Updated: Feb 5, 2021
90's Televangelism and today's Self-help; what is truth
and what is chaff?
With so much information to be considered and absorbed through all modes of media today, I always feel that there is not much information I can share that is new or thrilling, but rather it is important to clarify and highlight truths within the myriad of opinions we confront each day.
One idea that spans over many faiths and lifestyle anchors is the practice of affirmations. From my own experience, (which is southern, protestant Christian) I was first introduced to the idea of speaking blessings into existence by naming those things, or “name it and claim it”. I look back at the history of televangelism of the 80’s and 90’s, and I understand now what exactly was up (greed). I was a little child, thirsty for truth, and so I watched the preachers on TV sometimes as a grade school kid and even was reading adult nonfiction on blessing and prosperity in middle school. The authors and pastors were older (than me) and in positions of church authority – they must be trustworthy (so I thought).
I look at the culture of belief today, and I see the echoes of what I would call the “name and claim” gospel within both religious and secular circles. And it’s no wonder! How many countless teens and maybe even kids like me were taking this info in and believing that simply having the correct mindset and spoken words would usher in power, prosperity, and perfect health? How many well-intentioned people affirmed hopes within the powers of positivity into our budding little consciences?
Perusing down the lifestyle isles of a Christian bookstore and the self-help section of a Barnes and Noble will offer many similar sounding options for desired success. The focus is about having the right mindset, having the right attitude, words, keywords, and habits for monetary success, stature, and pants size (as opposed to the spiritual blessings Jesus presented in the Beatitudes that are for everyone faithful, regardless of their morning routine or checking account). According to these works, geography, socio economics, genetics, government, and other factors shouldn’t ever inhibit a person’s ability to will other-worldly success and continual health for themselves. You just gotta believe and receive and ignore the naysaying losers. Unfortunately, I perceive that, our self-help in affirmations culture echoes the sermons of the televangelists of 90’s. We’ve just secularized it (and recorded it in every multi-level marketing referral pamphlet).
I don’t write all this to knock the power of words and a strong will completely; the idea is older than Benny Hinn (who has recently retracted some of his teachings and confessed false doctrines of prosperity within Christianity). After learning about different religions, I see definite links to the idea of words having great power within Kabbala, defiantly in New Age and magical practices (what else is an incantation, but powerful words?), and the affirmations of Eastern religions (Buddhist prayers). I see this theme in all these faith points, but I wonder what is the real power of words? It is certainly not the ability to claim down blessings from God or harness power to materialize matter from words in any faith system – our experience, and an inventory of our friend's experiences, and of the world’s shared story disproves that (for clarification on the power of prayer, please see my blog at www.amberlinbooks.com, or review the February article, “What’s the power of prayer?” in The Live Love and Eat Magazine).
What is the power of words? Why does this idea of being able to control our destinies with our mindset and speech trickle down different faiths and even into secular self-help?
Personally, I think the truth and value in the content is just a matter of who is delivering it, their motives, what can be gained (for tv pastors it’s tithes, for some Instagram influencers its followers and sales, etc.), and the maturity of the person teaching. I myself have a book about complaining and using words correctly (for my case it is what words glorify God by loving others in our speech). Words do have power, for sure.
Affirmations or proclamations can:
~ Shed clarity on our goals – just saying “I am kind, I am patient, I am wealthy”, or proclaiming those things by the “blood and name of Jesus” (as I often heard from well intentioned, but doctrinally lacking preachers and believers growing up) doesn’t move the gears of the universe to work that out for us, but it does give us a reference point for our personal goals or prayer focus.
~ Validate truths – “I am beautiful, I am loved, I am supported”. Sometimes we do forget the truth, or we can be slapped with the eye-opener, “I am NOT supported, and I want to be!”, and this revelation will cause us to shift or relationships into healthier ones, or reevaluate if our practices and goals honor the families we are responsible towards. For example, I may find that I am not supported in my dream to go to grad school, and in reality it is a dream that does not prioritize my family at present (young children, working husband) and that goal needs to be put on the blackboard for a later visit. Affirmations can either validate truths or make unhealthy ideals surface so we can appropriately skim them off the top and save that cream for later when all the people we love can enjoy it as well.
~ Care for your family and friends – speaking words of love and support over your family heals emotional wounds. We can speak life into their dry bones (Ezekiel reference there) and give them the environment their spirits need to thrive. We also obey God in using our words to build up good things, and tear down bad things (against abuse and oppression of all sorts). Our words can heal and defend.
~ Cultivate gratefulness – gratefulness is a sort of spiritual food that we are created to thrive on. I believe that God ordained our souls to be nourished by it as intimately as our bodies are nourished by food and water. Each religion has its own teachings on being grateful, because it is just that powerful. Buddhism explains, "The Blessed One said, 'Now what is the level of a person of no integrity? A person of no integrity is ungrateful and unthankful. This ingratitude, this lack of thankfulness, is advocated by rude people. It is entirely on the level of people of no integrity. A person of integrity is grateful and thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by civil people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity.'" Katannu Sutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation
In the Bible’s New Testament, Paul writes in Philippians 4:11-12, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” And again Colossians 3:16, and throughout many passages of the Bible, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
Gratefulness springs from of posture of maturity that can grow into other positive attributes within a person in progress.
Will speaking abundance into a situation really harness the powers of God, or the universe, or even our own primordial powers into granting our desires? No, but it may be a good compass and measuring stick for the trajectory and span of our goals. We should always be sure to understand that the most outwardly effectual power of our words are the good or bad seeds words plant and water within the hearts of other people we speak too.
There is so much to be said about this subject (I am even doing the finishing touches on a book that explains prayer vs. proclamation within Christian faith even further), but I would like to share the verse I reflect on when I need guidance or refreshing on what my mind and conversations should be wandering into for the most gain in general:
7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think on these things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4: 7-9)
Amberlin is the author of The Complainer’s Journal, and The Complainer’s Workbook (which is being rereleased this fall). The Complainer’s Workbook is a self-guided study on the markers of a Christian life of gratefulness and faith and combats the damaging doctrines of the prosperity gospel within the Church. To stay current on releases and other info, follow Amberlin on Instagram. (published by the Live Love and Eat Magazine on Amazon, Sept. issue 2019)