Does God Want You to Be Rich?
I hope you got a chance to read the excellent, balanced cover story in Time Magazine entitled “Does God Want You to Be Rich?” The cover description says: “Yes, say some megachurches. Others call it heresy. The debate over the new gospel of wealth.”
Seriously — how did the Evangelical church get here?
The basic movement of the gospel is clear (Phil. 2:5ff): self-denial and self-sacrifice rather than self-fulfillment. We follow one who had no place to lay his head, who warned us that life does not consist in the abundance of things, who told a wealthy man to sell all and give to the poor, who insisted that we cannot have two masters (God and $$). Followers of Christ in other cultures have often lost all as a result of their faithfulness to him.
But walk into Christian bookstores and there is a different gospel. The gospel of Joel Osteen.
And does it sell! Your Best Life Now has sold over 4 million copies. It finds a welcome audience in the consumerism of America.
The authors of the article write:
“What remains is a materialism framed in a kind of Tony Robbins positivism. No one exemplifies this better than Osteen, who ran his father’s television-production department until John died in 1999. ‘Joel has learned from his dad, but he has toned it back and tapped into basic, everday folks’ ways of talking,’ says Ben Phillips, a theology professor at the Soutwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. That language is reflected in Your Best Life Now, an extraordinarily accessible exhortation to this-world empowerment through God. ‘To live your best life now,’ it opens, to see ‘your business taking off. See your marriage restored. See your family prospering. See your dreams come to pass . . .’ you must ‘start looking through the eyes of faith.’ Jesus is front and center but not his Crucifixion, Resurrection or Atonement.”
Does that tell us something?
The book is full of “illustrations of how the Prosperity doctrine has produced personal gain, most memorably, perhaps, for the Osteen family: how Victoria’s ‘speaking words of faith and victory’ eventually brought the couple their dream house; how Joel discerned God’s favor in being bumped from economy to business class.”
Insightfully, the authors go on to talk about the basic for criticism of this Prosperity Lite movement: “Most unnerving for Osteen’s critics is the suspicion that they are fighting not just one idiosyncratic misreading of the gospel but something more daunting: the latest lurch in Protestantism’s ongoing descent into full-blown American materialism.”
Rick Warren, who by his words and life is becoming an incredible leader in the worldwide church, said: “This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy? Baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worthy by your net worth.”
Ron Sider, author of Rich Christians in a Hungry World: “They have neglected the texts about the danger of riches. Prosperity Gospel Lite is one of the most powerful forms of neglect of the poor.”
And Ben Witherington, an incredible Evangelical New Testament scholar at Asbury Seminary: “We need to renounce the false gospel of wealth and health — it is a disease of our American culture: it is not a solution or answer to life’s problems.”
The “internet monk” (Michael Spencer) has written:
“He’s being sold to us by people who want to make money off his success, and they are counting on us to be sheep, ‘baaing’ quietly, but going along to the slaughter. Any analysis of Joel Osteen’s theology is going to have a hard time saying he is proclaiming the Christian message. The most popular preacher in Christianity is proclaiming a theology that is neither Christian, nor Jewish, nor Muslim, but is pragmatically pagan. Pagan in the sense of finding ways to gain the favor of god so he will do good things for you. Manipulating the deity to give you blessings. This is the ultimate example of Luther’s ‘theology of glory’ chosen over the ‘theology of the cross.’ I would rather a non-Christian hear John Shelby Spong a hundred times than hear this. Spong denies it all- outright. Osteen is presented as a Christian, but his message isn’t going to bring you to Christ, the Kingdom or heaven. It’s spiritual cyanide disguised as candy. If there is a hell, Osteen’s message won’t stop you or the people you love from going there, because the savior in his messages is YOU and the salvation he offers is a NEW ATTITUDE, and some resulting real estate. The question becomes, will evangelicals do anything? Will they say anything? Will they register their objections to Osteen’s reshaping of the Reformation gospel into a positive thinking message that makes Robert Schuller look like John Calvin in comparison?”
Yesterday I listened to Dan McVey talk about the advancement of Islam in North America. It is the fastest-growing religion in North America. (On a global scale, protestant Christianity is by far the fastest growing religion, however. It outpaces Islam in growth by 3-1, I believe Dan said.) In this culture of ease and consumerism, Islam offers a faith of discipline and serious devotion. Of course, Christianity does too (along with a framework of grace and a God who has come near in Christ) — just not in the versions that have become so popular in “Christian” bookstores.