Monday, February 16, 2009

The Alternative Gospel in America

I have just begun reading "Christless Christianity, the Alternative Gospel of the American Church," by Michael Horton. This book speaks volumes to my concern (albeit indirectly) about the cross-less message of Joel Osteen.

When I began this “dyingtolive” blog on December 27, 2008, my first post was called “Let’s talk about Joel Osteen.” I wanted to use this venue to illuminate and expose the false teaching of Joel Osteen to those who think him to be harmless. In my view, anyone who has the largest church and TV audience in the world, and whose teaching minimizes the saving work of God through Jesus Christ, and is called “the most influential Christian in America," cannot be considered harmless.

However, today I am announcing I will no longer focus my conversations on exposing the half-truths of Joel Osteen. Having searched the internet these past few months, I am satisfied there are enough people already doing that. From this point on, I will use this blog to share the multi-faceted “dying-to-live-abundant-life” truths that I love so much.

However, having said that, please allow me to share with you some writings from Michael Horton’s book that truly capture the essence of the problem confronting the American church today, and which is easily summed up in the teachings of Joel Osteen.

In this Alternative Gospel, Michael Horton points out: “everything is measured by our happiness rather than by God’s holiness, [and] the sense of our being sinners becomes secondary, if not offensive.” The Alternative Gospel tells its followers they are truly “good people who have lost [their] way, but with the proper instructions and motivation can become a better person,” in effect making the need for Jesus’ work of redemption in our lives irrelevant. In fact, Horton says, by “assimilating the gospel to [our] felt needs, we end up saying very little that the world could not hear from Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, or Oprah,” … “focusing the conversation on us—our desires, needs, feelings, experience, activity, and aspirations—it energizes us.

"Aside from the packaging," Horton says, "there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups."

And the quote from Horton's book which I find most compelling as we examine the message of Joel Osteen is this one:

“God is not denied but trivialized—God exists for the pleasure of humankind. He resides in the heavenly realm solely for our utility and a personal shopper for the props of our life movie: happiness as entertainment, [and] salvation as therapeutic well-being."


  1. "From this point on, I will use this blog to share the multi-faceted “dying-to-live-abundant-life” truths that I love so much."

    Glad to hear it, brother. I along with you and many others are grieved and frustrated by men such as Osteen, but I have found that focusing on these things does little in remedying the situation. We want those attending such mega-churches to learn about the message of the Cross, but I have found that even in theologically sound churches, "dying to self" is rarely emphasized. The result is one flesh-driven group trying to persuade another flesh-driven group, and it's not fact mega-churches and false teaching are becoming more prevalent.

    My hope and prayer is that the theologically sound churches will put much greater emphasis on the Cross, for without Christ we can of course do nothing.

    May we all, the saints, focus on "things above," live the abiding life in Christ, and trust that He will then work through us by His Spirit to draw others to His Truth.

    May God continue to bless you in your teaching of the "exchanged life," dear brother :-)

    In His great love,
    Rich (rich4JChrist)

  2. Greg,

    The apostle Paul stated his holy ambition to be that of knowing Christ "in the power of His resurrection and in the fellowship of His sufferings, being made comformable to His death." It confuses me, sometimes, as to how one knows when to focus on the one without doing injustice to the other.
    If you spend your day in counselling with people who demonstrate the worst of humanity by their having made choices that make them pay dearly, then I can see how easy it would be to focus on how evil we humans are and how prone to failure we are to hitting the mark. Hence, the emphasis on "Dying" in the the dying-to-live continuum.
    But if you surround yourself with people who have discovered that the Father is generous with His giftings and not only wants His children to develop their character but also enjoy His creation then you may very well find that your focus lends itself more to the "live" part in the dying-to-live flow.
    Glass half-empty; glass half-full?
    We humans are an interesting bunch, are we not?

  3. Greg,

    I revisited a substantial portion of Scripture this morning in 2 Corinthians. But the primary springboard was chapter four, verse 10: "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." (NIV) While the context may be Paul's encouraging of the Corinthian church with respect to his physical suffering for the Gospel, it seems that the above passage is equally relevant to the Christian who is doing battle against their flesh as well!

    I am struck with awe when I consider that God the Son has scars in His glorified Body. He will forever identify with us by the marks that He allowed to be left behind as reminders of the cost of love.

    But the truth of His death does not overshadow the truth of His resurrection and the overwhelming, overcoming power that was exerted and demonstrated to heaven and earth for all time and eternity! We are the reminders of His resurrection and He will have us with Him forever as well as His scars!

    So in this life we struggle between the now and the not yet! Sometimes we overcome and it seems that nothing will impede our upward progress. And sometimes we find ourselves caught in a downward spiral that seems like we will never get it right! Mercifully, the design is that the former increases and the latter decreases with frequency. (I'm all for that!) But we, as His Body, will carry "scars" from constantly bearing reminders of His death and the war that was fought and won for the souls of men. And, at the same time, we can carry the glory of His resurrection life as we employ the overcoming strategies He used to conquer death and hell and temptation to sin.

    I should write a book. Would you edit?

  4. Stan (Mr. Anonymous)

    If one sees 'dying' as a negative, I can see that my emphasis can look like a "half-empty-glass" view of our life in Christ.

    But consider this: Death to sin is the best thing that God has given to us. Because it makes us finished with the 'old self' and makes us alive to and in Him.

    Dying to Self opens the flood gates of the life He gives. So, as I said in ending my chapter on the Jordan, the Klingons wake up every day and proclain "this is a good day to die."

    I read a comment in the Green Letters: "Self revelation precedes divine revelation."