Thursday, August 30, 2007

Osteen Again

As an employee of a normal, "secular" bookstore that keeps a well-stocked religion section, and tries to carry the books that will sell, I understand a little bit of profit motive. One wants to stay in business. But I have a harder time understanding the pure profit motives of so-called "Christian" businesses, which are supposed by their very nature to keep a few doctrinal and moral standards.

Christian Book Distributors is actively promoting Joel Osteen's new book. If you really want to read a nice self-help book that isn't Christian, but really will help you in your Christian life, I can show you a few titles. Pick up Byron Katie's Loving What Is, or something. But for the love of God, the Christian one, don't by Osteen's book. And don't buy from CBD.

I pick up their sale items sometimes. Now I won't. Go read as Michael Spencer rips them up.

Oh, and as you'll see, a LifeWay employee informs us that their stores don't carry Osteen's book. I had wondered, but not gotten around to calling or visiting. This heartens me - truly a boon to ecumenical relations...

Friday, August 24, 2007


If 21st century Christians in the West were to take the prayers and practices of the ancient Church as their model, their first response to the government's War on Terror rhetoric would be, "How can I die well?" rather than, "How can I live the safest life possible?"

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Joel Osteen's book has just been released on paperback. I'm going to deal with it like I did the popularity (among aging liberal 60-somethings who were raised in fundamentalist churches where they were told that God hates short pants) of John Shelby Spong's Jesus for the Non-Religious: displayed books on Christianity all around it. Heh.

While we're on the topic, Christianity Today had a worthwhile article on the prosperity gospel in Africa a couple of months back, "Gospel Riches."

Joel Osteen is not a Christian teacher. He might be a Christian man, but he does not teach Christianity. If you'd like a brief explanation and critique of the prosperity gospel, I direct you to this post by the Internet Monk, as well as his criticism of Joel Osteen himself.

Thinking About "Salvation"

Michael Spencer riffs on a post from the White Horse Inn considering whether evangelical Protestants really believe in justification by faith. If you want to find out the truth, apparently, just ask them what happens to Christians who die with unconfessed sin.
I could tell these stories all day. If you ever take a group of evangelicals who have heard the gospel for years and ask them to explain it to you as if you’d never heard it, get ready for a real wake-up call. If you apply a question like the WHI folks did- “What if you die with unconfessed sin?”- you’ll hear a cafeteria of works, merit, synergism, cooperation with God, credit for good intentions, God waving the standards, points for sincerity and so on.

What will really shock you is how seldom Jesus is ever mentioned. I hear testimony after testimony from people who have grown up under Baptist preaching- preaching that I know is about Jesus a good bit of the time- and they speak of God in terms most any Mormon, Jew or Muslim would not find particularly offensive. The person and work of Jesus is like wallpaper. We know it’s there and we don’t have to talk about it.

The big question is this: Why are evangelicals so ignorant of the basic, fundamental concepts of their own gospel of salvation? How is that so many of them sound like they’ve been catechized in a pre-Vatican II Catholic setting?
He then offers a list of reasons why many evangelical Christians have no idea what justification by faith is and means, and I think he's right.

It makes me wonder - do I believe in justification by faith? I can only guess what some of my readers think, and others make it more clear, but I think I do. I happen to believe that participation in the fellowship and the sacramental practice of the Christian Church is absolutely necessary for our ongoing healing and sanctification/transformation on this side of death, but I believe that justification comes by trust in Jesus. But I wonder, do the other things I believe undercut that?

I believe that unbaptised persons are not-yet-Christians, regardless of who or what they trust. I do believe baptised babies are going to be alright if they die. Baptising babies kind of makes sense to me.

I also believe that apostasy is possible - not the idea that someone can be a complete moral failure and God will damn them for it, but rather that choosing over against God is in itself a choosing of the things that destroy our humanity and degrade us to the point of "damnation."

Hm. I'll think of more later. What do you think?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Oooh, snap.

People have been asking me whether I am a liberal or a conservative ... my stock answer is that these are two denominations of a religion to which I do not belong - besides, when one is anti-consumer capitalism, anti-communism, anti-nationalism, anti-abortion, anti-war and all of these because one is convinced that Jesus Christ is Lord of all creation, fully human and fully divine and that the self-giving love of the Trinity is a more truthful model for human beings than the laws of supply and demand or even democracy, one isn't invited to too many parties thrown by either liberals or conservatives.

- Father Rhodes, in a comment below.
Amen, amen, amen.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Anglican Imagination: Liturgy and Worship

Lester: "I don't get tired of kissing my wife, and I don't get tired of the liturgy."

Me: "Ooh, I see. Liturgical revision is like adultery. I agree."

I'm pretty sure he didn't mean to say that, but still...

Friday, August 03, 2007


When I don't have time to write, I just tell you to visit Michael Spencer? What's that about? But it's an occasion for a little rant and I wonder what the rest of you might think about it.

At the end of his Internet Monk Radio Podcast #66, Spencer starts criticising the propensity of many folks to fail to see that the Bible is about Jesus. He's recently spoken with someone who was bemoaning the fact that a couple of "great Christian young men" in his family had gotten their ears pierced. the iMonk says,
How long do you have to be around the Bible and church and sermons and prayer meetings before it finally gets through to you that Jesus isn't concerned with that kind of rule keeping? ...

There's no way you can read the gospels and [see] Jesus nagging people about getting tattoos and getting piercings and playing cards and going to the movies, you just don't see that... That whole trip, of the Bible as a set of rules, a set of principles and it's really important that we conform our lives to all these principles, and Christ isn't at the center, that's a dead end.
Which leads us to my rant.

Even coming from northeastern Kentucky, I am continually shocked to learn about how much religious people care about the way other folks dress. Is it possible for me to say with charity, that anyone who's going to be interested in my ears cannot possibly have anything interesting to say about Christ?

My thought is that if someone has been formed as the kind of person for whom wearing earrings or not is a key gospel or lifestyle choice, they really cannot have a good grip on what a gospel lifestyle is.

And of course, I have four earrings. I'm not sure if anybody I know under the age of 50 ever notices, but I know it seems to infuriate anybody over 60. And frankly, I enjoy that, but it's certainly not why I wear them...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Anglican Catechesis: Tradition

We were thinking and talking about the popular notion of "scripture alone"* in one's faith and practice last night, and I've been working through various ways to properly express the problem. Just say that Friend X and I are members of the local Baptist congregation, and we're hanging out and studying the Bible (we're good members of the local Baptist congregation, thank you very much). Suppose that Friend X says to me, "you know, I've been reading Acts and 1 Corinthians here, and I really think that it's proper and right that our church services include periods of public prayer and prophecy by lay people, and as long as it's done decently and in order with appropriate interpretation, some of that prophecy and prayer will be spoken in unknown tongues." We'll have a nice chat about whether the norm in the Corinthian church was glossolalia or xenoglossy (essentially, whether the unknown tongues were human or non-human languages), and then by the end of it, I say to Friend X, "No, gifts like that passed away with the apostolic generation."

(You know that he and I would never really have this conversation, right?)

Here's the problem: Friend X and I have each offered a particular reading of Scripture. It doesn't make any sense to talk about one being "more scriptural" than the other, because we're both two people who worship with the same community, read the same scriptures, pray together, and bring that formation and our broader account of the Bible into our reading. We're each trying to make the most sense out of the biggest part of Scripture as well as we can, and we're good enough friends to assume good faith of one another. As "scripture only," evangelical protestants, we would be unable to appeal to any authority to adjudicate between these positions. There is no authority to declare either reading in or out, because there is not authority that can set boundaries on the reading of Scripture.

The Scripture itself does not tell me whether this disagreement is over core issues, or adiphora - is it something about which we can agree to disagree? The congregation cannot both engage in public prophecy in the manner of 1 Corinthians, and not do this. What authority can say to us, you must stay together as friends and fellow bible readers, or that you must walk apart?

Each one of us is holding onto a particular reading of scripture - an interpretive tradition.

In one sense, tradition is (as Tom Wright says) the history of the Church's Bible reading. It's a very long and quite diverse history, with people running around every which way. When we look for a Tradition (note the capitalization), we're asking the question, "In the long history of the Christian Church, which readings of Scripture have seemed to the broadest parts of the Church to be most faithful to the entire Biblical narrative, and most conducive to the growth in holiness and Christlikeness of the Church's members? In the broadest consensus of holy men and women in the Body of Christ through time and space, which readings of Scripture have been disastrous for the Christian life, and which have been a boon?

If appealing to the "Bible alone" were practically sufficient, we would not need to divide over diverse readings of scripture.

*I didn't use the popular Reformed phrase sola scriptura because I don't have any Calvin or Luther to hand, and it's not the Official Reformation Christian Doctrines® I'm disputing - we can go around all day about What the Reformers Really Meant (as if it matters) and never get back 'round to what real people in real churches really do to the Bible and to each other, and the entire discussion would bore me so badly, I would lose the will to exercise bladder control.