Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Why I love Bruce Wilkinson and you should too. Part 1

(editor request: anyone with editor abilities, if you can straighten out the font problems...I'm sorry that the display changes seemingly ever paragraph...this is what happens when I try to use technology to make this a more readable/attractive post. the exact opposite.)

This article on Christianity Today's website
made me rethink and want to post about Bruce Wilkinson. I tried to write a quickie just off of this article but couldn't bring myself to deal with this that quickly. So I've been thinking/reading about him for the past couple of weeks and have decided to treat this in a couple of segments, trying to get a little further in depth than we normally do on here. So I think I will start with a real long post now and another post in the next day or so to follow up and conclude my thoughts.

The quick run down, as is best explained in above article, is that Bruce Wilkinson, author of The Prayer of Jabez, "who captured the imagination of Christians by relocating to Africa from his Georgia home in 2002, has quit his ministry focused on defeating HIV/AIDS and retired from active ministry at age 58."

The details of his quitting will be saved for the second post, but for this one I want to sort of craft Wilkinson's journey from Jabez to Africa. My reasons for dealing with this first are two fold. 1. I remember having similar (though not as strong) feelings of regret and excitement when I heard that Wilkinson was moving to Africa as I did when I heard that Rick Warren had been captivated by a global vision of rigorous social justice. I regretted (some) of the things I had said about the man and his writings and was excited that a person of his influence was going to be this committed. 2. Rereading the stories of Wilkinson in light of the Christianity Today article helped me see him in even less cynical light, casting him as a sympathetic character who had every right to believe in the Prayer of Jabez because he had experienced nothing but remarkable success whenever he tried to do anything. Ultimately, it appears, this may have been the downfall of Wilkinson's stay in Africa and perhaps full time ministry. But for now, our story starts with Wilkinson's decision to move to Africa.

For those of you not familiar with Jabez or in need of a refresher, check out this review. The critique itself is really not necessary, the criticisms that are most relevant are pretty obvious, but this review offered a comprehensive summary of the phenomenon that followed and the main themes of the book. In a nutshell, that if people prayed for God to bless them and increase their influence, capital, and ministry, God would be faithful.

I focus on the beginning of Wilkinson's move to Africa here beacuse I think it is compelling and important to answer a question that I always was asking: "How can this guy really believe what he's teaching? Hasn't he lived for 15 minutes in the world?" This question centered on the (somewhat) negative belief that suffering is inevitable and seemingly pervasive appears to ultimately overcome Wilkinson (at least in regards to the overwhelming suffering in the AIDS crisis). While some of us, taking a different theological perspective, may be tempted to rejoice in Wilkinson's realization because we feel like we are right, following the Wilkinson narrative further back we may be able to not only understand why Wilkinson believed in the Prayer and also realize why it truely a tragedy that his confidence has been shaken.

Starting this far back was originally motivated by the following paragraph in CT:

"Wilkinson has a history of dramatic twists and turns. As his books became bestsellers, he stepped down from Walk Thru The Bible, which he founded. He decided to move to Hollywood to make movies, but then backed out. He moved to Johannesburg, but stayed less than two years. He relocated to Swaziland. He remained there about 18 months before returning to Georgia. Wilkinson has also delayed completion of his next book for Multnomah Press. And in late September 2005, he was to launch the Dream Giver Coach Network to be merged with the American Association of Christian Counselors. But he "pulled the plug on the entire venture," a source closely associated with Wilkinson told CT. "Bruce was quite broken at this time. [Dream for Africa] had physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially taken a serious toll on Bruce."

While the CT article may or may not be implying that unwillingness to finish things is a personality trait in Wilkinson, I have come to the conclusion that this may be the "other side" of Wilkinson's remarkable gift as a visionary and project starter. In this interview with beliefnet, Wilkinson talks about his repentance when first confronted with the situation in Africa. He was convicted that he had failed to fully live out the Gospel. "I went to Africa without the perspective of a balance between teaching people the truth, which has been my calling, and helping people who have physical problems, like AIDS and orphans and hunger."

He talks about leaving his position at Walk Thru The Bible, an organization that aimed to have a bible teacher for every 50,000 people in every country in the world. In five years the organization had trained 33,000 teachers in 82 countries, a truely remarkable start. At the time that he left for Africa he was in the process of moving to California to make movies that would generate interest in Biblical issues.
"So in May I went to Africa. I was already working in Hollywood on a number of films by that time. One of them was about The Prayer of Jabez, and there were others as well."

Upon his arival in Africa Wilkinson jumped right into the issue of AIDS.
After addressing an audience of religious leaders who all spoke on the tragedy of AIDS in their congregation and their uncertainty about how to address the issue, Wilkinson found himself a new project to work on. "So I trained them that week about what to say, and in that week I went to see the president of Kenya. I said, “Is there something that keeps you awake at night that perhaps I can help you with?” He said, “AIDS is killing my country. I wish I had a Hollywood movie on AIDS that would take the misconceptions away.” So I said, “OK sir, I’ll make you a movie.”" Wilkinson did make a movie, It’s called Beat the Drum. Again, this experience with his early start in Africa reflects the visionary that Wilkinson is and his remarkable experiences of fast starts. Not only is he immediately training pastors how to preach about AIDS, he has an audience with the president of Kenya within a week and has a movie made in no time. I am utterly amazed at how things just fall into place for Wilkinson, regardless of if he's in Africa, California, or Georgia. Not only does it become believable that Wilkinson would believe The Prayer of Jabez, but I feel compelled to rethink the degree to which God must have been at work in Wilkinson's life. Surely these radical quick changes are the work of the Spirit and not just the motivational leadership of this man...

While working in South Africa, Wilkinson was outside of any organizational structure and he experienced immediate and intense success with an audience before thousands and meetings with powerful leaders of Africa. He appears to be tied to South Africa, committed to this new ministry for the long term. "
In those 3 weeks, it was like God opened up my chest, took out my heart, dug a hole in the dirt, put my heart in it, and said, “Now you follow yourself right into there.” I didn’t go because I wanted to go, or had a vision to do something when I went." This commitment is seen in Bruce's stories about calling white farmers to repent for treating black farmers poorly, playing an inspirational role in national movements to reform key farming communities toward economic equality.

What would become Wilkinson's new passion, the AIDS crisis in Swaziland, is seen in its early stages in this interview, as Wilkinson talks about reconciling key Chrisitan leaders in Swaziland in his first visit to the country. When asked about his white American background in Africa, Wilkinson again reveals his experience, right out of the pages of Jabez. "
I just teach the Bible. By the second day they trust me, come to understand me, and by the third day major changes take place. I have a lot to learn there, but I’m learning." Wilkinson may come off as somewhat arrogant in all of this but the people he met in Africa no doubt saw him as a key outside voice. What fueled Wilkinson in the early stages of his ministry in Africa was a biblical vision where the world was set right and he played a role in it. As he continued in Africa, eventually his vision would become more focused and he would end up moving to Swaziland, the segment of his ministry I will write on in the next post.

Where I'm left at reading this interview in light of what has occured in the past couple of months is first a sense of awe and attachment. Just reading his accounts of his experiences upon arriving in Africa get me fired up. First, for those who see his ministry there as a sort of imperialism and simply assume that Wilkinson is trying to force himself on these people as their savior, this is clearly not the experience of Wilkinson's partners in Africa. (See these links for an example of this attitude. I will address some of this head on in my next post) Secondly, his personality comes through so strongly in this interview that he becomes the sort of person it is easy to get behind. I remember when I was reading Bill Hybels Couragous Leadership, I was so frustrated by the emphasis he put on the role of the visionary in running the church. While I still whole heartedly disagree with Hybels, in Wilkinson I see the sort of person that Hybels has in mind. Here we have someone who, on vision alone, can transform the way others see the world in such a way that the world itself actually can change. This rare gift, however dangerous (and I would ultimately argue that in Wilkinson's case the 'danger' is overwhelmed by the good), appears to be the sort of thing needed in transforming the situation in Africa. Of course the danger is present here, however, as it will be interesting to trace the success of the projects he started without his presence.

What am I getting at in this lengthy wandering first Wilkinson post? I suppose first of all that I am repenting of reading The Prayer of Jabez without taking more seriously the experiences of Wilkinson's experiences. I made the mistake of simply reading it as theology and, quickly and probably rightly, assessing it as poor theology. From this narrow focus, not everyone who prays this prayer will see their lives change and so the book is easily dismissed. But there is more going on here, and Wilkinson's "success" is evidence of it. My repentance, then, is not only because I failed to fully understand Wilkinson's position but also because of my own reluctance to grant any credibility to the position. While everyone who prays the prayer will not experience blessings and riches, is it not true that it is through praying these sorts of prayer that we are transformed into the sorts of people who can change the world? I am not saying, with some psychologists, that once we belive something fully we are empowered to do what needs to be done to accomplish these goals.

(as an aside, check out this book that my psychiatrist gave me in junior high. she thought that I was too negative and incapable of dreaming big. This was the cause of my problems. I'm pretty sure that the proper diagnosis would have been "adolescence" or "pubirty," but what do I know? Anyway, this pseudo-Nietszchian perspective replaces the will-to-power psychology (modern atraction and application of The Art of War for example) with a convince yourself to power approach.)

Instead, I am saying that what Wilkinson is doing in The Prayer of Jabez may be less an obvious theological mistake but perhaps a mis-reading of the power of the Spirt in the life of the Christian. Are we not to believe that God wants to work in the world to bring good? Are we not to believe that the practice of prayer is essential for forming us into who God wants us to be for these things? It seems to me, regardless of how messed up it may be, that Wilkinson's Prayer could be easily applied to teach people how to pray for an openness to whatever it is that God is calling them to. It is clear from Wilkinson's story that this is how he experienced the prayer. It was not necessarily a prayer for wealth and security but instead a prayer that expected God to faithfully act in the world and a prayer of willingness to be a part of that. In this reformed sense, as exhibited in Wilkinson's life, I am forced to reconsider why it is that I am likely to reject such a prayer without consideration and instead hold onto my "realist" account of the world where people pray and pray and nothing happens. Ultimately this position leads away form the radical openness to the Gospel called for in following Jesus.

While my next post will show the dangers a pitfalls of taking the other extreme, I wonder if Wilkinson's is not still the right response of a Christian. What does it mean to really believe in the resurrection of the dead? To believe that in the end God will redeem the world? Surely, as Wilkinson shows us, this sort of belief will lead to a radically different sort of life. Perhaps it is our unwillingness to sell out to this sort of belief that keeps us from being who God wants us to be and doing radical things in this world. Maybe God doesn't want to shower me with financial blessings (but of course I wish this were true!) but maybe God does want to use me to be more than I allow at times. And by this I simply mean to include everything, whether this is theological influence, service in foreign lands, or being faithful in the relationships I have with people around me while working at "ordinary" life. I believe that we often reject things like Jabez because it is easier and more comfortable to believe that God wants to do very little. The reason for this hesitance will be justified in my next post, but ultimately we must ask not what is the most reasonable response but what is the most faithful. While playing it safe and not throwing ourselves into things may be the easiest answer, perhaps the authentic life is one filled with risks like Wilkinson's Africa project. It may be that the only way to experience the depths of joy, beauty, and ultimately redemption (of ourselves and of the world) that are possible in Christ is to take the sort of risks that could leave us broken and frustrated, at times even hopeless. If nothing else, Wilkinson is noble and honorable to have moved to Africa, to have believed that it was possible to eliminate AIDS, and for beliving that God wanted these things for the world.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

CPT Watch

The four Christian Peacemakers who have been captured in Iraq are apparently alive. Their captors have released a video of the CPTers saying this is their "last chance"; if the Iraqi prisoners are not released, the four men will be killed.

We need to continue to pray for them, but I would encourage everyone reading this to bring the issue up in church tomorrow as well. If it is they alone that witness to the peace of Christ, we will have abandoned them.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Jack and James went up the Hill

So, occasionally being in Colorado Springs has its perks. Like, being on the front lines with Jimmy- this little town can go toe to toe with itself readily and easily, and it does so quite often. The Colorado Springs Independent, a lovely little weekly publication that was my staple while I lived there, makes no bones about how it feels about Focus. And they’re not exactly fans. Most of my friends read the Independent, and most of them also had bumper stickers on their ’88 Subaru wagons that read “Focus on your own damn family.” So, just so you know where I’m coming from here.

Last week when I was down in the Springs, I picked up the Indy at Kinfolks, a bar/bike shop/live music venue/outdoor outfitter, in Manitou. (That’s actually a normal type of establishment here. And you can bring your dog in, too.) And found out something new and enjoyable about our friend Dr. Dobson, and Jack Abramoff, and gambling. According to the Indy article, located in its entirety here, Dr. Dobson rallied followers in the state of Louisiana in 2002 at the suggestion of Ralph Reed, and the ultimate prompting of Abramoff himself (Reed, a mutual associate, was contacted by Abramoff to get Dobson on board). The reason? To oppose a new casino being introduced by the Choctaw tribe there. However, the reason Abramoff was interested in keeping this casino from going up wasn’t because he was anti-gambling; quite the contrary.

Abramoff was employed by the Coushatta tribe, which already owned a casino there and was worried about the potential for competition with the Choctaws. It had a lot more to do with money to be made than moral conscience. Dobson rallied the Right, and the proposed new casino died in its tracks. Abramoff pocketed a tidy sum, and the Coushattas were able to keep rolling, quite literally, without fear.

Another thing I found while checking for additional news on this subject was an article from the Kansas City infoZine that discussed Abramoff’s involvement with the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act. Apparently, Abramoff once again got a large coalition of right-wing groups and advocates, including several Jewish associations (not to think he just picks on the circumcised lot) and killed the bill while it was still in Congress with intense lobbying. Those who rallied on behalf of Abramoff were reimbursed financially with proceeds from an internet gambling company, at Abramoff’s direction. Though FOTF wasn’t as closely tied to this one, they were mentioned as part of a larger group in the coalition that stood behind shutting this Bill down.

The question is, was anything Dobson did illegal? That, for now, remains unclear. But what does become clear is the ridiculous nature of James’ press release of condemnation on the Family website of Abramoff’s activities. Like it or not, he was a part of them. And Ralph Reed certainly had to know- he has been implicated in numerous other documents besides the ones that mention Dobson. Apparently, the Religious Right is for sale, just like Capitol Hill.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


After seeing King Kong last night, I was left with only one thought in mind. How can we get these men together?

While I know that Kirk Cameron and his crew are three movies into the series, couldn't we just make believe that they haven't tried to make a movie of it yet? Or, I suppose that Jackson is alright with remakes right? Anyway, imagine images like this one:

brought to life. The chaos of a world just after the rapture would only be topped by Jackson bringing to life the great wars between the one world government and the surviving Chrisitan warriors. This would, of course, be topped again by the arrival of creatures like these:
(For those who aren't sure who these characters are, on the left we have the six winged lion from Revelation 4.7-8 and on the right is the beast from Revelation 3. Just imagine what Jackson could do with these characters....)

And, after all of the battles are played out and all of the creatures have been displayed, the greatest scene of movie history would close out the film(s) (Jackson could milk this for 12 movies!! Or make it all one 14 hour epic...). Take this picture from the left behind website, their weak attempt to portray the beauty of "The Glorious Appearing" of Christ and then imagine what Jackson and a 5 billion dollar budget could do it...

Please use all your levels of influences to get this project going. Brian, I know you know some famous people right? Didn't you meet Biff Tannon once? Andy, can your connections with Relevant help us here? There has to be a way to get this project going! Let's get James Dobson and Jim Wallis together on this one!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Close, but no Cigar

Some of you more in the loop than myself may have heard already that Wheaton 'recently' (it was last spring) fired a professor who became Catholic. I had a multitude of reactions when first reading the article: how could they do that -> man they really do have a right and resonsibility to do that -> man this sucks that things like this happen -> sounds an awful like Sanders' deal -> Ecumenism huh, still got a long way to go don't we.

Let me say that I probably like my denominationof Christianity too much, but I try not to do so. Yet one of the toughest parts of being Catholic for me is our practice of closed communion [only Christians believing in transubstantiation and apostolically connected to Rome (in the measurement of Rome) can recieve communion- this limits it to some Orthodox and few Anglicans]. Anyhow, this has always been a thorn in my side especially when my in-laws come to Mass and can't take communion. I often leave Mass those days feeling sick to my stomach, but also know I should leave feeling that way because Jesus never wanted a spilt up body.

Though I feel I've lived in the midst of quite a bit of ecumenism and this blog is an ongoing piece of that I really don't know jack about it. I'm interested in what other churches (institutional and local) are doing about ecumenism, and how they feel about it. I know the Catholic church does a lot to promote ecumism, but does an equal if not greater amount to hinder the process. In the big issues we talk about here poverty, social policy, Pat Robertson, and peace does ecumenism stack up with those?

Pat Robertson is Right

Before I get to that, I now have a better understanding of why I am the only MidwestMindset-er that has no desire to be a Supreme Court Justice Nominee. After listening to about an hour (over 2 days) of Alito's Bar-B-Q I realized that everyone else has a deep desire to become a Supreme Court Justice, and by commenting about anything going on in the world on such a popular website as MidwestMindset.com they are just opening themselves up to being called a huge racist by Ted Kennedy.

Anyway, tonight as I was surfing the net I came across this brilliant story on fallout from Rev. Robertson's recent well wishes for Ariel Sharon. These comments have cost Robertson dearly. Here's what the headline at the top of the story was on cnn.com

Israel stops contact with Robertson

It seems as if Israel has blocked Robertson's number on their cell phone, but the consequences are worse than loosing a buddy on the old IM.

If you didn't know Robertson and his friends had negotiated a deal with Israel where they would raise $50 million to build the Christian Heritage Center in the Galilee region for what could only be called a Christian Epcot Center. All this so that Western Christians could experience the life of Jesus the same way they experience the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular at MGM.

But now, all is not. It won't be happening because those softies in Israel can't handle an Evangelical investor making comments about how God seems to hate peace in the middle east.

Now you already know I don't agree with Robertson's assessment of the current situation, everyone's got to be totally happy with the fact that this is not happening. I mean imagine what the great catch of fish exhibit would be like. American's hate fish unless it's been processed and deep fried. Can you imagine a huge plastic boat with actors playing disciples pulling up nets full of fish sticks.

Finally, Robertson got one right. Thank you for your crazy ideas for they are protecting the world.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

He Keeps Making Hits...

I'm here to let you know that the rumors are not true. No matter what you heard any where else on the net, we here at MidwestMindset.com did not make a New Years resolution to not post.

We were just waiting for something that reminded us of the good old days... 2005

Like this.

I think that I'm finally beginning to understand the mind of the great Pat Robertson. Here's the background in case you haven't been paying attention.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been struggling with some major health problems that culminated this week in a major stroke. While the media speculated on Sharon's current condition the hospital assured the public today that he was clinging to life after major surgery.

Of course the 700 Club had wall to wall coverage of this story and Robertson had some very interesting things to say about Sharon's situation. Robertson believes that this stroke was God's punishment for Sharon's recent actions, namely The prime ministers decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza and parts of the West Bank in hopes of peace with Palestine.

Here are some of the heart warming things that Robertson had to say...

"He was dividing God's land, and I would say, 'Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the [European Union], the United Nations or the United States of America,' God says, 'This land belongs to me, and you'd better leave it alone,'"

What is becoming clear that Robertson doesn't just think that someone who disagrees with him is wrong, Robertson believes that all of his political opinions are held by Almighty God. Whenever someone goes against what Robertson has decided is Right he believes that God's ultimate response will be anger and pain for those who disagree with him.

Now this might not seem like news to anyone I believe that we here at MidwestMindset.com better take note because we have on occasion disagreed with Robertson. It kind of makes me scared to say that I disagree with him because you never know what will happen to me if I voice it in any way.

And isn't that the point. Control by fear.