Monday, January 19, 2015

Whatever you ask in my name

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mk 11:24).
The Gospels contain several sweeping promises like this. Liberals don't think Jesus spoke most of the words attributed to him in the Gospels. Rather, they think anonymous authors, writing about two generations later, who had no personal or reliable knowledge of the historical Jesus, inventing sayings which they put on Jesus' lips. They think the Gospels reflect the viewpoint of the church, not the viewpoint of Jesus. Reflect the outlook of the time when they were written rather than the outlook of Jesus' time. Essentially, the Gospels are a vehicle to backdate later developments.
Let's play along with that contention for the sake of argument. Why would a writer invent these sweeping promises? In his own experience, and the experience of his fellow Christians, God didn't always grant their prayer requests. Indeed, one must ask if God usually grants prayer requests. So promises like this don't reflect the experience of "the church." Indeed, they generate a tension between the prima facie scope of the promise and the disappointing reality, which falls far short. 
So why would Gospel narrators put these words in Jesus' mouth? It doesn't fit the theory of their late composition. 

5 comments:

  1. If I could play devil's advocate for a moment - after reading MacArthur's "Charismatic Chaos," it became apparent to me that there are Pentecostals out there (Kenneth Hagin, for example) who tell outlandish stories about supernatural occurrences in their churches, like the story of the woman who danced a jig in midair above the altar or healing people by punching them in the stomach, and so on. Things that most of us, I think, hold to be highly suspect.

    So why would Pentecostals tell these kind of tall tales? I would suspect that - more or less - they expect their religion to have a certain amount of wonder-working power, and they want to believe this to the degree that they're willing to spin some yarns to make it seem real. So if I were a theological liberal, I suppose I might imagine that the early church would be willing to make sweeping claims for the same reason that charismatics tell extravagant stories: they're fallible, perhaps a bit shortsighted, men who wanted to invite others into their new and exciting brand of worship.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "If I could play devil's advocate for a moment"

      Be careful. Sometimes the devil collects on his debts. If Al Pacino knocks on your door, don't let him in.

      On the general point:

      i) There's a difference between tall tales and predictions. Short-term predictions are falsifiable in a way that many tall tales are not. Indeed, a tall tale may be intentionally unfalsifiable.

      ii) The WoF movement is a paradox: it's source of appeal is simultaneously its greatest vulnerability. It's appealing to a certain kind of audience to say that whatever you want is available for the asking.

      Problem is: that's an eminently testable claim. A short-term prediction with empirical consequences.

      It doesn't take too much experimentation to discover that we don't get whatever we ask for. Not even close.

      So, although WoF has initial popularity, enthusiastic adherents can become quickly disillusioned as they find out the hard way that that's not how the world works.

      I wonder if there are longitudinal studies on defection rates in the WoF movement.

      iii) Even if (ex hypothesi) you had health-n-wealth preachers in the NT church, what would be the staying power of that message once listeners put it to the test and learn by sorry experience that it just doesn't happen that way?

      iv) The rapid, universal acceptance of Gospels involves broad-based support, and not just one theological faction.

      v) Also, the Gospels in general are poor candidates for a WoF theology. They warn of persecution, martyrdom, and ostracization. They are focused on the world to come.

      vi) I think the prayer promises we find in the Gospels are examples of "hard sayings." They made it into the Gospels because Jesus said it, and the narrator was "stuck" with including what Jesus said. Not the sort of thing a narrator would invent, precisely because it generates unnecessary difficulties–unless this was, in fact, an actual saying of Jesus. They meet the criterion of embarrassment.

      Delete
    2. "Be careful. Sometimes the devil collects on his debts. If Al Pacino knocks on your door, don't let him in."

      It's ok...I'm sure that smell of sulphur and brimstone is only because I live in an industrial area!

      "Also, the Gospels in general are poor candidates for a WoF theology. They warn of persecution, martyrdom, and ostracization. They are focused on the world to come."

      This is a good point. It's worth noting that early Christians were willing to die for their cause. How many would be willing to die for Benny Hinn?

      Thanks as always for your response.

      Delete
  2. "So promises like this don't reflect the experience of 'the church.'"

    Why, do you suppose, promises like this don't refect the experience of "the church"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I explain that in the post.

      Delete