It seems that Mr. Osteen is still generating some commentary from Ben Witherington. Now, I don’t know why Osteen bugs him so much; compared to what else is on TV in the name of Christianity, Osteen is pretty bland. But, he is incredibly successful. Today, all BW does is provide this quote from John Wesley under the title, “Memo to Mr. Osteen from John Wesley:
I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.
(Now, I first tried to leave a comment on Witherington’s blog, but I always have issues trying to log in to Blogger, so I gave up and decided to comment over here, not that he reads my blog.)
This afternoon I was flipping through the TV channels and happened upon Mr. Osteen. This particular sermon did, in fact, step over the line (in my opinion) into the “believe it, receive it” territory, which I don’t agree with. He was not, however, teaching that God will make you rich, but rather to have faith for things like getting out of debt.
But, is Wesley’s comment above any better? Is poverty more “holy” than prosperity? In fact, it seems that Wesley was a might confused and had mixed emotions about any kind of “religious” revival. If, in fact, the Gospel takes root in an area, he proposes that industry and frugality is a necessary result. Therefore, people prosper, which he theorizes will “kill” religion. It would seem that revival is self-defeating by his analysis.
Reading between the lines, however, I sense something which is perhaps more insidious than a prosperity gospel: the belief that poverty is tied to holiness. I am not an expert on Wesley or Methodism, but I do know that while he remained an Anglican, he was one of the early holiness preachers, holding an Arminian belief in man’s free will, and a belief that man can achieve (with the help of grace) a certain state of holiness. The problem with this thinking is that even with a professed belief in the prevenient grace of God, it results (often, if not always) in a works-based Christianity which stands in opposition to the Gospel of grace as taught by Paul. If this is the case, then Paul would say that it is no gospel at all:
Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? – Galatians 3:3
Certainly an Earthly prosperity is not to be our goal; that much is clear. However, I don’t believe that a goal of poverty is in accordance with the abundant life that God has promised us, either. And, I do not see that our spirituality is tied to either poverty or prosperity. Either extreme can result in totally screwed up lives; however, a belief in prosperity is usually not (at least that I’ve heard) tied to our salvation. On the other hand, if we fall into a works-based gospel where our sanctification (and possibly our salvation) is dependent upon our own free will, then perhaps we have no gospel at all. I’m guessing that if one has to err, it would be better to err in faith in God than to put faith in your lack of wealth.
Obviously, Paul did not assign anything spiritual to a state of poverty or prosperity, and that’s where I’m going to have to come down on this issue:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. – Philippians 4:12
(However, plenty is a lot more fun.)