Friday, October 26, 2007

Radical Relationships

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
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." 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.


SuzyQ said...

I have often thought about this issue.

So many modern day christian teachers seem to offer such great insight. Maybe their motives are honest adn true. That is between them and God. But as teachers of the faith they have a great responsibility resting upon theri shoulders.
I feel that the truth lies in how closely they imitate Christ and how closely their teachings follow along the straight edge of scripture.
Do they deviate form uncomfortable issues? Do they give all they have to the poor?

Apart from the bible of course! I find great inspiration in reading about the lives of the saints. As they both tried to imitate Christ and live in accordance with the scriptures.
This was a very interesting post.
God Blessxx
Suzy :0)

Angela @ Refresh My Soul Blog said...

I love the way you worded all of this! It is right on with my thinking on these issues too. Overall the Bible is my book of final authority. I do enjoy reading Christian authors and listening to Christian speakers but when it comes to the end of it all the Bible is what stands.

Are you by chance a fellow Melancholy personality type too? I too understand the need for being more relaxed. :)
Much love,

Lauren at Faith Fuel! said...

Suzyq- "uncomfortable issues" abound in the Bible- and in our world, don't they?!

Angela, melancholy as they come- that's me! But I have a good deal of choleric in me- just ask my husband!

Angie said...

You've given me something to think about. I don't hear "this side" too much.

Happy by Choice

SuzyQ said...

Hi Lauren:0)
Sorry for all the typos!
Tierd mummy of a teething baby here lol!
I know what you mean:0)
I just worry that sometimes the more difficult parts of Christ's teachings are scirted over a little in favour of the "feel good" factor some Christian leaders want to project.
..I must admit that I have a soft spot for Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer cracks me up. I warm to them both.
Sometimes I'm left feeling just a little bit empty though. I don't know. My sensibilities tend to gravitate toward a simpler approach, minus the grand production. Though I know these kind of Christian speakers reach many hearts including my own and keep them focused on positive things. I worry people using them as a substitute for time spent with the word itself:0)
...Food for thought...
God Bless

Liara Covert said...

I've read both of Joel's books and feel very inspired by his life journey. The idea of exploring youu dreams is a very meaningful thing to do. Its generous of you to share such intimate parts of yourself. You teach as you learn and encourage self-growth and discovery among your readers.

friendinME said...

I agree with most of what you have said and practice that in the flow of my own life. There is something to be learned from just-about-everybody... something to be gleaned from different teachers.

The problem I see in the whole thing is that there are many people who just don't have the background or knowledge to sort out what is right biblically and what is "flimsy theology." And so, they are left with a flimsy Christianity that doesn't call them to real discipleship.

I don't have any astounding answers for that. I mean, the answer is that people need to study the Scriptures and grow in Christ... but where will they get that if all they read is books of flimsy theology?

I wish we could put a warning label on all "Christian" books that says, "Read this. Learn from this. But be a student of the Scriptues first." :)

Lauren at Faith Fuel! said...

Friendin ME,
"The problem ... there are many people who just don't have the background or knowledge to sort out what is right biblically and what is "flimsy theology." And so, they are left with a flimsy Christianity that doesn't call them to real discipleship....the answer is that people need to study the Scriptures and grow in Christ... but where will they get that if all they read is books of flimsy theology?"

Million dollar questions! But people who don't like to study and investigate aren't going to study and investigate unless someone stands with them and provokes them to pursue a relationship with Christ. And people who don't want to read the Bible often are people who don't understand it. It's a complex book to an unchurched person. Maybe by reading Osteen's book or another, they might get the thought that they'd like to "try out" going to church. And maybe there, the beginning of some truths will be taught. Maybe they'll be introduced to Jesus. (And He's perfectly able of introducing Himself to someone in all His power- such as knocking you "off your high horse", like he did with Paul.)Once you know Christ, then you have the Holy Spirit who will lead you into all truth. What do you think about that process- that a book could be just the beginning of a journey, however shaky it is.

friendinME said...

I agree. A book like that could be the beginning of a journey.

One thing I notice in reading the New Testament is that the Lord (and later the apostles) met people at their point of need and level of insight. We certainly can't expect that people will start from a point of maturity!

I also think of Paul who was able to rejoice in the gospel spreading, even if it was being preached by people with less-than-honorable motives (Philippians 1:15-18). (I'm not making a statement about anyone in particular here... just a point that God can use anything or anyone He chooses!)

Like you said, the Holy Spirit is the teacher who is able to bring people along to maturity in Christ. I for one am glad that is His job, not ours. :)

and... thanks for visiting my site :)