[...] it is the unanimous witness of all religious Christian experience that salvation, both in an objective and subjective sense, is solely the work of God. Though in theory a person may be Pelagian, in the practice of the Christian life, above all in prayer, every Christian is an Augustinian. In that connection all glorying in self is excluded, and God alone is given the honor. Augustine, accordingly, was right when he said that the ancient church’s faith in God’s grace expressed itself in prayers rather than in its “little works.”
As a follow up to his recent interview on 60 minutes regarding Joel Osteen’s heterodox theology, Dr. Mike Horton published a review of Osteen’s latest book, Become a Better You. The essence of Horton’s review comes as no surprise:
- Osteen preaches a health-and-wealth/prosperity Gospel, which comes across even more strongly in this second book (as compared with Your Best Life Now).
- Osteen changes the Christian Gospel by redefining orthodox terms such as faith, sin, salvation, blessing, deliverance, etc., into subjective, works-righteousness Pelagianism.
Behind the smile lurks a theology that will rob you of the Gospel’s joyous freedom. The seed of success is not deep within yourself, waiting for you to draw it out as Osteen would have you believe. The only seed that will save you from sin and death is the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), God’s own Son, who was “born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV).
My name is Laurence, and I’m not an alcoholic, but I visited the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at [removed for privacy] for the purpose of evaluating whether AA can be a helpful tool in a Christian minister’s toolbox. I had no prior experience with AA’s methods or teachings, and this was my first visit to an AA meeting.
The long and short of my evaluation is twofold: (1) on the basis of common grace AA can and does help people, whether Christian or not, to overcome alcohol addiction; (2) however, in its mixture of Christian beliefs with secular humanism, AA risks wrecking people’s spiritual lives by giving them a stronger and more dangerous addiction: Pelagianism. Accordingly, the AA methodology could be much improved by removing the quasi-Christian elements; for, no institution of man is capable of wielding the church’s spiritual Sword and Keys.
AA’s attempt to use quasi-Christian methodology is obvious: Christianity’s confession of faith (“Jesus is Lord”) is replaced with AA’s confession (“my name is ___, and I’m an alcoholic”); in place of the Bible is the Big Book; in place of the Triune God of Scripture is “the higher power as I understand it”; in place of Christian fellowship (including discipline, accountability, confession of sin, assurance of pardon) is anonymity and mutual affirmation through catharsis; salvation from God’s righteous wrath is replaced by salvation from alcohol’s controlling power; the covenant of grace (salvation sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, sola Scriptura) is replaced by a covenant of works (the steps/principles of success in the Big Book). Etc. Ironically, AA is a non-Christian attempt at Christianity.
In spite of my sharp dislike for AA’s blatant misuse, redefinition, etc., of Christian doctrines, I think that AA can still be helpful to people whether Christian or not. How? In spite of its conflation of Christianity’s special and common grace, AA’s work as an instrument of common grace remains beneficial to individuals and societies. Obviously, alcoholism is devastating and dangerous to people, families, children, cities, highways, etc. People who are addicted to alcohol need common grace help just as much as they need special grace. I cannot see any scriptural reason to deny common grace benefits (such as can be achieved by groups like AA) to both unbelievers and believers.
The latter, however, need the disciplines of special grace (i.e. proper relation of the struggling believer to the administration of Word, sacraments, and church discipline as applied in light of the person’s idolatry of alcoholism), which are only administered by the church. In a word, AA can make a wet man dry; but only the Gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed in His church can make a dead man live.
- What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Read the apostle Paul’s answer.
- Is alcoholism a genetic discorder? Ed Welch deals with this question from a Christian perspective in his book, Blame It On The Brain?
- See also Ed Welch’s book, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave.
What is the difference between Dr. Phil and Christianity’s Gospel? Not much (sadly!) in many explanations of Christianity. But in the Sacred Scriptures, the two could not be further apart! For, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is by faith alone; Dr. Phil-type behaviorism is by works alone. The one is law and gospel, the other is law only.
In the following interview, professor R. Scott Clark discusses how the law relates to the Gospel in Christianity, how to avoid moralism and antinomianism, and how real change/growth/sanctification takes places in a Christian’s life. Listen to professor Clark explain the world of difference “by faith alone” makes in understanding Christianity (MP3):
Watch the full version of the 60 Minutes interview with Joel Osteen (14 Oct. 2007), complete with Dr. Horton’s brief critique of Osteen’s “prosperity gospel.”
A short portion of the full, 11-minute interview, including Dr. Horton’s critique of Osteen’s “cotton candy gospel” can be seen in this clip:
According to the Scriptures, there is no “prosperity,” blessing, hope, etc. without payment for sin, specifically, payment with blood.
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).
We cannot receive God’s blessing without first knowing God’s condemnation. God’s law clearly condemns all people as morally culpable (Romans 1-3). The wonder of the Gospel is that God incarnated Himself in Jesus Christ to come and bear sin’s curse on behalf of His people. Contrary to Osteen’s message of exclusive blessing, the Scriptures clearly teach that humiliation must come before exaltation, or else even Jesus’ coming to earth would not make any sense. Accordingly, when the apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians what the Gospel is, he speaks first not about blessing, prosperity, and the like, but of Christ’s death:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-3 ESV).
If Christ’s humiliation unto death is of “first importance” to Paul, no preacher of the Gospel can skip this point. Doing so makes one not a preacher of the Gospel, but a proclaimer of lies and a purveyor of curses. For, God does not and cannot promise to bless without first dealing with humanity’s moral guilt from sin. God has done so on the cross. And so Paul says:
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. …but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:17, 23 ESV).
Though the Gospel is more (much more) than Christ’s incarnation and death, it is not less. Without “Christ crucified” for sin, there is no Good News to preach. When it comes to the Gospel, half right is fully wrong; Osteen’s messages are Pelagian, not Christian.
I’ve tried to be kind to Osteen, but listening to sermons like this one…
…in which Osteen exhorts his parishioners to tap into the inward joy that is inside of them by singing happy songs, “whistling while you work,” etc., without any reference to the Gospel (Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and present reign according to the Scriptures) or man’s need for the Gospel (i.e. Romans 3:9-18), reveals Osteen’s penchant for rampant Pelagianism and moralism. This junk is NOT the Gospel of Jesus Christ revealed in the Holy Scriptures!
It is highly offensive to me that preachers like Osteen (and there are many!) masquerade under the banner of evangelical, “Bible-believing” Christianity because they do not teach what Jesus taught. Heck, in the “sermon” above Osteen did not even explain the text from Ephesians. These sort of prosperity preachers give Christianity (and Jesus Himself) a bad name, making the glorious Gospel of the King of Kings into a Dr. Phil/Oprah pep talk. And God does not take kindly to teachers who do not tell the whole truth about the Gospel.
On this program, Michael Horton begins by evaluating the popular message of televangelist Joel Osteen, and then moves to a larger discussion of the true nature of the Christian gospel. In addition to the regular White Horse Inn panelists, Michael also talks with Dr. D.A. Carson about his work with the newly formed Gospel Coalition. (See more free WHI resources related to this broadcast.)
Also, this Sunday (14 Oct. 2007) Joel Osteen will appear on 60 Minutes to answer his critics, one of whom is Dr. Michael Horton. It will be interesting to see whether Osteen will continue to shun all things related to Christian doctrine. I hope not, but we’ll see.
More White Horse Inn Resources on Joel Osteen and Similar “Christian” Teaching
- Joel Osteen and the Glory Story: A Case Study
- Osteen’s Trivialization of God
- Whatever Happened to Sin?
- Are You in God’s Story?
- Suffering and a Theology of Glory
- Doesn’t God Want Us to Be Happy?
Let’s face it, American Christianity is so strongly addicted to various form of Pelagianism that to speak of grace the way the Bible does is to put one at odds with most Christians. Long gone are the days, or so it seems, when sola gratia had teeth in a large part of the church. A grace-soaked letter such as the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (see below) has become repugnant to the Pelagian-soaked people to whom Paul wrote: Christ’s body. For this reason, the church needs more “dentists of grace” like The Old White Guy, Steve Brown, who are willing to perform root canal jobs on Pelagian rot.
Steve understands the thick Pelagian veneer covering much of the church, and he skillfully uses tongue-in-cheek, shocking metaphors and double-take-inducing rhetoric to make Christians angry enough to stop and think like Christians (i.e. according to Scripture). For example, listen to him cut through the Pelagian crust in the area of sanctification as he tells Christians they get three free sins:
Every Christian I know wants to be better than he or she is. There may be an exception to that, but I haven’t found one. In other words, most Christians aren’t getting any better and sometimes are getting worse…but they really want to be better.
Do you know why most Christians don’t get any better or why you don’t get any better? It’s because you’re doing it wrong, dummy! You are obsessed with sin and your faith has become another “system of laws” whereby you feel guilty and try and try and try to do better. It doesn’t work, never has worked, and never will work. Only really shallow people keep doing the same thing over and over again with the same result, thinking that the next time the result will be different.
So stop it.
Why such shocking rhetoric? Many Christians think God saves them from hell, but they themselves have to work up to heaven, so to speak, effectively heaping a covenant of works upon themselves (i.e. living as if they can earn salvation merit with God by trying hard to keep His commandments even though Jesus has already kept God’s law perfectly in their stead).
But how could we ever earn (heaven and sanctification) what Christ has already won for us? Aren’t we who are united to Chrsit already “seated … with [Christ] in the heavenly places”? Only when we first understand our new identity in Christ are we then able to understand how to please God with our works, as a covenant of grace (i.e. living as if I am already a perfect law-keeper because I am one in Christ, and thus obeying God’s law not because I have to earn salvation, but because I have been freed by Christ to obey God’s law out of love!). In Paul’s words from Ephesians 2:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV; emhpasis and line breaks mine).
Christian, quit trying so hard to impress God with your obedience. Jesus has already pleased the Father; put your faith in Him. Who are you to think you could one up Jesus!?