Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Evangelical Ear-Tickler

The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, has written a must-read piece about the mulleted pied piper of modern evangelicalism, Joel Osteen.

If you're not familiar with Osteen (though it's increasingly difficult to hide from him), he's the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, the largest church of any kind in America. Lakewood is now getting ready to move into the Compaq Center arena--where the Houston Rockets used to play--and draws 30,000 people a week to their services.

Now, why shouldn't we be excited about 30,000 people (plus millions more via Osteen's weekly television show) being drawn to Christ through Osteen's message? Because there's no Christ in his messages. The syruppy televangelist has built an overnight empire (his television program went from being non-existent to the number one "ministry" program on television in the space of two or three years) on a gospel-less message of self-help, power of positive thinking, and name-it-and-claim-it prosperity blather.

By every measure available, he's the most popular preacher in America. How has he gotten so popular so quickly? By preaching a message that's pleasing to modern ears.

The message of the Bible is an uncomfortable one: that mankind has rebelled against God and that this rebellion has ruined him in every way and brought him under God's judgement. God, being absolutely righteous and just cannot tolerate sin, and must punish it. But, by his mercy, love, and grace, He sent His Son to deliver his people from judgement, Himself bearing the punishment they deserve for sin, and living the perfectly righteous life of obedience that they failed to live--all of which we can receive merely by faith in Christ.

Osteen's message, on the other hand, avoids all this messiness by simply removing sin from the equation entirely. Where the Bible is about sin and the remedy for it, Osteen says:
I just don't believe in condemning people and being judgmental. Yes, there's a way of condemning people and knocking them down and getting them to feel bad. That maybe can turn some people around, but I believe in just speaking the truth and letting them know they have good things in store.
And in a recent interview, Osteen offers this diagnosis for what ails man:
Q. What's the most important thing to do to overcome guilt and shame?

A. We’ve got to forgive ourselves for mistakes we’ve made. A lot of people tell me, "I don’t feel like God wants to bless me."

If we don’t forgive ourselves for mistakes we’ve made–and everybody’s made their choices, some worse than others--we’ll never experience the good life God has in store.
According to Osteen, our greatest need is self-forgiveness. And when we've achieved that, God's favor will rest on us. To him, the signs of God's favor are good relationships, getting the stuff you want, and happiness. He says "I just want people to believe they can have more and believe that you can be happier today. I want them to believe that they can have a better marriage; believe that they can get promoted on the job and things like that."

In contrast, the Bible says:
  • For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him (Ephesians 1:29)
  • In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.(1 Peter 1:6-7)
  • But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.(1 Peter 2:20-21)
  • The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.(Acts 5:41)
And Jesus Himself makes this disturbing statement in Luke, which crumples up Osteen's worthless, Christless gospel and pretty much throws it out the window:
Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
Osteen says God's favor means good relationships, good health, and happiness. The Bible says God's favor often means broken relationships, suffering, anguish, and death.

No wonder Osteen is filling up the barn in Houston. As the Apostle Paul once wrote to his protégé Timothy:
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
The number one preacher in America is scratching 'em where they itch, and a nation with higher self-esteem than any in history is lining up in droves for more of it.

No comments: