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The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears Paperback – December 6, 2016
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(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.
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.