Book Review: Your Best Life Now, Part 3

05/30/2006: This is part three of a three-part review of Your Best Life Now, by Joel Osteen.

In part 1, I skewered Osteen over his preoccupation with material success.

In part 2, I skewered Osteen for using Scripture to communicate his own agenda rather than God’s truth.

Here, I’ll assess Osteen’s greatest blunder of all: utter disregard for the Gospel.

To hear Osteen’s message, one might get the impression that Jesus commanded the Disciples: Go ye into all the world, and preach pay raises, big homes, great marriages, and financial bliss to every living creature.

Of course, such a “gospel” would be absurd and inconsistent with Scripture. Who in his or her right mind would suggest preaching such nonsense?

Sadly, that is exactly what Osteen is doing.

Herein lies the problem: Unlike John Maxwell, Osteen is not a management consultant, nor is he a spokesperson for Amway/Quixtar or some other multi-level marketing outfit. (Come to think of it, that’s probably a good thing, but more on Amway/Quixtar some other time.)

Osteen, in fact, presents himself as the senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Texas. As a professional minister The Gospel–the life, death, resurrection of, and new life in, Jesus Christ–should be his primary focus. That means discipling people from evangelism through initial conversion to growth and prosperity, helping them learn to live as Christians.

This is not about more successful business models or becoming a better salesperson or a high-flying corporate exec. Being a Christian hardly entitles you to any of those things. Yet, unless I am completely missing something, Osteen all but ignores the blessed hope that Jesus provides to humanity.

If I am a home-church pastor in China, material prosperity might not even rank in my top ten priorities, let alone merit writing a book about it.

Similarly, if I am a Christian in Darfur, I might find Osteen quite insulting, as his materialism rings hollow as I see my brothers and sisters being tortured and starved to death on a daily basis. Is this happening because the pastor in Darfur doesn’t have enough faith to live “his best life now”?

In chapter 1, I read about the Osteens getting a bigger house, and Tara Holland winning a cattle show Miss America pageant, and a couple who often went to a fancy hotel lobby to dream about success–becoming successfuul.

Nothing about people being transformed by the power of the Gospel.

Almost nothing about people bearing spritual fruit in accordance with their repentance.

Nothing about former Pagans who receive Christ (I know one.)

Nothing about former alcoholics who–after receiving Christ–found liberation from their libations. (I know several.)

Nothing about former drug addicts and prostitutes who–after receiving Christ–are liberated from their former bondage. (I dated one. It didn’t work out, but she’s still a buddy of mine.)

While none of the people I know from those life situations would be considered case-studies in material prosperity, God certainly has provided their needs, and none of them would say that they lack for anything.

However, they each would testify to their liberation, in some cases the reconciliation they have experienced, and sheer joy they have, especially compared to their former lives.

Yet that brand of “success” is absent from Your Best Life Now.

Lastly, the title of the book is wrong. For the believer, the best life is not to be found in this life. While the temporal can indeed be good, the best life is the kind that doesn’t end. For the Christian, that is not the here and now; that comes later.

Overall, Osteen has done Christians and non-Christians a horrendous disservice. Your Best Life Now is nothing more than the old Word of Faith heresy repackaged for another generation. In it, Osteen falsely represents the Gospel and ignores every semblance of honest Biblical scholarship to promote his materialist dogma.

My only moral dilemma will be whether to keep the book around–as an example of evil packaged as Christian teaching–or use it as a target at the gun range this weekend.

Snuff-Film Couple Pleads ‘Not Guilty’

05/30/2006: Richard Davis and Dena Riley, who videotaped themselves torturing, raping, and murdering one or more women–pleaded ‘not guilty’ today in their first court appearance.

I guess that is to be expected, given that they have yet to receive lawyers. They may want to reconsider their pleas, given that they have been caught–literally with their pants down–on videotape. Even the O.J. “Dream Team” won’t be able to help them here.

Missouri is the show-me state, and Davis and Riley have fulfilled the “show me” part. The only moral dilemma will be life or death.

Predictions:

(1) Davis will get death, hands down. He’s a prior violent sex offender who served 18 years for a rape and sodomy conviction. Making a snuff film will earn him an express trip to the gurney. He’ll neither pass go, nor collect $200.

(2) The prosecution will have to fight hard for it, but Riley will also get death. She will try to paint herself as Davis’ victim. He will be portrayed a diabolical combination of Ted Bundy and the BTK killer, and she was totally brainwashed. She’s already trying to effect sympathy by crying in court. At the end, it won’t wash.

Some will read this and suggest that I’m being unfair, that we should be doing the Christian thing and ministering to them. I’m all for that; I’m also for administering societal justice. And this is not about “rehabilitation”.

As Davis and Riley sit on death row, they will have ample opportunity to receive Christian ministry.

As for the administration of justice, the fact is this couple got their collective rocks off torturing at least two women to death, and videotaped their atrocities. Marsha Spicer and Michelle Ricci did not ask to be tortured, raped, sodomized, and strangled.

Riley is crying in court now, but Ricci’s and Spicer’s cries didn’t gain them any mercy from Riley.

If Davis or Riley gets life, I’ll be quite surprised.

UPDATE: Third Body Found–Connected to Snuff-Film Case

05/30/2006: Richard Davis and Dena Riley–the couple who videotaped their torture killing of Marsha Spicer–are in more hot water.

Authorities have dug up a third body connected with their nihilist spree. This in addition to Spicer and Michelle Ricci.

So far, we have three people who paid a horrendous price, because we chose to let a violent sex offender roam the streets.

Here are two of them. The first is Marsha Spicer; the second is Michelle Ricci.

Book Review: Your Best Life Now, Part 2

This is the second of a three-part series reviewing Your Best Life Now, by Joel Osteen. In part 1, I focused on Osteen’s preoccupation with material success. Suffice it to say that, while the Bible hardly declares wealth to be evil, Osteen is clearly out of bounds for focusing on the material in manners inconsistent with any reasonable rendering of Scripture.

Unfortunately, that is not the worst of Osteen’s errors; in fact, his materialism is the telos of his flagrant lack of regard for basic Biblical interpretation.

In the interests of fair disclosure, I am unconvinced that anyone gets the Scriptures right every time. Even the best scholars and apologists–no matter how dedicated they are to get it right, irrespective of their education and prestige–are going to fall short of the glory from time to time.

However, there is a difference between making an honest mistake in good faith–the best exegetes do that occasionally–versus taking one’s personal agenda to the Scriptures–which is what Osteen and his brethren in the prosperity circles do. Here, I’ll highlight the four times Osteen cites Scripture in his first section.

On the very first page of chapter one, Osteen sets the tone for his approach:

As long as you can’t imagine it, as long as you can’t see it, then it is not
going to happen for you. (page 3)

This is a regurgitation of executive motivational doctrine that is standard in almost every corporate management/motivational training program. Zig Ziglar, Robert Schuller, John Maxwell, Robert Kiyosaki, and Tony Robbins have basically been saying the same thing for years. While there is much to be learned from positive thinking and its effect on leaders and followers, Osteen’s statement is not a universal principle in Scripture.

Needless to say, there are many instances in which God delivered people in ways they could not have imagined beforehand. At times, even a lack of faith was no obstacle.

  • Sarah laughed at God, but she still gave birth at age 87.
  • Abraham strayed in his faith–lying under pressure (twice), and sleeping with his maid thinking he would help God out–but God still gave him Isaac.
  • We have no indication in Scripture that Paul and Silas “imagined” getting freed from prison before God miraculously freed them. He freed them as they were worshipping Him in the midst of their imprisonment after having been flogged.
  • Joseph received fulfillment of a dream he had as a youth–the telos of a journey that took him from the security of his father’s house, to slavery, to prison, and finally to becoming the number two man in Egypt–but in a way far removed from what he “imagined”.
  • Jesus came as the Messiah to the Jews, but even those who received Him didn’t always “get it”, as they “imagined” a Messianic fulfillment more in political than salvific terms.

In fact, God often calls people into service while providing a nebulous or abstract vision of the future. Abraham didn’t know exactly where his journey would end or when he would have a son; the Disciples knew they would be “fishers of men”, but it would be reasonable to expect that they hardly knew that one in their midst would be a traitor, or that God would use them to shock the world in ways that eluded even David and Solomon.

He continues by inferring qualities on God that do not apply in general.

Too many times we get stuck in a rut, thinking we’ve reached our limits. We don’t really stretch our faith; we don’t believe for anything bigger. But God wants us to be constantly increasing, to be rising to new heights. He wants to increase you in His wisdom and help you to make better decisions. God wants to increase you financially, by giving you promotions, fresh ideas, and creativity. (page 5, emphasis mine)

Increasing in wisdom and faith, and making better decisions? Who could argue with that? It’s the last statement that betrays his twisted understanding of prosperity and God’s purposes.

This serves as the springboard for his first exegetical blunder (emphasis
his
).

The Scripture says that God wants to pour out “His far and beyond favor” (he references Ephesians 2:7 here). God wants this to be the best time of your life. But if you are going to receive this favor, you must enlarge your vision. You can’t go around thinking negative, defeated, limiting thoughts. Well, I’ve gone as far as my education will allow. Or, I’ve had this sickness for years. I guess it’s my lot in life. (page 5) 

Of course, Ephesians 2:7 has nothing to do with either financial prosperity or physical health. To demonstrate, here is Ephesians 2 in its entirety (with verse 7 in bold italics):

You were made alive when you were dead in transgressions and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus; for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them.

Therefore remember that once you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “uncircumcision” by that which is called “circumcision,” (in the flesh, made by hands); that you were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off are made near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in the flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having killed the hostility thereby.

He came and preached peace to you who were far off and to those who were near. For through him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.

So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.

There is nothing in the chapter to suggest that verse 7 has anything to do with financial matters; in fact, the chapter is all about salvation, which is made possible through the finished work of Jesus Christ. It describes the status of Gentiles–non-Jews–before Christ, compared to the status of all believing Gentiles as a result of the grace of God through Jesus Christ. But nope…nothing about material prosperity or physical health.

Osteen goes on to implore the readers to “Get rid of those old wineskins” (p.
6):

Interestingly, when Jesus wanted to encourage His followers to enlarge their visions, He reminded them, “You can’t put new wine into old wineskins.” Jesus was saying that you cannot have a larger life with restricted attitudes. That lesson is still relevant today. We are set in our ways, bound by our perspectives, and stuck in our thinking. God is trying to do something new, but unless we are willing to change, unless we are willing to expand and enlarge our vision, we’ll miss his opportunities for us.

Osteen references Matthew 9:17, which he clearly takes out of context to promote an agenda that Jesus’ “new wineskins” comment hardly addresses. To understand the context, look at the backdrop, from Matthew 8.

  • 8:1-4: Jesus heals a leper, and commands him to show himself to a priest in accordance with the Law.
  • 8:5-13: Jesus heals the servant of a Centurion, while calling specific attention to his faith and contrasting that with the lack of faith among the Jews.
  • 8:14-17: Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, in addition to many who were sick and demon possessed (in fulfillment of prophecy).
  • 8:18-22: Two people offer to follow Jesus, one without knowing the cost; another trying to do so on his own terms.
  • 8:23-27: Jesus establishes His authority over natural elements.
  • 8:28-34: Jesus heals two demon-possessed men, sending the demons into the pigs, causing the pigs to drown themselves, and the people to run Jesus out of town for destroying the hog-farming industry of Gadarenes.

Notice how everything so far involves Jesus establishing His authority: cleansing a leper (and thus involving Himself in legal matters proscribed in OT law), healing a centurion’s servant, healing the mother-in-law of a Disciple, casting out demons (fulfilling prophecy), rebuffing people who offer to follow Jesus (but later calling Matthew, who was among the despised people), and calming storms.

Now, let’s look at what happens in Chapter 9:

9:1-8:

  • Jesus forgives a paralytic
  • Some teachers of the law accuse Jesus of blasphemy (the logical question: who are real paralytics in this exchange?)
  • Jesus rebukes them, and then heals the paralytic. (The teachers are still paralyzed in their sin, however.)

9:9-12:

  • Jesus calls a tax collector–Matthew–to follow Him
  • Jesus dines with Matthew, and many other tax collectors and “sinners”
  • The Pharisees accuse Jesus of impropriety for dining with “sinners”.
  • Jesus rebukes the Pharisees. The logical question: who are the real “sinners” in this exchange?

9:14-17:

  • Disciples of John (the Baptist) wanted to know why Jesus’ disciples did not fast along with them and the disciples of the Pharisees.
  • Jesus’s response: the time for this has not arrived. “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”
  • Jesus then provides His “new wineskins” comment (v.17):

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.

9:18-26

  • Jesus heals a woman–whose bleeding had locked her out of fellowship for twelve years–who touched His garment.
  • Jesus then raised the daughter of a synagogue ruler from the dead.

Granted, we are looking at a large sector of Scripture, but the point here is that nothing leading up to the “new wineskins” pronouncement–or that which follows–has anything to do with material prosperity, or enlarging your vision, or taking hold of all those promotions and pay raises that Osteen claims God has supposedly promised us in Ephesians 2:7.

His third exegetical blunder comes on page 10.

God says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it?” Notice, God is always ready to do new things in our lives. He’s trying to promote us, to increase us, to give us more. Yet, it’s interesting that God asked the question, “Do you not perceive it?” In other words, are you making room for it in your own thinking? Are you believing for increase? Are you believing to excel at your job? Are you believing to be a more effective leader, or a better parent?

The verse he references is Isaiah 43:19. Let’s look at the chapter in its entirety (with verse 19 in bold italics):

But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.

Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give men in exchange for you,
and people in exchange for your life.

Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.

I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth-

everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

Lead out those who have eyes but are blind,
who have ears but are deaf.

All the nations gather together
and the peoples assemble.
Which of them foretold this
and proclaimed to us the former things?
Let them bring in their witnesses to prove
they were right,
so that others may hear and say, “It is true.”

“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.

I, even I, am the LORD,
and apart from me there is no savior.

I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD,
“that I am God.

Yes, and from ancient days I am he.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
When I act, who can reverse it?”

This is what the LORD says—
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“For your sake I will send to Babylon
and bring down as fugitives all the
Babylonians, 
in the ships in which they took pride.

I am the LORD, your Holy One,
Israel’s Creator, your King.”

This is what the LORD says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,

who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.

The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the desert
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,

the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.

“Yet you have not called upon me, O Jacob,
you have not wearied yourselves for me, O
Israel.

You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings,
nor honored me with your sacrifices.
I have not burdened you with grain offerings
nor wearied you with demands for incense.

You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me,
or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices.
But you have burdened me with your sins
and wearied me with your offenses.

“I, even I, am he who blots out
your transgressions, for my own sake,
and remembers your sins no more.

Review the past for me,
let us argue the matter together;
state the case for your innocence.

Your first father sinned;
your spokesmen rebelled against me.

So I will disgrace the dignitaries of your temple,
and I will consign Jacob to destruction  
and Israel to scorn.

The entirety of this passage has nothing to do with executive proverbs for managerial excellence, or “believing God” for that pay raise, or becoming a better leader. The “new thing” about which God is speaking in verse 19 is deliverance from sin and a call to repentance as He chides them for their sins and lack of regard for honoring Him.

In his fourth exegetical blunder–on page 11–Osteen uses Jesus’ “all things are possible” statement to promote his positive confession proclamation. That in itself would not be blunderous except that it is the culmination of his three prior blunders.

His treatment of Scripture is symptomatic of someone who intentionally crafted the Scriptures to fit the agenda he sought to communicate in his book. The emphasis is on promoting his modernistic ideas, not communicating Biblical truth.

As a result, Osteen trampled the Scripture while attempting to promote the old wine–the false “prosperity gospel” of Kenneth Copeland, Robert Tilton, Oral Roberts, Jim Bakker (before prison), Larry Lea, Norvell Hayes, and Paul Crouch–in his own new wineskins.

Vox Day on the GOP Betrayal of America

05/29/2006: Vox has this to say regarding the GOP leaders in the Congress and White House:

For five years, Republicans have been wondering what in the world is going on inside the minds of their leaders. To be sure, there were no shortage of treacherous stabs in the back even before the current president’s father was asking the American people to read his lips, but those could be explained away as political strategies – however incompetent – and individual failings.

And the Republican leadership always found the grass roots willing to swallow such betrayals in the name of the long march toward power. Conservatives were able to tolerate much in the name of expanding the big tent and obtaining Republican majorities in the House, Senate and Supreme Court to provide a Republican president with what Ronald Reagan lacked, effective partnership across the three branches of federal government.

But Republicans have looked on, aghast, as the man they believed would be Reagan’s heir instead turned out to be the illegitimate heir to Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Baines Johnson. From his bizarre dabbles in Islamic theology to his enthusiastic embrace of activist, ever-expanding central government power, George W. Bush has sold out every Christian, every nationalist, every constitutionalist, every libertarian and every conservative in the Republican Party.

I agree 100%. And every true right-wing conservative needs to take stock of the fact that we are getting screwed. There is no better way to say it.

Too Short for Prison??? Gimme a Freakin’ Break!!!

05/25/2006: 50-year-old Richard Thompson was convicted of sexually assaulting a child. Normally, this would be cause for a very long prison sentence.

Unfortunately, the judge–Kristine Cecava–decided that, at five-foot-one–Thompson was too short for prison. Ergo, he gets ten years of probation.

So lemme get this straight…a man sexually assaults a child, gets convicted by a jury of his peers, and the judge decides to let the bastard off because he is too short???

She feels he will be “imperiled by prison dangers”. I understand her concern, but does that justify subjecting children to perils associated with freeing a violent sex offender?

Inflicting him on the public is insane.