The "Prosperity Gospel" is Not the Gospel
There are times when it is best to stay off of social media because a heart patient can’t take too much excitement. I block a person’s game request, flick my “Newsfeed” past pictures of my friend’s lunch, sandy feet, and pictures of their kids. However, as a pastor, I can’t seem to pull my thumb away from clicking on theological quotes and watching ‘religious’ videos. It may be because I’m a pastor or that I am glutton for punishment but I can’t resist. Last week I stumbled across the theological train-wreck of Victoria Osteen. I watched in stunned disbelief as she told the Lakewood arena…
“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize that when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God — I mean, that’s one way to look at it — we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That the thing that gives Him the greatest joy…So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”
First let me say, I detest the theologically self righteous, who set up blogs, message boards, and facebook pages to troll preachers and teachers with a self-righteous and smug arrogance. As a person who makes a living at public speaking I realize how easy it is to slip-up and say something incoherent or incorrect. However, if you measure the body of my work againt my all-too-common verbal fauxs pas you should be able to ascertain the heart of my message. The same would apply to the Osteens to a MUCH larger extent. Yet, I do not believe that co-pastor Victoria slipped up and said something inconsistent with her and Joel’s theology. It was in fact a very honest moment for Mrs. Osteen. She summed up the heart of her theology when she said, “God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That the thing that gives Him the greatest joy.” Not only is this a summary of the Osteen’s theology but of the larger problem with the 21st century’s “prosperity” gospel. The prosperity gospel is defined as theology that promises, “the full blessings of God available to those who approach Him in faith and obedience include wealth, health and power.” Osteen himself when asked by Oprah what kind of God would want you to be poor and miserable elaborated on the prosperity gospel, “Prospering is peace in your mind and health in your body… Jesus died that we may live an abundant life and be a blessing to others. I can’t be a big blessing to people if I am poor, broke, and depressed.” The Osteen’s sincerely believe their message and from what I understand are a very pleasant couple. You don’t fill a former NBA arena with 43,000 people week-in and week-out by being a turd.
Second, as a pastor who is called as an under-shepherd of the soul’s of Christ’s flock I am obligated to address this before it leads Christ’s sheep away. Here’s the bottom line problem. The Osteen’s message is simply not biblical. Now there are many biblical elements of the Osteen’s message. God takes great pleasure to bless his children. True. We find much joy when we seek after God. Amen! The problem with Osteen is that he cherry picks the ‘positive’ elements of scripture (God’s blessing) and misapplies it to a carnal, self-centered understanding of what blessing is. The blessing of God is not bigger houses, perfect health, and a life of ease. The blessing of God is that He has redeemed a people from eternal condemnation, adopted them into His family, and is forming them into the likeness of Christ; all for HIS glory (Eph 1:14). The reason we exist is for God’s glory not my happiness. The world was not created to make much of me or to make me happy (a-la-prosperity gospel) but to make much of God’s glory. The Baptist Catechism states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” We show the world the glory of Christ when we are able to say with Paul, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). However, the ‘all things’ is not scoring touchdowns or getting a better paycheck. The ‘all things’ actually include abundance AND need, plenty AND hunger, and personal abundance AND being brought low (Phil 4:12). We can endure everything that life throws at us knowing that God will give us the strength to endure it FOR HIS GLORY. I can suffer, endure reproach, false imprisonment, physical pain, financial struggle, and whatever the curse of sin has marred the human condition knowing that God is being glorified. I can even die, like our brothers and sisters of the first century, by being thrown to the lions for the glory of God. God’s glory will be through tears, difficulties, pain, and persecution; Jesus promises it (Matt 10:22; John 15:18-25). There will also be victory, abundance, peace, and rest from the tender staff of the Good Shepherd. The focus should be upon bringing God glory rather than this narcissistic obsession with our personal abundance and prosperity. This is where the ‘prosperity’ gospel gets it so terribly wrong. The ‘prosperity gospel’ is no gospel at all. Jesus did not come so you could have more things of this world. Jesus came so that you could join the mighty chorus of the redeemed who will eternally sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:12). That is our hope. That is our joy. That is our satisfaction. May we at Ocean Park strive for the glory of God as the ultimate satisfaction for our souls! May we be a God-centered and Gospel-Exalting church in the theological wasteland of man-centered and prosperity-exalting messages.