A few months ago, I began writing a piece on the teachings of Beth Moore. The fine writers at CT were working on a similar project which became a recent cover story and companion article. There is much to be said about Beth’s influence in the Church that I believe male and female leaders need to take a second look at. Well, when my article is published, I will provide a link to the full text, in the meantime, take a look at how Beth handles Paul. Keep in mind what she is ultimately saying about the insertion of sinful attitudes as part of the biblical writers’ instructional material.
Not only does Beth suggest that insecurity is one of women’s greatest problems, she also argues that insecurity is where she finds camaraderie with the apostle Paul. While clearly the writers of Scripture were human with the same propensity for sin and suffering, it is difficult to agree with Beth’s rationale for her claim to Pauline insecurity. In fact, her argument depends on an unpopular understanding of 2 Corinthians.
Beth writes that Paul is one of her “favorite people in the entire stretch of Scripture” because
he was enormously used of God in spite of himself [Emphasis hers]. Don’t think for a moment he didn’t fight his own flesh just like the rest of us. Take, for instance, the way he felt the need to affirm his credentials to the people he served in Corinth by using this little twist:
I do not think I am in the least inferior to those ‘super apostles.’ I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge.’ 2 Corinthians 11:5-6
Tell me that’s not insecurity. If you’re not convinced, take a look at what blurted from his pen only a chapter later:
I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the ‘super-apostles,’ even though I am nothing. 2 Corinthians 12:11
Do you think just maybe he protests too much? In all probability, he fought the awful feeling that he wasn’t as good as the others who hadn’t done nearly so much wrong. I totally grasp that. At the same time, Paul also battled a big, fat ego. He was a complex mound of clay just like the rest of us, belittling and boasting of himself in a dizzying psychological zigzag.”[i]
A key criticism of Moore is how she handles scripture and then how she models that approach to her audience. After reading this section of SLI, my concern persists as I struggle to understand how she arrives at the conclusion that Paul is going through a “belittling and boasting of himself in a dizzying psychological zigzag.” The mere assertion that Paul was driven by feelings of insecurity as the reason for defending his apostolic authority ignores the immediate context of the second letter to the Corinthians, that the church was involved with false teachers claiming a high degree of authority but lacking true knowledge. But this gets at the heart of the problem; Beth does not explain the meaning of the passage as derived from the context, she reads the passage in isolation, an elementary Bible study error. What she often fails to do, as is the case in this instance, is to explain how in submission to the scripture she arrives at her conclusions. She admittedly speculates and introduces personal experience and psychologizing of the text to back up her claims. Her assertion that Paul is motivated by insecurity is dependent on a view that equates the “super apostles” with the true apostles instead of the false teachers, a theory that most theologians and commentators reject. But sadly, she leaves her readers, many who are unfortunately disenchanted with the intellectual nature of the Christian faith, revisioning Paul the apologist as someone whose defense is motivated by self-centered weakness instead of a necessary defense of the gospel. Following Beth’s perspective to its logical conclusion, if Paul did not struggle with insecurity as she claims, perhaps the Bible would contain fewer epistles.
Beth has been working for some time to define Paul as insecure. In To live is Christ, written about Paul’s journey of faith, she admits to speculating on what is going on with Paul “based on hints in the accounts.”[ii] She describes Paul as “overwhelmed by the polytheistic beliefs of the residents”[iii] of Athens because few people “believed and received Christ,”[iv] because they preferred to argue “rather than consider the truth.”[v] On the next page, she continues her speculation in asserting that Paul’s ego took a beating in Athens and that Paul probably “felt like a failure.”[vi] Continuing to project into the text, she writes that Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18-19 may have been reflective of his experience with the Athenian philosophers. At the Areopagus, we understand from the text that Paul preached Christ, but certainly not to the contempt of the life of the mind. This kind of speculation paints Paul as being annoyed and fatigued by intellectual engagement in which he encouraged others.
[i] Moore, Beth. So Long Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend to Us. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2010) p. 56-57
[ii] Moore, Beth. To Live is Christ: Joining Paul’s Journey of Faith. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001) p. 132.
[iii] Ibid., p. 132
[iv] Ibid., p. 132
[v] Ibid., p. 132
[vi] Ibid., p. 133