A Critique by Debbie Dewart
Joyce Meyer has become extremely popular through her speaking and numerous books. Although she is not a psychologist, her writings often reference the abuse she suffered in her childhood, and her teachings are similar to the popular psychological “wisdom” about the effects of child abuse. This critique reviews two of her books: Beauty for Ashes: Receiving Emotional Healing (BA), 1994, and Approval Addiction: Overcoming Your Need to Please Everyone (AA), 2005. There is certainly some truth in these books, but it is hopelessly intertwined with psychological error, and great caution is needed.
It is critical to emphasize that the abuse of children is a grievous sin and a real problem in our society. Christians need to respond with compassion, understanding, and hope. This critique is not intended to minimize the harm suffered or the seriousness of the problem, but rather to direct both the perpetrators and victims of such sin to God and His Word, and away from the unreliable theories and methods of modern psychotherapy that appear to offer help yet keep people in bondage.
Meyer’s own troubled childhood forms the backdrop for much of her teaching. In Beauty for Ashes, Meyer points out the fact of her childhood abuse and expresses her belief that many people who appear “together” are inwardly quite troubled:
Many, many people seem to have it all together outwardly, but inside they are a wreck. That was my situation before I learned that the Lord’s main concern is my inner life. Matthew 6:33 states that we are to seek first the kingdom (remember, it is within you) and His righteousness, and then these other things will be added unto us (7BA, bold added).
I was sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abused from the time I can remember until I finally left home at the age of eighteen (12BA).
There is a victim mentality that runs throughout her writings.
One of the most serious problems with modern psychotherapy, both secular and “Christian,” is the tendency to view people as victims rather than sinners. This victim mentality runs through Meyer’s writings, as in: “Having been hurt and not yet knowing God’s ways of doing things, I ended up hurting my own children” (126BA).
It is this alleged causal link between early childhood abuse (the sins of others), and an individual’s own sin later in life, that is so disturbing and unbiblical. Meyer makes sweeping pronouncements as to this causal link:
If we start our life rooted in rejection, it is equivalent to having a crack in the foundation of our house (186AA).
I had no frame of reference other than the way I was raised. I had rotten, diseased roots, and therefore, I had bad fruit (190AA).
Meyer proposes a chain of causation that impacts one generation after another:
So often, troubled people marry troubled people. After they have destroyed each other, their problems are transferred to their children, who in turn become the next generation of troubled, tormented people (144BA).
If this chain of causation is traced back far enough, we reach Adam and Eve, who had no earthly parents to blame—but tried to blame God.
Meyer’s view of anger is a good example of where this path takes us. Scripture has much to say about ungodly anger (see, e.g., Proverbs 15:1, Ephesians 4:25-31, Colossians 3:8, Galatians 5:19-20), but Meyer traces it to the sins of other people rather than the angry person’s own heart:
…when we look at the root of excessive anger issues, they almost always find their seed in earlier problems (143AA).
People who have been hurt not only get angry, but often they also seek compensation for injustices done (147AA).
Following Meyer’s path leads to the conclusion that an angry person’s seeking vengeance is actually the fault of another. Rebellion, poverty, “approval addiction,” inability to maintain good relationships, feelings of rejection, inability to express feelings, poor self-image, internalized shame, but also positive accomplishment, are all allegedly rooted in what others have done in the past:
Rebellion is frequently rooted in rejection. Rebellious people have experienced the pain of rejection. These people are angry, and their anger is an inner rage that manifests itself in rebellion (197AA, bold added).
The root cause of an approval addiction is usually an emotional wound (106AA, bold added).
Abuse leaves a person emotionally handicapped, unable to maintain healthy, lasting relationships (21BA).
People who have been abused, rejected or abandoned usually lack confidence…such individuals are shame-based and guilt-ridden and have a very poor self-image (91BA, bold added).
I once heard that 75 percent of all world leaders have been abused and have experienced severe rejection. When I heard that statistic, I was amazed. It is simply because those who have been abused and rejected work harder than most people to accomplish something important so they will be accepted (198AA, bold added).
How does Meyer know for certain that those who have been sinned against, yet accomplish something important, are doing so in order to be accepted by others? How would Meyer explain the sins of those who have not been seriously abused, those who are raised in godly homes but turn away? What about people who accomplish great things but were not the victims of early childhood abuse? Where is personal responsibility for sin in this picture, where so many life problems are attributed to the sins of others?
Focus on the past sins of others often leads to an emphasis on retrieving the memories of those sins and “dealing with” them:
Such people [those in recovery from abuse] must get out of their denial and face the truth. There may be things they have forgotten because they are too painful to remember, things that will have to be recalled and faced during the healing process (45BA).
Scripture is misused in order to support this theme:
Personally, I will always believe that my mother’s emotional collapse was the result of the years of abuse she had endured, and the truth that she refused to face and deal with. Remember, in John 8:32 our Lord told us: … you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free (16BA, bold in original).
This particular passage in John is often cited by psychologists to support the memory-recovery theme, but the truth, in the context of this verse, is the gospel, not facts about past abuse. Nowhere does Scripture command us to recall, rehash, or replay the sins committed against us in the past, in order for our sanctification to proceed.
The victim mentality also tends to emphasize unmet individual needs, rather than serving God and others. Like many others, she responds with the claim that God can fill the gap and meet those needs:
…if while you were growing up you did not receive what you needed to make you sound and healthy, Jesus will gladly give it to you now (23BA, citing Ephesians 3:17, Colossians 2:7, John 15:5).
Does God meet our needs? Absolutely! Should we look to Him to supply our legitimate needs, according to His riches? Yes! However, problems occur in the self-focused defining of needs—acceptance, approval, and enjoyment—rather than, for example, boldness to speak the gospel or resources to serve God. Moreover, Meyer (along with others) is critical of those who set aside their own needs to serve others: “People-pleasers quickly and regularly set aside their own legitimate needs” (166AA).
It can be a problem to set aside truly legitimate needs (e.g., health or sleep) to serve the sinful agendas of other people in order to win their approval. However, godly people are called to put God and others ahead of self, at times setting aside their own needs and desires for the sake of God’s kingdom. Throughout history (and still today), there are martyrs for the Christian faith, who sacrifice even their own lives. How would these saints respond to the psychological teaching that their own “needs” for acceptance, approval, and enjoyment are more important than the gospel?
Joyce Meyer has become an extremely popular author and speaker. There is a lengthy list of her books in the back of Addiction Approval. This brief review of two of her books (about 11 years apart) reveals that readers dare not assume that Meyer is so “anointed” that her teachings are infallible. On the contrary, much of what she says rehashes the popular psychology that lines the shelves of both secular and Christian bookstores.
[The above article was excerpted from Debbie Dewart’s 54-page position paper titled “Joyce Meyer: A Critique of Beauty for Ashes and Approval Addiction, by Joyce Meyer,” which may be printed from her web site.
Debbie is licensed to practice law in California and North Carolina. She is available to speak on the subject “Civil Rights and Religious Wrongs: The Death of a Christian Nation?”]
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, January-February 2008, Vol. 16, No. 1)