Michael S. Horton confronts the modern iteration of the prosperity gospel here with a particular emphasis on Joel Osteen.
Oh my goodness, it is magnificent. here are some clips, but go check it out in full when you have some time to read it carefully.
In the Wal-Mart era of religion and spirituality, every particular creed and any denominational distinctives get watered down. We don’t hear (at least explicitly) about our being “little gods,” “part and parcel of God,” or the blood of Christ as a talisman for healing and prosperity. The strange teachings of his father’s generation, still regularly heard on TBN, are not explored in any depth. In fact, nothing is explored in any depth. Osteen still uses the telltale lingo of the health-and-wealth evangelists: “Declare it,” “speak it,” “claim it,” and so forth, but there are no dramatic, made-for-TV healing lines. The pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, TX, which now owns the Compaq Center, does not come across as a flashy evangelist with jets and yachts, but as a charming next-door-neighbor who always has something nice to say.
As community philosopher Karl Marx said of a consumer-driven culture, “All that is solid melts into the air.” Religion, too, becomes a commodity—a product or therapy that we can buy and use for our personal well-being. Exemplifying the moralistic and therapeutic approach to religion, Osteen’s message is also a good example of the inability of Boomers to mourn in the face of God’s judgment or dance under the liberating news of God’s saving mercy. In other words, all gravity is lost—both the gravity of our problem and of God’s amazing grace. According to this message, we are not helpless sinners—the ungodly—who need a one-sided divine rescue. (Americans, but especially we Boomers, don’t take bad news well.) Rather, we are good people who just need a little instruction and motivation.
A TIME story in 2006 observed that Osteen’s success has reached even more traditional Protestant circles, citing the example of a Lutheran church that followed Your Best Life Now during Lent, of all times, “when,” as the writer notes, “Jesus was having his worst life then.” Even churches formally steeped in a theology of the cross succumb to theologies of glory in the environment of popular American spirituality. We are swimming in a sea of narcissistic moralism: an “easy-listening” version of salvation by self-help.
This is what we might call the false gospel of “God-Loves-You-Anyway.” There’s no need for Christ as our mediator, since God is never quite as holy and we are never quite as morally perverse as to require nothing short of Christ’s death in our place. God is our buddy. He just wants us to be happy, and the Bible gives us the roadmap.
Michael has this culture and especially this religious culture nailed.
for further reading making similar points you might check out my post on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and the links therein.
Also, Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love is directly opposed to the Joel Osteen “God is my buddy” version of christianity prevalent today. I read it already and I am currently reading it again with a group of guys. difficult and powerful. I highly recommend it.
hat tip to Vitamin Z.