Heresy-neutics: A Review of “Destined To Win” by Kris Vallotton
Destined To Win: How To Embrace Your God-Given Identity And Realize Your Kingdom Purpose
The endorsements alone are enough to warrant a “Warning: Heretical & Hermeneutical Danger Ahead” notice on its cover. With glowing endorsements from the likes of “apostle” Mike Bickle, Jesus Culture founder Banning Liebscher, Ted Dekker, Che Ahn, Heidi Baker, and Shawn Bolz, there is little doubt that Destined To Win is borne of a “wide path” false theology. Add the obligatory laudation from Vallotton’s cohort in charlatanry, Bill Johnson – whom Vallotton compares to Moses – and the assurance that the book will distort and defile the truth of God is more manifest than fake Holy Ghost gold dust blowing through Bethel Church’s air ducts.
Kris Vallotton, the author of this “everything God does is about you” tome, is the “senior associate leader of Bethel Church and co-founder of Bethel School of Ministry, where he has served with Bill Johnson for more than three decades.” This just goes to prove that one can spend decades in the “Jesus biz,” presumably surrounded by Bibles, (serving primarily as visual aids to prop up the “Christianized” illusion of Bethel’s otherwise heretical endeavors) and still not apprehend Biblical truth. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” (John 3:7)
Oh, and it is noteworthy that the book’s bio makes references to the “Bethel School of Ministry” when actually it’s the “Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.” It’s where, if you’re devoid of authentic Christian doctrinal understanding, you go to be anointed and receive an “impartation” in order to heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. I’m not sure if “grave-sucking” – for which Bethel is notorious – is part of the core curricula or if it’s an a la carte elective. Anway, the book curiously downplays the “supernatural” element and adjective to Vallotton and Bethel’s frolics in falsehood.
Another – perhaps surprising – endorsement comes from Eric Metaxas, the Greek Orthodox, Yale-graduated author of some recent, more mainstream books of a Christian slant. (His bio on Bonhoeffer won a Christian Book of the Year award) He may have been tapped with an invite to endorse in order to give Vallotton and Bethel a more cultured, dignified, mainstream appeal.
“Vallotton’s faith is contagious. That’s the point. Read this book and catch it.” Eric Metaxas
Frankly, if you’re a believer, you’d be safer waltzing into a CDC ebola biohazard lab in your birthday suit than to risk catching any of Bethel’s toxic spiritual microbes. What was it our Lord said? “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) Spiritually cavorting with the toxins of Vallotton may not kill your body, and though the subtle incubation period of Bethel’s lethal virus may seem temporally-appealing, the full-blown contagion is eternally terminal.
Consider Mark Batterson’s endorsement. You know Batterson from circle-praying false-teaching fame. He said, “Destined To Win gives readers a proactive plan to deal with the true, deep needs of their souls.” Well clearly, the capacity for discernment from a guy who actually believes that Christianizing spirit-summoning prayer techniques from the world of witchcraft are legitimate ought not require much Berean examination to be summarily dismissed. Following Batterson’s method, you end up with an unbiblical technique that leaves the “circle” of truth broken, shattered, and its practitioners spiritually comatose. Little wonder he’s endorsed a book that offers much the same fare.
Vollotton’s book opens with a Foreword penned by pastrix and fellow Bethel charlatan Lisa Bevere. Well … it was possibly penned by her. She promotes some sort of Holy Spirit automatic writing so it’s possible that she’s claimed somewhere that she actually didn’t write it. But, given the glowing words it contains, it’s a certainty that the Holy Spirit didn’t automatically – or accidentally – write it. God does not use charlatans to endorse charlatans, nor does He do it Himself. Had the Holy Spirit actually aided Bevere, His Words would doubtlessly have had a much more first-century, Biblical ring to them … something more like … “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” (2 Timothy 4:3)
(Just a rabbit trail here before proceeding. While this may be common sense to many folks, I’ve encountered many who don’t do it. Pay close attention to who is endorsing a book. I generally will read every endorsement before I’ll even read the dust-jacket or back-cover synopsis of the book. If a single known false teacher – or, as in this case, enough of them to make a baseball team – endorses a book, then it most surely ought to be avoided. Charlatans are not asked to endorse the works of Biblically responsible authors,and vice-versa. You’ll not find a toothy-grinned Osteen giving a gleaming review on a work of John MacArthur. And you won’t find R. C. Sproul endorsing Jesus Calling. It’s a useful practice to employ in order to avoid unhelpful books by unfamiliar authors.)
IF THE ENDORSEMENTS DON’T WARN YOU OFF, THE MAN-CENTERED THEOLOGY SHOULD
The modern superficial Christian church echoes so much of the post-modernism of culture around it (or, more correctly and more often, that culture isn’t just echoed, it’s invited in to “take a pew and enjoy the show.”) It disregards absolute truth. It doesn’t do the diligent work to comprehend, teach, and preach what accords with sound doctrine, instead opting to promote the popular, the appealing, and all things that tend to fill pews, sell books, and keep coffers brimming. It’s far more important for the church to have hipster appeal in a Youtube video than it is for it to offer the faith-maturing truth of God’s Word for the souls of authentic sheep. Such is the case with anything coming out of Bethel Church.
Though the superficial church has largely jettisoned adherence to any absolutes of Biblical doctrine, Vallotton’s book hawks the one persistent, but false, absolute that remains ecclesiastically pervasive. What is that one absolute? That nothing in all of creation is more important than you. That God wakes up every morning fixated on how to make your dreams, hopes, and desires come to fruition. That He wants to you be actualized, to be anointed, to be imparted some supernatural empowerment to achieve your dreams.
“God is all about you! I don’t mean you are all He has; I just mean you are His favorite.” Kris Vallotton
Scripture, though, teaches a rather different exalted One.
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” God the Father, Matthew 17:5
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Paul, writing of the “beloved Son,” Romans 11:36
But Destined To Win is less high-pressure with its emphasis on the supernatural than Vollotton’s previous tomes. (He’s currently got 20 titles listed on the Bethel Church store website.) This latest volume doesn’t carry the same charismatic tone as, say, Developing A Supernatural Life: A Practical Guide To A Life of Signs, Wonders, and Miracles. Published in 2007, the marketing hype for that book proposed to find Vallotton reaching “into God’s arsenal” to equip the reader with supernatural weapons that will “catapult you into your divine destiny.”
His 2016 volume, Heavy Rain, finds Vallotton offering “guidance and inspiration … to become a vessel that catches the downpour of the Spirit’s rain – and helps release God’s Kingdom like a flood.” The 2014 text by Vallotton, Basic Training For the Prophetic Ministry, is hawked as a resource to help “all believers to operate in prophetic ministry.” In it, one will presumably “learn the languages of God and hear His voice like never before,” how to “discover and develop your prophetic gifts,” as he helps one to “step out and confidently share words of knowledge, wisdom, and prophecy.”
Though he has certainly not recanted the charismatic false teachings from his earlier books, Vollotton has toned them down in Destined To Win. You’ll still find such notions as anointing, impartation, and Holy Spirit “gifts” mentioned throughout the text. Yet their mentions are subtle but no less dangerously toxic to authentic faith. The book maintains more muted undercurrents of NAR dominionist theology (God’s kingdom being made manifest on earth by your God-empowered success) as well as a smattering of the “little gods” teaching from the prosperity gospel. Shades of covetousness for the supernaturally miraculous are persistent in the book, unlike the importance of sound doctrine which is absent.
“I dream of a day when the people of God are so filled with the Spirit of God that by the Word of God we calm storms, stop earthquakes and reconcile warring nations. I envision a time not too far into the future when tens of millions of believers unleash heaven wherever they go and thereby shift the atmospheres of nations.” Kris Vallotton
Destined To Win is much like a plagiarized and expanded outline of power point slides from a rah-rah, pump-you-up, you-can-do-it self-help pep rally from some soap-selling pyramid scheme seminar. It’s alleged to be a “how-to” book on getting “actualized” (a New Age notion, perhaps, but not a Biblical one), to operate as a leader in your divine capacity in God’s kingdom.
Vallotton gives an inane evidence for why God wants you – and everyone else – to understand that “You are destined to win!”
“We don’t have eyes in the backs of our heads,” he says, “because we weren’t designed to back up, retreat, or lose ground.” “Our arms were created to only work in front of us,” he writes and, “our feet point forward and are incapable of swiveling rearward.” What’s all this anatomical reality mean? “It’s all a sign of our Creator’s desire for us to gain ground and to live successful, productive lives. God is our rear guard and we are to face forward.”
God is our rear guard? Jesus never taught that. In fact, far from even implying that “God’s got your back,” he said the exact opposite, “Follow me.” (Matthew 8:22, Matthew 9:9, Matthew 19:21, Mark 1:17, Mark 10:21, Luke 5:27, John 1:43, John 21:22) Not only that, but Jesus clarified “follow me” even further: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24) Now that’s worrisome. How am I supposed to have my “best life now” a la Vallotton if, according to Jesus, I might be dead? Somebody’s wrong … and it is not the Son of God.
“I long to see people fully actualized in a way that causes them to embrace their God-given identities and fulfill their divine purpose.” Kris Vallotton
In order to achieve your destiny, posits Vallotton, you must realize that you can only accomplish the task – be actualized in it – by
knowing who your peeps are. You’re the leader and your identity, your divine destiny, is tied to your followers. “It’s impossible to escape the fact that our destinies lie in our people,” writes Vallotton. Elsewhere he says that “you can’t find your purpose until you have found your people, because your ultimate purpose is in your people!” By comparison, the Apostle Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ.” (Philippians 1:21)
SCRIPTURE IS CITED, BUT HERESY-NEUTICS IS APPLIED
To substantiate this claim with Scripture – which itself is not heralded as the place for a believer to go to find their purpose – Vallotton, citing Acts 9:27, says, “Think about it: would Paul have become an apostle if Barnabas hadn’t ‘taken hold of him’ when he was still young in the faith?”
This fails the basic rule of hermeneutics: context rules. Barnabas was “taking hold” of Paul AFTER the Lord’s dramatic interruption of his Damascus road trek. By the time Barnabas took hold of him, Paul (then Saul) had already been chosen by the risen Lord. Barnabas was merely taking him to the Jerusalem disciples who were wary of the well-known former persecutor of the Way. Barnabas testified on Paul’s behalf, but Barnabas’ actions didn’t “make” Paul an apostle. The Lord had already chosen him. But this contextual fact was in the way of Vallotton’s narrative.
No doubt it’s this sort of disregard for “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15)– consistent throughout the book – that prompts Vallotton to suggest that the work of the Holy Spirit might more appropriately be credited to Barnabas:
“It’s possible that Barnabas inspired Paul to write as many as thirteen books of the Bible.” Kris Vallotton
Possible encouragement aside, Paul did not write because of Barnabas; he wrote because the Holy Spirit prompted him to.
But Barnabas didn’t pose the only hermeneutical challenge for Vallotton. So did the “heart.” In the book’s second chapter, the author proceeds to lay out the solution to all the ills of the world, and a truth necessary for us to succeed. He says, “I am convinced that wars would cease, crime would plummet, divorce would diminish, and immorality would fall if the human race just experienced these three words: you are loved!”
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5
Vallotton’s not merely hyping Arminianistic salvation here. He’s towing with a twist the “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” false gospel. He’s promoting a sort of universalism in which the depravity of man suddenly vanishes not because of Gospel-born regeneration, but if and when the “truth” of God’s love “stored in their heads” makes the “eighteen-inch journey to their hearts.” Citing Proverbs 3:5, Vallotton states that “I am convinced that your heart can take you places your head can never go.”
“‘Mind’ and ‘spirit’ in man communicate with one another. It is a false dichotomy contrary to the scriptural teaching about man that suggests that man’s ‘spirit’ (pneuma) is an irrational, purely emotional aspect of man, while his ‘mind’ (nous) refers to his reasoning abilities.” O. Palmer Robertson, The Final Word
This false – but culturally and ecclesiastically prevalent – dichotomy of heart and mind may be dismissed to read further what is being posited. Referring to the verse from Proverbs, Vallotton asks, “Did you just notice the wisest man in the world clearly said that we must trust God with our hearts, not our heads? In fact, he went on to say that we shouldn’t put a lot of weight on what we understand.” We can be certain that Vallotton’s gleaning from Proverbs is completely erroneous because the Holy Spirit who inspired Scripture never inspired anything in it that is self-refuting, as the Apostle Paul does with Vallotton’s interpretation. Writing to the Colossians, Paul emphasized learning and knowing and understanding as paramount to faith, not thoughtless, heart-driven emotionalism.
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” Colossians 1:9-10
But Vollotton is somewhat of a Proverb-ial bi-polar. Some 70 pages later he cites another Proverb that refutes the very “follow your heart” point he made earlier: “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered.” (Proverbs 28:26)
In providing a “guide” to help readers achieve their God-given destinies, which can only be found once they’ve found their “people,” Vallotton takes a different tack on an age old technique of Biblical interpretation. Instead of hermeneutics, you might consider what he does more akin to heresy-neutics. Vallotton doesn’t encourage readers to play Bible roulette, randomly opening Scripture, pointing to a verse, and interpreting it as a valid, imminent revelation for their lives. He’s not suggesting random verse-plucking for personal gain. Instead, he recommends parable-plucking.
“Discovering which descriptions of the Kingdom you most resonate with and then finding others who resonate with the same aspects of the Kingdom will help you find your people,” he writes. “I suggest you reread all the parables of Jesus in light of this revelation and pay attention to the ones you relate to the most.”
Well, charlatans for centuries have been doing this very thing with Scripture. (Rome, for example, has constructed a massive religious empire through this practice.) It’s been treated as a self-help smorgasbord of pithy witticisms ever since the canon was closed. Convenient, personally embraceable nuggets of Scriptural wisdom are often subjectively selected and placed on the cafeteria tray of our preferential beliefs, while the more difficult, unpalatable lessons from the Word are left untouched (and often unserved by the attendant pastors of the church who prefer to offer only a menu of nutrition-void, Scriptural feel-good food to their “flocks.”) Vallotton does the same here. Find what you like, embrace that, find like-minded folks, and skip the rest.
Vallotton serves up various parables as examples of how someone might search for clues to their divine purpose through resonating characteristics from within the parables. He cites Matthew 13:33, the parable of the leaven, as examples of people “hidden in society” who are “doing ordinary things in extraordinary ways.” Their “good works” are “secretly causing society to rise.” If you resonate with this, you must find others who also want to be “stealthy in society” as cultural influencers.
Perhaps you’re more attracted to Matthew 13:45-46, the story of the merchant who found a pearl of great value and who sold all he had to acquire it. That could mean you are a risk-taker. “Maybe the risk-taker in you connects with a Kingdom that has embarked on an exhilarating and dangerous journey…”
Or maybe you’re more the “fishers of men” type, exhibited in Matthew 13:47. “Does your soul long to capture the hearts of people and inspire them to join the kingdom of heaven? … Then there is a strong possibility that these desires should guide your destiny.” Yet “maybe you relate more to the business side of God,” suggests Vallotton, who cites Matthew 20:1. “As the Lord unfolds the parable of the landowner, the challenges of his business, and the descriptions of his employees, you find yourself basking in His insights and wondering at his wisdom. If this is true about you, then these aspirations are signs that you may have found your people.”
“Take care then how you hear” Jesus, Luke 8:18
This technique for identifying your personal “resonances” with Scripture, to thus be enabled to seek your like-minded peeps in order to find your destiny, graphically violates the apostle’s admonition to Timothy to “rightly handle” Scripture. It fails to heed the Lord’s warning to “take care then how you hear.”
The parables of Jesus are fundamentally intended to convey profound spiritual truth. As John MacArthur writes, “Parables are not to be mined for layer upon layer of secret significance. Their lessons are simple, focused, and without much embellishment.” “If it seems,” writes MacArthur in his book Parables, “the stories Jesus told are capable of endless interpretations and therefore devoid of any discernible objective meaning, that’s because truly understanding them requires faith, diligence, careful exegesis, and a genuine desire to hear what Christ is saying.” MacArthur adds, “…all unbelievers lack that capacity.”
Vollotton goes to lengths to emphasize finding your destiny by finding your people. He describes in some detail the organization of Bethel and how creating the proper “environment” for the pursuit of your divine destiny is critical. “An environment helps to actualize a specific people group with a specific vision,” he writes. “One of the difficulties in becoming fully actualized occurs when you find yourself in a community that doesn’t have the capacity or vision to collaborate your calling.”
The latter third or so of the book offers superficial and euphemistic encouragements for accelerating your actualization into your peep-found destiny. “Too many of us are spiritual mummies,” he suggests, comparing to Lazarus who emerged from the tomb “alive but bound.” To get unbound, you have to confront pain and proceed to freedom. Later he offers “five foundational questions” that “are meant to help you process and proactively evaluate the structures [your environment and its accouterments] with which you are currently living, so you can determine whether they are empowering or constraining you.”
His five closing questions, “Who is leading?” – “Who are the people you are leading?” – “In what season are you leading?” – “What are you called to accomplish in this season?” – “What core values are guiding you in life in leadership?” – each are bullet-points supported by yet other related questions. These subjective queries are simply fodder for Christianized psycho-babble self-analysis. They are not in response to the important apostolic exhortation to “Examine yourself,” (2 Corinthians 13:5) but are posed to put you in the position to be the winner God expects and wants you to be.
The words “vision,” “hard-work,” “courage,” and adjectives consistent with self-help pop psychology are strewn liberally throughout the book, spiritualized, of course. Vallotton couches them with Scripture to provide an appearance of Christianity and slathers the book with Bible verses so that a veneer of divine authority seems superficially evident. The “supernatural” elements of his – and Bethel’s – well-known, errant theology are present in the book, but only subtly. For example, he cites direct revelations he or his wife have received from God. (For example, God told Vallotton’s wife they should move and take a job offer with Bethel. God told Vallotton that he should make a lifelong covenant with Bill Johnson.)
For the minimal importance that genuine salvation matters in the book, the closing chapter – “Unleashing Heaven” – includes a passing remark reflective of the less-than-sovereign God well known to the prosperity-gospel and much of the modern church, “What I mean is that when you asked Jesus into your heart, you joined the Bless Me Club, because wherever Jesus lives, He prospers.” But this magic genie “God” does not exist and does not save. And authentic salvation isn’t winning the golden ticket to Bless-Me-Land; rather, it’s “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
The closing section of the book offers a self-scoring “Nobility Assessment Test,” to “help you get a better picture of where you are in your lifelong journey to nobility,” writes Vallotton, adding that, “You are called to be a noble person, a winner, and a champion.” While it is true that we are adopted into God’s family, the full realization of that relationship will not be known on this side of eternity. While we’re here, it is not the pursuit of supernatural nobility or supernatural gifts or supernatural self-actualization that is to drive us, but rather obedience to Christ in His Word. (John 14:21)
The Apostle Peter reminds his readers, and us, what our life’s aim ought truly look like, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)
Destined To Win is merely poorly Christianized pop-psychology motivational fodder. It is absolutely not worthwhile reading for a believer. The only thing going for it is that for heresy-neutics, it’s a worthy example.
(I received a complimentary copy of this book through BooklookBlogger in return for my honest review. I was not required to give a favorable review to the book.)
[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]
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God Bless, Cody Libolt