Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Horton on Osteen

Michael Horton has written an insightful critique of the message of Joel Osteen. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the fundamental problem with Osteen's message and ministry. Here are a couple of samples to whet your appetite:

As community philosopher Karl Marx said of a consumer-driven culture, "All that is solid melts into the air." Religion, too, becomes a commodity—a product or therapy that we can buy and use for our personal well-being. Exemplifying the moralistic and therapeutic approach to religion, Osteen's message is also a good example of the inability of Boomers to mourn in the face of God's judgment or dance under the liberating news of God's saving mercy. In other words, all gravity is lost—both the gravity of our problem and of God's amazing grace. According to this message, we are not helpless sinners—the ungodly—who need a one-sided divine rescue. (Americans, but especially we Boomers, don't take bad news well.) Rather, we are good people who just need a little instruction and motivation.

If God matters, it is for the most trivial concerns—or at least those quite secondary to the real crisis that the gospel addresses. One could easily come away from this type of message concluding that we are not saved by Christ's objective work for us, but by our subjective "personal relationship with Jesus" through a series of works that we perform to secure his favor and blessing. God has set up all of these laws and now it's up to us to follow them so that we can be blessed. I can think of no better illustration of what sociologist Christian Smith has identified as "moralistic, therapeutic deism": the gospel of American Religion.

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