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Articles by Brian Jackson

Good Theology, Bad Theology

22 January 2008

Joel Osteen, the author of several Christian self-help books and the pastor of one of the largest megachurches in the United States, promises his congregation that if they can replace bad habits with good, then they can expect to experience the blessings of God: health, wealth, and success. Osteen is something of a success story, even among televangelists, with a book at the top of the New York Times Best Sellers List and a broadcast audience of more than a hundred nations worldwide. By focusing on little else but what Osteen describes as "the goodness of God", Osteen has come to wield considerable reputation on the international scale.

Such an influence is surely daunting to the onlooker. A larger audience ensures not just greater rewards for success, but harsher penalties for failure.

I attended a bible study some months ago with one of my friends from high school. There were eight of us in the small apartment, packed onto couches and chairs while the leader of the study explained to me that a Christian - any Christian in any situation - could receive healing for diseases if the only believed that God wanted to do it. "By His stripes we are healed," he explained, and that means that Christians could expect relief for any illness if they prayed earnestly enough.

It's a well-intentioned idea, after all, that since God is good and God is capable of healing, it follows He would heal anyone and everyone if they'd only believe in His power.

But I dissented. Oh, heavens, I dissented. I insisted that God uses tragedy for the greater good, but was immediately shut down as cynical for not accepting that God is capable. I pointed to First Timothy chapter five, verses twenty-two and twenty-three, where Paul advises Timothy to take a little wine to calm his weak stomach, but they repeated, "by His stripes we are healed". Fair enough. I explained that God's ultimate act of healing is the salvation of souls to heaven, where we shall have eternal bodies, but they insisted that Isaiah promised instant gratification. Despite all reason, despite my arguments, they refused to believe in a God who would postpone the healing of a Christian individual for any reason.

There's a question raised between Joel Osteen and this little Bible study tucked in an Ohioan apartment: are belief and enthusiasm more important than correct theology?

Many good people think so. I'm inclined to disagree.

The difference between good theology and bad theology is not just that good theology is correct and bad theology is incorrect. Bad theology is man-made, but good theology is God-breathed.

When a church substitutes the invention of man for the self-revelation of God, a number of things begin to happen. One need look no farther than some Pentecostal churches to see an example of what I'm talking about. Glossolalia, the practice of speaking in "spiritual" tongues, has been hotly debated in Christian circles for quite a while. When Paul wrote the Corinthians, a firm instruction was given concerning speaking in uncommon languages (foreign or spiritual) - that an interpreter be present, that the church could be edified rather than confused by the utterances of its members. Does the overflow of emotion into spasmodic noise qualify as a "tongue" at all? It really doesn't matter, because the insistence upon an interpreter is overlooked in either case, and there are many, many churches that refuse to even consider the issue of interpretation despite a clear scriptural command.

The danger of bad theology is not in believing incorrectly. What's dangerous is a community who believe they have the power of God, but actually have the power of man. What's dangerous is associating handling snakes, speaking tongues, or an ineffective and easily lost salvation with the church of Jesus Christ. Much of the New Testament was written in response to churches in similar theological predicaments.

If the practice of speaking in tongues was a matter of internal conviction only, perhaps the issue would be less important. But it isn't an internal matter. One can hardly expect the unbelieving individual to understand the differences between denominations when they don't even own a Bible. Movies such as "Jesus Camp" take a cold, hard look at some of these internal beliefs, and movies like "Saved" use them to make cheap jokes at the expense of all Christians. Criticism from the outside world is inevitable, but if the same criticism invited by the church - by a poor understanding of the Bible - is one reason why unbelievers are sleeping in on Sunday morning, then we have a serious problem.

Comments

Carlos

You'd better not stop writing like this, homey!

Stlth

I Agree 100%! The Church is replacing the Goodness of God with the materialistic ideals of the so called American Dream of today.

Geri

Hello Brian. May I say that I agree 100% with what you have written. I personally love Joel, because in living in a cold Catholic country with much religion and little "live" churches he has been keeping my walk with the Lord in so many critical moments truly alive. Thank God for cable TV and Internet. But in the last 6 months, my soul has been craving for something deeper. Where were the days of the home study groups?.. I believe there is a place in this world for Joel Osteens, Ulf Okmans and so on. For people who seek the light will find the light, for those who knock on the door would be open, and those who seek God will find him. Still, there is nothing real, like the real thing. And as Joel Osteen has been risen so high, I am sure that there are doctrinal preachers who stick to the essence of the Bible, and yet let the Holy Spirit lead and speak and guide the church. Perhaps people like those from your study group insisting that in his stripes we are healed means healing in accessible once and for all to everyone. Period. Yet, why does God permit people to be sick or even to die is an entirely different matter. ;-)

axnjaxn

The bible study group story goes a bit farther than I explained in this story. That may also be an article for another day, but it just so happens that God has worked through illness in my family, and the leader of the bible study told me explicitly that I was wrong to believe it was God's plan for such an illness to be present; despite our prayers at the time, the leader of the study insisted that it was never God's plan for us to connect with other families with similar problems - he asserted we just hadn't believed hard enough for our ill brother to be healed.
I find the thought that God is limited to working his plans through only healthy Christians offensive.

Sean

All I can say is that I wish I could write/speak as clearly as you and I agree with you completely. I have attended both churches that promise "all things good" if you just believe hard enough and churches where you were looked down upon if you didn't speak in utterances. Thank you for saying so eloquently what I am unable to.

Anonymous

I agree with you, as do many others. I think there are far too many people sucked in by "feel good" theology. It cannot last, because they will soon realize that tragedy is experienced by believers and non-believers. It is the grace of God that helps us to deal with tragedy, not avoid it.

Fadern

thanks

manc

Good Theology/ Bad Theology? Pick up a real book mate, one that deals with, you know REALITY

axnjaxn

I'm fully prepared to face reality. Are you?

Ant

Hello. I agree with almost everything you are saying. The only thing that I do not agree with is the issue of speaking with a Spiritual tongue. If I am correct the word says "If I come to you speaking in tongues and have no interpretation, what benefit is it?" I am sorry if that is a word or two off from the actual Scripture. But what it says is if I come up to you and speak in a foreign language and you don't know what I'm saying, then what is the purpose? So then there should be an someone with the gift of interpretation to announce what has been said. But the scriptures before it says that speaking in tongues edifies yourself, but if u speak in tongues to others then a translation is required. I do like the other stuff you have said and I do agree that if you take medicine you are not going against God. But praying and believing God will heal you is not out of the question, I have recovered from illnesses before, just by having my father pray for me. I hope I have spoken my part without confusion and redundancy. God bless and stay safe.

axnjaxn

I think we're on the same page, Ant. I don't believe that spiritual languages are given to Christians. I think that idea comes from a misunderstanding of the scripture. Either way, the effect of speaking in a language the rest of the congregation doesn't understand will be the same effect whether the language is gibberish or just foreign - it puffs up the speaker while providing nothing to the listener.

Phyllis

I agree with you for the most part,but don't forget the verse were it says also that speaking in tongues is not for the believer but for the unbeliever. Yes an interpreter is needed if the message is for the church. Just keep reading and you will see what I mean. I believe that if God gives a message through someone to the church, there should be one to interpret the message. That is if the one the one who is to do it obeys God and interprets the message. I know this can happen as I have been guilty of not obeying. I was new and did not realize until later that not only was I the one with the message, but also the one to interpret it.

axnjaxn

I have read that passage - 1 Corinthians 14:22 - in context, the passage says that if an unbeliever happens upon a congregation speaking in tongues, he'll think they're crazy, but if he comes in and they're prophesying, he'll be convicted. 1 Corinthians 14 serves as an indictment against people who speak in strange languages for ego's sake.
And I can tell you that it's true - a lot of good people refuse to give the church a chance because they think we're crazy. They see these practices that are really no different than in Paul's day, and they refuse to accept that you could be a Christian and a rational human being.

Ryan

Amen brother! I'm sick and tired of the "health and wealth gospel" being spread as the real good news. If a Christian has to be perfectly healthy to be of use in the Kingdom, why is it believed that Paul, who wrote over half the New Testament, had a form of epilepsy? If God didn't mean for us to grow through suffering, why would He have subjected His Son to the cross for our sins? If God really wanted to give us a great gift, we would die as soon as we were saved, so that we would be with Him as believers in Christ forever.

Don Shelton

I recommend people read books by Hank Hanegraaf "Christianity in Crisis" and "Counterfeit Revival". Hanegraaf is president of Christian Research Institute, and is heard daily on the radio with his "Bible Answer Man" broadcast. http://equip.org

Joshua

There are only two states of being, Love and Fear. Most Religions want their member to live in fear since that is the easiest way to control them. GOD is LOVE and when one lives in the spirit of GOD they live in a state of LOVE. Joel wants people to understand that GOD wants us to live with LOVE not Fear.

axnjaxn

Life isn't that simple. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. And what kind of love? Brotherly? Romantic? Filial? You may think I'm playing semantics, but the fact that the semantics exist at all is evidence that life isn't binary by nature. Not everyone who comes bearing the word "love" comes from God, or else the Krishnas would be exactly the same as Christians. Not that I think Christians should be primarily motivated by fear of their own life or anything like that.
Also, there's a character in Donnie Darko that says almost exactly what you just said.

Bob

Agree! Life assuredly is not simple, nor is it meant to be. We were created by God to be in relationship with Him. Our walk with God through the trials of life test our faith and we grow as we persevere. He is making us into something much more than we can now see. It's not about what we can get from this life, it's about what we are becoming. At least it should be.

Anonymous

Although I agree with the basis of your initial premise concerning Mr. Olsteen, I believe that you have also allowed a couple of your personal hang-ups to influence your perceptions. Theological arguments concerning homily intent, content, and delivery style have been waging since preaching began. If you have problems with the lack of accurate biblical content of his messages, then don’t listen. If you did not agree with the bible class attendees, then walk out the door. If you don’t believe in the Pentecostal slant on speaking in tongues, then don’t do it. Why waste your obviously gifted insight and talents on your perceptions of theological negativity. The Gospel is good news. Let GOD correct what He views are mis-guided, unless He has specifically directed you to be a corrector of righteousness within His Church. Be Blessed.

axnjaxn

If I don't speak up, who will?

Insisting on good doctrine is not as much a personal hangup as a biblical command. I'm not so concerned about delivery style as long as the content is valid. The fact remains that associating useless and biblically unsound practice with the church, no matter what the specific practice, is dangerous to evangelism as well as to the growth of the church members. Of course the gospel is good news. But tarnishing the gospel with a lot of luggage in the guise of denominational tradition is far from insignificant.

Phyllis

Fist, I want to clarify some things I mentioned in an earlier post. I am first most and fore most a Christian. I was saved by the Grace of God. I believe Jesus died on the cross and was risen on the 3rd day. I don't consider myself to be any certain denomination. Denominations are mans way of taking out parts of the bible they don't believe and using the one's they do. Is that not why there are so many different churches? I have read and studied the bible for many years. The fact there are so many different denominations never ceases to amaze me. I have a brother-in-law who is a preacher and so are his four brothers. They all were brought up the same, yet when they became preachers, their beliefs changed. They all believe a little something different and belong to different denominations.They each truly believe what they believe. That doesn't make them any less a Christian. The fact is, they all were saved by the Grace of God. As for believing different scriptures in a different way, God reveals to us what we need to know and some are still babies and have not quit taking the milk and wanting meat. If you really want to know the the truth and can accept the fact that it might be different as you first believed is the first step into wanting the meat and putting away childish things. I do not believe the health and wealth thing. We get sick, we are all not wealthy, we die. We have troubles of all kinds. The bible says we will have trials and tribulations. But we overcome with the help of Jesus. Not all are healed by praying and believing and some are. We are not the one to judge why God does what He does. He knows what we need and how to go about getting that to us. He alone decides how we learn what we learn. And, I know that if you don't get it the first time, He will keep on until you do learn what He wants us to learn about Him. He knows what will and won't work. You have to remember that we also have free will that comes into play. Sometimes we make the wrong choices and we will wind up paying for the choices we make. Can any of you say that isn't true? I have an aunt that was raised not to believe certain things(speaking in tongues is one).She is in 80's now and a few years back she was either reading or listening to a preacher and something happened in her life to that changed her. She asked God if there was any more to have she wanted it. She began to speak in tongues. She finally got around to asking her pastor if this had ever happened to him. It had, but he also said that their church was not ready for this. He knew they were not ready to accept this gift. Now , don't get me wrong, but we can pray in a different tongue for our own wants and needs. He will even give you the answer. That is if you listen. There are a lot of people praying but not waiting to hear back. After all is not a conversation between two, one to talk and the other to respond? How much you want to know and accept is up to you. If you have a question about a scripture , ask. Just hang around long enough to hear what He has to say.

axnjaxn

I have to agree with you about denominations: most of them seem to be built around believing or excluding a set of controversial beliefs. I find the only real use I have for them is to help me pick a church that I think takes the most literal and rational approach to doctrine possible.

But the Bible calls the Bereans noble for examining the scriptures to see if what the apostles said was true, and I think it's absolutely necessary to study the Bible in response to any statement of doctrine given by a preacher.

As far as speaking in tongues goes at home, I can't really see anything wrong with it. After all, I have a tendency toward silent prayer. Whether or not someone experiences what we call "tongues" when they're outside of a congregation is really not my concern in mentioning them - I just think that the corporate act is misguided, if not unbiblical. We must always be mindful of the evangelistic dimension of what we do in a congregational environment. Believing wrongly is not as troublesome as causing someone to disdain Christ.

Phyllis

Literal and rational. Now there are two words that can can get you into trouble when studying the bible. For one thing, we can't take what all the bible says literally. If you do, you will find yourself believing things meant in an a whole different way. As for rational, is anything God does rational in our eyes or His? He sees ahead where we cannot. He plans in advance what we cannot fathom. I am 56yrs old and in my entire life, God has done some very irrational things(in my eyes)that are very rational in His all knowing eyes. But, I am not here to tell you what to believe or not to believe. Just some advice. Pray for a teachable spirit and listen to Him when you pray. You will be knocked down to your knees when you open your heart and mind to what He has in store for you.

axnjaxn

He has given us a spirit of love, power, and of a sound mind. I hope to conform my idea of what is reasonable to His.

As far as literal goes, I realize there are poetic narratives in the Bible, especially in Psalms, but I think it's safe to assume that when Paul is talking doctrine, he means what he says. The Bible is absolutely clear when it tells us not to neglect widows and orphans, it's absolutely clear when it calls for interpretation of tongues in the church, and it's absolutely clear when it tells us to be holy, as God is holy. I intend to keep an open mind, but open to truth and not to error. I trust in the discerning power of the Holy Spirit working not contrary to, but above and through my mind. I hold these beliefs with a clear conscience, and I hope it can never be said of me that I refuse to learn.

Phyllis

That's all I ask.

Geri

God, why do we have to put Christianity into boxes – the “the doctrinal one”, the “wealth and prosperity one”? At the end of the day God asked us for a personal relationship with his son, because he is the way, the truth and the live. If we keep our eyes on him, shouldn’t everything follow? I have received equally much spiritual guidance and experience at home submitting myself unto the Lord as I have by fellowship with other Christians and being part of the church. I believe indeed it is dangerous to take scriptures from the Bible too literally, if so nowadays all women need to enter into a church covering their heads, and no one woman should be allowed to talk in a church. Just look at the number of women God has raised in this generation – Joyce Meyer? I believe it is marvelous that we are able to be enjoying the gifts of the Spirit and instead of criticizing them or trying to place them in our life fittingly we should be looking for more of them. I have experienced many moments when God has been simply cleansing me, nourishing me by praying in tongues, even more, talking to me while I was praying in tongues and warning me what would happen in the next few minutes. God would do so many wondrous things if we honestly seek him and not perform an act of prayer religiously. And if it is for my own benefit, and especially if this gift comes from God, why not let the whole church enjoy praying in tongues at the same time for the benefit of every Christian. Even if there are unbelievers around who might be shocked by the sight, isn’t talking in tongues one of the miracles of God proving his existence? If a person is open to receive God, he will do it no matter what. If someone is not open to receive God, you might present him the purest of the Gospel and he will still not be convinced. I have enjoyed reading the thoughts of everyone. Thank you Brian, thank you Phyllis. Let us follow the Bible, let us be rational, and literal if needed, let us be alert of what is happening on the spiritual horizon, but above all let us follow Him and all that we do wrong will be corrected, and all that we are lacking today would be added.

axnjaxn

You bring up something very important - I wish that the Christian church was a solid, indivisible bunch of people. Surely, in the biblical sense, there is only one church, but as an organizational detail, the church down the street acts like a separate body from the one on the corner. The problem, then, is with certain pulpits teaching things that are clearly not biblical, prosperity gospel included. If every Christian living a God-pleasing life was meant to be blessed materially, Paul wouldn't have been a very good example. I don't know that denominations are the best response to such issues, but there has to be some response.

As far as women covering their heads in church, it seems like Paul makes reference to a woman's hair as the covering in 1 Corinthians 11, and encourages the church to judge among themselves.

You also mention that if someone comes to church open, they'll receive God whether tongues are spoken or not. I suppose that's a good point, but don't you think there's a reason Paul brings it up in Corinthians? He's the one who frames the issue in terms of the unbeliever's response. I would tend to think that the difference is that while prophecy (the word of God) can convict a person, tongues can only confuse them.

There is a great mystery to the way God works in the giving of spiritual gifts, and I can't even begin to address them in their entirety. I can, however, assume that God does not give them out in contradiction to His own scripture.

Nevertheless, God has called His church to peace, and not strife. I speak these things because it is right to speak them, not because I hope to incite an argument.

I appreciate the comments, folks.

Phyllis

I do not want to argue with you at all. I agree with Geri though. Some people put God in a box and just will not accept that He does things in ways that are above our feeble minds understanding. May I share something that happened to me? My husband left me and our son when he was only 3yrs old. I was having a very hard time. My son had ADHD and raising him alone was the least to say, very taxing on me. I was working and at times things would be so bad I would just start to bawl. I never had time to myself because my son's dad rarely came to get him on the weekend. It got to the point I was about to break down. One Saturday as I was folding clothes, I could feel God so close it was as if He was in the room with me. His presence was so strong that I began to hear Hom speak. Not out loud, but deep within. I heard Him ask me if I would be willing to trust my son with Him and if I would be willing to let his dad have him. I had only one answer. I said, Father I have no other choice if that is what you want. Yes, I trust you with my son. Little did I know that several yrs. later, I did break down. I couldn't take care of myself let alone my son. His dad did take him to live with him. It took several yrs for this to come to pass and I finally understood God asking this of me. It turned out to be the best thing to happen for all of us. Yes, God does know the best for us. I knew then that God knew I would have to make the decision that He had asked me of so many years earlier. He knew then that I would have to let my son go live with his dad. Well, it turned out that my son learned so much from his dad and was taken care of better than I could have. He is now grown and if I might add, a very good person. To this day I have not even thought twice that God knew this would happen. It was in His timing and not my own. I praise God for all He has done in my life.

Geri

I am sorry if I have been too passionate. I did not mean my comments to sound like arguments. My point was simply to underline that we should let God be God even if we don¡¦t understand everything, and instead of focusing on the answers focus on our personal experience with Him. At least this is the focus of my personal walk with Jesus. ƒº Good luck Brian, Phyllis. Warm hugs from me and God bless you.

Mark i.e. Tanstripe i.e. ummm.... 3.141592653589793238462643383279

Hey, axn? concerning what you said in a previous response... "I don't believe that spiritual languages are given to Christians. I think that idea comes from a misunderstanding of the scripture." Check out 1 Corinthians 13:1 "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal" Would that count as a spiritual language in your opinion? Basically, I agree with you. I do have pentecostal tendencies, but I wish more people of the mindset had their ideas aligned with Scripture. God bless you!

Tanstripe

Oh, looksy! " to heal, make healthful 1. (Qal) to heal 1. of God 2. healer, physician (of men) 3. of hurts of nations involving restored favour (fig) 4. of individual distresses (fig) 2. (Niphal) to be healed 1. literal (of persons) 2. of water, pottery 3. of national hurts (fig) 4. of personal distress (fig) 3. (Piel) to heal 1. literal 2. of national defects or hurts (fig) 4. (Hithpael) in order to get healed (infinitive) " -- Strong's definition of 'healed' in Isaiah 53:5...

axnjaxn

In context, I don't think Paul is suggesting that he spoke in angelic language. The passage makes that argument that even if he spoke in a hypothetical angelic language, without love, it would be no better than the vain Dionysian babbling that ancient Greeks participated in honoring their pagan deities. Nowhere in scripture do you hear of anyone speaking an angelic language, nor are such attempts to do so actually encouraged.

It's not directly addressed in the Bible, but I don't even think the angels would use languages in the same way we know language. They are spirits, and as such, the use of human language when they appear in the Bible is for the benefit of man. I don't think audible language is necessary between spirits, but the Bible is silent on the subject, which means it's really not important.

Alistair Begg always says that the plain things are the main things and the main things are the plain things. I'm inclined to agree. To elevate what is not clearly addressed in the Bible as if it was gospel is a grave error, and I think that sticking to the text is the best way to avoid this. I know you, Tan, are a student of the Bible, and I encourage you to investigate this matter carefully so that you may draw a strong conclusion on what is right.

As far as the healing goes, God is clearly capable of healing, but it is my firmly-held conviction that He does not always indulge us when suffering is part of the divine plan. In Galatians 4:13, Paul mentions that he preached the gospel in Galatia because of his illness. I think it illustrates how God uses even what we would consider "bad" circumstances to the benefit of the Gospel, and this is what I mean to get across. I don't want to dissuade anyone from seeking healing from illness, but I think it's foolish to assume that a lack of divine healing in a given circumstance always indicates that someone simply isn't believing hard enough.

Tans

Well put =). I hadn't really noticed the way Paul wrote the words (just remember the language of angels being mentioned in the Bible). The healing, too, is true - my dad and I were having a talk on that the other day while a woman who was claiming the same verse your friend was discussed how all should be healed. As it says in Ecclesiastes, there is a time to live and a time to die. I, myself, have never spoken in tongues, though it would be great if God gave me that gift so that it may be used for HIS glory (therefore, interpretation comes in). I almost wish people would stop debating the issue because the entire book of 1 Corinthians is an appeal to unity... Healing will be accomplished if it is God's will - we can ask with our faith in God. I have seen Him say yes. I have seen Him say no. Evenso, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever more!

Anonymous

"was discussed" ...erk... grammar err...

Shawn

First off I fully agree with the author. many of us today have taken the context of religion and the Bible into our own hands (and matters) and have made an idolatry religion that will make US happy, and healthy, and wealthy, etc. and we may twist a little of a relationship into the mix for good flavor. If you listen carefully to many of the televangelists today you will see they talk more about what we can do than what God can do and use little scripture or the ones they use are twisted GREATLY! When we truly became Christians we gave up ALL rights to self and said we would follow Christ. I know that everyone wants to go for the jugular on this one (casting out demons, healing the sick, etc.) but what about getting people TRULY saved??? If you look at todays generation I believe there are definitely demons and sicknesses to be dealt with, but I also believe they are due to depression, lack of true love, broken relationships, and especially not having a relationship with Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. That is what I believe will cure, heal, and make this generation prosperous, not chasing some false teaching, scripture twisting, ear tickling, loveless, gutless, non-God fearing, unrepenting, lack of leadership, money making preacher says. The church is not meant to be a money making, but in the business to save souls and preach the word of God. There are many who think they are saved and are still just as lost as day one that someone told them the Gospel and think they're ready for meat and can hardly handle the milk. We ALL need to repent more and cry out on our faces to God for His forgiveness, His Mercy, and His love to help save this lost world before it is too late.

axnjaxn

It's been a few months since comments have been posted, and I'm locking the comments to foil a certain spammer who's making life difficult for me right now.

The forum's still open, though.

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