L.L. Martin. Positively Powerless: How a Forgotten Movement Undermined Christianity. WestBow Press, 2015. See here to buy the book.
In Positively Powerless, L.L. Martin critiques the positivity Gospel and presents an alternative way to look at life.
positivity Gospel is often associated with Norman Vincent Peale and
Robert Schuller. Joel Osteen and Word of Faith teachers can probably
also be associated with the positivity Gospel, even though Martin does
not mention them explicitly. The positivity Gospel emphasizes positive
thinking. Expect good things to happen to you, and they will happen!
Your self-image should be positive, not negative! Have confidence in
yourself and your abilities! You can meet your goals and have your best
life now! Add Christ as your life-coach to this, and you have the
Martin has religious and practical problems
with the positivity Gospel. For one, she traces it to nineteenth
century occultism and the influence of Eastern religions on the West.
She believes that the positivity Gospel is more consistent with that
than it is with the Bible. Second, she thinks that the positivity
Gospel is self-centered rather than God-centered: it focuses on our
personal success rather than on God and other people. It also neglects
the biblical message that we are sinners in need of redemption, along
with the importance of depending on Christ. Third, it hinders growth
and sets people up for failure and disappointment. If people are
unwilling to acknowledge their mistakes and flaws, how can they address
them? If people are expecting their best life now, how will they feel
once tragedy strikes?
Martin makes clear
that she is not for people beating themselves up on a daily basis and
focusing on the negative. Actually, she notes, the Bible encourages
believers to focus on a lot of positive things: God's grace towards
them, who they are in Christ, the spiritual blessings that God has given
them, their eternal destiny in Christ, God's commandments, and God's
holiness and majesty. Martin spends a lot of pages articulating a
constructive, yet realistic, way to look at life. She does not advocate
a thoroughly positive self-image, but rather a perspective that is
humble (as in self-forgetful) and realistic about one's flaws, and that
does not take oneself too seriously (or so I interpret Martin, on that
Near the end, Martin discusses how this can relate
to Christian community. She advocates places where Christians can share
their spiritual struggles honestly and openly. Martin candidly
acknowledges where the church has fallen short in this. She tells a
story about how she was sharing in a small group about her struggle with
anger in a situation, and the small group leader jokingly dismissed her
concern. Martin later learned that the small group leader was having
troubles with his son, but he did not share that with the group.
I found most helpful was when Martin offered practical, specific tips,
particularly in the appendix. She gave suggestions about books to read,
Christian music to hear, Scriptures to post, things to tell oneself,
and things to do so that one can have a more Christ-exalting attitude
each day. She also offered suggestions about how one can find
vulnerable community that can assist one in spiritual growth: she said
that people can meet one-on-one for honest sharing and prayer.
have two critiques of the book. First, Martin should have interacted
with the biblical verses that Word of Faith people like to cite to
support their position. I think of Mark 11:24, in which Jesus tells his
disciples that, if they believe they have received what they are
requesting in prayer, it is theirs. There are other verses to that
effect. Martin should have addressed such passages either briefly in
the text, or in an endnote.
Second, Martin should have addressed
more what God's larger goals or objectives are in doing what God does.
What is God's broader agenda behind justification and sanctification,
grace, hope, and righteous character? What is the point of these
things? What is the significance of these pieces in the larger whole?
In my opinion, God is renewing the cosmos, and God wants people of
character to rule it after Christ's second coming. God has saved
sinners with that larger goal in mind. Had Martin included a discussion
like that, the book would have been better. Reading the book as it
stands, I can easily fall into self-criticism because I fall so short of
the outlook that Martin promotes (as does everyone, which Martin
acknowledges). When I put that outlook within the context of God's
broader objectives, however, that not only encourages me to have that
outlook, but it also focuses my attention more on God.
for myself personally, I believe that I can be edified by the teachings
of Joel Osteen, Robert Schuller, Norman Vincent Peale, and other such
teachers. They do try to encourage people to have hope. Plus, many
people do not just want hope about their salvation and the afterlife.
They experience problems now; they have dreams now; they want hope for
their lives now. Positivity can be taken to extremes, but I would like
to think that God cares about our dreams, our troubles, and our
successes, the same way that God wants us to care about the dreams,
troubles, and successes of others. In addition, self-help and success
are not entirely alien to Scripture, for the Book of Proverbs is partly
about how to live a successful life. These concepts can actually be
consistent with honoring God and helping others.
At the same time,
Martin does say things that I need to hear. Spirituality should
encompass much, much more than one's personal material success. There
is a world that is much larger than any of us. There are things that
are more important than our personal success, such as good character and
God's broader agenda for the world. Martin does well to highlight
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