Monday, December 08, 2008

On Osteen and Serpents

Flipping channels early yesterday morning, I came across the television broadcast of Joel Osteen. Watching for about five minutes confirmed me in my impression that what he teaches does not bear even a remote resemblance to Christianity.

Given that Mr. Osteen is an exceptionally popular teacher who claims to be and is generally regarded as a Christian pastor, that statement sounds both rash and harsh, so I should defend myself. While Christian teaching gets into a great many things, at its foundation Christianity can be summarized in three words: God saves sinners. Thus, the Christian message is that a holy God has brought undeserving people into a relationship with Himself by means of the Cross. As the Apostle Paul explained it, "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them...." (II Cor. 5:19, ESV). This is not everything Christianity teaches, but it is at the heart, and I would suggest that everything else flows out of this basic thought.

Yet, Mr. Osteen freely acknowledges that he does not talk about sin in his teaching because he worries that it will cause people to feel bad about themselves. Without a message about sin, there is no need for a Savior, and, so, the core message of Christianity becomes irrelevant in the context of Mr. Osteen's emphasis on positive thinking or positive living or whatever positive thing he's talking about. Of course, there is nothing wrong with thinking positively, as long as one is also thinking realistically, but one does not need Christ or the Cross to do it.

Somehow, it gets even worse. Yesterday as I watched, Mr. Osteen smiled broadly with what I guess some people regard as charm as he explained to his audience that many people tell him that, even though they don't like television ministries, they just don't seem to be able to turn his program off. He then explained that he knows why that is. He says he has claimed them. He has spoken positive words, and so his viewers are bound to be attracted to him.

Mr. Osteen was using his own example to explain to us how powerful God will make us if we speak positively, and he summarized that idea as follows: "We limit what God can do by the words we speak."

Really? That's not Christian, though it is a message found in the Bible. One should be careful about from where.

Limiting what God CAN do? I would have disagreed with Mr. Osteen even if he had said that we limit what God "will" do. However, the vaunted teacher went beyond that, claiming that we, mere finite mortals, limit what God is capable of by our actions. Of course, if God is merely the one responding, and we are the ones doing the limiting, one might legitimately ask who really is sovereign? Who really is God? If God is limited by us, then really we are the ones who are gods under Mr. Osteen's teaching.

Of course, that teaching is nothing new: it is an offer to fulfill a promise nearly as old as mankind.

In the Garden of Eden the crafty Serpent said to Eve, "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God...." (Gen. 3:5, ESV). This was the fundamental temptation from which all others flow: you can be God instead of depending on God.

I am fairly certain that he is not at all conscious of it, but Mr. Osteen, in line with many others, is attempting to help deliver on that old promise.

I somehow found the power to turn Mr. Osteen off.


Blogger Lanette said...

Sin means "missing the mark" and not living the "abundant life" God would have us to live? His definitions of sin are more dangerous than his unwillingness to teach on it.

I find it interesting that Sally Quinn made a distinction between the God that alot of Christians know and Joel Osteen's god, and not only did he not correct her, but apparently his god is not holy enough to be feared.

7:23 PM  

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