I. Truth can always be tainted by throwing in a little falsehood. And, anyone can be deceived by half-truths or a mixed truth or by the Bible not being taken in context. This is what false conversions and deceptions are all about.
II. Jewish Legend must not serve as a Christian prayer model, even if it does somewhat “overlap” with biblical themes… especially of a legend who is said to have slept 70 years under a tree and planted trees all across Israel. Sound familiar to Rip VanWinkle or Johnny Appleseed?
A. Even though Josephus and the Talmud record Honi as a real man that lived, and as a “righteous man” (whatever that meant to Josephus), we must limit our authority for faith and practice to the Bible.
1. In Jospheus’ account, Honi cries out to “god, the king of the whole world,” & “lord of the world” NOT “God, the maker of heaven and earth” (Ps. 134:3; 146:6; Ps.121:2; Gen. 1:1) as other biblical intercessors.
2. Honi is not even considered apocryphal to OT and NT scholars. He is therefore classified as legend to the Jews and in their Talmud (stories) much like Rip Van Winkle or Johnny Appleseed are to annals of Anglo fable.
3. It is fact that during the inter-testamental period, many Jews began synagogue worship, or else they became “Bablyonianized,” taking on near-eastern mysticism or magic (the root word magi or ha-M’agel — as seen in the name Honi ha-M’agel) which included circle making and a lot of geometry and astrology that the Greeks borrowed. [see: The Commerce of the Sacred: Mediation of the Divine Among the Jews in the Greco-Roman World pg. 18]
4. Though Josephus records miracles of Honi’s life or supposed vindications of Honi, Josephus was not (as we can tell from his Roman allegiance and unsympathetic accounts of Jesus Christ) a believer in the one true God. Magic (as opposed to God’s power) is powerful but not good. We are not to model prayer after extra-biblical examples.
5. Honi called himself THE Son of God… not “a son of God” but “the.” [see Examining Honi the Circle Drawer: History and Legends for a quote by Bart Ehrman: “Later sources indicate that Honi was a revered teacher and a miracle worker, who called himself the son of God.”
B. “It was the legend of Honi the circle maker. And it forever changed the way I pray.” – pg. 21 [Mark Batterson says it was the legend of Honi that changed the way he prays, not the Bible.]
C. “It is possible for a man to dream continuously for 70 years.” – pg. 43 [This is a direct reference to the legend that Honi slept under a tree for 70 yrs. Not cool. What does Josephus say about Honi in this regard? NOTHING. Does Josephus record anything about Honi planting trees all over Israel? NOTHING. Yet, these stories are in the same passages in the Book of Legends. In the context of Mr. Batterson’s chapter, he goes on to write: … next point]
D. “Instead of creating the future, we start repeating the past. Instead of living by faith, we live by logic. Instead of going after our dreams, we stop circling Jericho.” –pg. 43 [But wait, do we “create our future” by imagining it, or does God guide us by His Word through all life’s circumstances? Yes, we are born with a God-given personality and interests, and these are exercised by goals. But, this is poor wording at the least, scary theology at the most. Moreover, logic IS NOT the opponent of faith!! “All God’s ways are perfectly reasoned” (Dt. 32:4). For example, Jericho was to be “circled” for a set amount of days and for set revolutions in that day to signify God’s resting on the 7th Day of Creation–that all of the works of God are completed already, and that, Israel should allow God to fight for them, as He promised He would. Again, maybe this is just poor wording choice for saying, “don’t get into a rut and put yourself or God in a box.” But, wow. It did not come out that way. And, going after our dreams emerges again… just like on the cover and in confusing contrast to the things he writes on pp. 28-31.]
III. Using “circling” and as an organized metaphor for focusing our prayers and not relenting until we see the answer (praying through) was not wisely chosen; because “circle casting” is undeniably occult practice.
A. Mark does a thrice-round circle in every DVD video, according to occult prescription, as opposed to just once around.
B. “A faction believed that drawing a circle and demanding rain dishonored God.” – pg. 13 [uh, ya. especially if the circle casting was an occult like practice, even in Honi’s day. Do occult members see real answers to their prayers, even rain? Did my great grandparents find a well when they used to “witch water?” uh, ya. BUT, Elijah made no circles. He simply went off of the prayer based on the promise (Covenant) he found IN CONTEXT, not narcigesis.]
C. “Maybe it was those same members of the Sanhedrin who would criticize Jesus for healing a man’s shriveled hand on the Sabbath a generation later.” – pg. 13 [Here we have a rhetorical appeal to emotions built on a hypothetical, which equates Honi with a well-established and accepted figure–Jesus. But, Honi is not authoritatively factual or biblical. He is legend. And, the people that stood by are not authoritatively factual or biblical. They are legend. This is an emotional appeal to defame anyone who disagrees with the book. And, its being presented at the end of the 1st chapter is no coincidence.]
D. “The prayer that saved a generation was deemed one of the most significant prayers in the history of Israel.” – pg. 13 [History? History of Israel? No… this is LEGEND, not the course of truly important Israeli history, as marked by God in the Bible. And, sorry, but one rain storm cannot save an entire generation. Hyperbole! Either Mark Batterson has ignorantly taken this legend and placed into the realm of truth and authoritative history, or he has done it on purpose.]
E. “The circle he drew in the sand became a sacred symbol.” – pg. 13 [what kind of sacred symbol – geometry, astrology, near-eastern mysticism?]
F. “And the legend of Honi the circle maker stands forever as a testament to the power of a single prayer to change the course of history.” – pg. 13 [Once again, Honi is legend. He is not even on the level of Apocryphal history. He changed no God-recognized history. Now, Elijah–there is a man whom God used to change history in turning God’s people away from idols.]
G. “Like Honi, you refuse to move from the circle until God moves.” pg. 35 [I will not comment again on the use of the Honi legend instead of Scripture, but I will say that we must be careful with this kind of “persistence.” Yes, God does want us to be persistent with Him (ex. Daniel’s prayers, the parable of the unjust judge, the parable of the neighbor needing bread). However, we had better be sure that we are most definitely on God’s will, as revealed in the Scriptures and not narcigeting promises. If we are committing eisegesis, then our prayers and “staying in the circle” become tantamount to occult ritual.]
H. Praying Through, especially Praising Through (pp. 39, 164) are also very familiar concepts to me, which I find refreshing to see mentioned in Mr. Batterson’s book. But again, these must be preceded by one’s having located assurance of God’s promise within all its proper contexts. The unstudied and non-surrendered cannot possibly point their finger to a Bible passage with a selfishly delusional fervor and expect God to honor their wishes. There does come a time when the diligent searcher is convinced of a reality he sees in God’s Word through illumination, and that, it is applicable to his own situation. At that point, praying through/praising through are simply the exercise of diligent patience and thanksgiving in faith, in order to obtain what GOD promises (Hebrews 6:10-20). Let’s not make it mystical.
I. “Your job is to draw circles in the sand. And if you do the geometry, God will multiply the miracles in your life.” – pg. 55 [In context, Mr. Batterson is talking about God exceeding our anticipations. But, “GEOMETRY”? Again, this is either poor word choice or occult-like word choice based on mere Jewish legend. I will give Mr. Batterson the benefit of the doubt, because he states other places that “prayer circling” isn’t a trick to get what you want.]
J. “Before the first raindrop fell, Honi had to have felt a little foolish. Standing inside a circle and demanding rain is a risky proposition. Vowing that you won’t leave until it rains is even riskier. Honi didn’t draw a semicircle. He drew a complete circle. There was no escape clause, no expiration date. Honi backed himself into a circle, and the only way out was a miracle.” – pg. 47 [Unless Honi was invoking the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob on the basis of the same covenant that Elijah invoked, then Honi was NOT God’s servant. No reference is made to the covenant stipulations or the waywardness of God’s people in the legend. No comment is made about who the people were serving or why they were in exiled silence during the inter-testamental period.]
If Honi was God’s servant, then why did he have to draw a circle? Why did he have to “back himself into a circle” by making what could be a very unbiblical vow? If we back ourselves irrevocably into unbiblical vows, what can Christians expect but ruination? Jesus said: (Matthew 5:33-37)
33“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ 34“But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. 36“Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37“But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.
Jesus said not to make an oath at all, and so does James (Matt. 5:34; James 5:12).]
K. “Drawing prayer circles often looks like an exercise in foolishness. But that’s faith. Faith is the willingness to look foolish.” – pg. 47 [Faith is NOT foolishness, though it may appear to be so in the eyes of the unbelieving. Faith IS NOT the willingness to look foolish. Many who exercise faith do not wish to look foolish even though they appear foolish. But, they realize that Faith is the stuff that comes from expecting things that God has promised; Faith is the evidence of the the true but unseen realm (Hebrews 11). Again, maybe this is just Mr. Batterson’s style and word choice, but he is dealing with very important spiritual concepts. Accuracy and precision pay the surgeon. Sloppiness and “style” kill the patient and the surgeon’s career.]
IV. Even though Mr. Batterson states early on in the book it is God’s will that we seek, the cover explicitly says: “praying circles around your biggest dreams and greatest fears.”
A. The surrender of one’s own will and desires is paramount in prayer, according to the Lord’s prayers in Luke 6 and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Sometimes God’s plan for us looks nothing like our “biggest dreams.” It looks more like death and the cross.
B. The greatest belief by Satanists and New Age philosophy (exemplified in books like “the Secret”) is the promotion of “self” and finding our “own way” to spirituality. When we speak about “praying through” (staying in the circle or keep circling), we need to remember that without the surrender of our will in order to submit to God’s via the Word, we are either demanding from God–not cool–or praying to another god entirely, especially if we have drawn literal casting circles.
C. Most of the prayer stories in the book are about obtaining buildings, jobs, money, contracts, etc. There are a few stories about overcoming sin, but these are few. Most of the book is about defining, focusing on and obtaining one’s goals. The majority of the stories reflect the following teaching:
1. “God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers.” – pg. 15 [umm. yes he is, if my dreams are fleshly and carnal or against his revealed will of my Christ-likeness, or if I just want to consume them on my desires, or even I am just not allowing full sway of His will–timing, way, change in me.]
2. “God is for you” – pg. 15 [ok. I get that, but what about my seeking out and being for God’s plans first? (Matthew 5:25-34)]
3. “The bigger the circle we draw, the better, because God gets more glory.” – pg. 15 [Not true. We glorify God best when our prayers align us with God’s will, when we rejoice in Him, whether that means we must abound or be abased, have much or suffer for his name (Phil. 4). Yes, we should seek to advance His kingdom, but we should do it his way–which from all indications, does not require buildings, land, great conventions/organizations or money. It just requires the church being the church, following the leadership of the Spirit of Christ (Acts).]
4. “Prayers are prophecies. They are the best predictors of your spiritual future. Who you become is determined by how you pray. Ultimately, the transcript of your prayers becomes the script of your life.” – pg. 16 [Prayers are NOT prophecies. One’s pattern or lack of prayer may be “like” prophecy (indicating one’s spiritual health), but they are not prophecies themselves. I agree that who we become is determined by how we pray. Are we becoming more Christ-like (“not my will but yours”) or satanic (“I will …”)? If the transcript of my prayers (literally, what I say in my prayers) is so important, then why did Jesus say, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” (Matthew 6:7)]
5. “You will learn how to draw prayer circles around your family, your job, your problems, and your goals.” – pg. 16 [Ok. But, what about my sin or my growing in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus? Is that what you meant by problem? ok. I’ll give that one to you. By the way, your goals emerges once again, confusing the issue.]
6. “Drawing prayer circles starts with discerning what God wants, what God wills. And until His sovereign will becomes your sanctified wish, your prayer life will be unplugged from his power supply. Sure, you can apply some of the principles you learn in The Circle Maker, and they may help you get what you want, but getting what you want isn’t the goal; the goal is glorifying God by drawing circles around the promises, miracles and dreams He wants for you.” – pg. 16 [This is actually a very refreshing statement, and it is reinforced on pages 28-31. But, notice he does say that this book is not just about prayer when he states it contains principles that will help people achieve. This is a book that mixes teaching on prayer and teachings on personal goal achievement. There is nothing wrong with personal goals. There is nothing wrong with prayer. Those are two teachings which apart and under biblical prescription are fine, but to set them on par in the same book, as if they are equivalent and reciprocal is very dangerous… because it makes it hard for the learner to tell what is mere personal goal setting and what is true (surrendered) prayer and supplication for sanctification, and prayer that is needs based. Food and clothing is all that God guarantees to supply, and Jesus and Paul said to be content with that! 1 Tim. 6:8; Luke 12:31]
7. “God isn’t offended by big dreams; He’s offended by anything less.” – pg. 57 [This is a restatement of pt. 1 above but with a twist. God cannot be offended by “small dreams,” if they are His will. The grandiose size of a dream offends God if it is full of self and unholy motives (which are admittedly hard to discern on our own). Let’s avoid making universal and superlative statements without contextual backing from well-interpreted Scripture. Why is this important? Because even if one’s motives are pure to begin with, the false notion that one must somehow become bigger-visioned in order to please God subtly starts to sow the seeds of discontent, feelings of insignificance, comparison, an egocentric view of God’s work (you at the center of God’s plans), narcissistic interpretation of others’ corrections and of Scripture, and exaggerated focus on desires. These are the wiles of the devil.]
V. While Mark Batterson literally applies the legend of Honi the Circle Maker, he allegorically applies the Bible’s true and historical Jericho account and the Promised Land & misinterprets Numbers and Exodus as well as parables to further advance/or confuse “self” interests with prayer.
A. “What is your Jericho? What promise are you praying around? What miracle are you marching around? What dream does your life revolve around?” – pg. 24, 38 [A consensus on the proper interpretation of the Conquest of the Promised Land for NT believers, according to evangelical protestant theologians (and withstanding varying covenantal or dispensational views), is overcoming Canaan is SPIRITUAL warfare for spiritual blessing in order to enter into either grace-based salvation or grace-based living–NOT “dreams that our lives revolve around” or even promises that we are ‘naming and claiming.’]
B. “Now, here’s the problem: most of us don’t get what we want simply because we don’t know what we want.” – pg. 24 [WHOA! The whole Bible, but particularly the book of James, indicates that humans know what they want all too well. Furthermore, God reveals that we don’t get what we want from Him for 2 reasons: we don’t ask at all–faithlessness; or, we ask based solely on our own will and desires. And, James calls those two things spiritual adultery and friendship with the world, because all they do is produce comparison, fighting and warring with one another and a state of opposition to God (James 4).]
C. “We’ve never written down a list of life goals. We’ve never defined success for ourselves. Instead of drawing circles, we draw blanks.” – pg 24 [nope, same as “B” directly above: success to every natural mind will look like: “affluence & influence.” One may be guilty of not actually sitting down and writing down personal goals, but we need to be sure that when we do write down goals and define success, it is biblical. Mr. Batterson does a good job of this on some pages but confuses the issue on others like:]
1. “What do you want me to do for you?” pg. 24-27 [It is not safe to leave this question open-ended. We must take the miracles Jesus (or Apostles) performed (i.e. healing the blind man) IN CONTEXT of how and why and the writers present them. Only then can we expect the same miracles in our own lives.]
2. “If you have cancer, it is spelled healing.” [well, maybe, maybe not: ex. Paul] If your child is far from God, it’s spelled salvation. [definitely! we ought to pray that all come to the knowledge of the truth.] “If your marriage if falling apart, it’s spelled reconciliation.” [Ok] “If you have a vision beyond your resources, it is spelled provision.” – pg. 25 [Perhaps. It depends on the vision being the exact plan of God for you and His kingdom. You can always dream, like David dreamed the Temple in order to bless God, but like David was corrected by Nathan, we must submit to God’s redirection if some aspect or the entire plan is not His will. It all comes down to surrender and His glory and His way above what I can desire or dream up.]
D. I must say that pages 28-31 is very refreshing. One word needed, though… Consistency.
VI. The whole premise of Chapter 5, “Cloudy with a Chance of Quail” is sorely misleading.
A. The miracle of the quail is cited without reference. It could be that the author refers to Ex. 16 or Numbers 11. When one checks the references and reads them in context, he comes to a shock. In Numbers 11, THE QUAIL WERE NOT A BLESSING. THEY WERE A CURSE TO THE COMPLAINING AND GREEDY ISRAELITES. (see pt. IV, C, 7 above)
B. The take-away here is: God may just give you what you want. You may not always like it… which is rather like what C. S. Lewis was trying to tell us about in The Magician’s Nephew: “All get what they want; they do not always like it.” No, seriously. When we complain about what we do not have or what blessings we want to have, then God is not “honored” or even amused. He is displeased. (Numbers 11:31-35; Ps. 105:40)
C. Mr. Batterson should have at least cited the source, if not given a balanced teaching/warning that one can obtain by comparing the two accounts of miraculous quail provision.
D. On pg. 54-55, the author directly quotes the wording of the Numbers 11 passage, but he makes no mention of God’s according judgement on greed and complaining.
E. On pg. 56, Batterson lifts the Parable of the Sower & Soils out of context and inserts narcigesis, in direct opposition to what Jesus says the parable teaches. Again, he does not reference his passage. But, this parable comes out of Mark 4:8 and is explained BY JESUS in vv. 13-20. It has nothing to do with God’s promising a building. It does have to do with whether one’s own life receives the Word and allows the Word to produce fruit (like the Word, Jesus) in one’s life… or, does one let TRIALS and CARES and PERSECUTION and WORRIES OF THE WORLD and DECEITFULNESS OF RICHES and the DESIRES FOR OTHER THINGS enter in and choke the Word, rendering it unfruitful. Given the curse of the quail, the parable of the soils, and warnings by Paul to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:6-10) about desiring to be rich, I find it hard to accept Batterson’s teaching.
VII. Chapter 7 largely misrepresents Numbers 11:23 and A. W. Tozer on a “high view of God.”
A. “Is there a limit to my power?” – pp 73-75 [There is no limit to God’s power. But, this is not an invitation to exploit or tempt God. It is written, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” This was Jesus’ saying when the devil “commanded” Jesus to turn stones into bread in order to meet even his most basic need–hunger. Oh, that we would be like Jesus and realize that “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” The man of God, like Jesus, fears to step out of God’s Word, God’s ways, and God’s timing.]
B. “A. W. Tozer believed that a low view of God is the cause of a hundred lesser evils, but a high view of God is the solution to ten thousand temporal problems.” – pg. 73 [Again, Batterson does not cite or footnote. Actually the context of the teachings and the quote from Tozer goes something like this:]
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.
For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God. –A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 1.
Quite the opposite affect, don’t you think?
[Note: with all of the corrective teaching that Jesus had to do in Matthew 5-7, and with all of the hatred of Jesus’ claiming to be the Son of God, it seems like a good portion of Jesus’ teaching flies directly in the face of Honi the Circle Maker’s teaching (by example) and by Honi’s self-proclamations as the son of God. And this would be reasonable, because Honi lived around 65 B.C… just one generation before Christ.]