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The Circle Maker – Take heed that no man deceive you – Part I

Mark Batterson is a colorful and imaginative writer and pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C. Batterson is the author of The Circle Maker, a bestselling book that promotes the practice of praying in circles that has become widely accepted in American evangelical churches. People are taught to draw circles around the things they want, or even to walk in circles around the things they are sure the Lord ought to grant them. Whether walking or drawing circles, circle makers are to pray for those things they have circled and in that way claim them for the Lord.

Batterson’s idea of prayer circles came from a story of the life of Honi Ha-Ma’agel, a Jewish scholar who supposedly lived in the first century B.C. During one year in Honi’s life in the land of Israel it was well into winter and God had not sent rain. Honi drew a circle in the dust, stood inside it, and informed God that he would not move until it rained. God responded to Honi’s demands and sent rain.[1] From this story Batterson conceived the idea of prayer circles, but Batterson’s prayer circles are drawn from a tradition not found in the Bible.

For discerning Christians, the most troubling portions of the book are found in the first three chapters. It is here that Batterson’s words appear to apply a one-size-fits-all technique to that facet of prayer in which one asks God to supply various needs and wants. It is only in the occasional “fine print” found in the remaining chapters that Batterson attempts to explain and refine the circle making technique of prayer which (at least partially) diminishes the hyperboles and false theology introduced in those first three chapters.

The problem is that the first three chapters are the attention-getting headlines while the occasional mitigating explanations, corrections, and retractions are relegated to the back chapters of the book. Because a majority of professing Christians in this modern, attention-deficit age are biblically illiterate or have embraced apostasy altogether, they are satisfied with Batterson’s bait which tickles their ears while ignoring the meat of the word. Once hooked, they readily embrace the concept of circle making prayers but have little time or desire to plumb the depths and understand the nuances of what the Bible has to say about prayer.

Prayers centered around circle making often become a convenient shortcut, a magical “open sesame” that must unfailingly bring about a desired end. This error is compounded when
abbreviated editions and children’s versions of The Circle Maker are used because they do not even contain the occasional back-of-the-book “fine print” necessary to amend a few of the many hyperboles and false doctrines found therein. For many circle makers, prayers that require drawing circles become little more than a talisman drawn to bring good fortune.

The Apostle Paul specifically warned Timothy against teachers promoting false doctrines and legends.

As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. [1Timothy 1:3-7. KJV] [emphasis added]

Fables

Paul said Christians must not give heed to fables, but this is exactly what Batterson is doing by linking Honi and circle making prayers with the Bible. However, Honi and circle making prayers do not appear in the Bible.

Batterson discovered the story of Honi in The Book of Legends contained in the Talmud and Midrash. These teachings of Jewish rabbis were passed down orally from generation to generation. The Talmud has two basic components: the Mishnah which is a compendium of Judaism’s Oral Law first written about AD 200; and the Gemara first written about AD 500 and which is a rabbinical discussion of the Mishnah and related writings and the Midrashwhich is a compilation of Jewish oral tradition and commentaries on the Mosaic Law.”[2] Thus, we see that the legend of Honi first appeared in written form about 500 to 600 years after the events in the story of Honi were supposed to have occurred.

Paul explains why men turn from sound doctrine to embrace fables taught by false teachers.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. [2 Timothy 4:34. KJV]

False doctrine and false teaching

One example of false doctrine is found where Batterson quotes a pastor of one of the largest churches in Seoul, Korea. The pastor said, “God does not answer vague prayers.” According to Batterson, he was so convicted by this statement that it changed the way he prayed.[3] But the Korean pastor’s statement is blatantly teaching a false doctrine which is disputed by two accounts in the New Testament.

First, a sincere prayer from one of God’s children will not be rejected just because of its lack of precision in verbalizing their prayers. God knows the heart of His children even when they can’t articulate their needs with clarity. Our prayers are a matter of faith and not just words. We need only look to Matthew’s gospel for the example of the woman with an issue of blood.

And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. [Matthew 9:20-22. KJV]

We find a second example in the book of Romans when the Apostle spoke of praying in the Spirit about things we know not.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. [Romans 8:26. KJV]

These two prayers were beyond being vague to the point of silence or groanings which cannot be uttered. But if we accept the Korean pastor’s dismissive rebuke, those two prayers would not have been answered because they lack definition and clarity. Yet, Matthew gospel says, “…for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. [Matthew 6:8. KJV]

Even though Batterson agrees with the Korean pastor’s position on vague prayers on page 27 of The Circle Maker, he totally contradicts himself on page 85.

The viability of our prayers is not contingent on scrabbling the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet into the right combinations like abracadabra. God already knows the last punctuation mark before we pronounce the first syllable. The viability of our prayers has more to do with intensity than vocabulary.[4]

Batterson’s statements and claims such as these reflect the carelessness, hyperbole, poetic license, misinterpretation of the meaning of scripture, and outright biblical error that is prevalent throughout The Circle Maker.

In a second example, Batterson’s false teaching even extends to imparting various character traits, motives, and desires to God that He apparently forgot to include in the Bible.

God must love the game of chicken because He plays it with us all the time. He has a habit of waiting until the very last moment to answer our prayer to see if we will chicken out or pray through.[5] [emphasis in original]

Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less. If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God. He is offended by anything less. If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God.[6] [emphasis in original]

And He [Jesus] must have felt a special closeness to his father when He hiked mountains and walked beaches. He gravitated to those places because proximity is an important part of prayer, but it goes beyond geography; I think it also has to do with genealogy.[7]

A third example of Batterson’s false teaching includes changing the words and meaning of scripture.

I’m sure Honi the circle maker prayed in a lot of different ways at a lot of different times…But when he needed to pray through, he drew a circle and dropped to his knees. His inspiration for the prayer circle was Habakkuk. He simply did what the prophet Habakkuk had done: “I will stand upon my watch, and station me within a circle.”[8] [emphasis added]

Batterson is referring to Habakkuk 2:1 which was supposed to be Honi’s inspiration for the prayer circle.

I will stand upon my watch and set me upon the tower and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved. [Habakkuk 2:1. KJV]

I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. [Habakkuk 2:1. NIV]

Habakkuk was a prophet who was questioning God about how he could use Babylon, a nation more wicked than Judah, to execute His judgement. Habakkuk stood at his watch station awaiting God’s answer and to consider his response.[9] When we examine these and other translations, there is no mention of a circle or Habakkuk dropping to his knees and praying through. These are merely fabrications and embellishments used to support the false doctrine of prayer circles.
______

In Part I, we have found significant evidence that the Word of God has been mixed with fables and false doctrines in The Circle Maker. In Part II, we will examine evidence of misinterpretation of the scriptures, positive confession/prosperity gospel philosophies, and witchcraft in the teachings of The Circle Maker.

Larry G. Johnson

Sources:

[1] Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2011, 2016), pp. 11-13.
[2] “Torah versus Talmud?” Ask the Rabbi, http://www.aish.com/atr/Torah_versus_Talmud.html (accessed August 23, 2017).
[3] Batterson, The Circle Maker, p. 27.
[4] Ibid., p. 85.
[5] Ibid., p. 111.
[6]Ibid, p. 15.
[7] Ibid., p. 158.
[8] Ibid., p. 159.
[9] Donald C. Stamps, Commentary on Habakkuk 1:1-17, 2:1, The Full Life Study Bible, King James Version, ed. Donald C. Stamps, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1990), p. 1608.

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