Anne Graham Lotz and Her Narcissistic Interpretation of the Transfiguration

In March 2013, Christianity Today’s (CT) opinion section, Village Green, asked “three leading Christians” the following question:

The “three leading Christians” CT approached to answer this question were Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Anne Graham Lotz and Dallas Willard. For the purposes of this post, only the response of Anne Graham Lotz will be examined.

Lotz is the daughter of ecumenical evangelist Billy Graham. She also is an author and founder of AnGeL Ministries. Like her father, she is adept at drawing large crowds and filling stadiums. Her soft, southern drawl is no doubt appealing to many women as she captivates them with her teaching.

When asked by CT which spiritual discipline needed to be renewed among American Christians, Lotz responded that Christians must learn to “listen to Jesus.” On the surface, this answer, while insufficient and misleading, is not terrible. How does one listen to Jesus? By opening God’s Word and reading it. Lotz offers this solution, but quickly begins to tread on thin ice before falling through that ice entirely:

So at least once a week I draw aside for an extended time with him.

I begin the time with prayer, acknowledging his presence and asking him to meet with me and speak to my heart in a personal way. Then I open my Bible and read just a few verses—not an entire chapter. My goal is to hear his voice speaking to me through his Word. I might read a verse such as Mark 9:2: “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.” (Source)

Indeed, to hear God speaking through His Word is the only way to hear Him. Lotz’s answer quickly becomes problematic, however, as she goes on to demonstrate the ease with which Scripture can be twisted, manipulated and wrongly interpreted once taken out of context.

Often this type of gross misinterpretation takes the form of “narcigesis,” where one incorrectly reads him or herself into the biblical text. Lotz reveals that she may be quite skilled at this practice as she continues her explanation:

After reading the text, I look for lessons to be learned from what’s taking place or being said. From Mark 9:2, I learn several things. “After six days” might imply a weekly retreat.

Actually, it is not difficult to determine what God is saying in this first part of Mark 9:2. “After six days” is not a phrase with a secret, hidden meaning that Christians throughout the centuries have had to ponder, discern and decipher. It is not an allegorical attempt by God to subliminally tell His children that they should get away for a “weekly retreat.” “After six days” means that the things that are about to be described took place six days after the events and promise in Mark 9:1. It may seem simplistic and unspiritual, but it is what a normal hermeneutic and a proper interpretation of the text demand.

Lotz continues:

“Jesus took” shows he wants to spend time with me as much as I want to spend time with him.

Again, this may seem simplistic, but “Jesus took” is followed by “with Him Peter and James and John” and it means that Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John.

“Led them up a high mountain”: It can be difficult and challenging to draw aside from the beaten path of daily responsibilities.

Lotz again wants to allegorize a small portion of this verse, turning a real and physical mountain (likely Mt. Hermon) into “the beaten path of daily responsibilities.” What this phrase is saying, however, is that Jesus took the three aforementioned disciples and . . . led them up a high mountain.

“All alone”: He wants me to give him undivided attention.

God may desire that believers offer Him their undivided attention and service, but this descriptive verse found in Mark 9:2 is not about Anne Graham Lotz. Nor is it about you or about me. It is about Jesus Christ, and the actions He took as He prepared to offer three of His disciples a glimpse of His divine glory.

Lotz, however, would prefer that Christ’s transfiguration be more about her:

“There he was transfigured before them”: He will reveal himself to me in fresh ways when I make the time and effort to draw aside with him by myself.

In a great and gracious miracle that God allowed only to be witnessed by Peter, James and John, Jesus revealed some of His divine glory to mere men. Anne Graham Lotz was not there and the purpose of God including this verse in Scripture is not so that Lotz, or you or I may turn this great transfiguration into a narcissistically interpreted application. Lotz has taken a passage about the glory of Christ and has made it about herself. This is conceited at best and blasphemous at worst.

Once I have drawn out the lessons, I reword each as a question to myself. For example, when was the last time I went on a personal retreat with Jesus? 

As I ask myself those questions, I listen for his voice to speak to me.

God did not record the occurrence of the Transfiguration so that men and women could interpret it to mean that they must go “on a personal retreat with Jesus,” a statement that does not even make much sense. Anytime God’s Word is opened and read and proclaimed, Christ is exalted. This does not require  that one be on a “personal retreat.”

Further, Lotz is unclear as to how it is that she listens “for his voice to speak” after she has improperly interpreted and inserted herself into the biblical text. Is this an audible voice? Does she continue reading the rest of the passage so that her error may become evident to her? How is God now allegedly speaking to Anne Graham Lotz? She does not say, but she does offer additional misunderstandings of the text:

The Mark passage has another lesson about time with Jesus. When Jesus, James, John, and Peter returned from their retreat, they found that the disciples who had stayed behind were frustrated and powerless to help others. Could it be that one reason the church today has not had more of an impact on our culture is that disciples are not spending time with Jesus? It’s time to “come with me by yourselves”—now.

Ms. Lotz seems to have forgotten that it was Jesus who took only three of His disciples—Peter, James and John—with Him up on the mountain. It was not merely that the others chose to stay behind because they did not want to spend time with Jesus. Jesus initiated this, not the disciples. The text is clear and it is baffling that Lotz does not understand it.

Why only these three? The MacArthur Study Bible explains what should be obvious to any student of Scripture: “As the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, these three were sometimes allowed to witness events that the other disciples were not.” These were the same three men who Jesus took to accompany him into Gethsemane as He prayed just hours before His trial and crucifixion (Mark 14:33). It is not surprising that Christ chose to reveal His divine glory before these same three men.

If this horrendous demolition of the story of the Transfiguration is indicative of Lotz’s broader teaching, then it may be wise that she be avoided by those who desire to be taught the Word of God rightly. As Pastor Mike Abendroth of Bethlehem Bible Church and No Compromise Radio has said, “Don’t spend time with Jesus hacking up the Bible with a dull machete called the Lotz Hermeneutic. Please.”

While popular Bible teacher Anne Graham Lotz appears to be unclear about the true meaning of this biblical text, the men who actually did witness the Transfiguration understood the purpose of this event. They did not view it as a “personal retreat” or getaway with Jesus. No, they knew that they had seen the divine glory and majesty of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ:

For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16–18, NASB)

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, NASB) 

Did not God Himself, at the culmination of this very event, reveal and confirm the divinity, majesty and Messiahship of Jesus Christ?

Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” (Mark 9:7, NASB)

May it be the desire of every Christian to read the Word in order that he may see Christ, not himself, and the salvation and blessings that flow from faith in Jesus alone. Like the Greeks who approached Philip, may those whom He has chosen open the pages of Scripture and declare, “we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21).

HT: No Compromise Radio

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