I had another interesting dream last night. In the dream, my husband and I were guests at this couple's home. We do not know this couple real well, but they think highly of us, and trust us because of our apparent respectability, reliability, and doctrinal sobriety. The man is a sober minded, serious, devout person of integrity and self control. He doesn't smile a lot, but he's not an angry stern man either. I can't figure out why we are staying at their home, but I'm not agitated about it. The only problem is that I know,( in the dream), that he does not really know us all that well. I know that if he and I were to talk more, he would see my controversial standpoint on many things. He would be disappointed in some of my views and in my perspective of things. I wake up with a sense that I am walking a fine line.
You know why I had that dream? Because even reading Joel Osteen's book, Become a Better You, seems like such a radical thing for me to be doing. I can't let this go. Some of you may not be embroiled in this. But I have been a Christian for over thirty years (maybe over forty years but it depends on when God saw that defining moment to be). I have experienced staunch evangelical settings, radical house church chaos, third wave charismatic experiences, pentecostal teaching and worship experiences, erudite educational settings of theological debate, the monotony of mainline churches, and now....radical so-called Christian books centering on progress, prosperity, and the issue of happiness in this life.
The topic of happiness is controversial in the church, lately. Thinking positively - watch out for that term. Some Christians feel the need to draw a line through the sand every time someone smiles- you have to decide if it's a godly smile or an evil smile. People are getting frantic and alarmed over books that encourage positive social behavior such as smiling, hoping, expecting good, dreaming for more, planning for expansion.
I found an interesting blog the other day, called the Internetmonk.com- http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/reactions-to-the-60-minutes-joel-osteen-piece
The guy is sharp, interesting, and I believe anxious to defend the true Christian faith as he lives in a "post evangelical wilderness". I understand his passionate stance. I admire his articulation of important issues that won't fade away. When I read his bio, I smiled to myself, and thought "I like this guy." http://www.internetmonk.com/michael-spencer/ We would have a great conversation. And we would argue over some things, for sure- such as his " THIRTEEN CRITICAL PROBLEMS FACING CONTEMPORARY EVANGELICALISM", number 6. in particular:
"The corrosive and compromised influence of Christian publishing in shaping evangelicalism, as exemplified in the rise of Joel Osteen, The Prayer of Jabez and the Prosperity Gospel."
I read the Prayer of Jabez. I did not go apostate or off the deep end because I read it. I employed a few things I learned from that book- like I am with Joel Osteen's book.
Here are the things I've decided to do: smile more, give someone the benefit of the doubt, and get a little more radical in anticipating good. After all, I'm prone to being suspicious, critical and a bit of a crankpot if I don't watch myself. And that's with me believing and embracing the gospel of Christ, having been baptised, memorizing Scripture till it comes out my ears, teaching Bible Studies for over twenty years, studying New Testament theology in college, having been a pastor's wife, and other so called credentials.
My point is, I am a staunch evangelical (and charismatic Christian, Bible believing Christian). But I can read a book and not embrace it as a guidebook to eternal life. It's not a theology book. It's not a book that I am going to eat, only, and digest for the rest of my life. It's just a book. It's not the Bible.
Why can't I glean something out of Osteen's book and leave behind his flimsy theology? Why can't I enjoy his light humor and learn how to be a bit more relaxed and joking, without taking on his whole understanding of Scripture (especially if it is a limited one)? Why can't I read Prayer of Jabez and summarize that yes, I have not thought big enough or expected to widen my circle of positive influence- without stumbling into selfishness and hell. I know there's trouble in this world. Joel Osteen knows it too. Bruce Wilkinson has seen it. But we don't have to center a book on everything that plagues us in our life, in our world. A book doesn't have to answer every issue or contend for it all.
Why can't a book encourage us to press forward, rise higher, plan for blessing, develop a habit of happiness- to name a few from Osteen's book. I may not want Joel as my pastor and live exclusively under his limited teachings, but then again, I have never attended his church and experienced weekly services there. So I don't know if I would get enough "feeding" there.
But I can learn from him. And I can learn from the InternetMonk too. And too bad if you think I can't walk that fine line. I refuse to throw Joel Osteen out with the bath water. And I refuse to embrace staunch evangelicalism- as if anyone is the main leader of this amorphous branch of people. I can't even agree with my husband all the time of what God is doing, how I am doing, and if we are still "in" His grace. And Bill and I have traveled through college/seminary, pastoring, ministry experiences- and know what the other intends to do. We intend to serve the Lord, love Him, love His Church, be alarmed by what should alarm us and be hopeful for the Holy Spirit to work in us.
My relationship with God is the radical thing. How I think I hear Him. How I listen to the Holy Spirit with an eye toward Him and an ear to my spirit, waiting to see if the fluttering of His Spirit is stirring me, provoking me, speaking to me of what to look for, what to watch out for. There's plenty of serious things to watch out for. "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love" 1 Cor.16:13.
I'm watching out for deception that would topple me. I'm trying to stand fast in the pure faith of Christ alone, and Christ-in-me- the hope of glory. What else should I watch out for? Is Joel Osteen's book the thing that will bring me down in unbelief or gullible self centered living? Since I've read his books and listened to some sermons of his, the only difference is that I am smiling a bit more, on purpose.Trying to be more cheerful. More gracious and relaxed with people. And trust me, I'm not even doing that well with it. That's not an easy thing you just learn to immediately do after reading one or two books. But it's a good thing for me to learn.
I just don't hear the Lord telling me that I'm in danger if I read Joel Osteen's books. I haven't looked at him as the Messenger of all heavenly wisdom. He's far from that. I'm not suddenly transported to a false heaven either, if I read his book.
I'm still just a woman journeying onward in a crazy place on a whacked out earth, rubbing elbows with some people trying to stick to the path of peace that Christ alone made possible.