are in dire need of prophetic leaders with the courage and clarity to name our adulterous loves.”
My intent is not to be self-promoting (really!) but these concerns are what led me to write my own book. I had long observed a number of weaknesses in modern American Christianity, which seemed connected by an underlying false optimism. But how could I connect these concerns into a coherent book? One night I stumbled upon a book about the history of “positive thinking” in America and I had the connection! I’ve since remained absolutely fascinated by how a forgotten movement from the late 19th and early 20th century transformed America into a culture of positivity.
What is wrong with positivity? Plenty. This isn’t about having a good or bad attitude in life, but a pervasive emphasis on optimistic motivation. It birthed the whole self-help, self-affirmation, and self-esteem obsession that pervades our culture. We have a natural tendency to be self-centered, and it fed on that weakness. It was tremendously detrimental to Christianity, which is supposed to be focused on Christ – not on self.
The above article made something else clear to me:
The cultural influence of the positive thinking movement itself makes it difficult to speak out with concern about the positive thinking movement!
To speak out, no matter how diplomatically, is to commit the sin of negativity. As I entitled a chapter of my book: Thou Shalt Not Be Negative.
We only quote Bible verses like Philippians 4:8, to the total neglect of Bible verses that have challenging and convicting things to say. As the article points out, we have lost the prophetic voice. I do hope you’ll read the article. My book too.
By the way, the positive thinking movement is directly related to Donald Trump. Several theologians and scholars have written about it…
From theologian Michael Horton in Christianity Today: The Theology of Donald Trump. Excerpt:
“Let me suggest that the slender thread connecting Trump to the church is…Norman Vincent Peale. Blending pop-psychology and spirituality, Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) remained on The New York Times bestsellers list for 186 weeks. Nicknamed ‘God’s Salesman,’ Peale was criticized for trivializing Christianity. Reinhold Niebuhr said that he ‘corrupts the gospel,‘ and that he helps people ‘feel good, while they are evading the real issues of life.’”
From First Things: Donald Trump, Man of Faith. Excerpt:
“Trump…heard the sermons of Norman Vincent Peale, a man whose philosophy would become Trump’s own…The two men began to trade public compliments. Peale, always generous in his assessments of human nature, said that Trump had a ‘profound streak of honest humility.’ Trump, not exactly showing that humble streak, said that Peale ‘thought I was his greatest student of all time.’ In a certain sense, Trump was right. Peale has had no more perfect disciple. Peale distilled the optimism and self-sufficiency of the American character into a simple creed.”
From The Washington Post: How the prosperity gospel explains Donald Trump’s popularity with Christian voters. Like Joel Osteen, Trump’s brand is rooted in his own success. Excerpt:
“Osteen and Trump share the same core prosperity precepts, holding that God pushes them and their discerning followers undeviatingly upward to greater success. ‘Don’t put limits on God’ is the mantra of Osteen’s preaching — which means, in turn, that you shouldn’t put limits on yourself and your worldly achievements. This may be why Trump appears to bristle instinctively at the notion of seeking the Lord’s forgiveness — his preferred image of the deity, too, is as a single-minded enabler of success.”