Adrian Warnock has posted an interesting video (ten minutes long) of two well-known American preachers head to head. The video is basically part of a sermon by Mark Driscoll, but it includes a long clip from a sermon by Joel Osteen. Driscoll is one of Adrian’s favourites, and has had some generally not so favourable mention on this blog; nevertheless I respect him for his no-nonsense approach. Osteen is, I understand, well known in the USA for his prosperity teaching on TV and radio, but is not so well known here in the UK.
Adrian’s main point in posting this video is to present it as “a model of gracious rebuke”, of Osteen by Driscoll. And indeed it is this. If only Adrian and his other favourite speakers had treated Steve Chalke with this same grace, rather than accusing him of heresy! Then the whole atonement debate would have been a lot less bitter. I too need to take Driscoll as an example of how to show gentle wisdom over such issues.
But I want to look more at the different approaches represented here by Osteen and Driscoll. We see here the contrast between the always positive version of the Christian life in prosperity teaching and the sometimes rather negative version presented by the Reformed camp. The problem with Osteen is not so much what he says as what he does not say: no mention of Jesus or the Cross, and no mention of sin – at least in this short extract. Predictably the omission which Driscoll seizes on is that of sin. He is right to do so, but why then no mention by him either that Jesus has dealt with sin on the cross?
Driscoll is of course correct to point out that what Osteen is offering is what the world is looking for: essentially, financial prosperity, and the happiness which is presumed to flow from it. Well, of course it does help to scratch people where they itch. Preachers who are always concentrating on forgiveness of sin, to the exclusion of other aspects of the gospel, are unlikely to attract those who don’t have a felt need of forgiveness. Osteen can certainly attract huge congregations by offering prosperity and happiness. But his problem is that he fails to move, beyond people’s felt needs, on to their real spiritual needs and how these can be met.
Driscoll does mention Jesus, but only as an example of a human being who did not lead the kind of life which Osteen seems to promise. But he seems to miss the point, an important part of Reformed teaching, that Jesus suffered, in various ways including the pain of crucifixion, so that we don’t have to suffer. So to make Jesus our example in this way is somewhat dubious. Nevertheless he has a point: neither Jesus nor his early followers led anything like the trouble-free life which Osteen offers, which suggests that there is something wrong with Osteen’s teaching.
For Driscoll, to follow the logic of his teaching here, the Christian is still living in the old, fallen and cursed world, the one in which Jesus lived on earth and which was not changed by the cross or the resurrection; all the blessings offered in Christ are for the future, for our life in heaven or after Jesus comes again.
For Osteen, however, it seems that the Christian is living, if not still in the original Eden, in a new paradise in which the blessings are, or should be, already available for all; the fallen world is so much gone that it can be dismissed.
The truth, it seems to me, is somewhere in between. Christians are living both in the old fallen world and in the new restored paradise, still feeling the effects of the curse but also able to live in victory because in Christ the curse has been reversed. This is not the place to go into this in detail. But this concept was well explained in the book Breakthrough: Discovering the Kingdom which I reviewed here, see also here, last year.