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.
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.
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 Chapter 1 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 Chapter 2 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 45:5; 50:20). 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).