God-and-Mammon (Non-)Christianity

October 13, 2014

Osteen_Its-Your-Time

I trust that my readership is not tempted toward the prosperity heresy, its false god, and its routine pissing on the Bible. So, you do not need to be instructed otherwise. But, it is good to be reminded every once-in-a-while of this pestilential Baal-worship.

Here is Ross Douthat, after describing Bruce Wilkinson’s failed attempt to establish an orphanage / golf resort in Africa, then moving to the more insidious Osteen:

He seemed baffled, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, that things hadn’t turned out better. “I asked hard enough,” he insisted, as if he were in a business partnership with the Almighty, and God hadn’t held up His end of the bargain.

There is innocence at work here, but not a holy innocence. God-and-Mammon Christianity often seems determined to veil the possibility that God might desire something less than perfect success for all His faithful, that He might want small churches as well as thriving congregations, people who fail by the world’s lights as well as those who succeed and thrive, Christians who embrace poverty as well as those who pay off the mortgage and live debt-free. Prosperity theology speaks a language of abundance and skates over the passages in the Bible that deal with the value of little things and hidden virtues — of salt in the earth and treasures buried in the field, of little flocks and narrow gates that few enter.

…Joel Osteen seemed particularly fixated on real estate as a sign of God’s favor. (Your Best Life Now opens with an anecdote about a Hawaiian vacationer who sees a beautiful home and thinks, “I can’t even imagine living in a place like that” — a sentiment that Osteen holds up as an example of a Christian giving in to “mediocrity.”) It’s still interesting to track the way mortgages and home ownership show up again and again in the stories and testimonies that crowd the rhetoric of prosperity preaching. …

“Right now God is showering down blessings, healing, promotions, good ideas,” Osteen promised his readers. “If you are not sharing in His favor, you might want to watch your words. Here’s the key: If you don’t unleash your words in the right direction, if you don’t call in a favor, you will not experience those blessings. Nothing happens unless we speak.” [It’s Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God’s Favor, p. 125]

…The book sold. The ratings rose. The tours continued. In March 2009, with the unemployment rate at 8.5 percent and rising, Osteen sold out Yankee Stadium.

[Bad Religion, pp. 206-210. For the sake of blog brevity, I cut-out the interesting/depressing anecdotes.]

One of the seminal figures who prepared the way for people like Osteen was Robert Schuller, whose Hour of Power broadcast was beloved by millions. Here is a partial transcript of an interview with Robert Schuller: Michael Horton Interviews Robert Schuller. It is fascinating to read Schuller’s responses, which are almost verbatim to interviews that I have seen with Osteen.

CALLER: Dr. Schuller, Paul called the gospel an offense. You seem to have a gospel that is a “kinder, gentler” kind of thing.

RS: Thank you. I try to make it that way.

You have to at least admire Schuller’s honesty.

5 Responses to “God-and-Mammon (Non-)Christianity”

  1. Kim Fabricius said

    My muse speaks:

    There once was a preacher named Joel,
    who cried, “Savior, I do Thee extol,
    for my health and my wealth,
    and for me and myself.”
    His theology floats in a bowl.

  2. Nearly Normal Fred said

    The Christian “God” and mammon (and bad religion too)
    101, in one stark image:
    http://www.dartmouth.edu/~spanmod/mural/panel13.html

    And why not check out the truth-telling book Columbus and Other Cannibals by Jack Forbes.

  3. Joel said

    It’s easy to forget how mainstream Osteen really is because Osteen he’s such an easy target (and liberals/progressives generally don’t like him either).

    • Kevin Davis said

      Yes, and he has inspired copy-cat churches elsewhere, including Freedom House here in Charlotte — “a community of everyday people.” They promote Osteen’s books all the time, even though their statement of faith is a rather standard evangelical confession (including sin and redemption through Christ — the sort of thing that Osteen studiously avoids). The husband-wife pastor team are almost carbon copies of the Osteens, right down to the pearly white smiles and hair.

      And, yes, liberals don’t like him either. Hatred toward the prosperity gospel is one of the few things that can unite both evangelicals and liberals in common cause.

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