The other day when we talked briefly about the concept of manifesting, I wasn’t expecting to encounter it almost immediately afterward. But that’s where I found myself a few days ago while checking out Christianity Today. This time, a Canadian pastor pits the idea against consenting to holiness, which he happens to like better. I’m sure you won’t ever guess which idea wins that fight! Today, let’s do a deeper dive into both ideas, and then let’s explore why they’re both pure bunkum.
I mean, obviously they both are. But why?
(This post originally went live on Patreon on 6/1/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there too and should be available!)
Everyone, meet Ken Shigematsu, who really doesn’t like manifesting
Near the smack middle of Vancouver, BC, at the intersection of Ontario Street and Tenth Avenue, Tenth Church nestles in a quiet residential area full of condos and shared homes. By looking down the street, visitors can see gorgeous, craggy mountains in the distance. Big trees grow along either side of the road beside well-tended sidewalks. It’s a restful, gorgeous area—and quite typical of quietly-wealthy Vancouver neighborhoods. Even millionaires don’t get huge tracts of land in that town!
With its professional-looking red brick and glass exterior, Tenth Church looks far less like a church and far more like a specialty or boutique medical office, or perhaps a magnet school for musically-inclined children. Its website says it’s been here since 1935.
Hm. I lived very close by this area for a few years in the mid-1990s, and I walked and roamed all over this neighborhood and the ones nearby. For some reason, I remember absolutely nothing of this church. And with me being freshly deconverted, my radar always detected churches and religious-type meeting places. (Now that I think about it, I still tend to notice such places right away.) But this church escaped my notice entirely, probably because there’s nothing about it, not even signage really, that screams HERE IS AN EVANGELICAL CHURCH, Y’ALL!
In 1996, Ken Shigematsu became the Senior Pastor of Tenth Church. The church seems to be standard-issue evangelical, though their official website’s “Vision” and “Values” sections are as vague as they can possibly manage it. For anything more specific, they link to the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) website, where we find their statement of faith. In essence, these are Hell-believers who also embrace magic Jesus healing and other such evangelical standards. CMA adds a few Charismatic embellishments to the mix by alluding vaguely to “being filled with the Holy Spirit” as an important component of “salvation.”
(But CMA folks don’t speak in tongues, I learned elsewhere. Pentecostals seem mightily disappointed with them over it. Man alive, I love love love super-vague church statements of belief. Not being sarcastic. They’re amazing.)
Shigematsu has won a number of service and charity awards during his time at Tenth Church. He’s also written several books. The post we’re examining from Christianity Today is an excerpt from his latest book, Now I Become Myself. It’s about Jesusing one’s way out of shame to “restore our true self.”
Manifesting is just another name for magic-induced emotional growth
Shigematsu begins his post by describing a 2014 experiment done on college students. In this experiment, researchers had its subjects use virtual reality (VR) to visualize themselves as avatars. Control groups saw their VR avatars as their current selves, while experimental groups saw their own avatars aged considerably into senior citizens. Afterward, researchers asked both groups questions about how likely they were to start saving money for their future retirement.
The students who’d seen themselves as elderly were far more likely than the control group to say they wanted to start saving money for retirement. The experimental group subjects were also more likely to be able to delay gratification when compared to their control group.
It’s a fascinating experiment, but Shigematsu isn’t enthused by it:
Recognizing and investing in our future selves is certainly a fruitful practice. But it remains inadequate for those who believe in Christ.
Instead, Shigematsu wants his readers to imagine themselves in Heaven after they die, so they can start becoming their heavenly selves now.
But, he cautions, they won’t get there through manifesting those heavenly qualities.
Manifesting: A relatively new term
Until about 2019, manifesting in Christianity meant about the same thing that it means in normal English. Over at Billy Graham’s site, we find a typical use of the word:
The Bible teaches that faith will manifest itself in three ways. It will manifest itself in doctrine—in what you believe. It will manifest itself in worship—your communion with God and the fellowship of the church.
The third way it manifests, if you’re wondering, is through Christians’ behavior. (OOPS.) So invisible things become clear to others through visible signs and signals. Believers’ faith manifests in tangible ways for heathens to perceive with their senses. So far, so good.
But around 2019, a new—and hilariously woowoo-ish—meaning of the word began to proliferate. By 2020, it was common knowledge among young adults, and by 2021-2023, evangelical leaders began to sense the need to combat it. The new meaning is simple:
A whole lot of young adults think that they can believe in things so incredibly intensely that those things actually come true in reality. You know, like Christopher Reeve did in the 1980 movie Somewhere in Time. After surrounding himself with nothing but stuff from 1912 and repeating an affirmation of being there over and over again, Reeve’s character wakes up in 1912! Hooray! Now he can go find his woobie!
Highlight the box below to see the movie’s ending, though:
It all ends tragically. When he finds a modern penny in his pocket, the spell breaks and he’s flung back to his own time without her. He dies of grief, reuniting with his love in the afterlife. He couldn’t change the present, after all. You’d think evangelicals might learn a lesson from this, but noooo.
Evangelicals aren’t thrilled at all with this manifesting thing. I wonder if they just don’t like how similar it is to beliefs that almost all of them already hold.
The unlikely origin story of manifesting
Amusingly enough, “the Secret” definitely shares a background with evangelicals’ beloved Prosperity Gospel. Their most recent common ancestor might be The Science of Getting Rich, written by Wallace Wattles and published in 1910. He was an adherent of the New Thought Movement, which got started in the early 1800s. That movement’s got quite a long genealogy of its own, in a generally spiritualistic sense, sometimes reckoned as going back to the mid-1700s. In essence, New Thought adherents thought that they could wish themselves wealthy, happy, and healthy.
By the end of World War II, when the Prosperity Gospel movement got started, the idea of thinking one’s wishes into reality was likely a potent background thrum in Americans’ minds. I’m not even half surprised that some enterprising evangelical figured out a way to turn New Thought into a Jesus-approved way to go through life.
Prosperity Gospel contains only a few moving parts:
- Jesus lavishly rewards his followers for obedience. (Corollary: Successful evangelicals must be making Jesus extremely happy.) Sending money to Jesus’ self-declared representatives is a grand way to demonstrate one’s obedience.
- Jesus withholds blessings from followers who disobey him. (Corollary: Suffering evangelicals have been disobedient.)
- Also, all those promises in the New Testament about prayer really are totes for realsies.
Manifesting uses many of these exact same beliefs. It just usually strips out the obvious Jesus language.
According to The New York Times, the manifesting trend began on TikTok around 2018. That sounds about right. There was a thriving hashtag there, #manifestation. As of this writing, it’s gotten 36.1 billion views. Yes. With a “b.” One video I chose at random turned out to be from a magical healer, “mindfulhealing.w.v.” It advised viewers not to skip it because it would grant viewers “a huge amount of wealth and a new opportunity.” Instead, it advised viewers to at least save the video to their accounts, so they could “manifest it.”
The very first comment under it reads: “I claim it Lord Amen [praying emoji][upward pointing index finger emoji][halo emoji]”. (If you’re wondering what 444 means, it could be a reference to the video-maker’s imaginary guardian angel, or it might just be her lucky number. She doesn’t seem to put numbers on all of her videos, so who knows.)
It looks like the hashtag ran its natural course last year, but evangelicals tend to be a timeless bunch.
Some evangelicals love manifesting
Chrissy Powers, an evangelical life coach, raves about the wonders of manifesting on her site. It’s “NOT Woo Woo,” she insists:
As a Christian I manifest with God. I get so excited to peel of layers of distorted thinking and limiting beliefs from culture and bring blessings into my life WITH God. I never believe that the good I receive is all my own doing but do I have a part in it, yes!
I’m not a bystander in my life I am the creator or the life I want and I trust God to join me on that journey.
And here are the presents Jesus totally gave her through manifesting:
Some of the biggest things I’ve manifested are: a job with a brand for 20K on Instagram, a better marriage, a thriving private practice, 2 trips to Hawaii, a recent all paid trip to Disneyland and a group of friends that are like family [. . .]
It’s a shame that the Christian parents of children who die of cancer aren’t doing this manifesting thing, isn’t it? Gosh, if only they’d known about this cool life hack! I suppose they just didn’t really, truly, rillyrillyrilly believe that their kids could be cured!
Powers claims that The Prayer of Jabez, an evangelical-friendly version of The Secret, got her into manifesting. I can really see why many evangelical leaders really despise that book!
A quick overview of The Prayer of Jabez
The Prayer of Jabez was written by Bruce Wilkinson and published in 2000 by an indie outfit. That book assured the fortunes of both the writer and his publisher, Multnomah Books. That publisher got purchased in 2006 by a larger one, Waterbrook. Now operating as the Wonder-Twin-Powers-Activate combo unit Waterbrook Multnomah, they publish books by all kinds of evangelicals you’ve likely heard of: “Rowdy” John Piper, Anne Graham Lotz, David Platt, and Carey Nieuwhof.
But evangelicals have a complicated situationship with The Prayer of Jabez. Jabez was a man who got what he prayed for, basically. So the book suggests that evangelicals pray like this little-known side character in the Old Testament. It offers them a canned prayer to recite regularly. If they do that for 30 days without fail, the book promises, then they will receive whatever they ask for just like Jabez totally did in the Bible.
Unsurprisingly, the book sold like hotcakes.
Even folks at Baptist Press, the official site of the Southern Baptist Convention, like it and practice the prayer it recommends. Desiring God, which might be if anything even more authoritarian than the Southern Baptists, also has good things to say about it—though they caution readers about taking its suggestions too seriously, since Jesus obviously doesn’t do everything his followers specifically ask him to do even when they’re extremely obedient and pray lots.
Do evangelicals want manifesting? Because that’s how evangelicals get manifesting
Between Prosperity Gospel and The Prayer of Jabez, it’s not at all surprising that many evangelicals might glom onto manifesting.
By 2020, I began seeing posts on prominent evangelical sites attacking the concept. Crosswalk really doesn’t like it. However, they had to admit that manifesting built upon and expanded existing beliefs that evangelicals already consider completely acceptable. They even name those beliefs and Bible-verse-check them:
God does give us good gifts.
Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow (James 1:17).
He does answer prayer.
We are confident that He hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases Him. Since we know He hears us when we make our requests, we also know that He will give us what we ask for (1 John 5:14-15).
It’s good to have a vision for your life. After all…
God knows the plans He has for you. They are plans for good, not disaster, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).
Counting and visualizing your blessings is a good thing.
Let all that you are praise the Lord; may you never forget the good things He does for you (Psalm 103:2).
It’s good to think about positive and good things.
Fix your thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).
Oops. That said, they reject manifesting as a valid practice. It just feels too worldly, meaning it’s too secular for their comfort. It also feels too much to them like trying to order Jesus around, or even take his place as god of the universe! (However, affirmations, which are the same thing, are A-OK by most evangelicals.)
When manifesting became competition
In 2021, however, opposition to manifesting exploded across the Christ-o-sphere. It’s like evangelical writers and leaders all decided at once to go on the attack.
A writer with Christianity.com links manifesting entirely to the Law of Attraction and The Secret, ignoring its connection to Prosperity Gospel and The Prayer of Jabez. Premier Christianity goes the same route, though it dives deeper into manifesting’s New Thought roots. And so does The Gospel Coalition.
Even in 2023, evangelical sites warn readers not to get into manifesting. Someone at Bible Study Tools calls manifesting “a contemporary heretical belief,” all without mentioning Jabez or Prosperity Gospel even once.
We see a similar treatment of the idea from Church Leaders. Their post on the topic even hints darkly that the practice is dangerous (on p. 3), advising that a Christian must “protect [their] soul” from the evil forces behind manifesting.
It’s really weird that evangelical writers never seem to mention Jabez or Prosperity Gospel. It’s almost like they don’t want to consider just how close manifesting is to both of those largely-accepted beliefs.
Back to Ken Shigematsu and his way better variation on manifesting
Now that we’ve got all of that backstory under us, let’s return to Ken Shigematsu’s book excerpt at Christianity Today (relink). It won’t surprise anyone to learn that he’s not thrilled with manifesting. As his subtitle puts it:
Manifesting isn’t the answer. Consenting to holiness is.
Here’s how he explains the difference:
As we grow into the glorious masterpieces of God’s imagining, we aren’t manifesting our desired reality through positive thinking or embarking on a pull-ourselves-up-by-our-bootstraps self-improvement project. Rather, we are opening ourselves to be shaped by God’s creative, loving hands, inviting him to use whatever tools are necessary to slough away our dross. [. . .]
Our role is to consent to the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.
Oh, okay. That makes complete sense, yep yep. (/s)
He’s even got a canned prayer that he suggests evangelicals use to “consent to holiness.” It seriously sounds like a repetitive ritual chant, like the kind that Jesus made specifically off-limits to Christians. Here it is:
I consent to the work of the Holy Spirit.
I let go of my desire for security and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for affection and esteem.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
Right now, I’m just picturing someone zoning out while chanting this over, and over, and over again.
Oh, and we get more “cluttered hearts” bullshit from him too. “Cluttered hearts” was actually the very post where we first encountered “manifesting,” and I guess he had to tie it together too. This time, Shigematsu asserts that once evangelicals follow his suggestion instead of manifesting, it’ll result in “decluttering our souls.”
(I’m very curious, suddenly, about this “cluttered” imagery popping up in different places all of a sudden.)
For that matter, I’d like to know when Yahweh/Jesus began caring so deeply about consent
Like a whole lot of evangelicals, Shigematsu writes glowingly in this post of C.S. Lewis. I guess that’s where he gets the idea that his god is completely hung up on gaining his followers’ consent to improve them. Lewis liked to talk about his god like that. In The Screwtape Letters, one of the few apologetics-adjacent books I read while I was Pentecostal, Lewis wrote:
He [Yahweh] cannot ravish. He can only woo.
I’m pretty sure that this exact quote is where evangelicals get their “God is a gentleman” blahblah. Billy Graham’s daughter and one of those evangelicals I mentioned earlier, Anne Graham Lotz, really likes that idea. In 2014, she noted on her Facebook account:
God is a gentleman. He won’t force His way into your life or insist on helping when you don’t seem to want it or even push Himself into your situation. He waits for you to ask before He intervenes….God is standing by. Yes, He is. But He may be waiting for your call. So call Him. Cry out, now. Use the words – Jesus, help me. – Wounded by God’s People.
Wounded by God’s People is a book she published in 2013. This post is a quote from it. As you likely suspect, the book’s about Jesusing your way through the injuries that other Christians inflict on you. So it kind of sounds like she’s saying that Jesus won’t heal those injuries unless Christians specifically ask him to do so.
(I found the Amazon preview of the book. The quote is on p. 150 And yes, that is exactly what she’s saying. I’m horrified that she thinks this is a wonderful, loving way for a god to treat a follower who has been deeply wounded by other followers of his!)
However, someone at Hour of Power clearly agrees with the “gentleman” imagery in 2020:
My friend, God is a gentleman, and He will never force you to move into a place you don’t want to be. Since He cares for you so much, He desires that you walk in complete liberty, and He respects your boundaries, even if that means that you don’t experience His best. While He is pleased when you exercise bold and courageous faith, He will not withhold Himself if you play it safe; you just might not know the thrill of unfettered surrender or the exhilaration that comes from seeing Him do the impossible through your undaunted trust.
That mini-sermon ends with a prayer, too (emphases in original): “Jesus, thank you for not forcing me to enter territory that I’m not prepared to take on. Help me to willingly embrace and expand my faith in you.”
And again: I have to ask exactly when Yahweh/Jesus began caring that deeply about not forcing people to do anything. Or about forcing himself on others.
A god who hates consent
At no point in the Bible do I remember Yahweh or Jesus asking permission to do anything. They just did it. They impose rules without allowing their pet humans to discuss and amend those rules, and these rules carry penalties for noncompliance that do not ever include the right to appeal. When punishing people for nonmarital sex, it’s clear that the violation involves property and not bodily consent.
Consent is not just about being able to say “yes” to something. It’s also about the freedom to say “no” to it. That’s why sex with animals, children, incarcerated prisoners, a boss’ or military leader’s underlings, a teacher’s students, and slaves is always considered nonconsensual. Even if the person being importuned or assaulted mouths the word “yes,” they don’t have a meaningful ability to say “no” to the other person.
Nor is consent retroactively obtained when someone is violated and later seems okay with it, as the Virgin Mary seems to have been after being forcibly impregnated by Yahweh in the Gospels. A few Christians are only just lately beginning to grapple with the implications of that story.
But we needn’t look to the Bible to find countless violations of consent. We can just see how this god apparently forces his recruiters to find new converts for his sickening religion. He gives them not one single piece of objective support for a single one of the claims they make about him. Not one. It’s impossible to take their claims seriously without evidence, and they have none. Worse than that, what they actually do have is endless dishonest fake miracle claims and terrible apologetics arguments that rely on fear and ignorance to persuade.
Then, these recruiters tell us that if we don’t comply with their demands, then we will go to Hell to be tortured forever and ever. But I can’t believe what I know isn’t true, we reply, and we get told that we’d better find a way to do that, or we will suffer.
One piece of objective evidence. Just one. That’s all they’d need to make converts based on consent. But they can’t have even that.
Their god hates consent. What he loves instead is authoritarian-style obedience—unquestioning obedience, instant obedience, lifelong obedience. The harder his commands are to obey and the less reason his followers have to trust those commands as being from him in the first place, the happier he seems to be.
(Dysfunctional authoritarian leaders act that way all the time. They delight in pushing people to obey difficult commands. It demonstrates how far their power and control goes. If you’ve seen the series The Boys, Season 3 has Homelander forcing a young woman to jump off a building. It’s not the first time he forces people to do things they really don’t want to do. Nor the last. Just one of the creepiest.)
Manifesting a Heaven without consent
A long time ago, I contemplated a Heaven full of the fundagelical Christians I’d met in my life. I didn’t really like the idea. These were not loving, compassionate, kindhearted, reliable people. In fact, they used fundagelicalism as a way to avoid becoming better people. It was their substitute for developing any better qualities. Nowadays, it reminds me of that classic comic strip:
But these Christians didn’t care about being awful people. After all, they were going to Heaven. They were safe from Hell. Anything else they did in this life was just gravy. Nothing else was really necessary. Even if Jesus told them to do something and they didn’t do it, they could just whisper a quick prayer of repentance and escape the only penalty Christianity allowed for disobedience.
Jesus had endured that penalty for all humans already, and Christians had done what he demanded people do to take advantage of his (not so) “free gift.” So why bother?
Quite a few of my peers and leaders thought that Jesus would strip away all the awful qualities Christians had after death. Once they woke up in Heaven, they’d be freed at last from anger, envy, lust, and all those other naughty emotions. There’d be no tears in Heaven—except tears of joy, of course! And there’d be no fights, no unapproved sex, and no crime. Heck, there wouldn’t be sex at all.
At no point did any of us wonder about any of this. We just assumed it was true. We didn’t wonder why Jesus couldn’t do that now, if he was just going to do it later anyway. Clearly it was happening in the future, so why couldn’t it happen right away? And once it did happen, how much of us—our personalities, our feelings, our outlook—would even remain? No, we didn’t dare wonder about it.
Whether it’s manifesting or consenting to holiness, it sucks
Manifesting is purely offensive for the same reasons that Prosperity Gospel is offensive. It assumes that people die of disease, injury, natural disasters, and conflict because they just somehow failed to ask Daddy Jesus to save them. It assumes that they don’t get things they need and want because Jesus is standing by with his arms folded until he hears them asking for that stuff. (Do these people make their own children beg for every meal and for routine medical care?)
“Consenting to holiness” suffers from the same shortsighted evil.
Similarly, when I read Shigematsu’s post, I had to wonder why Christians have to go to all that effort and recite mantras to tell Jesus they’re totally ready to be made into better people now. If Jesus were real and really wanted his followers to be better people, they’d already be so.
Evangelicals in particular haven’t been cruel, abusive hypocrites for ages now because they somehow neglected to ask Daddy Jesus in their nicest little-kid voices and with their biggest kitten-eyes to please make them better people, pwetty pweeze, UwU!
It’s offensive even to imagine that any good and loving god who’s real would allow his followers to hurt others for so long out of some bizarre longing to hear them verbally consent to losing those abusive qualities.
This idea has implications that I just don’t think Shigematsu has considered. In that way, I suppose it’s pretty much like every other bit of magical thinking that evangelicals embrace.
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A brief note about archiving, since it’s on my mind right now
Archiving is easy! Use archive.today for most stuff. Social media works better in ghostarchive.org (except Facebook, so use archive.today for that). To find lost webpages, try Internet Archive. If you use it to archive, it also archives links, but only if you check that option. Just be aware that Internet Archive isn’t as rock-solid reliable as the other places; they have a habit of deleting archives for what I consider bad and inconsistent reasons.
SnapTik saves TikTok videos locally. SaveInsta does the same for Instagram vids, TwitterVideoDownloader for Twitter, and FDOWN for Facebook. Pretty much everything hates PDFs. If you find something that saves them gracefully, let me know about it!