Friday, February 25, 2011

Don’t Take It So Personally

A few years ago when Joel Osteen wrote his book “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential” I was more than a little dismayed at his transparently “temporal” and “self-centered” approach to Christian living. I believe the title of Joel’s book gives evidence to a heretical teaching in 21st century “American” Christianity: defining the abundant life as personal happiness on earth. (And just how would that resonate with the Somali woman recently martyred for her faith in Christ?)

Given that America’s value of individuality and pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the constitution, I am not surprised that the phrase “personal savior” has assumed a place in our Christian terminology. But you will not find this phrase anywhere in Scripture. While I do believe our relationship with Jesus is very personal, it behooves us to examine what we mean by the word “personal.” One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for “personal” is “something intended for private use or use by one person—something that belongs only to one person.” Like having a private chef!

If we are going to use the word "personal" in relation to our Lord, then let us be careful that we are not, as Paul described, “people [who]are not serving Christ our Lord; [but] serving their own personal interests”
for at the end of life on earth, “each of us will have to give a personal account to God” (Ro. 16:18; 14:12 NLT).


  1. Greg,

    I am in agreement with you that Joel Osteen is preaching a "gospel" that is regional in its scope, and that, therefore, makes it dangerous!
    It is a challenge, however, to narrow down the "faith once for all delivered unto the saints" so that what works for one culture or region is just as valid for all, because it is "the truth as it is in Jesus." What is truth in our American Christian culture of affluence needs to be equally as true in the Somali Christian culture characterized by deprivation, or it is just a "regional" truth. Pastors and teachers, evangelists and prophets, all face this challenge! Even the apostles like Peter and Paul struggled with this issue.

    Obviously Joel Osteen's mission is not to be the standard for doctrinal purity; but his messages are definitely encouraging and building up to the individuals who watch him and read his books. He has a function in the Body of Christ. Time will tell what it is.


  2. We'll have to agree to disagree on Joel Osteen, my friend! Joel's message is deeply rooted in humanism and psychology, and ignores the problem of original sin. If you take another 'read' of my post on "Shrinking of the Church" you will how I view Joel's message as heresy.

    I love your term "regional" truth. But is there any such thing. God's truth is absolute and universal. Therefore, it does not adapt itself to culture.

  3. Greg,

    Regarding Joel Osteen, I am not prepared to dismiss as heresy or to embrace as truth anything or everything that he says or teaches. I do recognize, however, that the things his books and his TV programs teach are a permanent record of his thoughts. I am not oblivious to the distance from center that the "American Gospel" which, he has either purposefully or unwittingly become a spokesperson, represents.

    When I use the term "regional truth" I do so understanding, as you have said, that "God's absolute and universal truth does not adapt itself to culture." It simply IS the truth, and our culture/subcultures must adapt to it, if we want to be accurate in our assessment that we are following its path.

    For me, a "regional truth" is like taking an arrow, walking up to a target, jamming the arrow into the center of the target, then stepping back behind the line, calling all of your friends together and celebrating your "skill." It tells a truth only in that it was your hand that secured the arrow in the center of the target; but it does not tell the entire truth--one which everyone is entitled to know so they can draw accurate conclusions about you.

    I pray that the whole truth becomes the aim for all those who have only embraced the partial truths espoused by those who proclaim regional truth, no matter what culture they come from!


  4. Thanks, Stan, for clarifying and enlightening. One of the simples truths I am aware of is that each of us walks in the light of the truth as far as it has been revealed to us by Holy Spirit. And also I am painfully aware of how harmful it can be when any teacher (including me) teaches half-truth or mis-beliefs out of ignorance. I used to pray that Joel would get revelation on the Cross. I admit I don't anymore. We will all be held accountable for what we have done with our lives. Joel will for his, as I will for mine. I do not judge Joel's heart--only his message. Tomorrow I'm going to write about "discernment.!"