CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Your Worst Life Now

Dec 20, 2014

It can be said quite assuredly that America, along with so much of the West, is the home of the most materialistic, consumeristic, self-centred, money-hungry and hedonistic people on earth. Sure, such folks can be found elsewhere, and have been throughout history, but America today especially has elevated a lifestyle of selfishness and love of wealth and things to a whole new level.

An obsession with self and all the goodies of life is a major defining trait of most Americans. Given such a context, it is not in the least surprising that so much of American Christianity perfectly reflects all this. Some of the most unbiblical gospels of selfishness and covetousness and greed can be found in American Christianity.

osteen 7It is no surprise that the Prosperity Gospel and all the self-help, feel-good, self-serving gospels have been birthed in America. Instead of resisting the surrounding pagan culture with all its false idols and ungodly values, many churches have simply soaked it up, repackaged it, and sought to sell it as the Christian gospel.

I have written often before about this sort of worldly and carnal Christianity which puts wealth, success, self-worth and self-esteem and personal satisfaction at the top of the list of Christian virtues. With best-selling books like Your Best Life Now, this is not a biblical enterprise but a gospel of greed and selfishness.

Yet millions and millions of believers have fully embraced this. It is as if they simply do not read their own Bibles any longer. They instead simply fall for whatever these tele-evangelists and mega-church preachers tell them. Zero biblical discernment coupled with an obsession with self make these folks easy pickings for these spiritual snake oil salesmen.

One simply has to read how Jesus and the disciples lived, and the gospel that they proclaimed, to see how the modern version of events has absolutely nothing to do with biblical Christianity. Having just been reading in 2 Corinthians, let me offer one rather relevant portion of this.

Paul has been talking about the “super apostles” and their over-the-top claims of spirituality, success and the like. So he powerfully contrasts these folks with himself. In 2 Cor. 11: 22-33 he says this:

Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.

This is what he extols, promotes, and champions: not riches, glory and power, but suffering, hardship and persecution. It is being in weakness and trials and opposition that he champions and relishes. That is his claim to genuine apostleship. That is the proof of his ministry and calling. That is what he boasts in.

Tom Wright reminds us that in the ancient Roman world, “military might and bravery was regarded as one of the highest of the virtues. . . . And in Roman culture one of the standard things that every public figure could do was to list his achievements.”

Well, this very public leader was also happy to list his achievements – and they were the very opposite of his carnal and proud opponents at Corinth. He listed as his greatest achievements his sufferings, his hardships, his beatings, his enemies, his blood, sweat, toil and tears. As Paul Barnett comments:

Paul takes this literary convention of boasting and inverts it. His boast is in folly, weakness, disappointment and defeat. . . . Paul’s opponents boast of superiority (11:5; 12:11), of being ‘super-apostles’. Yet the effect of their ministry is to enslave and manipulate those who succumb to them (verse 20). Paul, however, is the servant of Christ in his ministry to the churches. As opposed to the triumphalism of these newcomers, the essential character of Christ is the meekness and gentleness of a crucified slave. Christ’s glory is his divinely humble service of others. This is the message of the cross which Paul seeks to embody and express in his ministry of evangelism.

Paul turned on its head the entire type of boasting and the listing of achievements so common in the Greco-Roman world. His opponents gloried in self, in their power, in their eloquence, in their success, in their victories. Paul gloried in his weaknesses, his foolishness, his battles, his trials and his humility.

As Scott Hafemann remarks, there is a “double irony in this passage. On the one hand, Paul considers it foolish to boast in the very things his opponents think are appropriate. On the other hand, he gladly boasts in those things that his opponents think are foolish.”

Once again we see the topsy-turvy nature of the Kingdom. What the world – and worldly Christians – consider to be of value and of substance, biblical Christianity considers to be but dung. Paul exalts in his sufferings and weakness and rejection and abasement. The world and carnal believers exalt in riches and power and success and prosperity.

That such worldliness has so heavily crept into the churches (both now and then) should send us all on our faces before God in repentance. Such worldliness is a constant temptation to be fought and resisted. In his very helpful 1994 volume, God in the Wasteland, David Wells speaks about this pressure to conform to the world, and he explains what the world means:

This “world,” then, is the way in which our collective life in society (and the culture that goes with it) is organized around the self in substitution for God. It is life characterized by self-righteousness, self-centeredness, self-satisfaction, self-aggrandizement, and self-promotion, with a corresponding distaste for the self-denial proper to union with Christ.

Self is at the heart of the world system, and it is at the heart of sin. That we have entire gospels today totally focussed on and catering to self tells us just how far we have drifted from the clear message of Jesus and the disciples. And all over the world today we see these harmful self-centred gospels, and the deceptive prosperity gospels, extending their deadly tentacles.

I saw this again in Singapore where I just spent a week. American Christianity has a lot to answer for in this regards, since they are the main exporters of all this mischievous nonsense. One day these preachers and teachers will have to give an account of themselves and their cheap gospels when they stand before the righteous judge. I would not want to be in their shoes.

Once again, Christians have a clear choice: they can stay with biblical Christianity, and all its hardships, suffering and self-denial, or they can go with what the world values and offers. But the Christian cannot have both. We each must decide which one we will embrace, promote and glory in.

[1373 words]

12 Responses to Your Worst Life Now

  • In the late 19th century, Spurgeon gave a hint of what was going to happen in the succeeding generations, when he expounded on 2 Timothy 3.

    2 Timothy 3:1-7. ‘This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sin, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.’

    This is the photograph of the present age, and I do not doubt that Paul spoke of it when thus the spirit of prophecy was upon him. This is the very motto of the present age, “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It glories in knowing nothing; and its great boast is in its continual progress, “never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

    2 Timothy 3:8, 9. ‘Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as their’s also was.’

    For, when God was with Moses and Aaron, Jannes and Jambres were soon, by the power and wisdom of God, proved to be fools.

    2 Timothy 3:10-12. ‘But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lytra; what persecution I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.’

    The world does not love Christ, or his gospel, an atom more to-day than it did in Paul’s day. “The carnal mind is” still “enmity against God.”

    2 Timothy 3:13. ‘But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.’

    We may look for even worse days and darker days than we have at present.

    David Skinner UK

  • Very true, Bill

  • I will send this timeless article, Bill, to all pastors that I know so that men and women of God will read the truth and understand God’s heart and truth for the Church. We, as people of God, need a deep conviction from Jesus’ Word and the Spirit of the living God concerning the lostness of the lost in order that we really preach the Gospel of Kingdom – the real Gospel that the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul preached with the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven! I would ask Pastors of prosperity gospel to fear God instead of fearing men and pleasing men! Preach Christ’s Word and the truth of God’s word fully in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven and with the love of God within our very soul! Beloved pastors, ‘Beware of deceptive prosperity gospels.’ We do grieve the Holy Spirit when we don’t really preach the gospel – biblical gospel.

    Men and women of God, the Holy Spirit is calling you and me to return to biblical Christianity. Be convinced, convicted, and converted to Christ by the power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit. We need to preach Christ – the gospel that converted us from the beginning. Don’t be ashamed of the gospel that saved us. Be faithful and grateful to the gospel of Christ that eternally saved us. Anyone who has ears should listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Don’t harden our hearts. We are accountable to God for what we have done and one day we will stand before Christ the Lord when he returns with power and glory to judge the living and the dead. Come, Lord Jesus!

  • Great Post Bill also great comment David Skinner. Just visited UK and visited Winslow where Spurgeon had a great move of God there at Winslow Tabernacle preaching whole counsel of God. And I was thinking on this scripture from Paul 2 Timothy 3:1-7 and in particular where it says “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God…..” this excerpt as that says what many of Gods people love God but love pleasure more- they declare to me with their actions, and not to be conformed to this general operating standard, I find have to go against tide and renew my first love to the Lord and the rest of life flows from that position to truly honour God. It must be Christ first in my affections directions reflections connections benedictions etc.

  • I hope this isn’t an unwanted comment but I see positives in Joel Osteen’s work and I do listen to some of his shows on youtube. I don’t go to that kind of church, but sometimes I really am blessed by his positive encouragement. I do not consider myself at all a “health and wealth” Christian, but I think many many people are so in need of encouragement that Joel Osteen could definitely, at the very least, be a stepping stone out of despair and toward Jesus Christ. Maybe I am spreading myself too thin but I seem to see good almost everywhere in Christianity, even among those who are clearly heretical in one way or another. Myself I am a conservative Catholic, so of course we are always accused of putting TOO MUCH emphasis on the sacrifices entailed in Christianity, yet I love your work too Bill, and I just think sometimes God uses all kinds of angles to bring people to salvation, step by step. When there is so much truly heinous evil in the world today I think have to work to stay as united as possible as Christians. God bless.

  • Thanks Joe. Yes it is always possible to glean things, including encouragement, from any number of sources, no matter how dubious. But I would have thought that a simple reading of Scripture would provide stacks of helpful and proper encouragement. And if it is mere happiness that people are after – which is primarily all that Osteen and those like him offer – well, there are far better sources for this. As C. S. Lewis said long ago, “I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

    And what really concerns me is this: if a person is in a solid and growing relationship with Jesus Christ, then a bit of this pap, this fairy floss, this light-weight “encouragement” in small doses can be OK. But taken in large doses it can be absolutely lethal, certainly to those who are not already mature disciples. Indeed, I strongly doubt – outside of an incredible miracle of God – that anyone can find biblical salvation in the messages of Osteen. How could they, given that he never speaks on the basics, such as sin, repentance, hell, judgment, the wrath of God, and the need to turn from self to Christ and daily carry one’s cross? If these are all core features of the biblical gospel – and I believe that they are – then listeners to Osteen simply will not get them.

  • I really enjoy reading your posts Bill. Thank you so much. I’ve bought 2 of your books. Joel Osteen & his type of preaching never sat well with me, I never knew why until now, thank you for enlightening me. (Alex Jones thinks Joel Osteen is an agent of the CIA sounds extreme I know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was true!)

  • Last night I read Matthew Henry’s commentary on Luke 6:20 to 26 with my children. It said the complete opposite to your Best Life Right Now, of course. Why promote a teaching that is directly opposite to that of Jesus Christ’s words…?

  • Since you were in Singapore lately, Bill, have you heard of the sad case of Pastor Kong Hee?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kong_Hee

  • Dear Bill
    A number of years ago, we attended a church in Queensland which was affiliated with a large church in L.A., and which operated in a similar manner to Joel Osteen’s.
    One Sunday, the pastor announced that we were going to have a “Positivity Feast”. I fully welcomed this initiative and looked forward to the different ways we were going to “build one another up”, even in the midst of the trials we were currently facing.
    However, this view of positivity was not what was meant at all, but rather consisted of repeating unscriptural mantras and thereby living our best life now. Statements such as “I claim perfect Health”, “my children will have wonderful marriages,” and other statements in a similar vein.
    So it’s not enough to have the Lord to help us in the trials of life, in the view of many “positive” churches, God is supposed to ensure we don’t go through the trials at all.
    Thank you for all your work Bill, and may you and yours enjoy a blessed Christmas.
    Vic

  • Well said Jeremiah… I mean Bill.

    I hate to defend Joel Olsteen because he is obviously not quite right but how do you explain Deut 28 and all the other prosperity scriptures and there are quite a few.

    Yes Paul suffered huge adversity from men but that does not mean there is not special blessings for God’s faithful people on Earth. If you are a drug addict that comes to the Lord, for instance, your sudden prosperity (not necessarily monetary) is obvious.

    I am still very happy to pray as in 3 John

    3Jn_1:2 Beloved, in regard to all things I pray that you prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.

  • Thanks Michael. I speak to passages such as Deut 28 in depth here:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/01/03/misappropriating-old-testament-blessings-and-curses/

    And I deal with the equally misused and abused text from 3 John here:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/17/the-prosperity-gospel/

Leave a Reply