Bible Literacy, Single Black Christian Women & Preachers Like John Gray
A few days ago, a clip from a message that John Gray presented at the 2016 I Am Woman Conference, went viral.
In the clip Gray could be heard telling single women that you're not a wife when you get married, but when found, using Proverbs 18:22 as his proof text. "Too many women want to be married but you're walking in the spirit of girlfriend," emphatically said Gray. "And when you carry yourself like a wife, a husband will find you."
He then went on for a couple more minutes in the full message that can be found here, giving reasons as to why women could be single, how they don't need to spend two hours in the mirror putting on makeup to hide their scars, and so on. Shortly after, he quoted the creation account in Genesis from what appeared to be by memory and made several interesting comments about the nature of woman, why she was created and how she is a man with a womb.
After reading different articles in response to Gray's 2016 message, reading comments on social media accounts that reposted the video and scouring over many passages of Scripture that were presented in his original message, I came to one conclusion.
The problem with Gray's words were not only unnecessarily inflammatory to get his "encouragement" to women across, but they were by and large eisegeted, unbiblical and the Scriptures that he used were taken out of context. And to this end, many single, Black Christian women (and more) were left feeling rightly offended after seeing this message surface in 2018, due to wrongly believing that a man who claims to speak on God's behalf, is rightly representing The God of The Bible.
FOR THE LOVE OF CONTEXT
Although most of the attention that this message has been given is garnered by the comments made about single women's relationship status, I beg to argue that there was an even more important reason to be grieved.
For the sake of due diligence and wanting to make sure my writing about this message was balanced, I went on Daystar TV's website for the full length message. And to that end, I found several grieving things that we ought to consider in our critiques and disdain with what was being communicated.
Gray used several passages in The Bible to validate his points presented in his message: Proverbs 18:22 and 1 Kings 17:8-24. If one were to review the points he made using these Scriptures, they would see that after he read from the text, he then went on to try to explain the verses in such a way that he communicated more of his personal opinions and interpretations, than what the text actually was saying with respect to its original audience, historical context and what it communicated about God.
Proverbs 18:22 was used to rain down an iron clad fist of judgment on why women who long to be married, haven't yet been found because they are so called operating in a "spirit" of "girlfriend" and not that of a wife. What's interesting though, is that although Gray makes these claims based off his own idea of what this Scripture means, The Bible does not.
Proverbs 18:22 is housed in a book that is to be regarded as wisdom for the young, which presents general principles and truth, however is not to be read as an instruction manual that modern-day Believers use as prescriptive additives to apply to their lives without careful understanding. In the book of Proverbs we see this continual rhythm of wisdom versus folly, which can and does lead to knowing God by fearing (reverencing) and trusting in Him. This in turn leads to godly, abundant living.
Gray used this text to say things that simply were not there. This verse is simply highlighting a balance of human responsibility and God's divine sovereignty when it comes to marriage. Yes, it is generally and principally true that when a man finds a wife, he finds a good thing and obtains favor from The Lord. Why? Because The God, we as Christian women believe in and trust, gives good gifts as He sees fit to dispense, at the appropriate time. And it's a good thing and is favored by God, because He is the one who created and instituted the covenant of marriage in the first place. Does this mean that all single women should aspire to be wives? Nah bruh. But this does mean that the good and perfect Creator God who does all things with precision and fine tuned intentional work, will pair two together based off of His own measure of what He deems glorifying unto Himself.
So no ladies, you aren't damaged goods and the reason you are single isn't because you're carrying around some man's mystified view of holding a, "spirit of girlfriend". The Bible does not say nor allude to a woman being disqualified or incapable of being married because of her failure to act like a wife (whatever that means). It doesn't even slightly allude to an idea that you need to act like what you are not yet. It calls us to follow Christ as His disciples, to live for His glory, to submit the authority and full counsel of His inerrant Word, and to trust Him as He is the sovereign one who holds the entire reality of your existence, in His hands.
YOU ARE NOT THE "WIDOW"
In 1st Kings 17:8-24, we see a story highlighting God's faithfulness to confront idols, to bring sinners to repentance and to establish the truth of Him being the only One who has sovereign control over errrthang!
God uses the prophet Elijah to send word to King Ahab about his great sin against God in introducing to Israel the worship of the false god Baal, whom many worshipped and believed to be the god of fertility and rain. From the start until the end of chapter 17, we see God using Elijah, to remind all people that He is the only true and real God, and that although the Israelites and others had begun to worship a dead god, it was by God's hand alone, that provision and life was restored or brought unto anyone.
Which is why, God sends Elijah to Zarephath to receive food from a widow, that The Lord commanded to feed him (1 Kings. 17:8-9) We see as we further read along in the chapter, that Elijah goes to Zarephath, sees the widow gathering sticks and calls to her to bring him a drink of water and to prepare him bread. Of course the widow knowing that there is a drought in the land (that God caused), responds by saying in verse 12 that she only has a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug, which she is going to use to couple with her sticks to prepare a meal for her and her son. This is a pivotal moment that we learn of because this widow was living in a land affected by the drought. This means that she would have also been exposed to the false worship of Baal, and likely would have also believed that Baal was controlling the rain and the fertility of the people. So, for God to have commanded the widow back in verse 8 to feed Elijah, there would have been some kindness on God's behalf to reveal Himself to her and for her to speak of God in such a way, that challenged her beliefs about whom true provision and fertility came from.
As the chapter continues, God provides more than enough food to feed the widow's son, herself and Elijah in the midst of the drought and the word of The Lord that He spoke to Elijah comes to pass. Again, this is to highlight God's magnificent power and has very little to do with the widow in and of herself. Later in the chapter, the woman's son dies, and God uses Elijah to contend for the life of her son. In response, verse 22 tells us that God heard the voice of Elijah and revived the widow's son. At the end of the chapter, the widow says to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of The Lord in your mouth is truth."
Holdddddd up! God did all of that just to show who He really is versus who Israel believed Baal to be. They thought they could worship a god and God and God was not having it. All of this was done; the food making, the bread baking, the stick gathering, the death and resurrection of the widow's son, all so that we could learn and that they could learn that God is real and Baal is a phony!
Soo, why is this important? Because this is NOT what Gray taught to these impressionable women that attended his session. He used this story to talk about hope, how great women are and how you just have to be ready to receive whatever "word" God has for you in this season. While some of what he was saying could generally be true, he could not and should not have used this passage of Scripture to drive his point home. This text is about exalting the true God of Israel, not a basis for which we can falsely encourage women using out of context Scripture.
At the 1:08:22 mark of Gray's message, he says that it was The Devil that caused her son to die. But with proper exegesis as we did above, and considering the entire historical background of 1st Kings, we see that The God of Israel was displaying to those in Zaraphath and beyond, that Baal didn't have true authority over rain and fertility, but God alone. That is the reason why God provides food (authoritative over rain) and raises the widow's son from death (to display His power over death aka fertility aka come on somebody!). This text is again about the exaltation of a faithful God, not the widow.
And as much as Gray wanted the women in attendance at that conference to believe that this story was about them and how resourceful they are and how hopeful they are and how God was going to send them an overflow, it wasn't. Why? Because The Bible says so.
BLACK SINGLES & BIBLE LITERACY
For so long, single, Black Christian women have been targeted by some interesting "shepherds".
They talk of marriage and singleness and love as if the entire onus should be placed on the woman to be this perfect option for a man, who needs you to do all the work so he can find you prim, proper and saved. But what about the responsibility on the man? Do you see how many of these workshops, webinars, books and the like unfairly critique single women as if they are an auction item that needs to get sold to the highest bidder? Do you notice that there is an alarming amount of male voices speaking on the single, Black Christian woman's relationship status and heart state?
They make claims to care about leading God's flock of sheep, yet it is often hard to decipher whether or not they're truly genuine or just wolves wearing prayer shawls and fancy robes.
As an engaged single who has largely seen the effect of the fallout of the projection of the idolatry of marriage onto single women, to witnessing the pain that comes along with it, I believe it all starts and ends with Bible literacy.
When we know the true and Christ-exalting context of a Scripture, we won't fall for the out of context jabs and false encouragements from preachers who don't carefully handle God's Word. The cloud of shame doesn't rest upon a learned woman who knows her Bible rightly. It rests solely upon a worker who is to be ashamed because he has not rightly divided The Word of Truth (2 Tim. 2:15). While I wholeheartedly believe that those who are teaching error should be held accountable for actions and doctrine, I also believe that we have a responsibility as God's daughters, to fight back with truth.
God has given us the 66 canonical books of The Old and New Testaments, to stand on, to search for right knowledge of Him, to learn of how to live our lives in accordance to who He is, and to learn how to practically apply what we know to our lives properly. We don't have to look anywhere else but there, for guidance on matters pertaining to life and godly living. I don't care who has a conference, a podcast, a book or a platform with a heavy speaker fee. God has given us His Word and we must know it to know truth. How will we know when preachers like John Gray are missing the mark? How will we know when to reject the way in which a passage in The Bible is being wrongly taught to us, if we don't know the proper context? How will we block out offense from people who we know are dead wrong, if we don't look to the One who is LIVING and RIGHT?
God's Word is LIVING and ACTIVE (Heb. 4:12). We can count on His Word to last forever and never get it wrong. Will you, single, Black, Christian woman, commit to drowning out sub-par voices with God's Word? Will you make it a point to study diligently so that you can help your other Sisters who have fallen prey to those who could care less about your right understanding of The Bible? Because the truth is, no matter how many congregants a preacher has, how many YouTube views, or how many book sales, if it ain't Biblical, it ain't healthy. And if it ain't Biblical and healthy, you don't need it.
PREACHERS LIKE JOHN GRAY
Whenever someone's favorite preacher or teacher is brought into the spotlight for analysis, common retorts in response are:
- "You don't know them!"
- "I go to their church and s/he only preaches The Bible and Truth!"
- "That was only an excerpt! Listen to the whole message! You can't judge a pastor or message by a clip!"
(Which I did by the way. Link is in the beginning of this article.)
- "Touch not God's anointed!"
But, might I add, this is not the first offense. John Gray regularly teaches The Bible out of context, while coupling it with great theatrical stories and humor that leaves his audiences with their hearts softened and Berean guards down (watch any of his messages on YouTube). I believe that because of his charisma, funny personality, great singing voice and all around "big brother" persona, many people, especially women feel comfortable with pretty much anything he says, because they trust him. Even if it is to the detriment of Scripture being wrongly taught, God being less exalted, The Gospel being hidden and women being falsely encouraged.
Truth is ladies, this is BIGGER than John Gray, for there are even more preachers, just like him. They can lead us to smile, laugh, cry, shout, run, dance, praise, lift our hands in worship, yet steer us further away from the truth of God's Word. And that's the scary part because we willingly let them into our homes, onto our bookshelves, playing through our earbuds and marking up our bank statements from merch purchases.
Ladies, this is about our growth, sanctification and spiritual maturation as disciples of Jesus. We cannot continue to give traction to preachers like this, to go on and continue to push us further away from Bible literacy, trusting God's sovereignty over our love lives and commitment to truth. Some of us sit in churches with pastors like this every week, feeling lost yet encouraged, but press on forward because we think that it as good as God gets.
We talk about overflow a lot in the church today. God increasing your portion and giving you more! Well, what if the "more" you're tithing so hard for, is found in rightly knowing your Bible? What if the "more" you're seeking at every conference you attend, is found in experiencing healthy community in a Bible-teaching and Gospel-centered local church? What if the "more" and "overflow" that you want, is simply just knowing The God of The Bible and all that He has done? Because the world wants you to believe it's found in the accumulation of things and books and podcasts and dollar signs. But God shows us through stories like 1st Kings 17, that the "more" that we're looking for isn't found in these things, but solely in worshiping the God of Israel as He has commanded, because He is so worthy of it and He is sovereign over all of our idols.
Will you consider prayerfully who it is that you are allowing to influence your thinking and doctrine? We cannot continue to leave guards down for future generations of Black Christian women to fall into the gaps that we can close right now.
How do we do it? We live by Scripture and DIE by Scripture. We test everything according to The Word of God. We revisit and relearn where necessary and challenge our long-held beliefs concerning who God is and what His Word says, even if we grew up another way. We spend regular time in The Bible, seeking to study the proper context, challenging ourselves to learn who God is first and not ourselves, and plug ourselves into healthy local churches where pastors are rightly dividing the Word of Truth and proclaiming The Gospel message!
And because I love each and every person reading this so much, whether you agree or disagree, I want to leave some resources below to aid you in your study of The Bible! Below are a list of trusted pastors and sites that are committed to helping you rightly divide the Word of Truth! Happy Studies!
● Women of The Word by Jen Wilkin
● How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stewart
● How To Read The Bible Book By Book by Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stewart
● Nine Marks Of A Healthy Church by Mark Dever
HELP! I need to find a new church!
Recommended Faithful Preachers & Teachers
● Thabiti Anyabwile of Anacostia River Church | Washington, D.C.
● Anthony Carter of East Point Church | East Point, GA
● HB Charles Jr of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church | Jacksonville, FL
● Charlie Dates of Progressive Baptist Church | Chicago, IL
● John Onwuchekwa of Cornerstone Church | Atlanta, GA
● Eric Mason of Epiphany Fellowship | Philadelphia, PA
● Leonce Crump of Renovation Church | Atlanta, GA
● R. C. Sproul | Ligonier Ministries
Author's Note: However you stumbled across my little crop circle lot of the Internet, welcome! In writing this article, I have been very prayerful and have held God's Word closely to my four eyes (I wear glasses and contacts), to ensure that what I am articulating here is careful, sharpening and causes whomever reads, to run to God's Word for truth. In my assessments and points covered within this article, please understand that these topics are all around vast and cannot be made into an exhaustive coverage of all possible angles and viewpoints. I acknowledge that and hope that all thoughts, feelings, and tweets (uh oh) are centered around what I have written, and not anything else. If you feel that I could've better covered a specific point in this article, by all means, feel free to leave a comment or take it a step further and write about what you felt needed more nuance, using your creative outlet of choice.
Finally, it is/was my goal and aim to write this article with the full intention and purpose to bring light to the power of Bible literacy among Christian women, specifically those of minority groups, and to challenge us all, on reassessing those who call themselves preachers of The Gospel, and the influence we allow them to have in our lives. Soli Deo Gloria!