Sunday, October 21, 2007
The Pensive Pastor's Prosperity Pose
Rodin, the famous sculptor who gave the world The Thinker statue, must have known, like those pictured here, that there's something the chin that gives you the money-making mojo.
And Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston knows something about it. In fact, Osteen has made so much cash off his first self-help book, Your Best Life Now, that he's stopped taking a salary from his basketball arena of a church. A noble act to be sure, but it probably stemmed from the fact that he knew he'd be getting a huge advance for his new book, Become a Better You, which, judging from the first few pages and the table of contents, is just as sappy as his first one. Best Life has more than 4 million copies in print, and it just came out in paperback, which is what bestsellers do when the publisher has milked the entire audience willing to pay the extra 10 bucks for the hardback. In one lap around Borders the other day, a friend and I saw Osteen's million-dollar grin four times, even once in the Spanish section.
For the past few years, I've made it a sort of hobby to watch and trash prosperity pastors. To me, they just too adequately fit the description of false prophets, those who peddle some incomplete version of the Gospel for their personal gain. But a lot of the time, though it's hard--and most of the time inappropriate--to judge another's heart, I've come to believe that these guys aren't necessarily intentional deceivers. As I think is the case with Osteen, they sincerely believe that their namby-pamby, cheerleader-with-a-podium, self-help messages are good for their audiences, and they take the testimonials they receive as validation of their ministries.
A case in point: Osteen was featured on "60 minutes" the other day. When challenged by the reporter about his skimpy messages, Osteen asserted that it was his calling to "lift people up," not to "beat them down," and to give them simple messages that they could use in their daily lives. Not once did he mention Jesus. God got in there a few times, but his portrayal in Osteenology is little more than that of a plump Santa Claus whose main goal as ruler of the universe is to get everyone to hold hands and get along. On the set of the interview, Osteen broke down and cried as he told the reporter how "humbled" he was to hear so many people tell him that he--woops, and God--changed their lives.
As he sobbed, burying his makeup-caked face and pristine white teeth in his hands, I actually began to pity Osteen. The man who created the Wall of Champions to honor church members who paid more than $2,500 for their Sunday season ticket at his stadium has bought the lie that winning the approval of men equals adherence to the mission of God. The problem is that no matter how many books you can sell by editing out the hard-to-swallow aspects of the Gospel, your mission as a pastor is not to motivate people to feel better about themselves. Your mission is to speak truth: hard-hitting, uncompromising and often painful truth. As our Lord said, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you." Translation: If the path you're on has a lot of traffic, you'd better make sure it's not the broad one that leads to destruction.
I'm sure that Osteen has touched lives. He's probably helped some people regain the ability to think positively and persevere without complaining, a few virtues often overlooked in our fast-food culture. And he's probably done these things with great intentions, without realizing that he's shortchanging the Savior he claims to serve by feeding his flock what I call "spiritual gruel" rather than anything approaching milk or solid food.
But that's the problem--and the danger--with Osteen's gospel. It's well-intentioned but incomplete, a recipe for something indescribably delicious but missing the key ingredient. What I mean is that, yes, God wants us to be happy. He wants us to be positive. He wants us to have joy and abundant (Osteen would say "victorious") life. But what God does not want is to be a means to an end. He does not want to be spiritual prozac to make our day positive, uplifting and "safe for the whole family." He does not want to be sprinkled, stirred and mixed into our daily routine as the active ingredient that makes our spirit rise like dough.
As John Piper puts it in a book by the same title, "God is the Gospel." He is the good news. He will not be used as an instrument to bring us joy. Rather, as we learn to worship him for his own sake, he will become our joy, whether we're screaming in agony like Job or rejoicing as Abraham on the day of Isaac's birth. God is the end, not the means. When we learn this fully, we will have our best lives now--and eternally.
You're probably wondering by now what the other pictures have to do with this post. Well, I couldn't resist throwing in Creflo (picture 2) for good measure. I first saw Creflo "Boom! Can I Get A." Dollar when I was about 10 years old. I was at a friend's house in Florida, and we were flipping channels. The dial stopped on Creflo, who was creeping across the stage, hands outstretched like an airplane. His speech is still clear in my mind; I've memorized it by reciting it so many times over the years.
"Steeeeeeeeeeeaaalthfully," he said, drawing out the word for emphasis and tiptoeing sneakily across the stage. "Stealthfully, the Lord's gonna come. And when he does--"
Now he really kicked it into high gear. "You gonna hear the sonic boom, and you gonna look up into the sky, but the Lord ain't gonna be there. Uh-uh, naw he ain't. It's gonna be like BOOM! Yo bank account is filled! BOOM! Yo house paid off! BOOM! Yo car payment is gone! BOOM! Blessed and gone! Blessed and gone! Blessed and gone!" The crowd applauded wildly. I don't know whether they were more excited about God's ability to use the breaking of the sound barrier to bring them instant wealth or Creflo's mastery of the ghetto voice as a means to get things really crankin'.
Creflo is funny for many reasons, one of which is the fact that his last name is Dollar. You'd think someone with that last name would at least try to veil their health and wealth message, not create their own School of Prosperity. Yes, you read me right. Creflo, pastor of World Changers Church International and the proud owner of a Gulfstream private jet to cart him back and for between his congregations in Atlanta and New York, is going to teach you how to be prosperous, but like a true entrepreneur, he ain't gonna do it for free. It's only $20 to get your "millionaire login" name and find out "why God wants you rich."
By the way, Creflo's wife Taffi once used a Psalm to justify why God wants her to have a Rolls Royce.
The last picture is Mason Betha, otherwise known by his hip-hop name, Ma$e. Mase, a former Bad Boy Records artist who rolled with the likes of Puff Daddy back in the day, made waves in the rap industry when he decided to go gospel.
I have nothing bad to say about Mase. I just think it's great that he looks like Creflo's version of Mini-Me.