Thursday, October 25, 2007

Intellectual Honesty...Intellectual? Honestly?

After my scathing critique of Osteen in the last blog, I thought I would practice an exercise in intellectual honesty. I was pretty sure that I'd heard Osteen speak enough to have a good grasp on his opinions, but I had never read either of his books cover to cover. Don't get excited. I'm not honest--or bored--enough to begin such a vast undertaking. But as I was back in Borders, that bright smile drew me in, and I found myself wanting to read at least one chapter.

I really tried to be open. This was an exercise, and I was supposed to be honest. So, without casting my theological hat to the side, I let my literary hat take the driver's seat. I sat, and I read. Twenty minutes passed as I trudged through the 18 pages in the first chapter. I can't say that I was impressed by any of the pseudo-spiritual, positive action fluff. It was like the publishers had assigned a writing exercise for the author: Say the same thing as many times as you can, in as many different ways and buttressed by as many different spiritual "analogies" you can muster. Don't be discouraged. Don't be a doubter. God wants to take you higher. If you're not experiencing God's best, keep pressing on. Blah, blah, blah.

I particularly liked how the extremely grave and dynamic story about the woman at the well in John chapter 4 was dumbed into an anecdote about positive thinking. But at least Jesus got in there, which more than surpassed my expectations. Another thing that struck me was the sense of empowerment with which Osteen speaks and writes. Maybe people like him because he validates their feelings of entitlement. More than once, he used the "You're a child of the king..." line to justify why we should expect "God's best." Last time I checked, Jesus was THE child of the King, and God's best for him was a gruesome crucifixion and the Glory shown through the shed blood. I'd dare to say that Paul, the Twelve, and even the OT prophets were children of the king, but they didn't have nifty lights and waterfalls in the jail cells where they were sometimes forced to hold church.

If you're an Osteen supporter, and you discover this blog, please don't think that I hate Osteen. I'm not questioning the guy's faith, because I really think that his heart is to help people. I just wonder if he has the intellectual capacity and spiritual guts vibrance it takes to truly lead even a small church, much less the biggest in the country. Before you think I'm pontificating, let me admit that I am nowhere near capable of leading a spiritual body of believers effectively. But also, let me couch that by saying that I believe that, judging by the first chapter of Osteen's book, I had theological knowledge and writing ability to match his while I was still in high school.

Barbara Walters named Osteen one of her most fascinating people in 2006. I can agree with the label, because he does fascinate. There's something strangely interesting, yet sad and twisted, about a guy who has opportunities day and night to preach the true Gospel, but refuses every time. Consider this little nugget of wisdom from Walters' interview with the man ABC News called "the smiling preacher":

Walters asked Osteen why he stayed away from controversial subjects like gay marriage, abortion or politics.

"Sometimes, I think if you get away from what you're called to do, it's more of a distraction," he said.

I can't stand how this guy is passed off as a hero, and I really don't understand how people can admire his work. Where are the Jonathan Edwardses of this generation? Where are the men with pulpits who aren't afraid of confrontation, the barbarians who don't "trade truth for false unity," as Derek Webb says? They're out there. You just have to get out of the self-help section to find them.

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