Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Godblogging Homework

Pursuant to Mr. Devine's advice, I took some time tonight at Barnes & Noble to read Satan's Necronomicon Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen to see what the fuss was all about. Although I still don't know that, I got about fifty pages into Pastor Osteen's book and skimmed through the rest (which continues in the same vein as the beginning), and now have some solid basis for an opinion on the man and his teachings.

First, his books appears to be intended for those already Christians, rather than those who are not. Otherwise, his multiple references to God and scripture would be premature and irrelevant. Thus you could defend Osteen's saccharine preaching as being the result of an overestimation of his audience; he thinks that they are already saved and that they now need uplifting and encouragement. Arguably not a bad evangelism strategy, considering that most Americans (and Texans!) think of themselves as Christian in some sense. Rather than say "You're not a Christian, and this is what you have to do to be one," he's saying "Since you're a Christian, this is what you're entitled to". I'll repeat, since I don't know what other teaching goes on in his 30,000 member church, I'm in no position to judge his doctrine or his evangelistic methods in totality. Yet it's very likely, nay probable, that Osteen's televised books and sermons may very well be a sweet appetizer to prepare his parishioners for a meatier entree.

But if Osteen is going to be legitimately criticized for anything, it's the "mind or matter" conclusions you can draw from his teachings. You can criticize the Kantian trend that has most plagued modern Christianity, that somehow faith, good thoughts, good will, and/or prayer alone will cause blessings for the believer. You can look at positive thinking two ways: (1) God created you, and if you think the right thoughts toward God, he will create for you a universe where you are happy, or (2) God created you, and God created the universe for you, and if you think the right thoughts towards both God and His universe, then you will operate in that universe the way God intended, and you will be happy. Put more bluntly, we come to Ayn Rand's old question--Are man's thoughts the subject or the object of the universe around him? Not surprisingly, Osteen doesn’t answer that deep philosophical question in his easy-to-understand book with lots of encouragement and simple sermon stories. But that question must be answered if a Christian is to have a true, healthy understanding of God and his world. That Osteen wouldn't answer that question, and would leave some of his flock to believe that they could simply wish away their problems with no overt action, is genuine grounds for criticism.

Yet Osteen's mistakes, if any, are omissions and not errors. They're ground to build on, rather than reasons for reproach. If Osteen has 30,000 parishioners and thousands more TV viewers believing that God is good and wants to bless them, its a huge achievement and not grounds for complaint.


Post a Comment

<< Home