Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Prelude to the Pandora's Box.

Just a few lines from Osteen's new book, then I'll build my case:


"When God puts a dream into your heart, it may look impossible in the natural. Every voice may tell you it will never happen. "You'll never break that addiction. You'll never accomplish your dreams. You'll never be happy." But if you believe and stay in faith, and expect good things, you can defy the odds."

"Don't go around thinking, "Everybody gets good breaks except me. I've reached my limits... I don't know why I'm not as talented as that other person." No, get rid of that defeated mind-set. You are a child of the Most High God. God has breathed His life into you. He planted seeds of greatness in you. You have everything you need to fulfill your God-given destiny. God has already put in the talent, the creativity, the discipline, the wisdom, and the determination. It's all in you. You are full of potential. But you have to do your part and start tapping into it. You have to make better use of the gifts and talents that God has given you."

"Other people's opinions do not determine your potential."

"Out of your greatest rejection comes our greatest direction."

"Granted, you may have gotten off to a rough start in life. You may have had more than your share of unfair thins happen. But it's not how you start that counts. It's how you finish. Shake off the past; shake off discouragement. Remind yourself that God is still in complete control of your life. If you'll keep your trust in Him, He promises that no weapon formed against you will prosper. Your situation may seem unfair, it may be difficult; it may seem the forces working against you are winning momentarily, but God said He'd turn your circumstances around and use them to your advantage. The Scripture says, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy is coming in the morning."

"I don't deserve anything. I'm just a weak worm of the dust," I hear people say. No, you're not a weak worm of the dust; you are a child of the Most High God. Hold your head up high, put your shoulders back, and start acting like a child of Almighty God."

"Some people are always finding fault with themselves. "I wish I didn't look like this. I wish I had her personality, and I wish I had his talent." No, God designed you as you are on purpose. You are an original. Quit being negative and critical toward yourself and start enjoying yourself as the unique creation of God."

"Remember, we are called overcomers. That means we're going to have obstacles. You can't have great victories without having difficult battles."

"The Bible says, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law," The curse behind any kind of defeat - sin, mistakes, wrong choices, fear, worry, constant sickness, unhealthy relationships, or bad attitudes. Please understand that those are all things from which you have already been set free. But here's the catch: If you don't appreciate and take advantage of your freedom, if you don't get your thoughts, your words, your attitudes going in the right direction, it won't do you any good."

"Too many people learn to function in their dysfunction."

"Take responsibility for your actions. God has given you free will. You can choose to change.."

"Don't take the easy way out. Keep doing your best even when it's difficult. Keep loving, giving, and serving. Your faithfulness is noticed in heaven. You are storing up equity for both yourself and generations to come."

"Before you were born, God saw you, and He endowed you with gifts and talents uniquely designed for you. He's given you ideas and creativity, as well as specific areas in which you can excel."

"Sam asks God to forgive him every day for something he did three years ago. He has asked for forgiveness more than five hundred times for the same thing. Sam fails to grasp the fact that God forgave him the first time he asked. The problem is, Sam didn't recieve the forgiveness and mercy. He continues listening to the accusing voices. "You blew it, God can't bless you. You know what you did a few years ago." Instead Sam needs to get up every morning and say something like, "Father, thank You that Your mercy ednures forever. I may have mad mistakes in the past, but I know nothing I've done is too much for Your mercy. I may have even made mistakes yesterday. But I know Your mercy is fresh and new every single morning. So I receive it by faith today."

52 comments:

The Cachinnator said...

Sounds like America, but not like the Bible or the faith to me.

Seth Ward said...

Ooooo. Which part doesn't sound like the bible?

The part about "before you were born, God knew you." or the part about receiving forgiveness? Or what about the part about His mercy is new every morning? ... Or what about the part about free will? or choosing this day who you will serve? What about the part where he says "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law." Or what about the part where he talks about "weeping lasting for the night?"

Come on... back it up, buddy. Let's have it! Wahoo! Here we go! Or I guess we could wait for my own arguments.

For me, he's not talking about the cash, or works. He's talking repentance here. He's talking "change the way you think." People preach repentance till there blue in the face but don't have the balls to actually give some examples. Here Joel steps up and says: Change your mindset. Stop sinning and wallowing in guilt and failure. Receive your freedom and embrace your sonship. Or as St. Ignatius put it "Christian, know thy dignity."

Honestly, it reminds me of Swindol's Grace Awakening and Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel ion parts. Just not as deep theologically. And if I remember correctly, those two guys caught a crapload of flack for their books too. But major opinions on Joel are a'coming.

Chaotic Hammer said...

I agree with Cach.

A few questions for you, Seth:

-Who is his target audience here? Are all these sayings you've typed out equally true for those who trust Christ as Lord and Savior, as well as those who reject Him?

-Apart from a light sprinkling of the words "God", "Christ", and "Bible", how are any of these sayings any different than those of generic "power of positive thinking" life-coach pep-rally gurus? Would the meanings of any of these sayings change if we substituted with words like "higher power" and "wise teacher" and "enlightened book"?

I've got to admit, I've never actually seen Osteen's stuff written out like this before. If this is a good sampling of it, it's much worse than I thought. (I really mean that, not trying to be sarcastic or witty.)

Seth Ward said...

First off, I am not a man who takes anyone's word for it when it comes to judging a man's character. I've heard the Warren arguments and I've seen the CCN interviews and I've seen the judgments made after. I've been hearing everyone gripe about Joel for 5 years now and before I make may decision on the guy and what he teaches, I think I need to give him a fair shake. I've been to his church, a few times. In the old building, and the new one, so I can say from experience what that was like. So now on to the writings. I've been gathering the arguments against the guy and none of them hold water, or none of them are actually true... SO FAR.

C-ham, First question, Osteen's audience here is mostly for Christians, I assume, since he mentions Christ's atonement and God's forgivness in a "you've already received it, now believe it" way. I picked random quotes here as not to be biased. And for the most part, its pretty harmless and pretty darn encouraging. For the record, and for the sake of argument, whenever you disagree with Joel, or say things like "worse than I though" it would be great if you would: Back it up, and give the spiritua alternative. This is the only way this here discussion will be helpful to all that participate.

Second question: Uhhhhmmm, the things in the comment from above are from the Bible. That's my guess on how they are different.

Like: what in the world is wrong with "positive thinking?" You say it like it is a dirty word. Do either of you go around complaining all day? Where in the Scripture does it say to go around moping? and wallowing in self-pity?

And, since you mention wise words... Lewis and other great theologians even admit that there are wise things in other religions and faiths. Paul quoted Plato and other Greek writers, several times to make a point.

I'm still waiting on a good argument against what has been randomly chosen here...


Come on. Pick it apart. Get to it. Sharpen me.

Seth Ward said...

So guys, you know I love you. Hopefully, none of that came off as mean. But, you know me better than to toss out an argument and expect to swallow it! I don't buy: America=bad. or "Its worse than I thought," without telling me what's so bad about it, or worse, what's wrong about it.

Someone tell me why and where Osteen is wrong.

The Cachinnator said...

I never said America = bad. I never even said that it sounded bad; just that it doesn't sound like the gospel or like the faith. It sounds like the faith of someone completely uninterested in context or history. There's nothing wrong with being positive. I'm one of the most positive people that I know. And I've been to Osteen's church too. He's very positive.

What I'm not sure about is that even if there's nothing explicitly wrong with his message, (and sometimes I definitely think there is), I don't think the work of the church is to be positive. I don't think the role of the pastor is to cheer people up. I'm not saying that the opposite is true either; Just because it's not the pastor's role to cheer people doesn't make it his/her role to be a downer.

But to put a finer point on it, let me address some of your comments and some of his:

- It's not that the bible doesn't say that "His mercies are new every morning." Do you know where it says that? Lamentations 3. It's not a passage about God's forgiveness. It's a passage about endurance through unimaginable persecution, torture, and hardship. God is with us in the suffering. Which is not to say that God doesn't forgive. It's just sloppy prooftexting. And it's too easy to just twist Scripture to say what you want it to.

- When the psalmist says that "weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning," it is a restatement of the previous sentence that attributes that weeping to the anger of God. This is not a passage about time or God's favor being able to give you a better life as Osteen uses it. The rejoicing does not come because life got better. The psalmist rejoices because of the favor of God. This is a passage about the sovereignty of God and his power to deliver a person from persecution. It's not about "winning," a favorite topic of Osteens. What does "winning" mean? To Osteen, it means the American idea of a "better life." That life is a lie and proves that God is evil to the person suffering in a third world country who has no prospect of material success or health regardless of his/her faithfulness.

- Osteen says, "But if you believe and stay in faith, and expect good things, you can defy the odds." Says who? God? Where? If you define "good" as being faithfulness despite circumstance, then I may be able to go along with it. But that's not what Osteen says or means. Being a Christian doesn't help you "defy the odds." Head to a casino and disprove it. Read Ecclesiastes and see if it sounds like Osteen.

- Osteen says, "The Bible says, 'Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law,' The curse behind any kind of defeat - sin, mistakes, wrong choices, fear, worry, constant sickness, unhealthy relationships, or bad attitudes." Whoa! That's not what it means at all! He quotes Scripture, misinterprets it, and then blasts ahead with his predetermined agenda. Paul said that quote in a diatribe against Judaizers who were forcing Greeks to become Jewish before being able to be Christian. AND HE DOESN'T EVEN FINISH THE QUOTE! The full quote is "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.'" It has nothing to do with "sin, mistakes, wrong choices, fear, worry, constant sickness, unhealthy relationships, or bad attitudes." It's not that freedom from those things is bad, it's that Scripture does not say what he says it does! You can't do that with Scripture. As soon as you start bending Scripture to support your message of sentimentality that seems Christian-ish, you've undercut the authority of Scripture.

I could seriously do that with almost every quote you listed. It's not that what he says is bad, it's that Scripture does not say what he says it does. He is robbing Scripture of its power and meaning by prooftexting it like he does. And he's lying to people when he says that God promises a "better" life for them if they're faithful. It's not untrue, it's that "better" does not mean what he says it does: health, wealth, happiness. "Better" means commune with God.

Seth Ward said...

Oh, these are so good. THIS is what I'm looking for. I'll get to a response after I help Amber pack. I love my friends...

Seth Ward said...

Okay, so I didn't help Amber pack worth jack.

Great points, as usual. But first, to clarify, in your original statement, you said it didn't sound like the Bible. I was simply stating that it is full of Bible quotes. But I get you now.

So are you telling me, that the only way I can use the verse "mercies are new every morning" is when I'm enduring unbelievable and unimaginable persecution? Then if that is the case, I can't apply most of Peter's teaching to my life because he is addressing Christians who are expecting Jesus to return during their Generation. Therefore, if I am not expecting Jesus to return in my generation, then I cannot truly apply that scripture to my life. Moreover, I really can't apply it all because it was really just meant for their generation. And what about Jesus on the Cross? He is quoting a Psalms that ends in declaring God’s goodness, or is he just meaning to use the first part there about being forsaken?

And who says Joel isn't talking to people about who are suffering here? I talked to a woman recently who suffered from postpartum depression, to the point of suicidal thoughts. She loved that verse, and it helped her through her suffering. I'm all about context, but how much persecution does one have to endure in order to apply that scripture to their life?

Joel never says, to my knowledge, that third world sufferers are not living a winner's life. (Btw, Ed Young Sr., The Southern Baptist Pastor, has a program called 'The Winning Walk." and no one busts his balls for it.) Joel, admits that there is suffering, and that bad things happen. He also states that for a Christian, you can find rejoicing in the suffering, and that eventually, all things will work for the good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose, if not now, then later... but if now, the heck, why not? On reading further, I think he is talking about staying faithful during the suffering, and not dwelling on past mistakes and condemnation.

So from the beginning, Joel's audience was poor, lower-class, in-debt, people. (Still is, really) That's what they needed to hear. Jesus told the woman at the well to stop effing men. Joel told the Latinos charging up cards to stop charging up cards and doing drugs. When Joel preaches that God doesn’t want you to be in debt, God wants your kids to go to college, he wants you to be the best you can be, he is criticized, citing third world countries and suffering servants. But when they criticize, it seems like they are contradicting themselves by then going to other countries and embodying the very thing that they criticizing Joel for saying that God wants! They, themselves, are showing Gods love and hope through building schools, feeding people, giving them hope that God desires that none should perish... and wants them to go to school, eat, have a better life.

Personally, I think Joel is saying this: If you believe that you are redeemed, saved, and delivered, start acting like it. Start doing something about it. Change the way you think. Stop dwelling on past mistakes and forgiven sin. Ask for forgiveness and move on.

I don't think anyone has solved the problem of pain yet, least of all Joel. But he is preaching a repentance that makes sense to the people he started out preaching to. In our big Baptist churches people learn about Christian fiscal responsibility and planning in their little subsidiary classes at church, but Joel is preaching it from the pulpit to people who have never heard it. Imagine that? I went to a church once that charged people to learn what he is teaching, for free.

Now, I'll give you that curse of the law bit. I laughed a little when I typed it and I thought about leaving it out because the usage there was a tad... eh... shaky. But I want to be fair, and unbiased. But I might have to lower my percentage to 95% from 99%. However, I do think that freedom from sin means freedom from sin. And Christ sets us free from the bondage and slavery to it. I think that's what Joel is ultimately getting at there. He’s just talking about what kind of physical things sin may manifest itself. He goes on to give examples of people with addictions, and such...

"I don't think the work of the church is to be positive. I don't think the role of the pastor is to cheer people up. I'm not saying that the opposite is true either; Just because it's not the pastor's role to cheer people doesn't make it his/her role to be a downer."

For me, the heart of the problem people have with Joel is here. Come on folks, this stuff Joel is saying... we grew up hearing, and yes, the scriptural context wasn't perfect but we turned out alright. I mean, some of this stuff is stuff about dreams, my dad told me growing up. My dad: the most ant-name-it-claim-it man on the earth.

As far as the role of the pastor, this is where I agree with you and stem off from Osteen as the role of a pastor and the Church. But then again, the whole problem of the pastor goes waaaaaaaay beyond Joel and his teachings. In fact, Joel's situation (co-run and kept accountable by family) may be much less harmless than the system that many pastors today have set up, where they are accountable to hardly anyone. They are KING.


"It's not that what he says is bad, it's that Scripture does not say what he says it does. He is robbing Scripture of its power and meaning by prooftexting it like he does. And he's lying to people when he says that God promises a "better" life for them if they're faithful. It's not untrue, it's that "better" does not mean what he says it does: health, wealth, happiness. "Better" means commune with God."

I agree and disagree a bit with you here. Fist off, I think Osteen is talking about Repentance. You turn from sin, things will get better, not just spiritually, but physically. Does it work that way for everyone? No. But it does a bunch. If I stop lusting after women, I will enjoy my wife more. "Better" being spiritual and physical. We stop sinning because it not only kills our spirit, it kills our body's true meant-to-be functions. I think that what harms you spiritually, harms you physically. So, if you stop doing harm to yourself spiritually, you will stop harming your self physically and your quality of life improves.

Are you saying that communing with God has nothing to do with the physical as well? Then why does the physical matter at all? Now we are getting into the Eastern relgions.

Can you honestly say that if you were to lose your house your car your wife, your family, the whole sheebang, and if God didn't take you too that "better" wouldn't eventually mean something in the physical as well?

I know that in the end, all suffering is turned inside out, and those who suffer the most, will be rewarded most, Like Lewis said, but while we are living... here, now, blessings... don't you think that could mean a warm meal to a starving body… or an unexpected money in the mail to a family that couldn't pay the bills?

Job stayed faithful, but we tend to forget that his faithfulness was rewarded. No getting around that one. (I think!) Our ultimate Joy is the Lord, but we are also physical, and he blesses us with things in the physical world. Family, food, friendship, health... The whole bit belongs to God and He gives and He takes away. Its that "takes away" part that pisses us off and throws a kink in things. But if the whole earth is his, then he gives and blesses who and when he pleases and he allows some to suffer a lot, and some not as much. Joel acknowledges this, believe it or not. The bible does seem to hint, old testament, that if you are faithful, you will be blessed. And after living in NYC for a few months, I don't think the Jewish authors were just talking about spiritual blessings.

After all, why did he make the Earth? I have a notion that he made it for us.

The Cachinnator said...

Again, I haven't said that my major disagreement with him is with his message. By and large I think his message is great! You're absolutely right that people need to hear the things he says. But be fair, I never compared him to anyone. I have listened to very little of what anyone else has said about him. Preachers picking on preachers is one of the stupidest-ass things I can think of. I actually think that he's less harmful than many of the big guys of Christian celebrity. I'm not comparing him to anyone; I'm just analyzing his message.

To answer some of your points about Joel:

- "...who says Joel isn't talking to people about who are suffering here?" He does. In the quote you gave he is talking about a guy named Sam who is having trouble getting over something from his past. It's not that God doesn't have forgiveness and mercy for us that never runs out; It's that that isn't what that Scripture is talking about! Either context matters or it doesn't. Either we can just grab at words and cram them into whatever meaning we want - even if it's a generally orthodox point - or we actually read Scripture and we actually listen to it.

This point is huge. And it's well worth picking on. Scripture study must be taken seriously and done carefully. It's easy to shrug off sloppiness in someone as likable and harmless as Osteen, but it is a grossly dangerous precept to accept as good practice and methodology.

- "Personally, I think Joel is saying this:..." That's the problem though. We can interpret what he says into harmlessness, but when it's written down all we can do is read it. And what he says is grossly negligent when it comes to Scriptural interpretation.

- "For me, the heart of the problem people have with Joel is here. Come on folks, this stuff Joel is saying... we grew up hearing, and yes, the scriptural context wasn't perfect but we turned out alright." Sure, we turned out alright. But many many people didn't. I know many people whose faith is ruined because they opened their eyes as adults and came to the only logical conclusion of a lifetime of misinterpretation: the church lied to me. Good intentions do not excuse poor exegesis.

- "However, I do think that freedom from sin means freedom from sin." But Osteen quoted a passage about freedom from the law! That's indefensible! He just leaped from law to sin as if the two were interchangeable! No responsible person could let that pass.

Now on to some of your more interesting tangles:

Of course the physical is intertwined with the spiritual. That's what it means to be a Christian. That's at the core of our faith. What you can't do is equate quality of that physicality with quality of spirituality. And intentional or not, that's what Osteen does. The two are inequitable. It's undeniable that many people who oppose God to their very core live healthy, happy, productive lives far beyond those of the faithful. If you could pray your way or obey your way into health, wealth, and "winning," then we would have to concede that these people who defy God are mysteriously faithful and obedient. It doesn't wash.

But your most interesting and important point is the one you made right up front about only being able to apply Scripture to your life when your circumstances perfectly align with those of the subject or original audience. I'll say this, no, that's not the case, but it's much closer to that than the way Scripture is popularly used by most Christians today. We can never, and I mean never, read, study, or quote Scripture apart from its original context and audience. It must always be kept in mind. And the truth of the matter is that we are very rarely the subject or audience of Scripture. We don't like to hear that. We like to tell ourselves that we are the most important people God ever made. But He doesn't say that.

One of the most meaningless trifles bantied about in Christianese is that "the Bible is God's love letter to us." No it isn't. That's absurd. It is the collected theology, narrative, folklore, tradition, history, poetry, and story of God's interaction with humans. It's not personal. Though we gain a personal relationship with God through it and the church, you can't personalize it. If you can personalize it, then it becomes okay to take certain verses and passages as "meaning something to me." And that's how you get to prooftexting and ignoring context, audience, and history.

Like I said, this is not something only Osteen is guilty of. This is rampant in the modern church. That's how we get to silliness such as reading Timothy to say that all women in all places in all times are forbidden from leadership in the Church while ignoring the verses immediately surrounding it that forbid women to wear nice clothes, do their hair, or wear jewelry to Church. Timothy wasn't written to us! It was written to Timothy in Ephesus in the Second Century! While there is much to be learned and gained from it, we can't pretend we were its intended audience!

So you can apply the whole of Scripture to your life, but not as if it were written to you. How egocentric of us to act that way? And that's what is done when Osteen and others use Scripture to support their predetermined point rather than draw their point and their teaching out of Scripture in a responsible and careful manner. Even when the net result is the same, as in the "new mercies" example, we cannot responsibly tolerate that cavalier and sloppy approach to Scripture.

Vitamin Z said...

Seth,

Thanks for this engaging discussion. I find Joel's stuff as classic over-realized eschatology. All the stuff he is talking about will happen one day, and it was inaugurated in Jesus, but we have to embrace the "already/not yet" tension in which we live right now.

Imagine trying to give this book to a suffering Christian in the Sudan. Or how about a Christian suffering beyond belief in a prison camp in North Korea. Do you think you could do it? I don't think I could stomach it.

Popcorn said...

May I jump in and in the most respectful and loving tone of voice ask, WHY? The very concept of posting a picture of someone, anyone, especially someone who is at least trying to spread the word of Christ to those that might not otherwise hear it is disturbing. Regular people with 8-5 jobs (job: from "the english" a phenom. in which an individual gets up early, gets ready and leaves the home for 8 hours in which to earn money to use for food, shelter, and other daily necessities for self and family) may not be ready for the "heavy stuff" spoken of in some of those high brow books you arrogantly name drop.And btw, making positive comments concerning your subject does not absolve you of the questionable motive for this excercise. Newbies have to start somewhere and progress to the lofty spiritual mountaintops upon which you all perch. While the Osteen ministry might be light fare to such learned palates as yours, for some it is the much needed life jacket being tossed by a willing man. A man who, I would venture to guess, would never post a picture of any of you for the sake of "blogwrassin'" as a way to while away idle hours.And nice save on the mispelling of his name in the invitation to spar. Wrassle with that.

The Cachinnator said...

That's terribly unfair, Popcorn. Seth is anything but arrogant, especially in his treatment of this subject, and he didn't name drop a single book or author. This is a discussion of ideas and theology and his mention of other theologians is entirely appropriate.

There is nothing at all disturbing about posting a picture of Osteen and having a discussion about his teachings. You can't publish books like he does and put yourself to the forefront of American media and attention and then expect people to not evaluate your message. I have no doubt that Mr. Osteen would not be bothered in the least by a discussion of this kind. It's only his devotees who are unwilling to think critically about what he says and how he says it that typically get their feathers ruffled over anyone questioning his theology and methodology.

And, in the strongest terms, no, the argument that he has good intentions and is trying to help does not place him or his message above scrutiny. You can't possibly extend that argument to someone that you disagree with and expect it to hold any water, therefore don't expect it to have any weight with those of us who disagree with Osteen.

We as Christians have a responsibility to lift each other up to the highest possible level. That's not over-intellectualizing anything; the gospel is not and need not be an elitist ideology only attainable by the smartest and most educated among us. To wit, if it isn't something that can be grasped and accepted by the least so among us then we have done the gospel a great disservice.

But presenting the gospel in a simple manner for those new to the faith does not necessitate using poor exegetical technique and sloppy interpretive technique.

This conversation has nothing to do with arrogance, lofty spiritual mountaintops, high brow books, or learned palates. These are subjects, ideas, and people that are readily accessible in the public arena and deserve to be discussed, challenged, studied, debated, and understood. Do you have anything to contribute to the actual discussion?

Vitamin Z said...

C-Ham - good response...

Here might be something for all of us to consider in terms of Osteen:

1. Stop telling the people what to do before telling them what God has already done, (see structure of Eph. 1-3 = indicatives/4-6 = imperatives, just one Biblical example, they are all over the place)

2. Stop using the wrong logical key words between those two things (it’s usually “in order to” rather than “because of”).

z

MamasBoy said...

This thread contains the deepest things I've ever read from the keyboard of the Cachinator, perhaps ever.

My two minute take...
Much, if not most, of what Osteen says is great. He is encouraging people who need it.

The context issue is important, though, as Cach points out. I might add that there is a danger, evident in Cach's example of the inclusion of women pastor's, in dismissing Scriptural ideas as merely aimed at one particular culture, especially when Scripture and enlightened American culture collide.

Also, it bothers me when people equate sickness with the curse of the law and say that Jesus overcame sickness, as if constant sickness is definitely outside of God's plan for all Christians. Jesus didn't just die to redeem us from suffering. Many times in Scripture, we are told that if we suffer as He did, we will be saved. There is a redemptive value to suffering. It can be a good, even necessary part of our faith. Perhaps it is only necessary because we live in a broken and sinful world, but that isn't going to change in this life. This isn't just a problem for Osteen, though. When was the last time any of us heard someone talk about the goodness of suffering and it's role in our redemption.

The above doesn't mean that I disagree that, quite often, repentance leads to a better life here on earth. It often (perhaps most of the time) does lead to improvements.

MB

Stephen said...

Seth, you wrote: "Job stayed faithful, but we tend to forget that his faithfulness was rewarded. No getting around that one. (I think!)"

I went to a bible study a couple years ago taught by Michael Card, and when we were discussing Job, he said "if I were a liberal scholar, I would say that the last chapter of Job was added later and dismiss it that way". I agree, I wish it wasn't there. The last time I heard Job talked about in Church, the pastor spent about two minutes talking about the first part of the book, about 30 seconds talking about the whole middle section, and then about 15 minutes talking about the last chapter and how if you trust God everything works out and God will bless you. So my response in discussions about Job are, I'm sure, a reaction (or over-reaction) against that, since I don't think that is the point of the story.

The Cachinnator said...

Right with you, Stephen.

Vitamin Z said...

Seth,

More fuel for your fire:

http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=7IuiUOapK1w

Seth Ward said...

Learning a ton here friends. Many thanks for your contributions here.

Cach, "We can never, and I mean never, read, study, or quote Scripture apart from its original context and audience. It must always be kept in mind. And the truth of the matter is that we are very rarely the subject or audience of Scripture. We don't like to hear that. We like to tell ourselves that we are the most important people God ever made. But He doesn't say that."

I'm with you here buddy. All the way. BUT, I do think that sometimes, God moves beyond boundaries and can talk however he wants, just as long as it is not contrary to His character, and it's kept in check with the rest of the scripture. "Mercies are new every morning," could be used as someone who is suffering, and someone who is struggling with forgiveness... neither are contrary to His character nor does the different context diminish the truth of the message. But, overall, I think it is the thing that I cringe about the most as I try to build a case for Joel. But then again, I'm not trying to prove that Joel's words are infallible, I'm simply saying that they aren't heresy, or bologna, or eternally harmful, or anything else that has been thrown his direction as far as accusations. I think he's no more harmful than any number of sundayschool teachers or youth ministers that I had growing up. And much less harmful than the Catholic hating reformers.

poopcorn, in the immortal words of scoobydoo... "huuuuuh?" I'm the one trying to defend Joel here with these posts... what in the holy schnikies are you talking about Willis?? And thank you for you little "spoken in love" prelude. I would have been entirely confused at your tone if it weren't for that. It gave me warm and fuzzies, all over. You better watch out. I've got your vocals on my computer and I can make you sound like a chipmunk if I wanna. HA! TOUCHE!

But seriously, ... huh? Did you read my last posts, or my defense of the things in his book??? How am I knocking Joel???

About the name dropping... I'm not sure I'd call Augustine or Aquinas name dropping... they being one breath away from the Apostle Paul as important and quoted theologians. But since you mentioned it, I reference these guys to show that Osteen's view on things isn't that far-fetched from what has been taught all along about repentance and such... (still can't remember where I dropped...) Many guys and girls that read this here blog respect Aquinas & Augustine, and not Joel. Using beloved theologians to to establish credibility is a common practice in building one's argument.

I think that's what you are talking about as far as name dropping... If you are referring to my last post about not caring much for Lucado's writings and preferring Aquinas, that was simply me stating that I don't care for Lucado and prefer Aquinas, which was another purposed statement to build my argument. (btw, I used to like Lucado a lot! But, my tastes and spiritual needs changed.) Therefore, I don't normally read Osteen material, and therefore, I can give him a fair shake because I'm not protecting my territory. (Honestly, I've really enjoyed his book. I find it really darn encouraging. Who wouldn't?!)

But why voice my distance? 'Cause nobody is more likely to think their kid don't stink than the stinking kid's mom. That's how people get with these fellows. Highly overprotective. (See: your post. -Ha!) And yes, I do believe Aquinas to be a deeper writer than Lucado or Osteen. And so would they. It is the truth. Osteen admits he's not a scripture stud. That does not make me arrogant. Nor does it make me arrogant to say that I prefer one to the other. But in the end, who cares if Aquinas means jack crap to you and Osteen's writings are drawing you nigh unto the Lord? The drawing nigh is what is important. God speaks in the simple things most times more powerfully than in the complex. So I'm the one with the problem if I can't hear the simple. But don't dog a man for having different taste in Christian Lit. It doesn't make me smarter, it just means we are interested in hearing different things in our Christian pilgrimage. Take fiction: I prefer Grisham over Dickens, but Dickens towers above Grisham in beauty of prose by miles. Is someone arrogant for calling Dickens better than Grisham? No, they're just right.

But from your tone, maybe I should clarify the most recent blog post, because it is VERY important that I am clear.

The reason for the disclaimer-post was to let people know, that I am not approaching Joel from a slanted point of view. I'm giving him a fair shake. If you want to carp on somebody for criticizing Joel, call up Rick Warren, who thinks Joel is the devil in an Armani. Warren, among other big-shot pastors, has lambasted Osteen for years, and after watching the last 60 minutes interview, where Joel is obviously being painted as another scandalous televangelist, while the guy is just being as open has he can be, unlike the scoundrel evangelists of the past, or Even Benny Hin.

So I got fed up and decided to investigate. And after investigating, I've decided that he ain't that bad. (bad meaning poor doctrine, and heretical theology... basically things he is accused of every hour of every day be every non-charismatic-seminary graduated pastor across the nation.) And, that most accusations made against him are out of context and bogus. In fact, I don't see a REAL problem if you read the whole book, (his latest, which is all I've read) and listen to the whole sermons. He's done a bunch of good in a bunch of people's lives, and I believe he's done it with integrity, and that puts him above allllll the televangelist, prosperity preachers before him, for starters. Shoot, he may just say something that will change my life, and I hope he does!

So, believe it or not, I'm trying to defend him.

Oh, and yes, thank you. I changed Olsteen to Ole'steen because I jacked-up the spelling and 3 subscribers/friends emailed me about it. So I thought it would be funny, knowing everyone would catch it, and I expected more of my subscribers to bust my balls about it, but I guess they are used to my misspellings hastily posted blogs by now and it's old hat to them. If you choose to hang around, you'll see much, much more of that. But case in point, that's how much I knew about the cat before I started the discussion, I thought his name was Olsteen. You got me!

Vitamin Z, well... if they happened to run onto Osteen's book, I wouldn't stop them. But then again, I wouldn't give an aspirin to a Diabetic when they need insulin.

Meaning, Osteen is mostly targeting down and out, jobless, credit-troubled, irresponsible, sulking in an impoverished mindest, guilt-ridden Americans who are suffering from things that Americans get depressed about... (we have all fit one of those descriptions at one time or another.) So, maybe some Mother Teresa might be more appropriate for the suffering Christian, or Justin Martyras, St. Ignatius, Origen, or Polycarp far as non-bible literature goes.

MB, Yeah, that whole overcoming sickness... and I agree, in the eternal play of things, suffering is a gift, strangely. Only the Almighty could turn our awful suffering into Greater glory. Hallelujah.

However, to argue from where I think Joel is coming from, did Christ not conquer all things that were a product of the fall? Sickness being one? Vitamin-Z's point kicks in here about being inbetween things. "All the stuff he is talking about will happen one day, and it was inaugurated in Jesus, but we have to embrace the "already/not yet" tension in which we live right now." -Vit. Z

I do agree with this, but like our sin, I think we can make great strides against what used to enslave us. Like going days, weeks without sinning. I believe strongly in miracles.

Here we see Osteen's pentacostal heritage shining through. Again, nothing to go throwing the heresy word around about.

Stephen, how cool it is that you get to have sunday school with Card.

But I gotta say, I like the "and he lived happily ever after" ending of Job. The first part of Job is about suffering, the end shows us that we do not suffer without hope, whether in this life or the one up in the big city.

I think Christians have a real problem with God rewarding faithfulness, or blessings at all. I think some of it may be a little older-brother-prodigal-son or why-John-not-me Peter syndrome.

Vitamin, Cach, C-ham, popcorn, and Stephen, I love you. Keep stretching me. This is fun. Joel, if your out there, I'm rooting for you buddy.

Super Churchlady said...

OK - I realize I'm showing up to the party late.

Seth - you love to stir up Poo-Poo, my friend.

I won't pretend to have read all these comments in detail - so forgive me if I'm reiterating a point already made.

I have serious concerns about Osteen's approach - and his more mellow "name it and claim it" theology. Because that's what it is - if you ask me. It's a doctrine where God is to be used for the here and now - vs. a God that is to be worshipped for who He is. He is God - and yes, He cares for us and wants us to have joy. (That's JOY - not necessarily happiness. And I think there's a difference.)

I know he attracts some people that would never, ever go to church or open a Bible were it not for his positive messages, but if that person isn't moving from the baby milk that one might get at Lakewood to a more meaty relationship with Christ - then when things start to go wrong in their life (and they will!) they will resent God and leave Lakewood and I suppose that one could argue that this could ultimately do more harm than good.

Having said all that - I think one should tread lightly and carefully when criticizing a fellow believer in Christ (and I think He is one.)

This Southern Belle said...

Hi, Seth. I've "lurked" on your blog since I found Amber's some time ago. Heady discussions are just not my thing, but I just can't help to leave my two cents about Osteen.

With Osteen's history as a motivational speaker, I've found myself very suspect of his warm & fuzzy message in the past. However, in the end, I've decided that only God knows what is in his heart and is the only one who can truly know his intentions or calling. Who am I or you to try to call him out?

That being said, I desperately worry about those who follow his messages and whether they are fully equipped with the armor that they need. But, in the end, a simple and positive faith in a God that is forgiving, grace-filled, and almighty--sounds pretty Biblical to me.

Perhaps it's the cynic in some of us that challenges the message?

Of course, I have a Masters in Finance and spend my day discussing theology with a 4 year old. What do I know? ;)

Vitamin Z said...

You said:

"Meaning, Osteen is mostly targeting down and out, jobless, credit-troubled, irresponsible, sulking in an impoverished mindest, guilt-ridden Americans who are suffering from things that Americans get depressed about... (we have all fit one of those descriptions at one time or another.) So, maybe some Mother Teresa might be more appropriate for the suffering Christian, or Justin Martyras, St. Ignatius, Origen, or Polycarp far as non-bible literature goes."

Should not the preaching of the gospel be able to reach out to all, and especially those who are being persecuted?

Did not Jesus say that we are to pick up our cross? anyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus WILL be persecuted 1 Tim 3:12? And on and on... Jesus was nail to a cross! If a Christian theology doesn't have room for suffering I have a hard time considering it Christian. It's our lot in so many ways this side of heaven. If you can't give it to the North Korean prisoner then I don't think it works... I could be wrong.

Seth Ward said...

No, you've got a point, and a darn good one. That's why some ministers call Joel more of a self-help guru than a preacher of the Gospel. And I ain't going to lie or pretend to defend that part of his ministry. It is most certainly lopsided. I would say there are things in his book by which anyone could find encouragement, but overall, he uses examples that would relate more to Americans. Again, it wouldn't be my first choice as a gift on several different spiritual planes.

My point from the beginning was not that he isn't lopsided, he is. My point was to explore whether his message is wrong or not and if it warrants the onslaught of criticism that it gets. From what is being said, one would think that from top to bottom, Joel is wrong as wrong can be.

Chaotic Hammer said...

Seth said: So guys, you know I love you. Hopefully, none of that came off as mean. But, you know me better than to toss out an argument and expect to swallow it! I don't buy: America=bad. or "Its worse than I thought," without telling me what's so bad about it, or worse, what's wrong about it.

Many of us have known you for quite some time, Seth, and have previously engaged in very lengthy and involved discussions about a wide variety of subjects with you. Some of us have been privileged enough to break bread with you in person, and know what your heart is about. Nothing you type here will offend me in the least. "Tone" doesn't always convey well in on-line discussions, so visitors to your site who have not been part of these discussions previously might misunderstand. But I think all your friends "get it", that this is all about growth and fruitful discussion, iron sharpening iron, etc.

Seth said: For the record, and for the sake of argument, whenever you disagree with Joel, or say things like "worse than I though" it would be great if you would: Back it up, and give the spiritua alternative. This is the only way this here discussion will be helpful to all that participate.

Sorry about that. That comment of mine about "it's much worse than I thought" was a sincere and visceral reaction to the quotes you posted. It wasn't meant to be part of the conversation per se, and I agree that it's vague and useless in the context of this discussion. I could easily write several thick books on my background in the Charismatic and Word-Faith churches. That's where I became a believer. I could also expound at length on the manifold non-Christian teachings to which I was a devout adherent before I became a Christian. The similarities between many of those teachings and much of what I consider errant "Christian" doctrine are striking.

I'm not a newcomer when it comes to knowing and understanding the many issues related to the general subject matter which you're delving into here. I have participated in the lives of many people, close personal friends, who have been directly affected and impacted by this exact type of message and theology we are discussing.

I say all that to say this: I wonder if there's really any use in my trying to discuss Joel Osteen specifically with you here, in light of the fact that I don't actually know anything about Joel Osteen personally. If you're using him as a quintessential representative of a very common approach to Christian faith and theology, then I can tell you specifically which things about it I have serious issues with. But I can't address him personally, and wouldn't be fair in doing so, since I haven't read any of his books, and have only seen him on TV for a cumulative total of about 30 minutes.

I asked you a couple of honest questions to get the ball rolling, and you did answer, so let's address those for now.

Seth said: Osteen's audience here is mostly for Christians, I assume, since he mentions Christ's atonement and God's forgivness in a "you've already received it, now believe it" way. I picked random quotes here as not to be biased. And for the most part, its pretty harmless and pretty darn encouraging.

Right away, I'd like to challenge your assumption. I personally know several people (I say "personally" because they're real people, not fictional characters created to make a point) who love to listen to Joel Osteen, and are openly hostile to anything even remotely close to what you and I would call the Gospel of Christ. (For brevity in this long discussion, please don't make me define what "the Gospel of Christ" is. You and I are in agreement on the fundamentals of that). See, if he were merely a motivational speaker trying to make people feel good, I'd be just fine with that. But I believe he goes by the title Pastor. I believe Lakewood considers itself a Christian church. I know we all have areas of accountability before God, and each of us will answer for certain things -- but to me, it's utterly unconscionable (I literally tremble at the thought) to be in such a highly visible position on planet Earth in this present age as Joel is, and yet to be so devoutly ambiguous with the core of your message. A person could listen to this stuff for years and years, and never once hear mention of his sin, separation from God, need for repentance, etc. A person could very easily do exactly what you're doing -- assume that since Joel doesn't ever differentiate, he must be talking to me. Just as I am. Right here, right now.

Now, once again we're in the realm of things I can't prove based merely on the quotes you've provided. You could argue that these quotes are only a random sampling, and Osteen spends plenty of time addressing the Gospel as presented in the Bible, and urging acknowledgment of sin, need for atonement, repentance, etc. I don't believe he does, and I believe you've provided an accurate representation of his message with these quotes. But I can't prove it.

Seth said: Uhhhhmmm, the things in the comment from above are from the Bible. That's my guess on how they are different.

Like: what in the world is wrong with "positive thinking?" You say it like it is a dirty word. Do either of you go around complaining all day? Where in the Scripture does it say to go around moping? and wallowing in self-pity?

And, since you mention wise words... Lewis and other great theologians even admit that there are wise things in other religions and faiths. Paul quoted Plato and other Greek writers, several times to make a point.


Now maybe we're getting somewhere. This will start to overlap with the things which Cach has already done a great job of addressing, I think. Cach is correct that the things quoted here "from the Bible" are flagrant and shameless misuses of the Scriptures, even by the most generous standards.

Frankly, the rest of your answers (your paragraphs 2 and 3) are a bit of a dodge of my questions. See, you automatically assumed that you knew where I was going with these questions, and you addressed a straw man rather than my actual questions. I didn't say, or even imply, there is anything wrong with "positive thinking". I didn't say, or even imply, that the Scriptures advocate "moping and self-pity". Finally, I didn't criticize the use of contemporaneous thought by apologists trying to make a point.

I'll go ahead and assert for the record, though: There is no difference between the principles, ideas, and concepts expressed in these quotes, and the very same principles, ideas, and concepts expressed in any generic "positive talk" guru. And that's OK, if we view Osteen purely as a motivational speaker.

But now we get right to the base of why I have a problem with this sort of "theology". See, Osteen is not purely a motivational speaker. Is he? Again (I repeat myself) his title is Pastor, and his message is being given to a "church". (Isn't it? You said that was his target audience). Yet I could take these precise, identical quotes (and really, Joel's whole message), and strip out or dumb-down the lightly added "Christianeze" and give it to a motivational "power of positive thinking" speaker, and you wouldn't have to change a thing.

See, it's the difference between presenting the true heart of the Gospel of Christ, the beautiful story of God's redemption of man, as expressed in Scripture and passed down through the ages at a terrible cost to the saints who have gone before us VERSUS importing an entirely foreign, man-made system of thought, philosophy, and mystery theology to a whole new audience, and using the pretense of "gospel" or "church" or "Christ" as mere window-dressing. I'm saying that as "gospel", it's a complete counterfeit when compared to the real thing. I'm saying that the real Gospel is scandalous and offensive, not ear-tickling.

I'll finish up by reaffirming again what I said earlier -- I don't know much about Osteen personally, and haven't read enough of his writing to make any sort of judgments about him specifically. He seems like a genuinely nice fellow, likable and upbeat. My contention is with his genre of "theology", and the negative effect I've seen it have in so many lives through the years.

Seth Ward said...

Southern Belle, thank you for participating! Because you voiced my sentiments, better than I could.

"However, in the end, I've decided that only God knows what is in his heart and is the only one who can truly know his intentions or calling. Who am I or you to try to call him out?

That being said, I desperately worry about those who follow his messages and whether they are fully equipped with the armor that they need. But, in the end, a simple and positive faith in a God that is forgiving, grace-filled, and almighty--sounds pretty Biblical to me."

MamasBoy said...

C-Ham said,
"Cach is correct that the things quoted here "from the Bible" are flagrant and shameless misuses of the Scriptures, even by the most generous standards."

Has anyone here read the NT quotes from the OT. If the NT authors could get away with what they did, then maybe Joel ain't doin' too bad as long as he doesn't contradict Scripture. The way we study Scripture and quote passages is very different than the way Paul and other NT authors did the same.

MB

Seth Ward said...

Quick comment between towel and dressing:

I thought about that too, MB. I just didn't have the guts to say it. For me that is more a of a "huh..." observation, that a justification for Joel to use the Scripture as his watercolors kit, to paint whatever pretty picture he wants. However, I still think that God moves beyond lego-like contextual boundaries and can talk however he wants. I'm only comfortable or willing to concede the most basic characteristics of God when reading scripture. Like His: mercy, love, justice, blessing, strength, goodness... just as long as it is not contrary to His character, and it's kept in check with the rest of the scripture.

However, the Jews wouldn't have give Paul a bit of slack in this area, since he was using it to prove Jesus as Messiah.

Seth Ward said...

I just watched another Osteen Sermon.

I think that there are reasons that he pisses most middle class to upper-middle class people off with his sermons. And it ain't just about his lack of scriptural muscles.

Here's part of the reason why: He as the audacity to say that your money belongs to God. He has the audacity to say that you being in needless debt, is wrong, and God sees it. Immediately when we see that statement, we come up with 35 excuses to why we have the debt we have, and inadvertently, we are blaming God for it. One of the first signs that someone has hit near the mark.

If the Corinthians needed a sermon on sexual immorality, the Americans need a sermon on fiscal responsibility, and stupid debt. How in the world can we help people the way we should or could, if we are constantly feeding ourselves with things we don't need, and increasing our debt and slavery to those things. This pisses us off. We don't like to think that we, somehow, are responsible for what we do with our money, or that God gives a rip about what we do with our money. Sure, we'll pray for a good job, sure we'll pray that God will provide for us, but when someone preaches a sermon on how we can change our bad habits, well, he's not preaching the scripture.

From what I heard, which is different than most prosperity preachers who say give to the church and God will bless you, no matter what, just send the check, Joel actually gives specific examples on what to do about your addictions, debt, and other things that are plaguing the subconscious of our country to the point where our appetite only groans for more, and not for what is prudent or realistic. Then, at the end, he doesn't even ask for a check. (Which urks is critics something fierce.)

It bugs us a little that Joel is saying things that we, ourselves -those of us that are making goals, paying off debt, trying to be responsible and prudent- use, every day. So what do we do? We say he's just a motivational speaker. Why? Because somehow, we think that WE are responsible, completely for how much cash is in our account. Why? One deep reason might be because some of us have given up on our original dreams to ensure finacial stability in a job that we don't want. To us, that means God couldn't cut it in the area where we felt called, so we had to pick up the slack, just incase he might have been an absentee landlord. But that's beside the point and another topic.

The difference between Joel and a motivational speaker or a financial planner is that he states that God has a hand in all that. Not just a hand, but that it all belongs to Him, comes from Him, and he sees every penny spent. I'm not sure I disagree. In fact, I don't.

MamasBoy said...

"One deep reason might be because some of us have given up on our original dreams to ensure finacial stability in a job that we don't want."

Hey, there, buddy. Watch it.
:-)

I also want to clarify that I'm not justifying what Joel is doing with taking Scripture out of context by current standards. I'm just saying he is in good company when doing so.

MB

Seth Ward said...

First let me say how much I appreciate all your thoughts on this. I'm learning a lot, and I'm close to my own personal judgment on the matter. I'm reading and considering them all and I'll hopefully get to them all.

C-hammer. Thanks for the well-thought out response. I can certainly empathize with your charismatic past. I played in an old-school Assemblies of God Church for a year and I know what can go on there.

"A person could listen to this stuff for years and years, and never once hear mention of his sin, separation from God, need for repentance,"

Someone could do the sticking to certain parts of the bible. However, it seems that repentance is all Joel teaches. However, Joel's spiritual gift is encouragement, OBVIOUSLY, so it just doesn't seem like he is saying "repent you filthy sinner!" Rather, "If you are struggling with addiction, guilt, failures, things you've done wrong, know that God's loves you and he wants to help you. He wants to live in victory and not accept defeat. Here are some things you can do to turn your life around." To me, he is trying to make "repent" make sense. Most Christians don't even know where to start in the road to repentance. They ask for forvgiveness for the same thing a zillion times, yet no one is there to help them know what to do. I think Joel offers this help.

"Quotes from the bible are flagrant and shameless misuses of the Scriptures, even by the most generous standards."

I think that's a bit extreme. I've heard worse, in Baptist Church Sundayschool, about more important things, like the deity of Christ, or the Trinity,

"I didn't say, or even imply, there is anything wrong with "positive thinking". I didn't say, or even imply, that the Scriptures advocate "moping and self-pity". Finally, I didn't criticize the use of contemporaneous thought by apologists trying to make a point.but I'll give a little on this."

I'll give a bit on this point as well. But, when you use "motivational speaker" as a derogatory argument, then it is not a far-out assumption to think you mean that "motivational speaker" is either missing something or not good in some way.

"There is no difference between the principles, ideas, and concepts expressed in these quotes, and the very same principles, ideas, and concepts expressed in any generic "positive talk" guru."

I disagree. Joel uses God in every sentence, and quotes scripture about forgiveness and mercy in the other ones. Believe it or not, every thing begins and ends with "Delight yourself in the Lord" with Joel. Different from motivational speakers I've heard in secular venues.

"Yet I could take these precise, identical quotes (and really, Joel's whole message), and strip out or dumb-down the lightly added "Christianeze" and give it to a motivational "power of positive thinking" speaker, and you wouldn't have to change a thing."

Again, I could strip down a bunch of the Proverbs and even some of the Psalms, and do the same. Even the Gospels. Thomas Jefferson did it, so did many of the first liberal Christians, or Deists. At least Joel preaches that God can work miracles.

"See, it's the difference between presenting the true heart of the Gospel of Christ, the beautiful story of God's redemption of man, as expressed in Scripture and passed down through the ages at a terrible cost to the saints who have gone before us VERSUS importing an entirely foreign, man-made system of thought, philosophy, and mystery theology to a whole new audience, and using the pretense of "gospel" or "church" or "Christ" as mere window-dressing. I'm saying that as "gospel", it's a complete counterfeit when compared to the real thing. I'm saying that the real Gospel is scandalous and offensive, not ear-tickling."

I'll go through this passionately written paragraph and try to see what the underlying point is...

-Being a Christian means you might die for your faith or you might experience hard times.-
I haven't heard anything that denotes that Joel disagrees with this. He just chooses to tell people that when hard times come, God works through those for your good and his Glory.

"entirely foreign, man-made system of thought, philosophy, and mystery theology to a whole new audience, and using the pretense of "gospel" or "church" or "Christ" as mere window-dressing."

What is man made about "stop sinning?" Repent (Joel chooses to use "change the way you think" rather than the traditional nomenclature, which happens to be the meaning of the word. Joel states that through Christ and God's help, you can change. He chooses to talk about simple, practical things, rather than difficult, abstract theological principles and expect people to figure out how to do it on their own. So when Joel says: "You can be forgiven, right where you are, and with God's help you can overcome addictions," he doesn't stop there. He starts talking about steps to be taken. Goals, ways to achieve them. Like getting into a recovery group, getting accountability partners, righting your goals down, and start believing that God can help you claim victory in your life. I don't find this counterfeit at all. I find it refreshing and downright practical.

The biggest argument I hear is that people don't have a problem with what Joel is saying so much, but that he doesn't preach sin, and the Cross enough, so he shouldn't be a pastor. I agree that he doesn't preach enough doctrine, but again, I think if there is something that cannot be captured about the full Lakewood service in the television broadcast. We only get 1/3 of the service. When you go, first, you are overwhelmed with the Joy and open vulnerableness that is there. Then, if you sing a single song, there is no WAY that you cannot hear the Gospel. And for me, the Gospel has always been more powerful in a song. Most of the healing in my life has come in a church service has come through music, not a sermon. Last time I was there, they sang "It is Well." I haven't heard a sermon yet that preaches what that song says better.

Susanne said...

First of all, I have to say that I have a VERY hard time listening to Osteen talk. His voice really bothers me. That has nothing to do with his theology...it's just the way I am. Therefore, I try really hard not to listen to him. But the few times I have listened to him preach, I was very disappointed to hear him say that Christians should not have to SUFFER. Listening to him talk, I would think that if I have cancer it means that I'm not a good enough Christian. I must be doing something wrong. I hear stories all the time about Christians in third-world countries who are doing much more for God's kingdom than I am. And what material goods do they have? Next to nothing. And they're okay with that because, unlike Osteen, they know what's important in this very temporary life we have on this temporary earth. What about missionaries around the world who go through who knows how much hardship because they're doing what God commands us to do? Does God not love them as much as he loves a pastor who lives in a 3 million dollar home? I think not.

I try hard to be positive about Osteen when talking to someone who likes him/his message. Since he's able to spread the gospel to more people than I ever will, he's not all bad. I know there are many many people out there who came to Christ through his ministry who might not have come otherwise. I just wish he would tell people that it's not wrong to suffer. Jesus suffered. Then he could use his ministry to comfort and help people through their problems/afflictions. If, as Christians, we're supposed to emulate Christ, I'm a bit confused as to who Osteen's Christ is??

Bill Hensley said...

I've really been enjoying this conversation and have learned a lot. I only want to comment on one point that was mentioned in passing. When the NT authors found a novel meaning in an OT passage that didn't seem to match the context, they were acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. If they didn't "get it right" what they wrote would never have ended up in the Bible. So we should be very careful about applying their example to our own situation.

The Cachinnator said...

I agree and disagree with Bill. NT authors quoting the OT is a very different exercise than what Osteen is doing and/or what we are doing. But we cannot turn an uncritical eye towards those quotes by simply saying that they were inspired. The meanings drawn from the OT were not novel in the sense that they seem contrived. It is not possible for us to know exactly how those quotes would have landed on the ears of the original audience since we don't have the benefit of their given circumstances. But we are foolish to not cast a critical eye towards something like the Matthean quote of Isaiah as evidence of foretelling of Jesus' virgin birth when the Hebrew renders no such possible reading. It is no argument against the virgin birth to acknowledge that the author misuses that quote. And the same may be said for any other quote that seems out of context. The meaning is not lost without the quote, many of which were later additions to the text.

Seth Ward said...

Susanne, he does tell people it is okay to suffer, to mourn... he just goes on to say that it should only last for a season, then you should move on.

I think that's okay.

When did you hear him say that it isn't okay to suffer?

Bill Hensley said...

Cach, I sense we're moving away from the main thread of discussion here, but I would like to get clarification on a couple of points. First, I'm surprised you would say the Messianic interpretation of Is 7:14 is simply wrong, as opposed to novel or secondary. Second, I wonder why you would think the quote was added to Matthew later.

The Cachinnator said...

This is away from the main thread except that I believe that we need to be honest in our exegesis and interpretation - even when we're uncomfortable with the results. But the Hebrew in Isaiah 7:14 is very clear. The word is almah, which means "young woman," not betulah, which means virgin. It has been poorly and sloppily argued for centuries trying to create ambiguity where there is none. The problem is that it was incorrectly translated into Greek as parthenos which unambiguously means "virgin." That is the version which Matthew read and quoted. So Matthew can't be blamed for misquoting Scripture since the LXX was his source. And that's all without even addressing the original context of an oracle given to King Ahaz. But an honest and plain reading of the text cannot render us an understanding that Isaiah was foretelling a virgin birth.

As for being a later addition, I wasn't specifically speaking about that Matthean quote, but about many of the pericopes from the gospels that underwent many states of revision along their journey to the form we currently have. It may easily be argued that all of Matthew was a later addition since it was based on the pre-authored book of Mark. Though I admit it was a sloppy comment on my part since I wasn't citing a specific example nor was it anything like the point of this thread. Sorry about that.

Seth Ward said...

Nothing is away from the main thread on this here blog. Get to it. I find that stuff fascinating.

Bill Hensley said...

Thanks, Seth.

Cach, I disagree with you on two counts. First, almah is the more inclusive term. It means a young woman of marriagable age, whether unmarried (i.e., a virgin) or not. For instance, in Gen 24:43 the word almah is used by Abraham's servant when he describes meeting Rebekah at the well as he was seeking a wife for Isaac.

Second, I disagree with you that the Messianic interpretation of Is 7:14 is in error. There are many prophecies in the OT which had a literal fulfillment at that time and a figurative fulfillment in Christ. If Matthew errs in this regard it is not an isolated mistake. For instance, in the very next chapter (Mt 2:18) he quotes Jer 31:15, which was fulfilled literally in the Babylonian exile and fulfilled figuratively in Herod's slaughter of the innocents. And let's not forget the passages from Psalms that the NT gives messianic significance to. In Matthew 13:34, the apostle quotes Ps 78:2, in which David is speaking in the first person about himself, but which Matthew considers fulfilled in Christ. Then there is virtually the whole of Psalm 22 which receives the same treatment, with obvious references and parallels from all the gospel accounts of the crucifixion.

In finding figurative, messianic meanings in these verses the NT writers were acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and also presumably the post-resurrection teaching of Jesus as he "opened the Scriptures to them." (Lk 24:32,45). The caution for us is that when we interpret Scripture we are not acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So we (and Joel) need to stick to a more careful hermeneutic, which is where I do happen to agree with you.

Chaotic Hammer said...

Seth - I'm not sure where else we can really go with this whole Osteen thing. I feel like I'm shadow boxing, because (as I've already acknowledged) I'm expressing objections to the general genre of theology that I perceive Osteen to engage in, but not to any specifics that I know about him. I keep hearing you add new things you've heard him say which you seem to think are reasonably scriptural, but all we (the commenters) really have to work with are a few random quotes that you started this off with.

In light of the fact that it sounds like an overwhelming majority of your commenters have never actually read Osteen's stuff, and have rarely heard him speak for more than a few minutes, I would contend (as I did several times during my previous comment) that we're not really in any position to intelligently debate Osteen with you.

You keep alluding to, and I get what you're saying, that you think many people may have wrongly judged him, before they even actually listen to what he has to say. Your primary answer to my comments about him seems to be that he is different than other health/wealth/prosperity teachers, and that you do think he mentions God, sin, suffering, repentance, and other "negative" concepts from time to time, but doesn't dwell on those. You seem to have conceded that he is somewhat out of balance, and that his message really works best with American audiences, and would not do so well in, say, a poor village in the Third World.

In the end, when I read all the Osteen quotes you typed out, and when I think of what I've heard him say during the few minutes of TV I've seen, something still just doesn't seem right. It's a hard thing to put your finger on, but if I really had to summarize it by "feel", it would be this: It seems like the entire thrust, the entire spirit, the entire goal of what Osteen discusses is based on an "it's all about me" attitude. What can God do for me? How can God make my life better? How can God help me get through hard times? How can God make me a better person? How can God help me improve my lot in life? How can God give me victory over sickness, poverty and self-doubt? Sure, it mentions God, but almost as if His whole aim is to make my life better. This constant use of the word and concept of "victory" creates a sense that everything in life is a contest that must be "won".

I prefer my theology to be primarily and above-all Christ-centered. He is the center of the universe. He is the One by whom and for whom all things are made. He is the only One worthy of glory and honor and power. He can give wealth to whom He chooses. He can give health to whom He chooses. He alone is my reward, and my sufficiency in all things. I don't believe that a radically Christ-centered attitude is by any means a "negative" thing or a downer. "Humility" doesn't mean "I'm such a scumbag, Woe is me", it means an honest and sober approach to what my place is in the big scheme of things, when compared to the place of God Almighty.

You (or perhaps a commenter?) used as a justification the fact that Osteen might attract people who would otherwise never set foot in a church -- that because of his non-threatening approach they've been exposed to hearing about Jesus. It almost sounds like we're trying to attract them with a harmless, puffy-soft message, and then sneak Jesus in through the back door, so they barely notice He's there. I said it before and I'll say it again: the Gospel, as presented in the Bible, is offensive.

In the end, it really doesn't matter what we say here anyway. Osteen will continue to prosper, people will continue to flock in large numbers to hear him speak, and with all sincerity, I hope that Jesus Christ is glorified and magnified and proclaimed, to the glory of God the Father.

The Cachinnator said...

Citing almah as an inclusive term is misleading. It is not an acceptable translation of the word to render it "virgin" any more than it is for us in English to say that "young woman" means "virgin." That's a rhetorical trick that Christian theologians have been using for centuries to get around the obvious problem of NT authors reading and interpreting from the LXX rather than from the original Hebrew.

Clearly much material in the OT gained, was given, or acquired messianic connotation in NT times and beyond. But much less than what is used actually holds up to scrutiny. That is not to deny that many prophecies, oracles, divinations, psalms, etc., have both literal and figurative fulfillment, but we don't do ourselves any favors to overextend their boundaries.

We don't help the cause of Christ to be less than honest about Scripture and Christian history. Fundamentalist inventions like their modern understanding of "inerrancy" has colored the way we allow ourselves to view the Scriptures. We are dishonest when we continue to propagate inaccuracies such as Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the Hebrews crossing the "Red Sea," Davidic authorship of the Psalms, single author theories of Isaiah, the lack of redaction of the gospels, or Pauline authorship of the late letters. I place things like those on par with Osteen's and other's willingness to disregard context in favor of making a "good point."

I've heard some great sermons that hinge on the crossing of the Red Sea. But it doesn't change the fact that it didn't happen. And it makes people feel lied to when they learn. The same is true of ignoring context.

Bill Hensley said...

Cach, our disagreements are clearly larger than the specific issue at hand. I don't think Christians like me are being dishonest. I think we are working from different presuppositions than those of many modern scholars. While modern scholarship has much to contribute to our understanding of Scripture, too many scholars make the mistake of discounting the miraculous. We must be very careful about accepting conclusions that may have been based on applying naturalistic presuppositions.

Again regarding Is 7:14, I have perhaps been unclear. I agree with you that the audience to which it was originally addressed would not have understood it to be describing a virgin birth. It is clearly part of a message to King Ahaz that found specific fulfillment at that time in Isaiah's wife. I also agree that seeking to understand what the original author meant to convey to the original audience is the foundation of good hermeneutics. However, this doesn't mean Matthew was wrong. Through his divinely inspired writing he revealed a new, deeper significance to this verse. This new level of meaning to Is 7:14 is part of the God's final written revelation to us in the New Testament. For that reason, we today would not be justified in finding such "new meanings" in the Old Testament, any more than we would be justified in adding a new chapter to the Gospel of Matthew.

MamasBoy said...

"But we are foolish to not cast a critical eye towards something like the Matthean quote of Isaiah as evidence of foretelling of Jesus' virgin birth when the Hebrew renders no such possible reading. It is no argument against the virgin birth to acknowledge that the author misuses that quote."

I'm with Bill that there are other meanings than the literal that may be just as important, if that's what he's saying. While I think it is good to note that the Hebrew word is young woman and not specifically virgin, it doesn't mean that Matthew was wrong in his interpretation. Was Matthew unfamiliar with the Hebrew rendition of this verse, given that Hebrew is what he would have heard his entire life? Rather than starting to question every NT quote in reference to Jesus, I'd rather question the narrowly confined valid contextual interpretation methods that we moderns have.

Also, it was written, "It may easily be argued that all of Matthew was a later addition since it was based on the pre-authored book of Mark."

This gets at the heart of many modern debates on Scripture. What are we obliged to believe as Christians. Can we throw additions out as uninspired? Are we obliged only to believe what was original and not necessarily what came to be canonized several hundred years later? Who gets to decide? Me some "authority" however one wants to envision that person(s), both or nobody but God, (God of course being quite unknowable on earth if one is to judge from the various opinions floating around among various highly educated and not so highly educated experts).

MB

Seth Ward said...

" The very kind of truth we are often demanding was, in my opinion, not even envisaged by the ancients."- C.S. Lewis

The Cachinnator said...

No one has discounted the miraculous to say that Is. 7:14 is clearly not intended as a messianic prophecy. In fact, I stated that it has no bearing on belief in the virgin birth. But the importance of the quote, like the importance of most NT quotes of the OT, is to connect Jesus with the traditions of Judaism, to show him as a legitimate Davidic messiah, and place him in kingly messianic lineage. The Matthean quote does that, and did that for his audience, even if we today would and should classify it as a misquote. It still serves its purpose.

Think about a later Matthean quote that I've picked over numerous times on this blog: 13:32. Jesus says that the mustard seed is the smallest of all the seeds. We know today that isn't true. That knowledge doesn't diminish the power of Jesus' teaching nor does it cripple Scripture. It's no less inspired or authoritative simply because it's not true. The word of God is bigger than that.

That's the thing about Scriptural inspiration: Scripture is silent on its methods. Scripture can and does contain myriad of what we would classify as errors, misstatements, misquotes, and conflicts and still be the inspired word of God. It does not diminish the word at all to acknowledge that Matthew misquotes Isaiah.

And yes, MB, Matthew was unfamiliar with the Hebrew. He doesn't quote the Hebrew. Neither does Jesus. They quoted the LXX. And they likely didn't speak Hebrew at all. Hebrew was their scholarly/priestly language. Aramaic was their spoken tongue and Greek was their literary one.

We should absolutely question and scrutinize everything to do with Scripture. I stand firm in the belief that all truth is God's truth - even if it makes us uncomfortable. No one is arguing, or at least they should not be, that our task is to "throw out" anything to do with Scripture. We have exactly the Bible that God intends for us to have. But he didn't drop it out of heaven as a finished manuscript for us. It's a mess! And a divine mess! And that's just fine.

It doesn't reduce God or diminish Scripture to acknowledge that Matthew and Luke based their works on Mark, or to acknowledge any such discovery. It's the beauty of study that we can know something like that.

FancyPants said...

Totally bummed I can't get in on this. It would take, like a decade, to catch up... Just sayin'...

The Cachinnator said...

I think you're up to other things these days, Fancy.

As for me? There I go with my tray like always...

MamasBoy said...

"And yes, MB, Matthew was unfamiliar with the Hebrew. He doesn't quote the Hebrew. Neither does Jesus. They quoted the LXX. And they likely didn't speak Hebrew at all. Hebrew was their scholarly/priestly language. Aramaic was their spoken tongue and Greek was their literary one."

Hebrew being the scholarly language and the language of the priests/scribes, wouldn't it have been used in the Jewish liturgy (at least outside the diaspora in Palestine)? Perhaps some Aramaic was provided as well, but I would be surprised to learn that a 1st century Jew would be unfamiliar with the Hebrew OT. Then again, I'm not a scholar on 1st century Judaism, so it wouldn't surprise me that my intuition is wrong, either.

Also, I'm not convinced that the Masoretic texts are always better for translating the OT than the Septuagint. I have read articles that point to certain passages in the dead see scrolls more closely mirroring the Septuagint than the Hebrew. There are various camps in this debate and it seems far from finished from my what I have read.

My own interpretation of Isaiah is that almah probably referred to a young nubile woman who was sometimes a virgin. Matthew quoting the Septuagint on this matter, is in my mind inspired and providential. It wouldn't surprise me at all if there was an early Jewish tradition that interpreted the Isaiah passage as virgin. If that isn't the case, I still think that Isaiah can be interpreted that way.

The fact that Matthew was written in Greek and quotes primarily from the LXX is (from my perspective) poor evidence for Matthews unfamiliarity with Hebrew. A primary audience was likely Jews in the diaspora who spoke little Aramaic/Hebrew. I don't think the language of the text necessitates an unfamiliarity with the Hebrew scriptures by Matthew, especially if he grew up in Israel. Perhaps he didn't speak a lick of Hebrew, perhaps he did. Given the scarcity of evidence, I doubt we will ever know for sure either way.

MB

Seth Ward said...

Actually, we can be pretty sure that he spoke pig-Hebrew. And a little bit of Swahili.

Carry on. Very interesting, and learning a ton. I love you guys.

The Cachinnator said...

No, the quoting of the LXX isn't evidence at all that Matthew didn't read in or speak Hebrew. It was a surprise to Bible scholars when they discovered it, but it isn't conclusive evidence in and of itself. The cultural language was Aramaic, and particularly in Galilee the commercial language was Greek. We know that from extra-Biblical study not from jumping to conclusions from within the text.

Hebrew was to most Jews what Latin is to most Catholics. Do you know any Catholics who attend mass conducted in Latin who are fluent in it? But they hear it all the time. Maybe some understand more than others, but it's a priestly and official language, not a common one.

"My own interpretation of Isaiah is that almah probably referred to a young nubile woman who was sometimes a virgin." Actually, that's a real problem. Almah? isn't just up for our own interpretation. It's a word with a specific meaning. I may as well say that my interpretation of a lollipop is that it is really a $100 bill. I can say that, but I can't spend it.

The MT isn't always better for clarity of understanding than the LXX. It usually is, but in OT studies the world is messy. Unfortunately for this discussion, there are no textual variants that cast doubt on the Hebrew use of almah in Isaiah. Isaiah was one of the most widely used and often translated books in classical Israel. We have variants for somethings, but not for that one. And if that's the argument, that there's a chance that there may be a problem with the text despite the evidence, then it gives pretty weak ground on which to build a case against almah. We can't play guessing games with what we think or hope might have pre-existed the best texts that we have.

Seth Ward said...

"I may as well say that my interpretation of a lollipop is that it is really a $100 bill."

I sure wish you'd quit dashing my beloved truths against the cragged stones. Besides, after enough alcohol consumption, lollipop can mean whatever you want it to.

Next you are going to tell me that the Muppets aren't real. Pshaw. Try that one and see the smack down of evidence I've got.

Sorry, nothing interesting to add yet. Compiling.

Ignore this post.

Carry on.

Actually, I do have a question, or two. So what evidence do we have that Paul, in fact, was reading from the Hebrew. Or did he ever? He woudn't have used the Hebrew to the budding churches, but wouldn't he have quoted from the Hebrew translation if he could have? (Many Jewish dudes these days are trying to discredit Paul from actually being a Jew at all.) So, did he ever quote from the Hebrew? And what about Jesus? When he read from the scroll "The spirit of the Lord is upon me...", would it have been in Hebrew?

The Cachinnator said...

Interesting you should ask. Jesus quoted from the Greek. Paul also quoted from the Greek, but not necessarily because he had to. He was, after all, a trained Pharisee. He was most certainly literate in Hebrew. But his audience was not. Therefore when he quotes, he also quotes Greek for the benefit of his audience.

The move to discredit Paul's Judaism has more to do with the fact that he "abandoned" his Jewish roots than that he does not have Jewish cred. The starting point for the argument is that were he really a Jew, he could never have become the Paul of Scripture. That's a horrible presumption with which to start. It completely prejudices any evidence presented.

MamasBoy said...

"Jesus quoted from the Greek."
Did he really? All the time? I wonder about that sometimes. I wonder whether what we have recorded in Scripture are translations or paraphrases of Jesus words, rather than quotations, leaving an ambiguity about what language he spoke when quoting from Scripture and when speaking in general.

"I may as well say that my interpretation of a lollipop is that it is really a $100 bill. I can say that, but I can't spend it."

Actually, a better analogy would be to say that I refer to a lollipop as hard candy. Close, but not exact. Sure hard candy doesn't specifically mean lollipop in all cases, but it does in some cases. It is also a valid description of a lollipop to refer to it as hard candy.

Keep in mind that I'm not arguing that the writer of Isaiah *only* meant virgin. I don't know. I just wouldn't rule out a secondary meaning if the word also fits. Scripture is much more flexible than we moderns make it out to be. I for one wouldn't rule out Matthew's quote as correct, even if the term is Isaiah is more broad.

Now, I know that wikipedia isn't the most reliable source sometimes, but I don't have academic journal access to get to the referenced article, so I'll throw this out there in case somebody else does.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_birth_of_Jesus#Argument__from_a_1400_BC_Ugaritic_text

Not having a hangup about Scripture drawing from pagan myths, the idea sounds somewhat plausible to me on a couple accounts. First and foremost, it accounts for the discrepancy between the masoretic and septuagint by pointing to an earlier source for the prophecy and to possible ancient interpretive traditions.

Sure, it's speculation, but so is much of what has been bantied about in this discussion. The fact is that we don't really know what the author specifically meant over 2500 years ago. This is especially true of poetic literature which often contains multiple layers of meaning. We also don't know what Matthews personal history was other than that he was a tax collector, so we don't really know for sure what his exposure to the Hebrew was. From my perspective, so what if Isaiah didn't specifically say young woman who had never had sex? Poetry/prophecy is often a bit nebulous. It wouldn't bother me a bit if the precise meaning of the Scripture as it related to the Messiah was only revealed at its fulfillment, but at the same time it wouldn't surprise me at all if it had an earlier interpretive tradition to rely on (e.g., the Septuagint).

Cach,

I do thank you for this discussion and want to ask that you not take offense if I don't reply much. Things are really getting busy at home and at work, so I will probably need to take a break from this for awhile. Thanks again for the discussion and for challenging me to learn and rethink things. I always wonder when I get into something like this if I've come off like an ass, and truly try not to. Please, forgive me if I have.

MB

The Cachinnator said...

No, the quotations of Jesus in Greek are from the LXX. Bear in mind that it is exceedingly unlikely that Jesus actually spoke any of the exact words attributed to him. They are all transcriptions of his words years after they were spoken. That's not to say that the NT authors didn't get it right, it's just to say that the fact that Jesus' quotes are all from the LXX is more of a reflection of the NT authors than of Jesus himself. That said, it is still true that Jesus would have read and quoted from the LXX himself. Greek was his language of literature and commerce, Aramaic his language of culture.

The term almah is not broad. It means a young woman. That is not broad. It is a word that offers no description of virginity. It is not an inclusive term either. Both of those arguments are made to legitimize its use as a prediction of the virgin birth. Isaiah had zero awareness or intention of prophesying anything about the messiah at that time.

That's precisely why the Ugaritic text is completely useless in this matter. If Isaiah were trying to prophesy about the messiah, then it might have some bearing. Even then I'd find it doubtful at best, but given that Isaiah was speaking very specifically and temporally, the Ugaritic text is useless in this discussion.

And MB, you know that I don't think you're an ass. I don't think anyone here is an ass. I'm sure you don't think I'm an ass either, even if I'm much more deserving of the description! This is a friendly and loving forum regardless of any disagreements. That's the fun of being in Christ. We get to love regardless of anything else.