I have been hearing a lot about Mark Batterson’s book, The Circle Maker. Some of it favorable, some of it unfavorable. I first heard of it in an unfavorable light on Fighting For The Faith (here, and here), and in trying to do my own research I have found several favorable yet scripturally unsupported reviews. The only reviews that seem to have a foundation in scripture are the unfavorable ones. So as you probably guessed by now, this is going to be an unfavorable review of The Circle Maker, but don’t stop reading now. Hear me out, and if I am wrong tell me how I am wrong.
I haven’t read the book The Circle Maker, but I have heard and read sermons preached from The Circle Maker so this will be more of a review of the ideas conveyed in those sermons. I am receiving most of my information from Sermon Central where Mark Batterson’s four part sermon series entitle The Circle Maker is posted.
The first sermon starts with the story of Honi the circle maker, and this is where I start to take issue. The whole premise, the whole foundation, of circle making is based in extra-biblical Jewish tradition. I think that should be a red flag to any Christian. I think there can be value in extra-biblical texts where they reinforce what the Bible says, but you should not build your foundation on extra-biblical texts. From this legend Mark Batterson has put together a formula to receive the promises of God. As much as Batterson says it is not a formula, if you take it at face value it reads like a formula. If you have to re-iterate that God is not a genie, and this is not a formula you may need to review what you’re teaching. If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, but says it’s not a duck, it’s still a duck right?
Honi The Circle Maker in the Bible
To attempt to connect Honi and drawing circles to the Bible the text for the sermon is Joshua 6:1-16. This is the story of the conquest of Jericho. If you have read the story or have seen Veggie Tales Josh and the Big Wall you know it’s not about prayer, and it’s not about circles or circling promises. In this sermon Batterson says, “[The miracle at Jericho] not only reveals the way God performed this particular miracle, it also establishes a pattern for us to follow. It challenges us to confidently circle the promises God has given to us.” God told them he would give the city to them all they had to do was obey Him, to circle the city as He instructed. God didn’t say I promise to delivery Jericho to you and just leave it at that, then maybe Joshua had a revelation of Honi drawing circles (because Honi hadn’t drawn his circle until after the time of the OT) and said, “Israel, if we boldly circle this promise of God, he will deliver!” No, God instructed them exactly how to take the city. Jericho wasn’t the promise of God, it was an obstacle of obedience in receiving the promised land. I just asked my five year old what the story of Jericho was about and her answer was “following God’s directions”. There is no scriptural support that says Jericho is about circling the promises of God until you get an answer, and I think to turn the story into an allegory like that does it a great disservice. The people of Israel had their answer before they started circling, all they had to do was obey and do this crazy thing God told them to do or face wondering in the desert for another 40 years! If Jericho is an example or a pattern we should follow why don’t we see circles elsewhere in the Bible? And if “establishes a pattern for us to follow” doesn’t sound formulaic I don’t know what does.
The fact is Honi, and Honi’s methods are not found in the Bible. There was a man in the Bible who prayed for rain, his name was Elijah. You can find the story of Elijah praying for rain in 1 Kings 18:41-46. We see no patterns or circles in this story. We find that Elijah was obeying God when he went to king Ahab and prayed for rain (1 Kings 18:1). Elijah didn’t have to circle the promise of God, he listened and obeyed when God spoke.
Mark Batterson’s Circle Making isn’t Honi’s Circle Making
The way Mark Batterson applies circle making today versus Honi’s circle making is completely different. Honi drew a circle around himself and refused to move until God answered his prayer. Batterson tells his readers and listeners to circle the promises of God, or your dreams and pray circles around them. There is no correlation except for circles. If I’m being honest, it seems like he was looking for a gimmick to sell. The correct application of the legend of Honi would be to literally draw a circle around yourself, and not leave that circle until your prayers were answered, but of course that probably wouldn’t sell very well, that would be too much like a magic circle. But if you turn the circle into an allegory that you can do in your mind or on paper and it doesn’t take any real sacrifice, that will sell in America.
If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God.
Besides twisting the story of Jericho this is probably the phrase that sets me off the most. First I would like to know where this principal is found in scripture. Jesus prayed a lot while He was here in human form on the earth. We don’t have a large record of his prayers, but we don’t see him drawing circles, or speaking of circles. Honi’s story isn’t an instruction set on how to pray, but Jesus did give us instructions on how to pray.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standingin the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
If there isn’t anything more possible for us to do on our own than get our own daily bread! Is part of Jesus’ prayer insulting to God? Why would Jesus instruct us to pray in such a simple fashion if it’s insulting to God?
Conclusion for now…
I have had an increased hunger for scripture lately, and I think it has a lot to do with hearing bad sermons preaching the word of God out of context and twisting it to fit their agenda or preconceived ideas. I think Mark Batterson does that with The Circle Maker. I want to know what the scriptures say about stuff, not what an author or preacher says. If you disagree with anything I have said in this blog please tell me why I’m wrong and use scripture. I don’t feel like this is just my opinion, I think my arguments are founded in logic and most importantly the Bible.
I have more to say, but I am out of time…