Beth Moore’s marketing advantages plus her contemporizing of the gospel has made her a pop star of evangelical devotional literature among adult Christian women. Over 658,000 women have attended Moore’s Living Proof Live conferences. But in her Evangelical eagerness to gain a current cultural hearing, Moore’s books sacrifice doctrine to appeal to the pop appetites of the Christians market.Other female bible teachers, like Nancy Leigh DeMoss, though not as visibly popular as Moore, provide a vantage point for judging Moore’s prominence.
Though her Bible studies are used across the world and her voice is strong among evangelicals, we should be asking ourselves important questions in contrasting her writing with other devotional literature. The overall opinion is favorable of Moore’s Bible studies. “Her enthusiasm is infectious,” says Thea Leunk, who serves as a leader among the women at her church, “(Moore) does a very good job of making the Bible practical and bringing it to an every day, ‘you can do this.’ That’s the hook that she provides to get people to study the Bible.” Even Joe Stowell, President of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, enjoyed reading her recent book on insecurity, “Whatever she says about insecurity or depression or self-pity all has biblical basis,” Stowell says. “She meets me at the point of my struggle. She leads me to Scripture and to Christ. There’s a very special balance that God has given her.”
However, some responses bring concern to her writings. Pastor Craig Johnson, when asked about Moore’s book, Believing God, comments, “While there are many good things about the book, I would never recommend it. In fact, the weaknesses of the book are so significant that I would go so far as to discourage people from reading it – if they are reading it for the purpose of being edified.” He explains further a few weaknesses in her books, one of which is a careless hermeneutic of Scripture. “While there are many good and helpful things in Believing God by Beth Moore, there are enough confusing, uncareful, and unbiblical teachings to conclude that it should not be considered part of a Christian’s healthy diet.” The mixed bag of responses warrants some investigation. If these concerns are legitimate, what would draw thousands of women to Moore’s writing if not for theological reasons?
Beth Moore grew up in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Her father was a retired Army major and raised the children. He managed the local movie theater where she and her siblings would help out. She attributes her lifelong love for stories to those times when she sat in the theater, “wide-eyed and filled to the brim with Coca-Cola.” But the story that was told in Sunday school that “captured her heart and consumed her life” was the story of Jesus Christ. Her faith began when she learned that Jesus loved children and “thought she was special.”
She graduated from Southwest Texas State University with a degree in political science. At 18 Moore “sensed” a call into ministry. She married Keith Moore in 1978 and had two daughters. Sometime after graduation, she took a Bible Study methods class- it was there that her love for explaining Scripture took hold. She founded a ministry in 1994 called, Living Proof Ministries. The goal of this ministry she says is to teach women how to love and live on God’s Word. She has written numerous books and Bible studies, including Breaking Free, Believing God, The Patriarchs and most recently, So Long Insecurity: You’ve been a bad friend to us and James: Mercy Triumphs. Her Bible Studies are often structured with a fill in the blank style. Women of all ages, races, and denominations have read Moore’s books.
More recently she has written books that focus on struggles in the everyday life of people. So Long Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend to Us received the number 8 slot of Michael Hyatt’s list of best selling Christian books of 2010 . Esther (2010) and Breaking Free (1999) also appearing on that same list. So Long, Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend to Us, reached the number two slot on The New York Times advice bestseller list after its February release. Conferences have taken her to all 50 states and in several different countries. Deduced from these facts we can safely access that she is a prominent woman, and has a voice into the lives of evangelical women all over this country.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss serves as a point of contrast since she is also a woman of influence among evangelicals. Since 1980, she has served on staff of a small revival ministry called Revive our Hearts, a branch of Life Action Ministries. She has also authored fourteen devotional books, including the bestselling Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free. Her conference messages, books, and daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him have reached women around the country. At a very young age “she surrendered her life to Christ and to His call to full-time service.” She graduated from University of Southern California with a degree in piano performance and went on to serve as the Primary Children’s Ministries Director in a large local church. Though her books have sold over 1,000,000 copies she does not appear on bestsellers lists or marketed with the same intensity as Beth Moore.
A Subtle Error
Yes, Beth Moore’s popularity could be sourced in clever marketing and personal charisma. “Baptists tend to be in silos and tend not to overlap with other denominations, but Moore is able to cross over to different pockets of evangelicalism,” says Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University in Houston. “She has a tremendous appeal in that she has this homespun sensibility, yet there’s a polished, savvy teaching style.” Is this why Beth Moore is so popular? Is it her big Texas hair and funny stories that make her books sell? I submit that it is also the content of her books. There is an experiential and feel good flavor to her Bible studies that make them a joy to read. Who doesn’t want to feel good about themselves and experience Bible stories in their everyday life? But has she compromised truth of Scripture in this contemporization of Biblical truth?
Beth Moore possesses numerous strengths in her writing. More is evangelical; she loves God and His Word. So of course, there are things she says that are truthful. Moore observes in So Long Insecurity, “Confidence is driven by the certainty of God given identity and the conviction that nothing can take that identity away (352).” One could not ask for a deeper security than knowing that our identity is God-given and is driven by His faithfulness. I could list many more helpful and sound principles from her books.
Her error is subtle but critical. First, let us observe what is lacking in Moore’s Bible studies. There are no clear negative statements of the human state, only hints of how bad our hearts really are. Describing her own conversion she states, her faith in the Lord began when she learned that Jesus loved children and “thought she was special.” There is no confirmation that she knew her desperate need for the Savior or realized her own sinful heart. It sounds as though she believes humans are the victims of their issues and struggles, not the ones who spawn the problems.
“We all have insecurities. They piggyback on the vulnerability inherent in our humanity. The question is whether or not our insecurities are substantial enough to hurt, limit, or even distract us from profound effectiveness or fulfillment of purpose. Are they cheating us of the powerful and abundant life Jesus flagrantly promised” (So Long Insecurity 15)? These insecurities are the bad guys, not our own hearts. Insecurity is a disease you catch, not something that is bred in every human. “Let Him get that terrified part of you that devalues the rest of you” (So Long Insecurity 26).
Moore’s failure to treat human sinfulness and depravity seriously drives her to attribute issues to our psychological confusion not our spiritual deadness. In the Bible study Breaking Free she discusses how God thinks about us constantly, a truth that is very clear in Scripture, she says, “In John 17:24, Jesus said, ‘Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am.’ I think heaven will be heaven because He will be there, but He thinks it will be heaven because you will be there. A line from a song expresses it so well, ‘When He was on the cross, I was on His mind.’ No matter what time of night you roll over in bed and become conscious, you will catch God in the middle of a thought about you. (Breaking Free 174)”
There is truth in a lot of what she says. The Psalmist in Psalm 139 talks about how God’s thoughts toward us cannot be numbered. But what she explains here confuses rather than clarifies the Biblical view of God’s thoughts toward us. Christ’s happiness in heaven is not contingent upon our presence but upon Himself. In statements like this we lose why Christ had to die- it is my sin that put him there. When Christ was thinking about us on the cross, it was not thoughts resembling “Precious Moments “ figurines but thoughts of us as murderers, idolaters, liars, thieves, blasphemers, adulterers, and rebels we truly are. We must understand God’s diagnosis of us before we truly understand the cure. Moore applies a gospel cure without a gospel diagnosis. Thus, a self-esteem theology rises to the top.
Moore also says that to fight insecurity we need to believe that we are worthy of security, and that we deserve dignity. She says, “Insecurity is about losing our God given dignity. The enemy loves that. He knows that people who don’t value themselves won’t think they deserve any dignity “ (So Long Insecurity 148). She explains that we have dignity because God gave it to us. Then she encourage the readers to sit on that truth, that we are all worthy of respect. The word “deserve” is very strong. She confuses the dignity of our creation in that we reflect God’s glory, and possess the capacity to represent Him and to glorify Him with our present wrath deserving condition. She has failed to distinguish between fallen man and pre-fallen man, she has failed to understand that our worth comes from understanding that we exist for Him not ourselves.
A Diluted Gospel
While at times she seems close to a Biblical anthropology, she continues to slide back into a contemporary psychology of self-esteem. Her book So Long Insecurity includes a sentence saying, “Forgive me for my self-worship” (168). This statement rings true. It acknowledges the idolatry that is committed in the sin of insecurity. But this statement is left only as a personal cry to God, rather than leading to a discussion over the seriousness of self-worship. Moore encourages a self-understanding that is distorted because it does not take the fall seriously. Man’s worth and value can only be understood in our doxological purpose in creation and redemption. I exist for God, not because I am special. The sugar sweet way that which she speaks of man’s character is reminiscent of the motto of Saturday Night Live persona, Stuart Smalley, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.”
Readers leave with a feeling of entitlement to the grace and love of God. We must know the truth that the only thing we are entitled to is God’s wrath; the only thing we deserve is God’s judgment. Yet, by grace alone, He gives me dignity, He gives me worth.
Moore demonstrates in her book Get Out of That Pit the same propensity. She explains that there are pits we slip into, some of which we didn’t mean to fall in. Then, she suggests this is apart of Satan’s plan to build spiritual strongholds that lead to our own destruction. After naming a variety of different pits, she challenges the reader to discern motives and desires, admonishing that sin does not satisfy, “If God forbids something, the sooner we believe and confess that it’s for our sakes, the better off we’ll be.”
However, she forgets to include one important pit: the pit of our own sinfulness. Leslie Wiggens, from Discerning Reader, a Reformed website, observes, “It is this omission, I think, that allows Moore to believe that most people are not having fun in their respective pits and really would rather get out. It seems to me that she believes that people are basically good and really want to be successful, effective, and healthy. Some of us slip into pits and some of us have rebellious personalities that cause us to want to jump head first into pits. But once we’re there, we all want to get out before total destruction comes, right?” Moore’s coloring of the human situation lacks realism because she fails to use the Biblical pallet. Paul’s “Dorian Grey” portrait in Romans 1 is horrifying but real. Romans 1 tells us that the natural disposition of man is to trade the truth of God for a lie. We would never choose to get out of any pit if it was not for the grace of God rescuing us.
Though she claims that only God can lift us out of our pit, the reader is encouraged to decide to change, to choose a different lifestyle. She even outlines prayers based on Scripture for everyday of the week to aide the reader. What should concern us is what is missing from this book. There is no reflection on Scripture that leads to recognizing the holiness of God, sinfulness of man, and the heinous offense we have committed against Him. This is vital for true contrition and confession of sin. What is missing is the gospel. The truth which promises God will lift us out of every pit resides only in what Christ accomplished on the cross.
Reading Beth Moore does not mean we are sinning, but that we are settling. We are settling for a marketed commercialized Bible study rather than the real thing. These Bible studies bear the mark of our cultural ideas of man, not a Biblical anthropology. These appeal to the contemporary Christian market, our cultural presuppositions about ourselves. John Stott, in his book, The Contemporary Christian, describes this pressure to make Christ relevant to our culture, he observes, “The demand for relevance becomes so imperious that we feel we have to capitulate to it, at whatever cost…We become obsequious to the modern mood, slaves to the latest fad…Then the quest for relevance has degenerated into a lust for popularity. (Stott, 24)”
Nancy Leigh DeMoss in her book Lies Women Believe takes on several lies that women believe about themselves and about God. One of these lies discusses how bad our sin really is. “The way to see the truth about sin is to see it in the light of who God is. When we gaze upon the brilliance of His untarnished holiness, we become acutely aware of the hideousness of our sin.” DeMoss continues, “’My sin isn’t really that bad,’ and ‘God can’t forgive what I have done’- the Truth about both of these lies is revealed at Calvary…It was at Calvary that God’s mercy and love for sinners and the truth of his holy hatred for sin found a meeting place. (Lies Women Believe 101)” This understanding is the basis for change; it is in understanding our helplessness that we understand the grace of God.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss also delves into lies about our own insecurity, such as “I am not worth anything”, or “I need to learn to love myself”. She confronts the false security that our culture’s self-esteem prescribes. “According to God’s Word, the truth is that we were created in the image of God, that He loves us, and that we are precious to Him. However, we do not bestow that worth on ourselves…Our malady is not a ‘low self-esteem,’ nor is it how we view ourselves; rather, it is our low view of God. (Lies Women Believe 70)” She approaches our security and worth from God and for God. We know how we ought to live when we have an accurate picture of God.
Choosing Gratitude, published in 2010, is another example of Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ dependence on a right understanding of the gospel for right living. She submits that the only right response for believers is a grateful lifestyle. Believers in Christ ought to be the most thankful people on this planet because of the gospel. Thankfulness is a generally accepted in our world. From kindergarten our mothers often teach us how to write thank you cards for our birthday gifts. However, for the Christian it is not enough to feel grateful, it only becomes tangible when it is expressed.
DeMoss does not shy away from the awful state of humanity, rather, she uses it as springboard into the wonderful reality of God’s grace. “Undeniable guilt, plus underserved grace, should equal unbridled gratitude (Choosing Gratitude 35).” This gratitude must be cultivated throughout all of life. And that is exactly what DeMoss focuses on for the remainder of her book; through the frustrations and fun times she compassionately urges the reader through responding in genuine gratefully.
Not only does DeMoss ground her propositions for right living in the gospel but also she explains Scripture from its context and prescribes application out of that understanding. Leslie Wiggens’ review of this book notes, “DeMoss takes us to God’s word to provide the language we need to express gratitude, whether it’s gratitude for pleasure or pain.“ Often she will start with the historical context of the passage, what was the circumstances regarding these verses, and then makes observations on what the author is saying in the surrounding verses.
There are authors such as Nancy Leigh DeMoss and others, who speak to the same relevant issues but whose foundation for change is gospel centered. DeMoss bases her principles on the gospel and our view of God, not in building up how we view ourselves. Though Moore says valuable observations and applications, it is paired with an unhealthy theology of man and a convoluted hermeneutic of Scripture. What she says is not all bad, she writes some great truths, it is what she is not saying that should concern us. We should read books for their emphasis on gospel understanding. As said earlier, Reading Beth Moore does not mean we are sinning, but that we are settling. We are settling for a diluted gospel.