02.13.14

Book Review: Reposition Yourself: Living Life Without Limits, by T.D. Jakes

 

T.D. Jakes, Reposition Yourself: Living Life Without Limits. Atria Books, 2007. 278 pages. $24.00

Dubbed “America’s Best Preacher” by Time magazine, T.D. Jakes has become a household name and a revered spiritual authority among many professed Christians and, even recently, among some conservative evangelicals. He is the senior pastor of the 30,000-member Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas: not just a church, but a “global humanitarian organization” employing nearly 400 staff members. Additionally, the church boasts thousands of ministry volunteers—I used to be one.

In the fall of 2007, I began regularly attending the church as I pursued formal training at the nearby Dallas Theological Seminary. My stay at the church was short-lived. However, I did get to observe and experience many things that year, including the release of Reposition Yourself: Living Life Without Limits.

OVERVIEW

Jakes’ thesis can be summed up in a common phrase he employs in the first chapter: “…God helps those who help themselves.” His goal is to demonstrate that, with minor adjustments, one can take control of his or her destiny and attain what he calls “true prosperity” and “real success.”

Jakes’ writing style is as winsome as his oratorical flare. With many personal anecdotes, he appeals to the reader as one who genuinely desires to help by delving into the common lived- experiences of everyday people.

Reposition Yourself consists of fifteen chapters divided into three major sections: “The Sky’s the Limit,” “Beyond the Limits of Mediocrity,” and “Beyond the Limits of Success.” These sections could easily be titled, “Wanting Prosperity,” “Pursuing Prosperity,” and “Managing Prosperity,” respectively. The first five chapters are aimed at animating the ambition of the reader by exploring the pathology of what Jakes calls an “addiction to apathy,” and by championing the fight for a “better life.” The second section of the book deals specifically with finances and the how-to’s of success, while the final section devotes a couple chapters to women’s issues before moving to the legacy of success.

CRITIQUE

Simply put, Reposition Yourself is a self-help book—and a dangerous one, at that. I render this critique in light of the book’s own admission regarding Jakes’ methodology: “Mixing both sacred and secular insights, he shares a unique blend of practical and pragmatic steps coupled with the sage wisdom of Scripture for which he is noted.” While this approach might seem laudable, the resulting combination often yields erroneous conclusions. Two immediately come to mind.

A Wrong View of the Word

Reposition Yourself seems to suffer from an unhelpful view of the Word. While each chapter begins with a verse that is meant to serve as the biblical support for the teaching espoused, the reading of these verses tends to focus on man’s pursuit of temporal success instead of Christ’s offer of eternal salvation.

Here are just a couple of examples where Jakes seems to conflate these two focuses:

The focus verse for is John 8:32 (NIV): “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The “truth” that Jakes wants the reader to discover is that apathy, mediocrity, and fear are roadblocks to a better life and desired success. However, it seems that the context of the eighth chapter of John reveals that Jesus is referring to saving truth, centering on a continued faith in Him that liberates from the bondage of sin.

Similarly, the focus verse for is 1 Corinthians 9:26 (this time, KJV): “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” Jakes goes on to suggest how we can “reposition ourselves for the victory that God intends for us,” and how we must “fight strategically for the prizes we long to enjoy” (27). Yet, the prize that Paul refers to in his letter to the Corinthians is the sharing in the blessings of the gospel with those whom he has gained through the preaching of said gospel.

Jakes goes on to present the story of Joseph as a paradigm for self-actualization. According to Jakes, “Joseph was bound by his circumstances. But he overcame them by using his gifts. He transcended from the mundane to the miraculous” (43). While Joseph’s faith is indeed highlighted in the story, it is clear that he ultimately attributes his triumph to the faithfulness and sovereignty of God (see Genesis 45:550:20). And no self-help book is complete without the how-to steps of loading one’s slingshot in preparation for the slaying of the financial debt giant!

While some might defend these interpretive moves—given that Jakes is merely extracting principles of the text—he actually presupposes a particularly unhelpful view of Scripture: that the Bible is simply a roadmap to a better life. Reposition Yourself intimates that the word of God is about your dreams, your desires, and yourgoals. When, in fact, the Bible’s primary subject is what God has accomplished in Christ by the power of the Spirit for the salvation of his people.

A Wrong View of the World

These word-view issues speak to a deeper worldview issue. While Jakes is prudent enough to avoid flagrant prosperity-gospel rhetoric—even warning against the desire for riches at times—he still equates success with things like a closed business deal, a house, and a Mercedes. Moreover, throughout the book he refers to such figures as Oprah and Sean “Diddy” Combs as examples of those living the successful life, worthy of imitation.

Perhaps the most telling statement Jakes makes is this: “There is nothing worse than reaching the end of your life and wondering what could have happened, or should’ve happened, but somehow didn’t happen” (10). Here, Jakes is referring to lost opportunities and unmet goals. While these things may indeed cause a degree of grief, there is something worse, far worse. And while Jakes at time comes dangerously close to broaching the topic of the gospel, he falls short of actually articulating what it is. He refers to Jesus as Savior and even mentions the need for a relationship with the Creator, but he pictures him as “the One who wants to comfort, heal, inspire, and motivate you to new heights” (21).

But one might ask, “Why are these distinctions important, anyway?”

They’re important because the gospel is not that God simply wants to stimulate sinners. The good news that has been revealed in the Bible is that God saves sinners. The one true and living God has actively sought and secured the salvation of a sinful people in the sending and sacrificing of his eternal son, Jesus. In light of Christ’s perfect life, substitutionary death, and vindicating resurrection, God commands everyone to repent and believe. He desires much more than your inspiration; above all, he is concerned about your salvation.

In light of Jakes’ use of Scripture, it would appear that salvation guarantees favorable circumstances in this life. However, the Bible makes no such guarantees. In fact, what the Bible does guarantee for the follower of Jesus is tribulation (John 16:33), trial (James 1:2), and persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). And yet, the ultimate promise of the gospel far outweighs any of these temporal realities. In the words of the Apostle Paul, for the believer enduring such realities, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). Thus, the gospel-centered life—the truly “successful” Christian life—is a life lived in faith toward Christ, in view of the eternal hope. To say that what you drive is irrelevant would be an immense understatement.

A FINAL WORD

All self-help books are not bad, per se. Given the situation, it may be useful for a Christian to seek wisdom on health or finance (Oddly, Jakes encourages readers to possess three credit cards!). Moreover, there is nothing wrong with diligence in God-glorifying endeavors, whether business, education, career, or health. Yet, Christians must regard the concept of self-help biblically. While it might seem motivationally acceptable to believe that “God helps those who help themselves,” it would be more accurate to say that “God helps those who acknowledge their helplessness.” Even our most valiant efforts are subject to the sovereign will of God (Prov. 19:21). Contrary to the often recited declaration, we are not the captains of our fates, we are not the masters of our souls.

Readers of Reposition Yourself are told that God wants to be their accountability partner on their self-charted road to worldly success, and that He wants them to “have it all.” These teachings are utterly false and, if taken to heart, might prove damningly so.

This article was first published in the 9Marks Journal, “Prosperity Gospel” (January-February 2014). 

1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (ESV)

2:1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy. (ESV)

Steven Harris
Steven Harris is a graduate student at Yale University, focusing on black religion in the African diaspora. A Vanderbilt graduate, he received his master of divinity degree at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has formerly served as assistant pastor for a Kentucky Baptist church.

C’mon Up!

  • george canady

    If you were to pray for T.D. Jakes salvation publicly, you would be the first reformed pastor I have heard do that. As it is, you are in a long line of people warning.

    • Tim

      Two wrong assumptions seem to spill out of your comment. 1. That because you haven’t heard a reformed pastor pray for T.D. Jakes, it’s not happening. 2. That Mr. Harris should only pray for T.D. Jakes and not also continue to warn against the dangers of the prosperity message. Why not just judge this article on it’s merits. If what he’s saying is inaccurate, criticize that. If he’s “dead on”, then thank God for yet another faithful warning. I agree with the article, and yet I pray for T.D. Jakes. And if you are doing the same, maybe we can make the assumption that many, many more are as well. I’d like to think so anyway.

      • george canady

        Thanks Tim for your response. I intentionally use the word here “Publicly” to encourage people , mostly pastors, to consider whether or not they have thought about two other biblical categories that false teachers such as Jakes fall into, namely neighbor and enemy. I hope I did not assert that I am not extremely grateful for the many reformed pastors who, at great risk of offence to friends , brothers and sisters in Christ, other pastors and neighbors, faithfully speak out against the wolves dressed as sheep. But in the past five or six years I think I have noticed at least tone that is not so much like a hope for all men to be saved. It seems to me that most of our prominent reformed pastors warn in such a way as to leave the impression that they have been given insight into who is finally and ultimately condemned. My understanding is that Jesus is the last man to walk the earth who would know that. Further more, if a pastor were to be entirely faithful to all that scripture says about the hope of any man, no matter how deceived or deceitful. it would include prayers for the enemies of God’s true church. I see no public plea here for T.D. Jakes salvation. But you are right, I do not know if pastor Harris prays for him by name in private.

  • Trevoron Jones

    I used to enjoy the works of authors such as T.D. Jakes and a few others before I read the entire Bible and learned the overarching message of the gospel for myself. It’s easy to fall into the messages of “self-exalting” when it’s hidden behind a few choice scriptures. You can easily justify any message with the right scriptures, but a true discerner will study it for himself such as the Bereans in the book of Acts. A lot of these books would fall by the wayside if we stopped taking every message that sounded good to us and put it up against the rest of scripture.

    Most Christians throughout the world will most likely have no opportunity to attain the level of material success that is being presented in this book. And most Americans will most likely have no opportunity to experience the richness of faith and prosperity that is present throughout the rest of the Christian world, not as long as we continue to equate material success with godliness.

  • WSHHCLOWN

    Excuse my grammar. I respect T.D. Jakes and completely understand his movement. I was born and raised in the south. With that said I lived and survived in some of the most poorest, violent infested, single mother, fathers missing, crabs in the barrel type of communities you have ever heard of in the news. These communities are filled with people who have no value of life. These communities have churches that are filled with family members of the killers, dealers, thieves, robbers, lost souls. When the preacher reads a % of the time the elders of these churches can quote any verse he reads. Back when, these families lived in the church. With that being said, people don’t need a preacher to tell them the steps to becoming a child of god. There relationship with god is in stone. Its clear. The confidence about there salvation is similar to Kayne West when he talks to the media. What they want to know is what am I doing wrong. How do I do better. Can I really make it out the hood. I cant make it. Im addicted to marijuana, prescription pills,alcohol. Lights off, water too. Im afraid. I have low self esteem, anxiety attacks, lost my son, my brother,sister,best friend, ect. I made so many mistakes in my past. No education which doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent. These people need someone who can relate to the struggle, that has been through a struggle and made it out and looking back saying you can make it. I did it. You can to. Change your mind set. But most importantly trust in the lord. Dont give up. Hold your head. GOD IS ABLE. If you cant relate and you dont know what waking up everyday trying to be sucessful but you have so much excess from your commnity, society are crabs in a barrell. Your watching love ones die, come up missing. Everybody is living with a worldly slave mentality. If you cant relate then dont judge the bishop. He made it out, but until we figure out the formula that he has given us some of us won’t. Like I said I respect him as a man who is providing me with food for thought. Nothing in life is free why should his service be. By the way I am a member of his church and a living testimony that his advice,words, and wisdom works for me. Thank You Bishop.

    • Steven Harris

      Thanks for joining the conversation! I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and part of your story. The realities which you spoke of constitute the lived-experience of many in this country — vestiges of such that touch on my own family history. For black Christians, the question of how Christianity relates to “the struggle” is one that has quite a bit of history. But that’s a different topic altogether.

      What I wanted to accomplish in the article above was an assessment of the teaching of the book in light of a faithful reading of the scriptures. In other words, “Is what Jakes says biblical?” 

      I think you are spot on in your observation that, for many blacks (or any other ethnic group for that matter) who have a long history of church experience, knowledge of familiar passages of scripture and overall church life is pretty common. However, I think we would agree that such familiarity does not necessarily make them Christians. Their relationship with God might not be as “set in stone” as you might think. That goes for them, Kanye West, or anyone else (ourselves included) who might be tempted to make that assumption — that church experience, knowledge of scriptures, and even a “profession” of faith are grounds for salvation assurance before God (). This is why I would say that the preacher’s central task is to continually preach just how it is that a sinner can be made right with a holy and righteous God. That message never gets old — not even for those who are already saved. As a matter of fact, it is through a continual reflection on, and deeper understanding of, that same gospel message that Christians are made to be more like Jesus in some of the very same areas of life that you mentioned. Amazingly, it is in the gospel message itself where Christians find hope regarding anxiety, low self-esteem, loss of a loved one, addiction, etc. No formula needed. If a Christian has experienced victory in any of these areas, it is not fundamentally due to the ability of Jakes or any other preacher to relate to that Christian and his/her struggle. It is due to the grace of God in Christ, who “related” to us in all of our weaknesses, and was tried in every respect just like us, yet did not sin (). 

      My bottom line critique of the book was that Jakes seems to confuse what is a clear gospel message that we see in scripture with the attainment of worldly successes. And I don’t think the bible guarantees the Christian — saved as they may be — any of those earthly realities that he [Jakes] promotes. I’m not saying that all of those things are inherently sinful, but what I am saying is that they are not “due” to the Christian just because they are saved. 

      There is much more that I could say on that, but I would love to hear back from you as you raised a very important topic that I think would be helpful for many people! Let’s keep up the dialogue…

      • HonestBlackMan5234

        After reading my post I felt that my point didnt pretain the point that you where trying to make about this book. I do feel that preachers only focus should be to teach through the bible but also guide people towards a better relationship with the lord. I also am a realist so I know what that this world is heavy on the mind more than it is on the heart. Society is becoming more lost in the consumption of wordly things. People are chasing money before they look to god.

        • Steven Harris

          Thanks for the response! Again, you raise interesting points. I think that teaching through the bible — as you put it — is precisely what builds a believer’s relationship with the Lord. I agree that hardship is a faith-trying reality for Christians — myself included. Ironically, the bible actually acknowledges that this will be the case, but moves to offer truth that ought adjust the believer’s perspective (; ). Thus, raising the question, “Why does hardship tend to result in the forfeiting of faith rather than the fueling of faith?” I think that several things go into answering that question. However, as it relates to our discussion of this particular book, I think that sometimes things are taught that undermine the truth of scripture in this area. I mean, think about it: A Christian asking the question, “What has God done for me?” … or even conceiving of him/herself being “sold short.” Let’s unpack this…

          • Vince

            Hi, I am ‘hoping on the rabbit trail.’ I know the comments are supposed to be about the book review, but your question “What has God done for me?” would be a great article. It would actually be a great sermon but unpacking the question thru an article might be a good idea. The adage ‘no pain…no gain’ is truly the mark of our walk.

  • Steve

    How ironic is it that the prosperity gospel (which is no gospel at all) is something being sold? It’s actually really sad.

    • Vince

      And extremely dangerous!!!

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