Thinking Out Loud

August 15, 2013

Is the Part of Christianity That is Rapidly Growing Actually Christianity?

Much has been written about the decline in church attendance in Western Europe and North America, but at the same time we often hear reports about the growth of Christianity in South America and Africa. I think we really need to ask ourselves however if the ‘thing’ that is growing in those places related to the Christian faith as most readers here understand it. In fact, many Christians in those continents are embracing the prosperity doctrine.

Prosperity preaching has many forms, but the two most known examples are Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen. The sheer size of their respective ministries (Joyce on media and Joel in his megachurch) means that for many Christians, they constitute mainstream Christianity. Rick Warren, Andy Stanley and Bill Hybels all pastor megachurches, so it seems easy to include Joel Osteen as though they are all in the same category. But they aren’t. It’s easy to compare Joyce Meyer to other authors on the shelves at Christian bookstores like Philip Yancey or Max Lucado but she is clearly in a class by herself.

One test is compatibility. If you’re moving from Chicago to Atlanta to Orange County, it’s easy to transfer from one of the aforementioned churches to another, but at Joel Osteen’s Church you’d get an entirely different vibe. Similarly, if readers of Craig Groeschel or Kyle Idleman picked up one of Joyce’s books they would sense they were moving into different territory.

But earlier this month, a U.S. pastor decided to connect the dots more fully for his congregation:

I have been preaching for 20 years.  Yesterday I did something that I have never done before in a sermon.  I publicly called out false teachers and named them by name.  I said,

If you listen to Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer, if you take what they teach seriously, it will not be good for you.  It will be detrimental to your long-term growth as a follower of Jesus.

He then goes through a list of doctrines taught by Joel and Joyce and carefully examines their doctrines. It’s a longer post requiring your time and attention, but i believe Rick Henderson has done his homework.

You can read the whole piece — and the 1,050 comments received to date, by clicking here.

One of the challenges of running articles like this is that you attract all kinds of people whose comments are based entirely on a loyalty to the Bible teacher, pastor or author in question. Whether or not they read the piece in question is hard to determine. They feel it is their spiritual duty to rush to the defense of their shepherd.

I know this from personal experience with articles about Joyce Meyer and James MacDonald.  In the world at large, people can look at six tenets of a person’s personal beliefs and say, “I agree with 1, 3, 4, and 6, but not number 2 or 5.” In the Christian world, there is no grace granted to those who respect a person’s ministry in several areas, but disagree with a couple of others.  Attacks are consider personal even when there is no such intention.

I once told someone I was writing a critique of a newly-released book, and they were quite upset that I had chosen to criticize it. No, sorry. A critique is not necessarily a criticism. Critical thinking is not necessarily criticism. And both are about concepts and ideas, not about individuals.

So I applaud Rick Henderson for his willingness to do the hard thing, and actually do the research necessary to prove his point.

If the prosperity doctrine is responsible for the huge migration of South Americans away from the Roman Catholic Church to the Charismatic Protestant Church, then I wonder if some of them would have been better served to have stayed where they are. In fact maybe more than just some.

Rick Henderson writes:

The Prosperity Gospel is much like all other religions in that it uses faith, it uses doing good things to leverage material blessings from God.  Essentially, use God to get things from God…

…This is not the Gospel.  This is a false Gospel.  Joel teaches that we open ourselves to God to get more from God.  He teaches that we use our words to speak into existence a better reality.  This straight from the Word of Faith Movement.  This is not what is taught throughout the New Testament.  Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote.  And remember that he wrote this while in prison.

Philippians 4:10-13 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

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