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.

December 23, 2009

Link Letter

Art Linkletter was famous for doing something on TV, but I can't remember what

You’ll never know unless you click on these links, right Art?

  • I never thought the day would come when I’d link to John MacArthur’s blog, but he does a good job of separating out the nuances between “Word-Faith” doctrine and “Prosperity Gospel;” perhaps as only a non-Pentecostal can do.   All this follows the passing last week of Oral Roberts, and is a rebuttal to a (linked) Christianity Today article by Ted Olsen.   Check it out at Grace to You.
  • Speaking of Prosperity Gospel, and how it raises lifestyle expectations, The Atlantic magazine asks the question in a lengthy, in-depth article, “Did Christianity Cause The Crash?”

    Demographically, the growth of the prosperity gospel tracks fairly closely to the pattern of foreclosure hot spots. Both spread in two particular kinds of communities—the exurban middle class and the urban poor. Many newer prosperity churches popped up around fringe suburban developments built in the 1990s and 2000s,…precisely the kinds of neighborhoods that have been decimated by foreclosures… Zooming out a bit,…most new prosperity-gospel churches were built along the Sun Belt, particularly in California, Florida, and Arizona—all areas that were hard-hit by the mortgage crisis. … “financial empowerment” seminars that are common at prosperity churches…pay lip service to “sound financial practices,” but overall they would send the opposite message: posters advertising the seminars featured big houses in the background, and the parking spots closest to the church were reserved for luxury cars.

    Read the whole article here.

  • New Blog of the week:  Redeem the Time by David Mercier.
  • Rob Bell item of the week:  “Christians Shouldn’t Fear Controversy Over Doctrine” by Drew Nichter at Associated Baptist Press.
  • Quote of the week: “Good preaching is like a belly button, every person has their own idea of just what it should look like.”  – One of several observations by Clint Cozier, who marks the occasion of the end of his Presbyterian pastorate in Grand Rapids by starting a blog.
  • YouTube video of the week:  “O Come All Ye Faithful” by the online sensation, Pomplamoose Music.   The music’s great; the video itself is excellent.    If you like it, which you will, you can check out “Always in the Season” at this link which is a combo music video and World Vision fundraiser.  (It means “grapefruit” in French.)
  • Speaking of Christmas, why are the genealogies of Jesus in Luke and Matthew so different?   Grant Osborne answers that one in “Who Was Jesus’ Grandfather?” at Christianity Today.
  • Wanna see if you could make the cut for your church’s handbell choir?   Handbell Hero is the liturgical version of Guitar Hero.  Okay, look at the first four keys of center row of your keyboard:  A, S, D, F.   Those are your bells.   Ready?  Click here.
  • YouTube runner up:  The Amazing Grace House. The display has 50,000 lights and is computer controlled by 180 channels.  (I think this was done last year, too; but this is a new video.)
  • Congratulations to Stephy at the blog, Stuff Christian Culture Likes which is now part of Beliefnet.
  • By the way, just to update you — especially our Canadian readers — our iKettle got a couple of direct donations yesterday that bypassed the site, and were picked up by the Salvation Army yesterday.  They totaled $250, which brings us to $380, but still $620 short of our $1,000 goal.   You can still donate (securely) here.
  • Some of the blogs with larger readership are ‘monetized,’ that is to say, they make money because they accept advertising.    The key to this has been the Beacon Ad Network, and your organization or business can reach 450,000 blog readers (guaranteed!) by clicking here.

HT: Pomplamoose at Zach’s.

Today’s cartoon is another from Jon Birch at ASBO Jesus.  Click the image to link the site.

December 14, 2009

World of Dod’s Blog: Charismatic Cartoons

After mentioning this site in December 2nd’s link list, I finally found a couple of  ‘toons on World of Dod’s Blog that were of a size I could screen-shot them for you.   This blog is part funny, part thought-provoking, but you really need to have spent some time in the Pentecostal or Charismatic community to get all the nuances.   And that crowd isn’t known for a lot of introspection, let alone humor.   It’s a whole other world out there!   (Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt…)  So when you find a diamond in the rough…

Here’s another one:

These are just a couple of the recent ones.   Be sure to visit the site at: http://worldofdod.wordpress.com/

All cartoons are copyright of Dod Cartoonist, © 2009. www.worldofdod.wordpress.com

May 18, 2009

Christianity in Crisis: Confronting Word of Faith Theology

Christianity in Crisis

In a new edition, Christianity in Crisis: The 21st Century, the host of the Bible Answer Man broadcasts and head of Christian Research Institute makes it really clear it’s the excesses of “Word of Faith” theology under discussion, not issues with the wider Pentecostal, Assemblies of God or Charismatic doctrine.   As such, Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaff (Thomas Nelson) is probably the best tool we have to confront those who espouse the “name it and claim it” or “prosperity gospel” fringe of Christianity.   The doctrinal flights of fancy are simply too numerous to list here; and the Christian blogosphere is thankfully home to people whose beliefs — for the most part — are a litte more stable.

But what a visible “fringe” this is, accounting for a huge percentage of the airtime purchased for religious broadcasting, not to mention entire networks.   Why is that?   That question is beyond the scope of this work, though I wish Hanegraaff had waded into the question, “What is it that draws these evangelists to one particular medium — television — while remaining almost entirely absent from radio and having only a minimal presence on the internet?”   It does make you appreciative of the doctrinal balance to be had on Christian radio.

Word of Faith theology is the entire focus of this work.   In a world where critics obsess over the current emerging/Emergent church; where a new Dan Brown movie reminds us of the gullibility of the public when it comes to Biblical truth; where Jesus Seminar practitioners such as Marcus Borg and Shelby Spong undermine the validity of the gospel accounts; and where atheists are become more militant in their attacks on faith; in all of these situations, a book called Christianity in Crisis could address a variety of battlegrounds for Christ-followers.    It doesn’t.   But its single focus is sufficient to fill all its 400-plus pages and Hanegraaff is wonderfully restrained in expressing his outrage over what gets broadcast, 24-hours a day, over so called “Chrsitian” networks.

If the new edition of Christianity in Crisis were a research paper, it would, at first, score an A- for actual research and a D- for organization of material.   Since this book is a little longer than ones I normally review, I want to take a bit more time to qualify both ratings, beginning with the D-.

Despite a penchant for alliterative and acrostic outlines — some of which are borrowed from the author’s other writings — which appear to show superior organization,   much of the material in the book is repeated, over and over and over again, in different sections.   Transcriptions of television broadcasts are used as a kind of proof-text for multiple points, instead of beginning from the transcripts themselves and then fleshing out their various implications.   Honestly, I’m not sure where the greater efficiency is to be found, but the latter would eliminate the possibility of reading a quotation for the fourth or fifth time, as is presently the case.   The main points of the book might be said in half as many pages, though some of the finer nuances of each TV personality’s beliefs would be lost.   This should not distract from the importance of each individual argument, however.

But I have to qualify the A-, also.   Because the author heads a group called Christian Research Institute, there are immeasurable hours of compiling transcripts of religious television represented here.   Nobody does it better.   But wait a minute, look again at the second half of the updated edition’s title:  “…The 21st Century.” Despite this reference to the 21st Century, there’s very little internet citation here; there is little commentary from other critics — which abound online — and many of the citations and statistics are from the period in the late 1980’s when the original edition was written.

Contrast that with the other updated title I’m reading now, The King James Only Controversy by James White (Bethany House) where you see dozens and dozens of internet references per chapter as White gives fresh information and renders his re-make of a 1994 title appear to be “hot off the press.”

White’s book also highlights a flaw in Hanegraaff’s update inasmuch as entire sections of the original edition are imported wholesale; so a section on recommended Bible translations and study Bibles refers to The Living Bible, not the New Living Translation and there’s no mention at all of the biggest thing in Bibles to happen in the last decade, The English Standard Version. Readers counting on the book for advice would be hard pressed to even find a copy of The Living Bible, though Tyndale keeps a single edition in print.

But you might say, “Internet links are fleeting and the groups under discussion might modify or remove offending pages if Christianity in Crisis were to cite them.”

True.   But as it stands, the seventy-odd pages of bibliography and footnotes contain references to transcripts to Christian television broadcasts that absolutely nobody has access to, unless they also are recording every single thing that airs on TBN and other networks.    Also, without more internet citations, the book has very little relevance to next generation or postmodern readers, who expect the web to form part of modern scholarship.

hank hanegraaffStill, one doesn’t wish to overdo the criticism because we do owe a great debt to both Hanegraaff and his organization for all that they are doing to keep TV preachers accountable.   This book makes its point and makes it well:   The theology being broadcast daily on Christian television is, for the most part, nuttier than a fruitcake.

Based on what I read here, I wouldn’t let Benny Hinn or Joyce Meyer, or Myles Munroe or Creflo Dollar or Joel Osteen walk my dog, let alone watch my kids for five minutes.   It’s not that they aren’t “rightly dividing the Word of God,” but given financial and marital evidence, it’s more like they can’t properly handle anything.    And that includes the trust and responsibility that they’re given when they invade the homes of the unsuspecting on a daily or weekly basis.   Thankfully, Hanegraaff resists the temptation to do any more than allude to character issues, keeping his focus squarely on the contrast between errant doctrine and Biblical truth.

So if there’s someone in your sphere of influence caught up in the world of Paul Crouch, Rod Parsley, Juanita Bynum, Paula White, John Hagee, or any of the other aforementioned scripture twisters;  ignore all of the above critical comments and buy the book.   Read it all, and then loan it out to people who need to see the contrast between Christian television and orthodox Christianity.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.