Friday, November 16, 2007

Your best life now (Joel Osteen)

I have to confess that I picked up this book with a distinct agenda. I saw Joel Osteen as preaching “the prosperity gospel” – largely influenced by Ben Witherington – and I wanted to have a good example to use in one of my imminent Learning Church sessions. However, I liked the book much more than I was expecting to.

I should say right up front that there isn’t a great deal of explicit Christianity in the book. There’s hardly a mention of Jesus at all, certainly no discussion of the great doctrines of the faith. It’s the sort of book I might give to a seeker right at the very beginning of the journey. For what Osteen is arguing for has a fair bit of merit to it as one component of the faith. It would need to be placed alongside a lot of other material, mostly that to do with sin, and that to do with suffering, but then as that sort of material is probably over-represented in Christian literature – especially in some circles – Osteen is performing a useful corrective service. It is certainly true to say that Scripture teaches some form of “prosperity gospel” – it’s the ‘plain meaning’ of Deuteronomy 28-30 for example, and much better supported in the Scripture as a whole than (to take a random example ;-) the doctrine of penal substitution. As I understand it he wouldn’t describe himself as a theologian, nor would he say he was preaching the whole message of the gospel in this sort of book – it’s just that this is the message he has been given to share. Fair enough.

The problem comes – and this is what one Learning Church session will focus on – when we go through the sort of crisis that is now just beginning. I wonder if the 1930’s style depression that’s about to hit the United States will lead to people becoming angry with him. If they did it would be a little unfair, though I would ask the question – does a pastor have the responsibility to preach the whole gospel? I would say yes, but I don’t know enough about the balance of teaching at Lakewood to comment.

I personally have taken a lot of value from the book. It gave me encouragement when I needed some, in some very specific areas. The story of the traffic warden sharing his enthusiasm with the queuing drivers will stay with me. And there's a quote from him coming up...

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