Thursday, October 18, 2007

Snake Oil Transformation

"Disciplined Christians are the apprentice owners of the world,
and intercessors who hear from God are its unseen regents."

--James Rutz, Megashift: Igniting Spiritual Power (Empowerment Press, 2005), p. 72.

James Rutz's book Megashift has been out for several years now, but it is not dated. This book is a rip-roaring excursion into the realm of evangelical transformation. It is fast-paced, exuberant, effusive, disorderly, and sometimes outright cantankerous. It is pure snake oil sales at its disingenuous best -- disparaging, mocking and ridiculing the last vestiges of tradition with entertaining levity and persuasive testimonials.

So, why would you want to buy this snake oil?

In the art of snake oil sales there are always vestiges of truth embedded in the marketing hype. We know that traditional "churchianity" has its flaws, even in biblical application. Evangelicalism has its deadness, hardness and apathy. We all know that. The Joel O'Steen-style of glitz, glitter and glamour has come to the point of ridiculous excess, turning church into an arena-based spectator sport. So we're embarrassed with its gross magnitude.

Snake oil sales wouldn't succeed if it didn't offer some truth in its cure for the disease. Going back to the Bible, going back to the cross, simplifying worship, making church more accessible to the unsaved, reviving our faith, ministering one to another. . . . all of these seem solid and biblical. Rutz even hauls out globs of evidence, reams of documentation, inspiring testimonials, riveting stories, and before and after photos to back up his hype: the old church doesn't work; the new church will cure what ails us.

So what's the problem with his snake oil? Well, as with any new product, you have to read the fine print.
If you study the ingredient label, it might inform you about the product. Megashift has lots of footnotes and resources, quotations and accolades, examples and emulations. Here you'll recognize all of the common denominators in the neoevangelical transformation model. You'll notice the leading experts and their standard recipe for cell/apostolic change.

In fact, the reason we are reviewing Rutz's book is because it is such an excellent example of formulaic transformation. If you have read this book and were captivated by its premise, it is time to re-visit the small print, check out the disclaimers, review the side effects, re-examine the description of the disease, and dispute the evidence of a cure. We've covered this topic many times previously on Herescope, including our lengthy series on marketing last spring. What you need to watch for is this classic pattern:

1. Deconstruction of the old model of Christianity
2. Reconstruction ("Reformation" or "Transformation") to a new model of Christianity

Here's the half-true sales pitch: The Christian Church of the past 2000 years has been horribly ineffective, terribly uninformed, unbiblical in its structure, unedifying, frozen and stagnant. It was run by a bunch of "control-minded elders" who created a "caste system" (p. 216) that resulted in a vast "theological compost" (p. 218). The Lord Himself couldn't even "break this king/peon mentality among his followers" (p. 214).
It is remarkable that anyone anywhere ever got saved it was so bad. . . .

The solution is, of course, the New Apostolic Reformation with all of its cell/apostolic trappings, new "kingdom" doctrines, and signs and wonders. Breaking down the old structure, building up the new model. That's the name of the transformation game.

When reading Megashift you'll have to be prepared for the barrage of ridicule and mockery that will be flung your direction. If you haven't been part of fabulous miracles, there's something wrong with your faith. (Never mind if you appreciate the tiny miracles of everyday life where God's grace abounds.) You are most likely a "pew potato" (p. 65) in a "tradition-encrusted church--with all its faults" (p. 28) bound by "dead prayers" (p. 58). Your denomination is a "network of miniature hierarchies enmeshed in outdated traditions" (p. 78) with "deformities," "weakness and stagnation" -- an "ecclesiastical monstrosity" (p. 110) presenting a "downsized" gospel (p. 96). Here's a classic Rutz overstatement:

"You'd think that by now the word 'traditions' would have acquired an aroma of month-old raw oysters, but no, it still warms the hearts of millions who have spent their lives marching in little circles in the trackless wasteland of good old-fashioned churchianity. They simply have no idea of what they're missing." (p. 121)

In other words, "you poor, ignorant fools." How condescending. Rutz justifies his strong rhetoric with the guilt-producing statement that:

"My main excuse for the tone of ecclesiastical hatchetry is that it's just darned hard to be diplomatic and tactful while pointing out flaws that can be seen from orbiting spacecraft, especially when those flaws are destroying thousands of lives daily and inoculating people against the church." (p. 112)

Wow! Did you realize that your tradition-bound faith was doing all of that? No wonder you might want to rush out and buy this snake oil solution!

But buyer beware! This snake oil doesn't include preaching, pastors nor doctrine. These things are now considered toxic to the system. Big bad doctrine has been "a war banner, a flag we waved to flaunt our differences from other denominations" (p. 134). Pastors are passe', to be replaced by "a new breed of powerful, secure, competent men" (p. 165); i.e., apostles and prophets. And the "first thing we do, let's kill all the sermons" (p. 159) and "dump the orations" (p. 167).

To be continued. . . .

The Truth:

Back in the "dead" old 1600s, Matthew Poole wrote in his Commentary:

"We must have leave to think that our greatest work which our Lord and his apostles were most employed in, and do think others will be of our minds as soon as they shall understand, that if the end of preaching be not turning men from one opinion to another, but from the love and practice of sin to God, there is as much need of it as ever; and that the turning of men from one opinion to another, without a change of heart, as to the love of sin, is but a turning of men from one quarter of the devil's kingdom to another." (p. 150, Vol. 3)

"And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no not so much as about the door: and He preached the Word unto them." (Mark 2: 2)