In the following blog post, I will be confronting the teachings that have become prevalent at a popular church. This blog post is not an indictment against the church or the people who attend it. Nor is this an unjust attack in what can become at times a heretic witch hunt in Christian circles. I have friends who have worked for this church, and I myself have listened to, read, and learned from this church. I am confronting what I believe to be untrue teaching, not condemning the man or church that brought this teaching about.
“I have the ability to take a common situation, put some purpose on it, and if I say it’s a gate, it will be a gate. I can look at something that seems so ordinary, a job that I hate can become the gate, if I point at it and anoint it.”
I came across a conglomeration of clips of pastor Steven Furtick’s message to his church earlier this month. This quote is from that church-produced synopsis of the message he preached. I never want to refute something that’s out of context, so I went to the church website and listened to the section of the message in question.
In his sermon, A Pillow and A Promise, Pastor Furtick takes the story of Jacob in Genesis 28 and makes it about claiming good things from God in the ordinary moments of life. In a manner that is actually done quite often, Furtick preached allegorically through this passage, taking aspects and objects of the story and drawing out convoluted parallels to modern life. This take on Biblical narratives saturates his sermons. This was one sermon among dozens about taking control of your life and being blessed (go see for yourself).
For instance, in Genesis 28:11 it says that Jacob came to a certain place. Furtick pauses after this line and tells the church that God can bless you anywhere. It doesn’t matter the place. Jacob was in a certain place and God blessed him. The members of the congregation were in a certain place and God could bless them. This is not necessarily incorrect belief, but rather an allegoirical reading of the text.
In Genesis 28:13 he pauses to say that God is always above the affairs of men, because the text says that God was above the stairway Jacob envisioned. In Genesis 28:14 he pauses to say that what God is about to do cannot be contained geographically or otherwise, since the text says the descendants of Jacob will go to the north, south, east, and west.
After Genesis 28:17, Furtick claims that since God didn’t tell Jacob it was the Gate of Heaven, rather Jacob named it, then we have the power to anoint ordinary places in order for them to become places of God’s blessing. The kicker may be Furtick’s comments on Genesis 28:18, where he proclaims that Jacob’s pillow (the rock) became a pillar, and we must sleep on the promises of God and again anoint ordinary things to receive God’s blessings.
He then flies ahead to Mark 4, the story in which Jesus sleeps in a boat with a storm all around. Furtick says that Jesus is asleep, like Jacob, because Jesus had a promise of God and could sleep in the midst of storms. The parallel to modern life is then obvious, we can rest in the midst of storms because we have promises of God.
To illustrate his last point, Furtick lays down with a pillow on stage to conclude his sermon.
All of this is allegorical teaching, and it becomes dangerous when it culminates in the above quote.
There’s 3 things I want to address.
- WE CAN’T MANIPULATE GOD. This sermon wasn’t bad. There were parts of it I wholeheartedly agreed with. That being said, it is simply not true that you can look at an ordinary thing in your life and call down God’s blessing on it. At one point in the sermon, Furtick proclaims that the purpose behind any situation in our lives can be determined by us. It is true that I can take a bad circumstance in my life and allow it to be used in a way that draws me closer to God and grows me spiritually. It is not true that I can determine the purpose behind things in my life.
- THE STORY OF JACOB IN GENESIS 28 IS ABOUT GOD NOT NAME IT AND CLAIM IT THEOLOGY. The pastors and preachers who lean towards prosperity are able to do gymnastics to make texts say what they need them to say (although any bias we have approaching the Bible can lead us to do the exact same thing). The story of Jacob in Genesis 28 is about God’s covenant faithfulness, and how God reminded Jacob of His grace and faithful love, while simultaneously reminding Jacob of His awe and grandeur. This grandeur and grace of God culminates in Christ.
- HIP THEOLOGY IS DANGEROUS. Like I said at the outset of this blog, I have read much and listened to much of Furtick. He’s not evil. What’s become increasingly evident to me however is his descent into hip theology. When he first hit the evangelical scene, he was solid and just a bit energetic. At this point in the game however his church has become a hotbed for entertainment-driven proclamation of God’s Word. He literally laid down during the sermon I’m addressing, and this is the least of his antics (just look up his water-gun related craziness). When a church becomes about being hip and cool, normally the call to come and die gets watered down (no pun intended). When churches strive to push back into the center of our country’s culture, striving for the good old days, they are likely leveraging the scandalous nature of the gospel message and the weight of what it means to follow Christ. So the message to Elevation Church from Furtick becomes “pray, claim and anoint, and be blessed” rather than “pray, serve, and prepare to suffer”. Our churches should strive to be engaged with the culture from the margins, not force ourselves back into the center.
I am concerned that so many people I know are listening to these type of messages and expecting to be blessed by their faith. Please read the Bible for yourself and see that suffering and difficulty are to be expected. God is not someone we can manipulate into blessing us. He loves and provides for us, but being a Christian is neither cool or comfortable.
In His Name,