First World Christianity

Joel Osteen is a televangelist, the pastor of the largest mega church in America, and a best selling Christian author. I don’t much care for him. Why not? Because he is a televangelist,  the pastor of the largest mega church in America, and a best selling Christian author who, to my mind, is not really preaching a message that has anything to do with the Christian faith. Here are some of his books.

Of course I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover so here are the publisher’s descriptions of some of  these books, beginning with Every Day a Friday.

The title comes from research that shows people are happiest on Fridays. Pastor Joel Osteen writes how we can generate this level of contentment and joy every day of the week.
Known as a man who maintains a constant positive outlook in spite of circumstances, Osteen has described this message as a core theme of his ministry. Combining his personal experiences with scriptural insights and principles for true happiness, he shows readers how every day can hold the same promise and opportunities for pure joy that they experience at five o’clock on Friday.

Here is Break Out!

We were not created to just get by with average, unrewarding or unfulfilling lives. God created us to leave our marks on our generations. Every person has seeds of greatness planted within by the Creator. When life weighs upon us, pushing us down, limiting our thinking, labeling us in negative ways, we have what it takes to overcome and rise above into the fullness of our destinies. In his dynamic, inspiring and faith-building new book, BREAK OUT: Five Ways To Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life, best-selling author Joel Osteen provides practical steps and encouragement for creating a life without limitations. This book will help readers break out and break free so they can believe bigger, increase their productivity, improve their relationships and accomplish their dreams. Osteen’s uplifting message focuses on moving beyond barriers by:

  • Daring to believe that the best will happen for us
  • Adopting an irrepressible “break out” attitude
  • Making room for increase
  • Praying bold prayers
  • Following God’s plan beyond our circumstances

Filled with faith and inspiration, BREAK OUT challenges readers to have a new perspective, to let nothing hold them back, and to reject any labels that might limit them. Osteen inspires and encourages with the message that our first break outs must occur within our own minds: “When you break though in your mind, believing you can rise higher and overcome obstacles, then God will unleash the power within that will enable you to go beyond the ordinary into the extraordinary life you were designed to live.”

And Become a Better You.

In the #1 New York Times bestseller Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day, Joel Osteen, pastor of America’s largest church, will inspire and motivate you to live with more joy, hope, and peace. Joel’s practical insights will help you become a better spouse and parent, a bet­ter boss or employee, a better community leader, a better friend—in short, a better person! In his signature easy-to-understand style, Osteen explains key biblical values and offers personal testimonies that will enlighten and uplift you. Each of the seven keys has its own section, complete with a set of practical action points. Become a Better You will encourage you to reach your unique God-given potential and will help you to enjoy every day of your life, despite your circumstances. As you incorporate Joel’s easy-to-grasp principles into your life, you will be thrilled at how much more God has in store for you and how quickly you become a better you!

Joel Osteen reaches a huge audience in the United States and across the globe. Tens of millions of people in more than a hundred nations worldwide are inspired through his weekly television broadcasts, his New York Times bestselling books, his sold-out international speaking tours, and his weekly top-ten podcasts.

Such is the message of Joel Osteen. What about the message of Jesus Christ?

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3-10)

He forgot to add anything about making every day a Friday. Jesus does not seem to be interested giving practical life advice in living an extraordinary life.

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

(Mark 8:24-37)

One might almost suppose that Christianity isn’t really about personal success and happiness. It is, of course, about becoming a better person, but not at all in the way that Mr. Osteen means. Osteen seems to teach that God wants you to be a better you. Christ teaches that you must give up being concerned about you and follow Him.

But I ought not to be too hard on Joel Osteen. He is only really preaching the message his congregation wants to hear, and he is not as bad as some. At any rate, he has not requested that every member of his congregation donate three hundred dollars so he can buy a new private jet. His message is not necessarily bad in itself. He probably does have some useful advice to impart. The trouble is that his message is not really Christianity. He would do better, perhaps, to retire from the ministry and become some sort of self-help guru.

The real problem is not Joel Osteen. The real problem is what might be called the prosperity gospel or first world Christianity. Perhaps you are familiar with the phrase “first world problem”.

Most people in the developed parts of the world are sufficiently prosperous that they no longer have to worry about basic problems of survival such as getting enough food to avoid starvation or finding shelter to avoid death by exposure. Indeed, many people in America and Europe live lives of material abundance greater that that of the greatest kings and emperors of antiquity. Since people in the first world do not have basic issues of life and death to worry about, they worry about matters that seem trivial to those not so fortunate to be born into a life of affluence.

You might think that since this is the case, the people in the first world would be utterly content with their lives, but it is not so. It is a peculiarity of human nature that people focus more on what they do not have than on what they do have and that the more most people have, the more they want. The prosperity gospel would never have appealed to the early Christians. These people did not aspire to prosperity, that was beyond their reach. This was a world where you stayed at the level you were born into and in which most people struggled to survive. They prayed for their daily bread, not to make every day a Friday. Having little in the material world, they wanted little and were ready to go into the next world. There is still much of this spirit in undeveloped countries in Africa and elsewhere.

We in the first world, by contrast, have much in the material world and want more. We are not ready to seek the next world. Why should we? We have it good here and now. Thus, we in the first world do not want to hear about taking up our cross. We want to hear about becoming a better you. We practice First World Christianity because we do not want to follow real Christianity. After all, Jesus may not have really approved of people like us.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:24-26)

He is talking about us. Remember we are the rich man in that story (Luke 16:19-31) not Lazarus.

Maybe Joel Osteen would be well advised to give up his ten million dollar home and his followers should worry less about becoming well off in this world and begin to store up their treasure in Heaven.

 

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