Wednesday, September 12, 2007

book review, part 1--your best life now

Before proceeding further, I would like to point out that I am using a copy of this book that is borrowed from a library. I would hate to think that people might think that I spent good money on this.

Well, I did have to drive to the library, but along with this book, I checked out a DVD of the original "Gojira" (Godzilla) and an audiobook of stories by P.G. Wodehouse. Plus, I get to write for the blog again, so overall the time and gas money were not wasted.

But, enough less-then-subtle shots at what I'm reviewing, on with the show...

First, a note on how I'm going to try to do this. Unlike with McLaren's book, this one has shorter chapters but the book overall is divided into seven sections. So instead of doing it chapter by chapter, I'll focus more on the larger sections.

One could almost take the first page of Osteen's book, and come away with the whole of it. He begins by telling the story of a man look at a large house, and this man has a kind of mental conversation with himself about how his low expectation are what are keeping him from living in such a house, and so he decides to "start believing better of himself, and believing better of God". The rest of the section comes off more like a self-help session.

At the beginning of chapter two, he gives an example of his thinking. "The Bible says, 'Set your mind and keep it set on the higher things.' When you get up in the morning, the first thing you should do is set your mind in the right direction...Expect circumstances to change in your favor. Expect people to go out of their way to help you. Expect to be at the right place at the right time."

The first time I read that, I thought I had recognized the verse he refered to. I had to look it up to be certain, and giving some context provided an interesting take on it. Here it is, with a bit of what's around it. (To be fair to Osteen, he does give the reference as a footnote at the back of the book).

Colossians 3:1-4
If then you were reaised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Given this context, I think it's pretty clear the Paul's words had a very different meaning then what Osteen tries to make them say. When Paul says to 'set your mind on things above', he's not talking about job promotions or larger houses. I think we could relegate those things to "things on the earth", which Paul tells us to not set our minds on.

So, at best, Osteen's attempt to use that verse to refer to success on the job is a lousy job of interpretation.

Chapter 2 also has what seems to be Osteen's message...

"You must look through the 'eyes of faith' and start seeing yourself as happy, healthy, and whole."

In other words, it's the same old Word of Faith crap that we've been fed by get-rich-quick televangelist who have done more damage in recent years to the church then any other things I can think about.

Let me vent a bit--I honest expect more of the church then to throw out money for this tripe!! Haven't we learned!! Haven't we had enough examples of shysters who talk a big game but are phoneys underneath? How many more Tildens and Bakkers do we need to have thrown in our faces before we do even a modicum of thinking?

Where does Osteen's teachings fall apart? For me, it has to do with his emphases.

All of what he writes about so far is about us. One can be spiritual, even over-spiritual, and go in the opposite extreme saying that none of this is about us. I can agree with neither extreme. God does care for us, God does want to bless us, and God provides for us. It isn't a case of making Him out to be a great cosmic killjoy or miser, but not is it right to say that God only concern is for us and comfortable and prosperous our lives are.

Any outlook at would seem to even hint that Paul in prison was there for lack of faith is unacceptable. Any teachings that would tell us that those who suffered and died for the Gospel did not have enough faith or else they would have prospered cannot be taken seriously.

To say that we are successful only if our fleshly ambitions are slaked is a view of faith that is at best childish. To make promotions, wealth, and health the measures of ones faith in God simply cannot be done with any biblical support.

Osteen's views so far are extremely shallow. If all he can offer us are little Disney-esque bits like 'believe in yourself' and 'God wants you to be comfortable', then he gives us nothing, perhaps even less then nothing.

I called his view 'childish', and I mean that. It is the kind that measures a parent's love and approval one what one gets from them--if the parents gives you a toy that you want, then they must love you, while if they don't, then they must not love you. There is no room so far in his teachings for ideas such as that the parents have more in mind for their child then for it to be a parasite all it's life, but that it should learn to stand on it's own, that it should learn to not do things it is forbidden to do.

What we are dealing with here could described as priorities. If good parents punish their child, it is not because they do not love the child; quite the contrary, it is the uncaring and indifferent parents who don't care how their child behaves except insofar as they are inconvenienced by them. No, the loving parents punish the child, not because they don't care for it's happiness, but for many reasons--that the child's present happiness is at best a secondary concern to it's becoming a good and decent person, that they want it to be happy for the right reasons, that they warn and punish it now so that it will be less likely to harm itself more seriously in the future.

When the child is being punished--grounding, spanking, not seeing friends, whatever--it will likely not feel loved at that time. But the child's sight is limited, while the parent's should be broader and more far-seeing. The child sees only the now, while the parents should see how the child's behavior will effect it in the future, and so try to change it before more harm is done.

This has to do with God as disciplinarian--not a view we like to see Him as, but an important one anyway.

But there is more to it, I think. It was hinted at in the comments about he sufferings of the martyrs--that God at times allows bad things, even very bad and even more still death, to come to those who follow Him.

Obedience to God is not a one-way ticket to Candy-land. Jesus' obedience led Him to His death. The obedience of the Apostles led them to prisons, beatings, and martyrtoms.

The chapter in Hebrews about those who were faithful has a list of two different peoples--one list was of those who believed God and received what they asked for, and another list was of those who stayed faithful to God when they were oppressed and suffered and killed.

There must be both. We cannot say only those who are blessed with obvious success are the ones with faith in God. No greater injustice can be made against those whose lives have been marked with persecutions, sufferings, and martyrdoms.

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