I've put off reviewing this book for a long time. I was sent a prerelease copy by Zondervan before the book was published in mid-December of 2011. Why has my review been so slow in coming? I struggle with critique for books that I don't particularly enjoy---and this was a book that I didn't enjoy; in fact, I don't care too much for it at all except for the fact that I like Mark Batterson. I had the opportunity to meet him personally a few years back at a conference in Ohio. He's a very good speaker and a seemingly genuinely nice guy. I've read all but one of his books to date and have pretty much enjoyed them all; my favorites have been Wild Goose Chase and Primal. This compounds my reluctance to offer my honest review of Circle Maker. I wanted to like it and I wanted to submit an encouraging review, but I can't...at least if my intent is to be honest about it. One last point before I continue, it seems as though I am in the minority with my opinion concerning this book, but then...the Prayer of Jabez has sold millions of copies and is a New York Times bestseller, so what do I know.
(From the Back Cover) In the Circle Maker, Pastor Mark Batterson shares powerful insights from the true legend of Honi the circle maker, a first-century Jewish sage whose bold prayer ended a drought and saved a generation. Drawing inspiration from his own experiences as a circle maker, Batterson will teach you how to pray in a new way by drawing prayer circles around your dreams, your family, your problems, and, most importantly, God's promises. In the process, you'll discover this simple yet life-changing truth: God Honors Bold Prayers; Bold Prayers Honor God.
Without attempting to be overly critical, I have a fundamental issue with this: "Batterson will teach you how to pray in a new way by drawing prayer circles..." as compared to this:
He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." And he said to them, "When you pray, say:
'Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation"' [Luke 11:1-4].
Am I to believe that Mr. Batterson is going to unlock the mystery of prayer that Jesus did not? I wonder why Jesus did not teach his disciples about Honi. Surely Jesus must have seen the value of Honi's boldness and realizing that "bold prayers" are the secret to grabbing the attentive ear of God Almighty, he would have shared this information and teaching with them.
The book is full of neat anecdotal stories that grab a reader's attention. It is full of interesting stories, but that is about the extent of my generosity. I think the hermeneutic used to make some of the claims regarding "biblically-defined-theologically-accurate" prayer is weak at best. I suppose I could make a few examples, but the book is rife with them beginning with Batterson's interpretation of the "Jericho Miracle" to the "Feast of Quail" and on and on, through to "Daniel Fasting" and beyond. And... I have to admit I'm still scratching my head over Batterson's claim; "God has determined that certain expressions of His power will only be exercised in response to prayer. Simply put, God won't do it unless you pray for it. We have not because we ask not, or maybe I should say, we have not because we circle not. The greatest tragedy in life is the prayers that go unanswered because they go unasked."
I think this book is full of hyperbole. I think hyperbole makes for good copy and much profit. I think it also contributes to bad thinking, and in this case - bad theology. Prayer is more about unity with the Godhead than it is making petitions and supplication. A soul who is in constant and unbroken fellowship with the Godhead will pray the prayers of the Trinity and will be in agreement with Him at all times. Although I did give one of my copies away, I can't in good conscience recommend the book as a faithful teaching on prayer.
I didn't know what The Circle Maker was about until I began to read it. Neither did I know anything about Mark Batterson, its author. I knew the book only as a Christian bestseller and its author only as a name that often appears in my inbox as people ask if I know anything about him or have read his books. "My pastor gave everyone in the church a copy of this book. Have you reviewed it?" Finally I read it.
Mark Batterson is lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., a church regarded as one of the most innovative and influential in the country. He made his debut in Christian publishing with In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and followed that up with several other titles, including The Circle Maker.
The Circle Maker finds its title and inspiration in Honi Ha-Ma'agel, a Jewish scholar who lived in the first century B.C. and who is described in the Talmud. He is remembered as a miracle-worker in the tradition of Elijah and Elisha. Wikipedia provides a condensed version of his most famous miracle:
On one occasion when God did not send rain well into the winter (in the geographic regions of Israel, it rains mainly in the winter), he drew a circle in the dust, stood inside it, and informed God that he would not move until it rained. When it began to drizzle, Honi told God that he was not satisfied and expected more rain; it then began to pour. He explained that he wanted a calm rain, at which point the rain calmed to a normal rain.
Batterson says, "The prayer that saved a generation was deemed one of the most significant prayers in the history of Israel. The circle he drew in the sand became a sacred symbol. 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." From Honi he has learned the value of big, bold, audacious prayers. On a very practical level, he has learned the value of drawing figurative (and sometimes literal) circles. The promise of his book is that it "will show you how to claim God-given promises, pursue God-sized dreams, and seize God-ordained opportunities. You'll learn how to draw prayer circles around your family, your job, your problems, and your goals."
The book has been widely-praised and has received hundreds of positive reviews, but surely people have simply failed to understand that Batterson has committed a grave error. He begins with Honi, an character who appears in books that are not (and have never been) regarded as inspired by God. He takes Honi as an authentic character who performed an authentic, God-ordained miracle indistinguishable from the characters and miracles of the Bible, and then reads what he learned from Honi back into the Bible. Rather than interpreting Honi through the lens of Scripture, he interprets Scripture through Honi so that from drawing circles he inevitably moves to marching circles and goes to Jericho, asking questions like "What is your Jericho? What promise are you praying around? What miracle are you marching around? What dream does your life revolve around?" He even reads Honi back into church history, looking to Christians of days past and saying that they were drawing Honi-like prayer circles.
The book's examples and illustrations are largely drawn from his own life, from the dreams, goals and desires that he has seen fulfilled. He speaks of drawing a large circle around an area of Washington by walking around it while praying; before long he had a successful and growing church within that circle. He writes about circling a building he wanted for his church, marching around it, laying hands on it, even going barefoot on its holy ground, until it was his. Occasionally he shares examples from others so that he speaks of a friend who desperately wanted to be general manager at a certain golf course; he describes how his friend marched around the club house with his family seven times and then received the desire of his heart.
He anticipates the critique that what he advocates is a kind of "name it, claim it" theology and insists it is not. He says, for example, "Before you write this off as some `name it, claim it' scheme, let me remind you that God cannot be bribed or blackmailed. God doesn't do miracles to satisfy our selfish whims. God does miracles for one reason and one reason alone: to spell His glory. We just happen to be the beneficiaries." I think he doth protest too much for what he teaches is very nearly indistinguishable. While he may not suggest praying for a bundle of cash or a fancy new car, there is no reason in the book why we would not do this. "I have no idea what your financial situation is, but I do know this. If you give beyond your ability, God will bless you beyond your ability. God wants to bless you thirty-, sixty-, hundredfold." That sounds just too familiar.
When I had finished reading The Circle Maker I found myself reflecting on why a book like this one is so attractive. Why do people love it so much more than a more realistic, biblical book on prayer? What makes it resonate so deeply? Let me share a few suggestions.
First, Batterson describes the Christian life as one of constantly witnessing miracles. He must use the word "miracle" hundreds of times and writes often of all the miracles he has witnessed. I think there are times when every Christian longs to see God work in miraculous ways, yet the challenge for the Christian is simply this: Will you believe God at his Word or will you demand more? Batterson promises miracles, yet as he does this he defines down miracles, making a miracle any answer to prayer. We prayed for a building and got it. Miracle! I needed a bill paid and found money. Miracle! In this way every answer to prayer is a miracle.
Second, he makes direct communication from God the normative experience for the Christian. He speaks often of God whispering to our spirits and encourages Christians to follow inner impressions, what he describes as "the promptings of the Spirit." "Let me spell it out: If you want to see crazy miracles, obey the crazy promptings of the Holy Spirit." I believe that every Christian longs for that unmediated, face-to-face contact with God; and yet again, the challenge for the Christian is whether we will be content with being indwelled by the Holy Spirit who illumines the words of Scripture so that God speaks to us through his Word.
Third, he often takes Scripture far beyond its context which allows him to make promises the Bible does not actually make. He regularly claims Old Testament promises that were clearly meant for a particular people at a particular time as if they were written specifically for him. He looks to Revelation 3:8 and uses it to speak of opened and closed doors as they relate to knowing and doing the will of God. He writes about the spiritual value of the Daniel diet. To be frank, he utterly and consistently butchers Scripture; the Christian reading with an open Bible will soon have to see that so many of Batterson's claims cannot be supported.
Finally, he speaks confidently of things the Bible simply does not say and again, this allows him to claim more than the Bible allows. For example he says, "Sometimes physical contact creates a spiritual conduit. Proximity creates intimacy. Proximity proclaims authority. Drawing a prayer circle is one way of marking territory -- God's territory." He trumpets the value of visualizing what you want as a means to obtaining it: "When you dream, your mind forms a mental image that becomes both a picture of and a map to your destiny. That picture of the future is one dimension of faith, and the way you frame it is by circling it in prayer." The Bible gives us no reason to believe that God consistently relates proximity to power or that there is value in visualization (though you may note that New Age teachers often make both of those claims).
The Circle Maker is a mess. I admire Batterson's desire to pray boldly and love his call to more prayer, better prayer, more audacious prayer. Yet so much of what he teaches is sub-biblical, extra-biblical or just plain unbiblical. With hundreds of good books on prayer available to us there is absolutely no reason to spend as much as one minute or one dime on this one.
on December 26, 2012
This book has been popular lately, and I was thankful that Zondervan sent me a copy to review. I always need encouragement in my prayer life, and this book certainly points us in that direction.
The basis of this book is a legend about a Jewish man named Honi. A few years B.C., Honi drew a circle and stayed in this circle praying for rain. He intended to remain in that circle until the rain came, which it did. The author draws a parallel from this legend that we can draw a circle around our dreams, concerns, hopes, etc. and stay there until our prayers are answered.
While reading this book I was both nodding my head in agreement and shaking my head with disagreement. I am all for praying big prayers and trusting God for answers, yet I do not agree that "If you keep drawing prayer circles, the answer is yes" (p. 43). Later on the author clarifies this point by stating, "No doesn't always mean no; sometimes no means not yet." This sounds too much like a 'name it and claim' routine which the author says this book is not about, "drawing prayer circles isn't some magic trick to get what you want from God" (p. 14). So I am confused about the purpose of a circle prayer.
I was reminded of The Prayer of Jabez while I was reading this book. Years ago that book inspired people to pray big prayers and trust God. Where the Jabez prayer is found in the Bible, the Honi legend is just that, a legend. I am having a hard time with the theology of this book especially since the basis of the book is a legend, not a Biblical truth.
Suffice it to say, this book did not inspire me. I really wanted it to, but it fell short.
on January 25, 2013
According to Pastor Mark Batterson in his book, The Circle Maker, 'Drawing prayer circles around our dreams isn't just a mechanism whereby we accomplish great things for God. It's a mechanism whereby God accomplishes great things in us.' Do you ever sense that there's far more to prayer, and to God's vision for your life, than what you're experiencing? It's time you learned from the legend of Honi the Circle Maker---a man bold enough to draw a circle in the sand and not budge from inside it until God answered his prayers for his people. What impossibly big dream is God calling you to draw a prayer circle around? Sharing inspiring stories from his own experiences as a circle maker, Mark Batterson will help you uncover your heart's deepest desires and God-given dreams and unleash them through the kind of audacious prayer that God delights to answer. (quoted from amazon.com)
In this book Batterson leads us through his experience with prayer by sharing stories. He begins with a legendary account of Honi - a Jewish mystic who prayed for rain during a time of severe drought. And apparently God heard his prayer. He drew a physical circle in the sand and prayed while kneeling in the circle:
"LORD of the universe, I swear before your great name that I will not move from this circle until You have shown mercy upon Your children."
(God answered with a light sprinkle of rain)
"Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain that will fill cisterns, pits and caverns."
(God answered with a heavy downpour which caused flash flooding)
"Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain of your favor, blessing, and graciousness."
(God answered with a steady rain)
This book extrapolates from Honi's story and attempts to teach the reader that we too can and should follow Honi's example. We too should resolve to pray audacious prayers; not leaving our "circle" until God answers us. We are taught to "circle God's promises" in prayer until God answers us.
The chapters of the book are laid out in this way:
►(Chap. 1) "The Legend of the Circle Maker" - Establishes an example for us to follow.
►(Chap. 2) "Circle Makers" - Exhorts us to become circle makers.
►(Chap. 3) "The Jericho Miracle" - Another example of circling in prayer.
►(Chap. 4) "Praying Through" - Exhorts us to persevere in prayer
Section Break: "The First Circle - Dream Big" - Exhorts us to "dream big" and not pray small prayers.
►(Chap. 5) "Cloudy With a Chance of Quail" - Example of circling in prayer.
►(Chap. 6) "You Can't Never Always Sometimes Tell" - Personal story of circling in prayer
►(Chap. 7) "The Solution to 10,000 Problems" - Challenges our view of God. Is God big or small?
Section Break: "The Second Circle - Pray Hard" - Exhorts us to pray hard with persistence
►(Chap. 8) "Persistence Quotient" - Example of the persistent widow with judge
►(Chap. 9) "The Favor of Him Who Dwells in the Burning Bush" - Exhorts us to seek God's favor so we may accomplish great things for God.
►(Chap. 10) "The Cattle on a Thousand Hills" - God provides for us from his unlimited storehouse
►(Chap. 11) "No Answer" - Deals with unanswered prayer (when God says No)
Section Break: "The Third Circle - Think Long" - Exhorts us to "think long" by setting goals and praying hard.
►(Chap. 12) "The Long and Boring" - Exhortation to persevere long in prayer if necessary
►(Chap. 13) "The Greatest of Them All" - We can accomplish anything with God's help.
►(Chap. 14) "The Speed of Prayer" - Our prayers are heard by God, but are hindered by Satan; that we need to keep on praying
►(Chap. 15) "Life Goal List" - Make a Life goal list and pray for God's blessing to accomplish these goals.
Section Break: "Keep Circling" - Keep on praying - keep on keeping on
►(Chap 16) "Double Miracle" - God can do big miracles through your prayers.
►(Chap. 17) "Bottled Prayer" - Prayers carry on after we are gone.
►(Chap. 18) "Now There Was One" - One person can make a difference through prayer
While there are some good things in this book, there are also some problems I see with it. Let me say right off the bat that I think Batterson obviously has a heart to pray and to help others to pray. This is definitely a good thing. Prayer is certainly something that has been a weak point in the church throughout history. There is certainly nothing wrong with encouraging believers to pray hard, pray long, persist in prayer, to exercise faith, etc.
That being said, I found some thoughts and examples in this book that I really felt were not biblically grounded. I will list some of them here.
1. The foundational story is legendary. Honi is not from scripture and should not be held up as an example for us to follow. A book on prayer ought to have a strong scriptural foundation. Stories are fine as illustrations, but not as the basis for doctrine.
2. While I realize that drawing a circle in prayer is meant to be metaphorical, it does have parallels in pagan practices, magic, and Wiccan practices. Keeping close to scripture is very important in this regard. We are exhorted to know the truth and to renew our minds in God's Word. Basing our practice of prayer on scripture is crucial.
3. The books treads awfully close to prosperity theology. While Batterson says in places that he is not espousing this kind of theology, the book tends to encourage this kind of mindset. He would have us make life goal lists and to ask God to help us fulfill that list. Keeping our motives pure and our focus on God becomes difficult by doing this.
4. Batterson draws inferences from biblical stories which are unwarranted. For example he uses the Jericho story to say that we too can circle our problems in prayer and see them crumble. This is a misuse of the text.
5. Batterson never exegetes Bible passages such as the Lord's prayer, Jesus prayer in Gethsemene, Paul's prayers for the churches etc. These stories are not foundational for his book. One would think that a book on prayer ought to examine these key passages and be built on that.
6. The book has a gimmicky feel to it. It seems like it promises a "new and improved" way of prayer in order to create hype. I don't think this matches the tenor or the biblical teaching on prayer.
In doing my research for this book, I came across some fairly negative reviews. Some I thought were good, others I thought went too far in their criticism. Nevertheless, before reading this book, I would recommend reading the positive and negative reviews of this book (for example on amazon.com) and thinking clearly about what this book is teaching. I urge caution and evaluation bases on biblical principles.
For the above reasons, I cannot recommend this book; I just have too many concerns. While I realize this is a popular book, we ought to fairly evaluate it before accepting it.
Some Links Evaluating This Book
(For these links see my blog)
on February 20, 2012
I read Mark Batterson's book, Soul Print, and I enjoyed it, so I welcomed the change to read and review his new book The Circle Maker.
The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears begins with the story of Honi the Circle Maker, a story recounted in the Talmud and other writings. The story is similar to that of Elijah and how he prayed for rain, except that Honi drew a circle and stepped into it and told God he would not move from it until God made it rain - and really rain - not just a drizzle (9-11).
He recounts the story of Mother Darby who told God if He would provide her husband with a church and a congregation, she would pray every morning at 9 AM, and if God would remove wickedness from her neighborhood, she would fast seventy-two hours a week for two years (31-32).
Batterson assures his readers that "you are only one prayer from a dream fulfilled, a promise kept, or a miracle performed" (13).
I agree with Batterson, God keeps His Promises, and God loves us to ask Him to fulfill His Promises in prayer. But I began to worry that Batterson was arguing that if we want anything all we need to do is give God an ultimatum. I was worried that this was a repackaged "name it and claim it."
Batterson says the first circle is to dream big. To ask God for things that are beyond our ability to accomplish. (He weaves the story of his ministry and God's answer to prayer and provision through the book.)
In chapter five, he gives the example of God's "gift" of quail to Israel in the wilderness. (I find it an ironic punishment, not a gift....)
Then he states that "the Almighty is moved by big dreams and bold prayers" (61). I want to ask Batterson if there are any parameters to this...
The second circle is to pray hard - to be like that persistent widow and not stop praying until you receive what you are praying for (81).
Batterson assures his readers that all of the promises throughout the Bible "have been transferred to us via Jesus Christ" (92). All of them???
God, Batterson argues, plays "chicken" with us until we have prayed long enough to satisfy God (and His sadism?) after which He will give us what we are praying for (109). God will give us whatever we want, if we just pray and work "hard enough" (112).
The third circle is to think long - your prayer may be answered in a later time - even in another generation (133).
(It's a minor point, but Batterson talks about our guardian angels on page 164, which are not to be found in Scripture.)
Is God Sovereign? "Destiny is not a mystery. For better or worse, your destiny is the result of your daily decisions and defining decisions" (168).
In chapter fifteen, Batterson writes about the power of making a goals list. (I have a goals list, but I don't believe my failure to achieve a goal is due to my not "catching" God in a prayer circle...)
Batterson repeatedly states that he is not arguing for "name it and claim it." I believe he is being honest when he says that, but I don't know what he is arguing for, then. The book, as I read it, argues that we can get anything we want if we give God and ultimatum, persist in prayer, and not give up even if it takes years or generations to get what we want.
I am saddened to say I found this a disturbing book. Despite Batterson's intent, I would urge you to stay away from this book. It is confusing at best and unbiblical at worst.
[I received this book free for review from [...]]
on June 16, 2012
This is a review of this book only, not a review of Mark Batterson, his ministry, his faith or his beliefs.
Having spent several years in a multi-level marketing program, I have read several self-help books that claim spiritual or biblical support but lack biblical integrity. This is the category where The Circle Maker fits well. It is, as Ruth Graham states in the front of the book, a "story" and can be inspirational to the reader. However, its internal contradictions, let alone scriptural contradictions and confusing scriptural references make it unfit as a tool for helping someone understand scripture or to reveal the character of God. I personally have been "inspired" by this book to work on my prayer life, something which I already knew I needed to do, but I would not use it as a guide to achieve that goal.
The book is built around a legend. Theology based on a legend has very shaky roots and is the source of many beliefs that are contradictory to Biblical Christianity; i.e. Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, etc. As a story book, the embellishments, extra-biblical and imaginary references could be tolerable. However, since it is billed as an instructional book on how to "claim God-given promises, pursue God-sized dreams, and seize God-ordained opportunities" (Pg. 14) it will tend to mislead readers, particularly new or ungrounded Christians, in their understanding of biblical truths. As such, I found this book to be quite disturbing.
on December 23, 2011
It would be too much for this review to go into all of the things in this book that struck me as being at best questionable. I will instead focus on a few things that seem to be most serious.
First, there is the fact that the basic premise of the book is based on a myth. Consider these passages from the New Testament.
II Timothy 4:1-5
1I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the
living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the
word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all
longsuffering and teaching. 3For the time will come when they will not
endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves
teachers after their own lusts; 4and will turn away their ears from the
truth, and turn aside unto fables. 5But be thou sober in all things, suffer
hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry.
10For there are many unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision,
11whose mouths must be stopped; men who overthrow whole houses,
teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake. 12One of
themselves, a prophet of their own, said, Cretans are always liars, evil
beasts, idle gluttons. 13This testimony is true. For which cause reprove
them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14not giving heed to
Jewish fables, and commandments of men who turn away from the truth.
Myths and fables are not things upon which biblical doctrine and practice should be based. While there may be reason to think that Honi was a real person, many of the stories about him seem to be made-up, such as the one about him sleeping for 70 years. And this one about him praying for rain also reads like a made-up story, in that it has him remonstrating with an incompetent god who just couldn't seem to get his rain right. The story exalts Honi while making God look clumsy and inept.
Batterson makes many claims in the book that, frankly, are not taught anywhere in Scripture, and even run contrary to what Scripture plainly teaches. For example, in the second chapter, he claims this...
Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn't offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less. If your prayers aren't impossible to you, they are insulting to God. (Kindle Locations 82-83)
When I consider what the Bible teaches about prayer, though, I do not find such claims supported at all. In Jesus' model prayer, for example, there is the request for the provision of food for the day. In Acts 4, Peter and John and some others did pray for boldness, but it was for God to "enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness". Rather than the insatiable desire for more and bigger, which Batterson encourages throughout the book, in Scripture we are told "Godliness with contentment is great gain", and Paul refers to himself as one who has learned to be content in all situations.
Batterson stresses dreaming supposedly impossible dreams. But many people who do not pray to God have created large and grandiose places of religious worship, fulfilled life goals and dreams, done supposedly impossible things, acquired wealth and paid off debts, practiced charity and philanthropy, started up coffeehouses or other type of businesses, and basically done all the things Batterson claims are signs of God doing the impossible in his life and the lives of those he refers to or knows.
Receiving little if any mention in the book, though, is that there is an impossible thing that we can pray for God to do for us--we can pray in repentence for forgiveness for our sins, and ask God for mercy on us as sinners. God in Christ has died so that we through repentence and faith in Christ may be forgiven and be granted salvation.
One of Batterson's most annoying practices is to 'read into' the biblical stories his own ideas, rather then dealing with what the text itself says. For example, in chapter three, he reads into the account of the conquest of Jericho such things as this; "While the story doesn't explicitly mention the people taking up positions of prayer, I have no doubt that the Israelites were praying as they circled the city", and "The first glimpse of Jericho was both awe-inspiring and frightening. While wandering in the wilderness for forty years, the Israelites had never seen anything approximating the skyline of Jericho. The closer they got, the smaller they felt. They finally understood why the generation before them felt like grasshoppers and failed to enter the Promised Land because of fear". Later on, in writing about Daniel, he talks about him having a sleepless night in the lions den. But the biblical texts concerning those events say none of these things. God had commanded the people to keep silence as they walked around Jericho, and there is no hint in the text that people smaller as they got closer to the city--in fact, in Joshua 2, when the spies had returned from the city, they were confident that the Lord had delivered all the land into their hands, and the people of the land feared them. And in Daniel, while the account says that the king had a sleepless night, it says no such thing in regards to Daniel himself.
Chapter 5 is a complete mishandling of the account of God sending quail to the people of Israel. Batterson completely erases all mention of God's judgment in the account of this event in Numbers 11, and instead makes it seem like what he calls a 'food miracle'. But God sending them enough quail for a month was an act of judgment. He said they would get so much quail it would "come out of your nostrils and you will loathe it". Why did He do that? "Because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying 'Why did we ever leave Egypt?'"
The section of the book called "The First Circle--Dream Big" is, frankly, insulting. It was disturbing to read him writing stupidly about how bad reason and logic are, and how imagination is the pathway of prayer, and saying that somehow logic is contrary to faith. With such a low view of reason and sense, and such an unwarrantedly high view of imagination, is it any wonder that when he deals with biblical stories, he spends more time inserting his own imaginings rather than interpreting what the text is actually saying? It must be so much easier to imagine what Daniel or Joshua were supposedly feeling in certain situations, rather than correctly interpreting what the Bible says was happening.
Another disturbing part is in Chapter 14, where he tells about his church's attempts to buy an entire DC city block, and being stuck because the man who owned an auto shop on that block didn't want to sell. To quote the book, "I knew that the auto shop would be a thorn in the flesh if we didn't buy it, because it was an eyesore." Here is what Batterson writes about what he and others in the church did in regards to this auto shop. "I also felt like our entire staff needed to lay hands on this property, so we took a little field trip on September 15, 2010. As we laid hands on those cinder block walls, it was a genesis moment", "We circled that property so many times that I'm almost surprised the walls didn't fall down just like at Jericho". So, people from this church walked onto this business' property and prayed that the owner would sell? They literally walked around this auto shop's property? Was it not possible that this business owner sold simply to get away from the creepy church people trespassing on his property and walking around it all day long, or that maybe the creepy church people were driving customers off? Given the state of the economy in 2010, was it smart for this church to destroy a small business and caused those working there to lose their jobs? Batterson doesn't say that this auto shop was doing illegal or unethical things, only that it was on a city block the church had set it's sights on and did not meet his aesthetic approval. There's something bothersome about a church trying to spiritualize what seems like the hostile takeover of what seems to have been an honest and profitable business.
One last thing I want to deal with here is Batterson's claiming of biblical promises that are either not addressed to him, or not even promises at all. He claims, for example, that God transferred the promises in Joshua 1:3 to himself, but in context God was speaking to Joshua a promise concerning Joshua and the people of Israel over whom he had just become the leader. Batterson is far from the only one doing this, in fact Joshua 1:3 is regularly abused in such a way, but simply because people believe this promise applies to them doesn't mean it applies to them. God was clearly addressing a certain man at a certain place in a certain situation some time over 3,000 years ago, a promise about a particular land being given to a particular nation of people long ago. You weren't there, neither was I, nor was Batterson. God was not promising Batterson that all he had to do was to stroll around the city for it to be his, nor has he transferred that promise to him or anyone else alive today.
Given all of the questionable claims and statements, how poorly the author interprets Scripture, and how he makes logic an enemy of faith, I cannot recommend this book at all.
on January 12, 2014
At best, Batterson's book is extrabiblical nonsense and the latest Christian fad. At worst, it is contains practices that are unbiblical and far closer to Gnosticism and occult practice than to Biblical Christianity. From what I read, I believe it is well-intentioned, but biblically and theologically sloppy work.
Chapter 1: Honi is a legend from the Talmud. He is not an Old Testament Saint or a New Testament Jesus Follower. According to legend, Honi also slept for 70 years after his supposed death (as recorded by Josephus) and then then re-appeared before being taken up to heaven. Jesus does not mention him or his example and neither do the authors of the New Testament. He was a 1st century BC Jewish mystic. Anytime you use an extrabibilcal character as an example, you have to take extreme care not to use him for eisegesis, which I believe Batterson has done. He reads the circle prayer concept from Honi into Scripture, introducing an idea that is not there. He does this blatantly with James 4:3, as I discuss below. I don't believe the Talmud, I believe the Bible. The only examples of prayer circles in early Christianity are from Gnostic rituals.
Chapter 2: "God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less. If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God. Why? Because they don’t require divine intervention." Compare this to 1 Peter 5:7, which could be paraphrased by Batterson to say, "cast only your big anxieties on God, because he only cares about the big ones." This looks like a major premise of Batterson's book, and it is unbibical. God cares about all our concerns, big and small, and wants us to rely on Him for our needs, big and small.
Also from Chapter 2: "And one way or the other, your small timid prayers or big audacious prayers will change the trajectory of your life and turn you into two totally different people. Your 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." Prayers are not prophecies. Who I become is predicated on God's plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11) and His work in me that He has promised to accomplish (Phil 1:6). Do my prayers affect me? Yes. Do they predict where I will be a year from now? Absolutely not. This is far closer to the false teachings of "name it and claim it" or the prosperity gospel concept that our words have the divine ability to create new realities than it is to Scripture.
Also from Chapter 2: "God won’t do it if you don’t pray for it. We have not because we ask not, or maybe I should say, we have not because we circle not." This is blatant eisegesis of the story of Honi into James 4:3. The concept of prayer circles is not found anywhere in Scripture. The only stretch would be to try to apply Joshua marching around Jericho, but a prayer walk is a far cry from kneeling inside a chalk circle as Batterson does on his website and YouTube videos, which is far more reminiscent of occult practices than biblical postures of prayer.
on July 7, 2012
Bear in mind that the basic premise of this book is a supposed historical event (you can never argue with experiences). Problematically, history can never tell you what ought to be; history can only tell you what happened. Yet, author Mark Batterson bases his entire argument on what happened (experience) a generation before Jesus came, not what the Bible says ought to be (principle). Unfortunately, there is no Scripture Index--which is always telling in a book that is purportedly "Christian"--and I could find no reference to Matthew 6, which is a primary text of Jesus' teaching on prayer.
"The earth has circled the sun more than two thousand times since the day Honi drew his circle in the sand, but God is still looking for circle makers" (page 13). How he knows this is God's current activity Batterson does not say.
The author asserts that the failure to pray dream fulfilling and miraculous prayers is due to our not coming to terms with the truth that God is for us. However, the Apostle Paul asserts (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), that the conviction that God is for us is grounded in the atoning work of Christ, and he makes no mention of prayer in the context. Therefore, Batterson is, at best, guilty of synthetically interpreting (eisegesis - get a dictionary) Scripture.
Because God tells us to "redeem the time", I cannot suggest you read this book.
However, if you want to read a book that makes unfounded assertions, misrepresents God and and his Word, and lacks cogent argumentation, I highly recommend you read this volume. Otherwise, use it, page by page, for starting fires on cold winter mornings.
If you want to read a good book on prayer, find one that starts out citing Scripture and does so the entire way.
on May 17, 2013
Unlike many, I did not buy this book on the recommendation of my church or anyone I know. I was looking for a new 'Christian Inspiration' book to read and saw this displayed prominently in that section as a 'bestseller.'
As a Christian, I found the book disturbing on several levels. The premise of the book is centered around the legend of Honi the Circle Maker. According to the legend, he drew a circle in the sand and fervently prayed for rain, vowing not to move from the circle until it rained and ended the drought. Batterson goes on to use the circle Honi drew as an analogy for ramping up your prayer life.
What confuses me about this book is the fact that it seems very self-indulgent. I would consider a legend about someone who isn't even depicted in the Bible to be a dubious thing to base prayer off of. However, Batterson contends that we need to 'circle Jericho' and draw figurative prayer circles around what we are asking God for. The examples he uses in the book all relate to how he has circled things in prayer throughout his life and the life of his church (National Community Church), and basically talks about how through trust in God, prayers were answered in unbelievable ways in God's timing. Most of these had to do with money for real estate for the church, missions for the church, etc.
I do believe that everything we have on earth is a blessing from God and God is to be praised for our blessing. However, in the Bible, we are taught the Lord's prayer as our prayer model. Nowhere in the Lord's prayer do I see anything about God blessing us with funds beyond our wildest dreams to further church ministry or the mission of an individual.
I have also read the Prayer of Jabez, and while I don't completely agree with that book, at least it's based on a prayer in the Old Testament!
I think it's self-righteous to assume that just because we're fervent in prayer, God will grant our requests. What would happen if God never gave Batterson the money to buy property for his church or if his books never sold? Does that mean that God loves him any less, no.
There are devout Christians living out God's word as best possible in developing nations. They have no material possessions, yet they thank GOD daily for His faithfulness and look forward to an abudant life with God in eternity. They might never receive a million dollars or drive a BMW as a result of their prayers, but they are living a life in obedience and surrender to God.
The one good thing I took from this book is that prayer is important. Prayer is our lifeline and Jesus is moving and answering prayers today; however, not in the way Batterson describes.
I would recommend looking into a Tim Keller book or maybe something by Donald Miller if you are interested in enriching your faith. They don't use gimmicks, just sincere commentary on theology and Christian life.