Joyce Meyer is Not a Heretic
Ten years ago, I sat on my zebra-patterned comforter and cried my eyes out. My laptop was open, and Joyce Meyer was speaking about what it means to have a new identity in Christ. I'd been a Christian for years, but it wasn't until that moment, as Meyer spoke about forgiveness and redemption, that I realized the gift Jesus had given me. (I wish I could find that particular teaching, but she has produced hundreds of hours of content.)
I'd spent the last year and a half dating an abusive young man who'd convinced me I was worthless. He derided everything that made up my identity at the time -- my intellect, my looks, my family, my friends, my politics, and my weak faith. When that didn't break me down enough, he'd hit me or try to strangle me, then cry and beg for forgiveness afterward. I let this happen repeatedly because 1) I was less emotionally mature than I thought I was, 2) I didn't want my friends and family to know I was being so easily manipulated by a boy, and 3) his approval was a temporary little idol that distracted me from my deeper longing to be approved of by God.
When my relationship with him finally came to screeching, God-orchestrated halt, I spent the next few months in a depressed daze. Somehow, I found Joyce Meyer Ministries on the internet. At the time, my thoughts about God were limited to sporadic Bible reading and church sermons that failed to keep my attention, so Meyer's simple style was refreshing and easy to follow as a seventeen year old girl with a broken heart. More than anything, I needed to learn how to overcome abuse and center my thoughts on my Christian identity, and her teachings planted important seeds that others would later water and weed.
Many people don't know Joyce Meyer's testimony despite it being widely available. It's both disturbing and powerful. At the age of five, her father began molesting her, and he continued to do so into her teenage years, on a weekly scheduled basis, until she finally moved out of her parents' house at age eighteen. Her mother knew about the abuse and pretended it wasn't happening. Despite growing up in such a horrific environment, Meyer heard the gospel when she was nine years old and became a Christian. Another nine years would pass with her praying desperately for her father to be killed, or arrested, or just to stop. He didn't. Still, somehow, she kept her small flame of faith burning.
There's a reason Joyce Meyer's ministry is very popular with inmates, prostitutes, and victims of sexual abuse. She has experienced firsthand what's it like to be trapped and exploited by someone -- someone who, in her case, was supposed to love and protect her more than anyone else. Today, she doesn't claim to know "why" God lets abuse happen, but she is emphatic that God can use any kind of twisted evil for unimaginable good.
Sadly, the next chapter of her story was also marred by pain. Though she managed to escape from her father, she married the first man who expressed any interest in her, and he abused her. As a young divorcee and single mother, she developed thicker skin, deeper bitterness, and the firm expectation that she would always be treated cruelly -- until she met Dave Meyer, her future husband. If you've listened to her for any length of time, you probably know one of her favorite stories. Shortly before meeting Joyce, Dave had prayed, "Lord, I'm ready to get married. Send me someone who needs a lot of help."
Her marriage to Dave began a long and difficult journey of transformation. Dave was a faithful Christian who encouraged her to read her Bible, attend studies, volunteer at their church, and pray, but they butted heads often. Meyer would learn through numerous painful conflicts that not everyone wanted to control her or hurt her. Over time, she would cultivate a real love for reading scripture. She would start studies for women that would become so popular that fifty people would cram themselves into her living room to listen to her speak. She began to write her thoughts and insights down, which would later become the outlines for her many books. She would take any and every opportunity, no matter how small, to teach people who wanted to learn from her. I know all of this because I listened to her almost daily for over a year, and I've read at least three of her books.
I'll clear up one misconception here: if you listen to Meyer for any significant length of time, you will hear the gospel preached -- that people are miserable sinners and that Jesus died on the cross so we could be forgiven of our sins and live full lives reconciled to God. She affirms this message repeatedly and unashamedly.
That’s why I was surprised to learn years after I discovered her that many people believe she is a heretic. Never in all my years of listening to her had I heard anything that I'd call heresy. She believes in the Trinity. She believes that Jesus was immaculately conceived and that He is the son of God. She believes that He was crucified and rose from the dead. And unlike many popular, progressive “Christian” teachers, she believes that the only way to be saved from sin and hell is by accepting Christ as your savior.
She doesn’t explicitly teach all of those in every sermon, nor does she always articulate them well, but those are her stated beliefs. I also think it’s worth noting that many of her alleged heresies are from one book that she wrote in 1993 and a few short, clipped recordings from her decades-long career of public speaking. It seems fairly obvious to me that most of these statements are simply misunderstandings rather than any intentional attempt on Meyer's part to teach something contrary to scripture. I cannot say the same for teachers like Rob Bell and Glennon Doyle.
Perhaps the most inspiring part of Meyer's testimony is how she treated her father in the later years of his life when he became very ill and needed expensive care. Given the vile way he'd treated her for most of her life, most people would not blink at the idea of Meyer shunning him and leaving him to die a painful death. Understandably, that's what she wanted to do.
However, she discerned that God wanted her to extend kindness to him and her mother. Certainly not because they deserved it, but because it was in His character to be kind to the worst of sinners, and He'd been cultivating His character in her for decades. Meyer obeyed such a hard command -- to love her enemy, her father -- and bought him a nice house, hired in-home care, and shared the gospel with him. Shortly before his death, he accepted the saving grace of Jesus Christ because of the powerful witness of his daughter.
I do realize that there are many valid criticisms of Joyce Meyer. She spends a lot of money on clothes and homes and transportation. Her teachings have sometimes veered into dangerous territories (something she's admitted.) She has spoken too carelessly about weighty theological issues on more than one occasion. Her sales strategies have not always been above reproach. She claims the title of "pastor." I won't defend any of these things, but I will strongly defend her against the accusation that she is not a true believer.
Joyce Meyer is a Christian. Imperfect but sincere.
The reason why I will defend her is because it is too far-fetched for me to think that these criticisms amount to the charge of heresy, especially when weighed against the staggering fruit of her faith. My strengthened faith is one of those fruits. Her father's conversion is one of the fruits. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been blessed by the words and actions of Joyce Meyer. Not by all of her words or all of her actions, but, given the circumstances of her life, she has given extraordinary hope to people when they needed it the most.
Statistically speaking, she should be drug-addicted, in prison, or dead, but she is alive and well and still sharing the gospel at seventy-six years old. It is difficult to imagine that many of her critics would accomplish what she has if forced to grow their faith in the same set of circumstances. Meyer herself will attest that the only reason she was able to overcome her ruined childhood was because of the overwhelming grace of God.
I'll end here by admitting that Joyce Meyer is not the most sophisticated Bible teacher you'll ever listen to. In fact, depending on your stage of life and stage of faith, her short, snappy sermonettes may do very little for you, or nothing at all. You might find them corny, or shallow, or redundant. That is fine. Personally, I don't listen to her anymore. Not because I love her any less, but because I'm ready to learn more. But there is no denying that she planted seeds that needed to grow.
I only hope that you will consider the overwhelming evidence of God's grace and power in her life -- the result of a tiny seed of faith she received when she was nine years old. She is an imperfect person who God has used in extraordinary ways, and that is something to which any honest Christian should aspire.