I’ve noticed that certain popular “spiritual” programs, books, etc. have a few things in common. For one thing, they don’t require a lot of serious thought. Case in point, Sunday school lessons based on television shows of the past. There’s the Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bonanza, the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong, these were great shows and there were lessons galore in them. Unfortunately, I don’t see them as great theological teaching material and, as a rule, they’re not. They tend to be pretty fluffy. There’s very little challenge to step outside your comfort zone while watching Andy and Barney deal with Aunt Bee’s kerosene cucumbers. In fact, that’s pretty much the definition of my comfort zone. Give me a recliner and some cookies and I’d never leave the church. In his blog “Jesus, The Radical Pastor”, John Frye writes about “The Fortune Cookie Bible” saying “Pithy, little positive sayings that perk up your life and create a little, fun curiosity, that’s what fortune cookies do. And that’s all that many Christians want from their Bibles.” Whenever I mention some new subject of study I’m engaging in, I have an acquaintance that always responds with “Oh, I don’t understand all that. I just listen to my pastor so he can explain it”. I don’t understand how someone can so easily abdicate all responsibility for their spiritual education like that. Digging into something new and pulling the meat out is one the reasons I go to church. Fluffy lessons just irritate me. And, I’m to way rebellious to blindly follow anyone.
Another common denominator in these things is the “feel good” factor. Joel Osteen is a big name these days and he preaches something called “prosperity gospel”. Prosperity gospel says that God bestows material prosperity on those whom he favors. This is based this on certain passages in the Bible which are, at best, misunderstood or, worse, quoted out of context to lull followers into sending them money. Because, you see, the way you become prosperous under this system is through a seed faith offering. That’s right, you send the preacher some money and he’ll pray for you and God will bless you and you’ll have wealth and health and happiness. From what I can see, the only person getting prosperous here is the dude on TV or the radio, getting gullible folks to send him money. But, that’s not all. In addition to a message that runs counter to everything I’ve ever read in the Gospels, there is a ton of self-esteem building on Osteen’s website. It’s all about what a wonderful person you are and how you can feel better about yourself, etc. See what I mean, it’s all about you. This is a fantastically me-centered “theology” (I use the term loosely) and, unless I’ve misunderstood it, Christianity is focused outward, not inward. But, I can see why this stuff is popular. Who wouldn’t like being told God was going to send them a ton of money and they were just the most wonderful thing ever? Yes, Jesus did say that if God would take care of the flowers and the animals, He would certainly take care of you (Matthew 6:26-30). But, He also told the rich young man to sell everything he had, give the money to the poor and follow Him (Matthew 19:16-30). How many people plan on receiving this promised blessing only to give it away?
Last, I’ll talk about lists. We all love lists. Some are good, like Wesley’s 3 rules or the ones that help structure your work day or study time. Others, not so much. For years, I’ve wanted a checklist for being a good Christian. You know, feed the hungry? Check. shelter the homeless? Check. That kind of thing. Except, I don’t want to be that hard. I’d rather it be things like reading my Bible or starting a new study. If I have to help people, I’d like it to be people I at least don’t mind being around. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Being a good Christian is about stepping outside the box and doing stuff you may not necessarily want to do. But, you know what? Every time I do, I kinda like the result.