I wasn't far along in my Christian journey when I first came across the works of Beth Moore. When I completed a Beth Moore Bible study at age 21, I was no more than two months into my new faith, a former atheist with a long history of living however I pleased. Moore's study had me searching the Scriptures at least five times a week. Her enthusiasm for God's Word convinced me that the seemingly stiff, impenetrable book had legs—that its insights could actually make a difference in my everyday life.
In 1984, Moore began teaching an aerobics and Bible study class for women. Aerobics was eventually dropped, and women began asking her for homework "like all the other classes have." In response to their request, Moore wrote what would later become her first published Bible study, A Woman's Heart, God's Dwelling Place, which focuses on the construction of the Old Testament tabernacle.
Since then, Moore has become a prolific writer, composing more than 20 best-selling books and Bible studies ranging from profiles of heroic biblical figures to topical studies such as Breaking Free, Believing God, Living Beyond Yourself, and When Godly People Do Ungodly Things. In addition to her Bible studies, Moore has written poetry and about topics such as motherhood, insecurity, how to pray God's Word, and finding freedom from oppressive situations.
Four fundamental themes are threaded throughout Moore's various writing genres: biblicism, spiritual warfare, mysticism, and, more recently, popular psychology.
Moore is truly a Bible teacher. Her teaching is rooted in her strong affinity for Scripture. She does not show much interest in theology or tradition, distrusting the way the academy has, at times, handled the Bible. "Godless philosophies have not been my temptation," Moore comments. "In my life experience, the most dangerously influential opinions have been those held by intellectuals and scholars who profess Christianity but deny the veracity and present power of Scripture." Although Moore believes that seminaries are necessary despite the "stunning arrogance" and "theological snobbery" that reside in them, she argues, "Psalm 131 reminds us that [the Scriptures] are not primarily for seminaries, dissertations, and theological treatments. They are primarily for everyday living on the third rock from the sun."
Moore is primarily self-taught. She uses commentaries and concordances when writing her studies, but she relies primarily on her own intuition when interpreting and applying Scripture.In Believing God, she writes, "In my personal research, I get a little worried when I can't get Scripture to teach Scripture. If I can find no other scriptural back-up, I tend to think I am better off accepting by faith what I cannot explain by reason and leaving it to God. I do not pretend to understand everything in the Bible, but many precepts are affirmed often enough to warrant deep roots in our belief systems."
Moore's strict adherence to biblicism echoes the question Tertullian posed two centuries after the birth of Christ: "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What communion is there between the academy and the church?" Because of this, Moore is not able to draw, as much as she might, on the solid biblical and theological scholarship that emanates from trustworthy seminaries and universities, teaching that actually guards us against heresy and reminds us of the hard lessons of history. Then again, in a culture of disbelief, in a time when many seminaries and universities are indeed questioning the authority, infallibility, and inspiration of the Bible, Moore's passionate defense of God's Word is surely compelling.
The publication of Breaking Free marked a critical change in the direction of Moore's teaching. In it she turned from teaching traditional Bible study classes to teaching believers how to find release from any bondage or "captivity that hinders the abundant and effective Spirit-filled life God planned for him or her." While she continues to write topical studies and profiles of biblical figures, generational strongholds and bondage are prominent themes in her work, particularly in Breaking Free, Praying God's Word, and When Godly People Do Ungodly Things.
Moore tends to portray humans as victims of sin either through generational strongholds, bondage from past sins, or increasing oppression by Satanic influences. Her primary claim in When Godly People Do Ungodly Things is that demonic assault on Christians has reached "a whole 'new' level" because we are in the last days and "must prepare ourselves to deal with the assault that is here and the one that is coming." According to Moore, "ignorance, spiritual passion that exceeds spiritual knowledge, a lack of discernment, and a lack of self-discernment" all lead Christians to sin or to seasons of Satanic oppression.
Moore's strong emphasis on spiritual warfare sometimes threatens to eclipse the fullness of human fallenness: we are indeed victims trapped in sin, but we are also responsible for our moral choices. Still, plenty in her writings highlights the importance of confession of sin, and Scripture makes clear that spiritual warfare is a danger for Christians. And, as the popularity of Moore's teaching suggests, it is still something Christians wrestle with.
In contrast with Moore's biblicism is her mysticism. By this I don't mean medieval mysticism or new age mysticism, but that which is more broadly understood as faith that includes direct encounters with God. Often, in her teaching and writings, Moore claims that God directly communicates with her, such as when she says in the Believing God video, "And this came as a direct revelation of the Spirit, because this would never have come to me. I know God spoke this over me as he began turning through a concordance in my mind and I started thinking about one Scripture after another." In almost every book or Bible study, Moore relates experiences of direct revelation from God or conversations with God.
Moore has been criticized for her involvement in a video titled Be Still, which describes the importance of contemplative prayer in the believer's life. According to the teachers in the video, contemplative prayer is slowing down and silencing yourself in the midst of a busy and noisy culture to not only talk to God but listen to him as well. Critics argue that contemplative prayer is rooted in Eastern mysticism and thus not a practice that Christians should engage in. This criticism is part of a larger debate about the nature and necessity of spiritual formation in light of Scripture's sufficiency for knowing and understanding God.
Naturally, repeated references to direct access to God can backfire. Readers may believe that direct revelation is normative, that a lack of such experiences means something is wrong. And, as with many Bible teachers, it is often hard to discern if something is direct communication from God or simply Moore's thoughts on the matter. But no doubt Moore has a rich and personal relationship with God, and such comments do have a way of modeling what is in fact available to all of us in Christ.
A more recent turn in Moore's writing is toward popular psychology, particularly in Get Out of That Pit and So Long, Insecurity. Moore's works have always been therapeutic in that she demonstrates a consistent concern for freedom and healing in her own life and the lives of her readers. But in these recent books, Moore focuses more on popular psychology and personal experience than on the Scriptures.
Although Moore claims Get Out of That Pit is a biblical analysis of the ways people get into "pits" and the ways they can get out, the book is primarily grounded in human experience, though reinforced with an initial word study and peppered with proof-texts.
"Oftentimes," writes Moore, "the precepts I feel the most urgency to teach are those lessons I learned the hard way." Insecurity has always been a looming issue throughout her life. In So Long, Insecurity, Moore claims that she completed "research" for the book, but the book is mainly composed of her own insights and anecdotes from friends and those who write to her on her blog. The first half of the book is devoted to seven factors that contribute to the insecurity of "the whole mess of us born with a pair of X chromosomes," while the remainder of the book is devoted to finding security in God. To be fair, this book includes a lot of wisdom, but it is long on anecdotes and short on theology and biblical analysis.
Writers, teachers, and leaders share an understanding that we write, teach, and lead from who we are. In this way, Moore's trend toward popular psychology is understandable given her own story. Throughout her works, Moore is transparent about several traumatic experiences early in her life. She also affirms that she has found a great deal of freedom and healing. So it's not surprising that these experiences shape Moore's approach to the Scriptures and spiritual life in general, and may explain Moore's move toward psychological themes.
Leader in Biblical Literacy
One hopes that Moore's foray into psychology is just that, a foray. Many professed biblical teachers rely more on popular psychology than on sound biblical analysis, but few can mine the riches of Scripture and apply them to everyday life with the giftedness that Moore has demonstrated over the past 26 years.
Early in her career, Moore said she believed her calling was to enhance the church's biblical literacy, specifically "guiding believers to live and to love God's Word." For many years, Moore remained focused and committed to that calling, and she led a well-ordered, disciplined life in order to do so.
Moore has not only provided a level of biblical literacy for women in a time and place when it is scarce. She also continues to urge women to dig deeply into their Bibles every day, as she did for me as a young believer. She urges women to do their own research, and she has provided opportunities for women to fellowship with one another as they grow in God's Word.
Moore displays a humble heart. She is willing and eager to learn and admit where she errs. She avoids the prosperity gospel and, unlike many popular teachers, is honest about the presence of suffering in the Christian life.
We would do well in our churches to follow her lead, to allow and give women more opportunities to find their callings as teachers of God's Word, and, as Moore writes, to "persist in them."
Halee Gray Scott is a writer and a faculty member at Wesley Seminary and A. W. Tozer Theological Seminary. She is a Ph.D. candidate at Talbot School of Theology, where her research interests include leadership development and spiritual formation.
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This story accompanies the cover story on Beth Moore for the August issue of Christianity Today. Go to ChristianBibleStudies.com for "What Beth Moore Can Teach Us About Bible Study," a Bible study based on this article.
Beth Moore's daughter Melissa Moore responded to this piece on the Living Proof Ministries blog. CT invited Beth and Melissa Moore to respond on Christianitytoday.com, but they declined through an assistant.
Previous articles related to Beth Moore from CT and its sister publications include:
Excerpt: So Long, Insecurity | It's time we got our dignity back. (May 26, 2010)
Passion Takes It Higher | The most influential annual gathering of young evangelicals plans to go global. (March 23, 2007)
Beth's Passion | Bible study teacher Beth Moore is on fire for God. Here's how you can be, too. (Today's Christian Woman, September/October 2005)
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