It’s still technically 95 Theses Friday #1: Joel Osteen Could Use a Good Thrashing

This is Joel Osteen:

It’s sort of beside the point, but may I note in passing that this man has a remarkably punchable face?  Something about that big white content-free smile, enhanced as it is by his expansive hand gestures and immaculate coiffure just seems to cry out for a sharp jab to the nose.  It’s a face that partakes of the same cheerful plastic artificiality as the face of Mitt Romney, or the faces of the early-model Terminators.

And it is a face admirably suited to the purposes of its owner.  Friendly, comfortable, and plastic (a word which, handily, can mean both “synthetic” and “protean”) are key elements of this man’s success.  He’s a master of talking at length without ever actually saying anything.  His key schtick is a religion stripped of its bloody specificities and hard-iron truths, watered down to the level of generic self-help pablum.  Which, let us weep o my brothers for the state of our species, may explain why his books sell so infernally well, and why the stadium he folksily babbles in every Sunday is so very full.  People like pre-chewed pulp.

There is a good deal to be said about this.  Saint Paul said some of it to the Corinthians. Saint John the Divine said some more to the Church of the Laodicians, at the behest of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.  And I may return to it, by and by.  But today, my main interest lies elsewhere.

I believe that God’s dream is that we be successful in our careers, and that we be able to send our kids to college. I don’t mean that everyone is going to be rich, and I preach a lot on blooming where you’re planted. But I don’t have the mindset that money is a bad thing.

“[My views] may go against some of the older, traditional teachings. But I think we should have a mindset that God wants us to prosper in our relationships, our health, and our finances. God’s desire is that we excel. And we see business leaders who are good strong Christians running [big] companies.

Osteen is a proponent of what is called the prosperity gospel.  “Name it and claim it.”  The idea has its roots in Calvinism, and gave rise to the concept of the “Protestant Work Ethic” so beloved of Puritans, good members of the Victorian middle class, and most other people in Christendom who felt the need to justify their wealth by tying it into their status as people God approved of.  The idea is, God’s favor will come raining down on you if you’re one of the Elect, and your Heavenly rewards will be paralleled with Earthly ones.

Hear the word of the Lord God, o Israel:

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.  And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

“And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece.”

“And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.  And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.  And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be, also.”

Take heed.  Jesus does not much care whether your business prospers and your kids get sent to college.  Those are not things that have much to do with the Kingdom of Heaven.  He was also very, very clear about what kind of success His followers might expect: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Consider Job.  It seems possible that they just didn’t cover this part of the Bible in any of the classes Osteen took in his two years at Oral Roberts “University.”  The central point of the book, for those who, Like Olsteen, have never read it, is this:

Horrible things can and will happen to you, no matter how good you are.  All you have, all you love, all you deserve in life may be swept away in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, leaving you alone and naked choking in the ashes and asking “why?”  And you will not get an answer.  Demand that God explain to you why he handed you over to his servant the Accuser to be broken one piece at a time, your children and servants murdered solely because they were your children and servants, and God’s answer to His faithful servant?  Sarcasm.

This poses some interesting problems in the field of Theodicy, but it’s sound Scripture and thus not to be discarded, and unlike the Prosperity Gospel, it matches up with what happens in reality.

Mark it well, True Believers: God is not a bottled djinn to grant wishes, your faith does not assure or entitle you to health nor wealth, and wishing does not make it so.  If you want a religion where praising/bribing the Divine results in temporal rewards, look elsewhere.

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2 Responses to “It’s still technically 95 Theses Friday #1: Joel Osteen Could Use a Good Thrashing”

  1. the prosperity gospel has it roots in calvisim? I want to here you support that more directly.

    you are right God is concerned with what brings him glory and brings us to him. If providing some one with an education makes them better able to do that then I think that is what he is concerned with.

  2. I agree. Life is suffering. Never, anywhere in the Bible, does God promise otherwise, even for his people. (somewhat the opposite, on some occasions.) These people act like God will makes things fair for Christians, even though the world is so very unfair for everyone else. It is a very four-year-old attitude toward life.

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