Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Wandering Christian and the Lost Blessing

John Hagee, The Power of the Prophetic Blessing

On the one hand, I appreciate Pentecostal pastor John Hagee’s attempt to reclaim an ancient Jewish tradition as part of the Christian heritage. The blessings distributed by patriarchs, prophets, and Christ should be part of our faith, as they were for Jesus Himself. On the other hand, Hagee has not written the book he promised in the dust flap copy, and certainly not the book a scholarly Protestant like me would want to see.

When God called Abram out of Ur to found a new nation, God poured a blessing on the chosen patriarch. Isaac famously blessed Jacob (at Esau’s expense), a blessing that observant Jews have used as a model for parental blessings for centuries. Time and again, the Gospels talk of Jesus “blessing” the multitudes, and as Hagee notes, Jesus’ blessing was probably similar in form and content to Jacob’s blessing on his sons and their tribes.

So far, so good. I both like and agree with Hagee’s core thesis. Christians really should reclaim more of our Hebrew heritage. But then Hagee goes off on tangents. He throws in lengthy diatribes against evolution and abortion, and multiple discursions on Christian Zionism, all in just the early chapters. The point Hagee actually set out to make disappears, sometimes for dozens of pages. It feels like he’s begging me to disagree with him.

For instance, his Christian Zionist fulminations completely ignore that the modern state of Israel is largely secularized. Observant Jews emigrating internationally today are more likely to move to the United States than Israel. Likewise, in his jeremiads against evolution, he notes that Scripture says we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God, and exclaims (repeatedly) “You did not evolve!” He never says what makes the two exclusive.

It got to where, every time I put the book down to cook dinner or go to work, it took an effort of will to pick it back up again. He had a Scripturally solid core in his book, but he chose to ornament it with buzzwords and side remarks designed to connect with a pre-made conservative Evangelical audience. Did he perhaps include these irrelevant parenthetical digressions as an in-group signal? If so, that’s risky, because it also excludes new audiences.

Hagee crossed the final line with me in a text box which read: “Think on this. When a believer is in the middle of God’s will, he has perfect peace even during the greatest crisis of his life.” Beg your pardon? Was Job out of God’s will when he couldn’t take the pain anymore and cried out? Was Elijah out of God’s will when he felt he’d been abandoned by the straying nation? Scripture doesn’t seem to think so.

Claims like this alarm me, because they tell people suffering routine, human struggles of faith that they have already failed. If I believe Hagee, then when some setback or personal tragedy fills me with worry or grief, I start reprimanding myself for straying from God’s will. That seems like a small God to me, who cannot accommodate our fears and doubts without treating us like apostates. The God I worship is bigger than that.

Scripture certainly doesn’t blame Jesus for weeping at Lazarus’ tomb. It doesn’t devalue His blessings for praying at Gethsemane that God take this cup from Him. It doesn’t diminish His claim to divinity for Him wondering on the cross why God had forsaken Him. If the Son of Man can feel such suffering and doubt, yet remain the giver of eternal life, how arrogant must I be to think that I can never face life’s misgivings or turmoil?

In essence, Hagee tries to do too much, with the unsurprising result that he talks himself into a corner. He bounces from topic to topic so fast that he does none of them any justice. In so doing, he short-changes his core thesis, confuses people who don’t share his evangelical argot, and alienates readers like me who expect a heartier level of insight. As an ardent Christian, I should be among Hagee’s audience, yet this book leaves me frustrated.

Hagee is not the first to deal with these topics, and certainly not the best. While I think Hagee’s heart is in the right place, his incoherently inclusive style, frenetic wanderings, and questionable exegesis leave me cold. Trent and Smalley address the same topics in The Blessing, without the hyperbolic boasting or the cow paths. I like Hagee’s point, I just don’t think he’s the one to sell it.

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