If you are not one of his fans, you would probably answer, “Nothing.”
There has been quite a little bit of chatter as of late about Victoria Osteen finally “outing” herself and her husband and the gospel they are really preaching. She summarized their philosophy by saying that when we obey God, we do not do it for God, but for ourselves. We do it because God’s greatest desire is for us to be “happy.” So this whole exercise of going to church, reading our Bibles, being Christians is not really for God, it’s for us.
Well those statements set off a little chain reaction among quite a bit of blog-land. “Finally,” we said, “at least we know what they really believe!” At least one mega-famous pastor is being honest about the false gospel he is preaching.
But wait a minute.
Take everything that you might believe about the Osteens, their church, their gospel, their wealth or their haircuts. Take all of that pent up frustration and wad it up into a big wet lump in your throat.
Because despite all of these things, as loathe as we may be to admit it, much of the evangelical church can learn something from the Osteens. We might even learn something about ourselves.
I Think This Might Be What She Meant…Maybe
It’s true, I think the prosperity gospel is a theological train wreck.
Despite this, I can kind of wrap my brain around where Victoria is coming from.
After all, God is an infinite, self-sufficient being. That means He needs nothing from us. For Him to need from us would make Him not God.
So to say that God needs our obedience then is not true. God desires our obedience. But why? Why should God care?
Because God cares about our welfare, not just getting us to heaven. And our obedience will affect our welfare. Obeying God should have tangible and positive effects in our lives. Essentially, despite whatever our present circumstances, obeying God should make us more joyful, more patient, more loving, more wise, more peaceful…and maybe more happy, though that word is not in the Bible. God gets glory from all of these things, so God does get something for himself. But he had glory before we were here at all.
I have no idea if that’s what she really meant. Maybe I’m throwing the Osteens a theological lifeline. But there is more to this than just the question of who is this supposed to benefit.
What Does He Have That Many of Us Do Not
Now the question I ask myself is: why do people flock to these people to hear the same razor thin message week after week?
I mean, it seems that if you have heard one message from a man standing in front of a giant spinning globe, you’ve heard them all. And yet, people show up and tune in week after week. Why is that?
Because the man with the gleaming white teeth is giving these people something that they are not finding elsewhere.
They are finding someone who makes them feel good.
They are hearing a message that reinforces their aspirations.
They see a man who embodies a role model for them.
How many of our churches are wading through the useless muck of politics? Not the Osteens. How many of our churches are using the same old threats and shame to keep their followers in line? Not the Osteens. How many church members leave Sunday morning feeling worse than when they showed up? I guarantee, no one at Lakewood feels bad when they go home.
That is what much of the church can learn from the Osteens. While so many of us are stuck in endless arguments about who is or is not going to hell, or going to churches where we are made to feel ashamed, or trapped in completely fruitless talk about everyone else’s sins, at least on pastor in America understand that people come to church to feel better, not worse.
Who Is the Real False Prophet?
Strip down the Osteen gospel, take away all the trappings, all the books, everything and what is left at its core?
If the Osteens understand nothing else about the gospel and its implications, they understand this:
The gospel is supposed to be good news.
People don’t come to church to hear bad news. But that’s what they are getting from a lot of churches. They are hearing shame. They are hearing politics. They are hearing hopelessness. And after a while, that kind of stuff just wears you out.
Regardless of what you think of the news that Osteen is preaching, at least he’s got that part about it being good right.
So I ask you a tough question, a question that if we are being honest may provoke some real soul-searching:
Where did the feel-good gospel come from? It did not come out of nowhere. It is a reaction to something that has been festering for decades. The feel good gospel is a reaction to the pervasive, almost viral feel bad gospel.
The preachers of prosperity thrive because we create a need for that kind of preacher. We fill our airwaves with feel bad messages and pollute our spiritual space so much that people have to get out or they will suffocate. It is we who consider ourselves enemies of prosperity preaching who helped create what we loathe so much. We are the false prophets who made it possible for this very shiny, positive false gospel to exist.
The prosperity gospel only looks so dang appealing because so many of us look positively unappealing. If the gospel is supposed to be good news, and so many of us are preaching bad news, then who is really the false prophet?