But nonsense is all that’s left when Christ is taken out of Christianity; when we preach a Word that doesn’t include words like sin, and duty, and obedience; when we adopt a Gospel that has no redemption, no forgiveness, no mercy, no justice; when we minimize prayer and virtue and truth; when we forget that ours is a faith for warriors and martyrs; when we pretend that Christ didn’t promise us suffering and persecution in this life; when we substitute true joy for mere happiness; when we treat the Bible like a theological box of Legos that can be deconstructed and reassembled into anything we want it to be. Ultimately, the Greatest Thing in the universe is turned into something as worthless, interchangeable, and disposable as an inspirational Facebook meme.
Essentially, we go from this:
From real, redemptive, hopeful, and triumphant, to shallow, corny, and incomplete. From a promise of eternal salvation, to promises of a bigger house and a nice car, until we die and all of these things turn to ash, leaving us alone with our neglected souls.
But, while I do think that Osteenized Christianity is a vulgar abomination, and while I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would read Break Out! when they could read Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man or Augustine’s Confessions, I also fail to totally comprehend why Mrs. Osteen’s comments sparked such a widespread and sudden backlash.
After all, she didn’t say anything terribly new or shocking. She only gave voice to the kind of mentality that has long since infected every strand of American Christendom. Walk among Christians of any denomination and you will hear casual heresies very much in line with what the Lady Osteen was attempting to communicate.
“My faith is all about making me happy and comfortable.”
Maybe the average mainstream apostate won’t say it in quite those terms (although many of them will), but the message is the same.
Pornography, abortion, divorce, gay ‘marriage’ — all are justified with the kind of rhetoric Mrs. Osteen used.
In my short time as a moderately successful blogger, I have encountered hundreds and hundreds, probably thousands, of Christians in all branches of the Faith who will vociferously defend everything from ‘open’ marriages, to ‘transsexuality’, to liberal feminism, to infanticide, to adultery, to 50 Shades of Grey, and they do it by speaking earnestly of their own desire for happiness.
None of these things are ever rationalized by insisting that they make God happy, or that they honor Christ, or that they are fruits of the Holy Spirit. None of these people will ever publicly acknowledge Christianity’s command that we deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Christ up that hill to Calvary. They whine about their happiness — their happiness, not God’s — and cherry pick a few isolated, out-of-context Biblical passages to support their unique interpretation of the Christian message.
So the Osteens do not represent the theological fringe. They are as mainstream and common as can be.
Our nation wants a shallow Gospel that doesn’t challenge us to make sacrifices and be righteous, and Joel Osteen has come to give us exactly that.
He distorts Scripture and offers up a hollow, empty message, but he is adored because he does it with a smile, he doesn’t offend, and he gives off the general vibe of a man who probably chuckles at Family Circus cartoons. In other words, he is exactly what our society believes a Christian should be: nice, non-threatening, non-Biblical, and superficial.
As I’m finishing this post, someone sent me this piece by Albert Mohler, which makes many of these points but in a far more eloquent and thorough fashion. As Mr. Mohler puts it, Osteen is the pastor that America deserves.
The Osteens are dangerous precisely because they aren’t dangerous. They preach of a faith that fits right into society, and brings immediate happiness, health, and wealth to all who follow it. But the true faith is one that rebels against our culture, challenges us to endure the hardships of life and the hatred of our peers, eviscerates our apathetic nature, interferes with our plans, commands us to confront our sins, and generally makes everyone very uncomfortable. It’s a dangerous, terrifying, beautiful, joyful, harrowing, redemptive thing. It’s real. A blazing wildfire that will consume and purify the entire world.
It isn’t always sweet and cuddly, and it won’t ‘make every day Friday’ (whatever that means), but it will bring us finally to the Promised Land.
And we’ll get there if we focus always on Christ — not ourselves.
Someone needs to explain this to the Osteens.
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