June 1, 2010

In his book, Power Thoughts: Achieve Your True Potential Through Power Thinking, Robert H. Schuller, founder and pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, made a profound statement in regards to the definition of "sin." Here, and in a previous book, You Can Be The Person You Want To Be, Schuller defined it as "failing to live up to your (or one's) potential."

Schuller goes on to say that through positive, or power, thinking, anyone can live up to his potential and find freedom from "failure."

Get it? Sin is no longer sin but failing to live up to your own capabilities. To Schuller, "sin" (a word that he uses rarely in his sermons and never before his television audience) has nothing to do with failing to live up to God's word. It is not failing God, but failing yourself.

A low self-esteem, negative thinking or not putting out your best efforts is self-inflicted "failure" over which we can all arise if we just subject ourselves to a regiment of positive thinking. 

Great! The implication of this is that we don't need Jesus Christ to forgive "sins" because, after all, sin is just negative thinking that we can all overcome without the need of God's loving intervention.

Because Robert Schuller waters down the Gospel in such a fashion he has merely succeeding in popularizing it by eliminating negative words and connotations. Sin and judgment are bad so let's replace them with terms like "lack of self-confidence" and "coming down hard on yourself."

As a result Schuller has the second largest church in the United States and nine of his many books are best sellers reaching the New York Times best sellers list.  He's made millions by just tossing out passages from the Bible much like Thomas Jefferson did when he came across a miracle within its pages.

But Schuller is close to being what we call "history" and the newly minted positive thinking pastor and author is Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest church in the United States, the Lakewood Church in Houston, TX.  Osteen's first book Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps To Living At Your Full Potential takes up where Schuller left off. In this book Osteen confesses to never using the word "sin" and hasn't even mentioned the word in any sermon since 1996. "It's so negative and implies that there needs to be an atonement or substitutionary death to get rid of it."

Well, duh!!!

To that Osteen adds that "sin" implies that many if not most would end up living in a world of doubt, delusion and death if we talked about it.  To that Osteen says that once we find the solution to our doubts and fears, to our pessimism and lack of trust, then we can live at our full potential.  Implication: There is no need for a Messiah, no need for a Savior, no need for a sacrifice for sins, for there really is no sin.

Osteen goes on to say that Christianity is not the only path in finding a solution to the negativity of our day and the lack of self-esteem many suffer.

Back in a 2007 interview with Larry King, Osteen sidestepped a question concerning the number of paths one may take to get to heaven.  His answer was so objectionable that I believe he through the Bible out with the wash.

For those who missed it, Joel was asked by Larry whether people had to know Jesus in order to get to heaven. But, for some reason, Joel couldn’t bring himself to provide the simple answer found in John 14:6. It reads as follows in the NASB translation: “Jesus said to him (Thomas), ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.’”

Just in case there are any millionaire pastors out there pretending not to get it (because it may hurt their book sales), the point is also made in John 10:7-9: “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.’”

Just in case anyone read the previous passage as saying, in effect, “I am one of many doors,” Matthew 7:13-14 is instructive: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Joel Osteen’s reply to Larry King’s question about Jewish salvation should have been addressed with a reference to the Parable of the Great Supper found in Luke 14:15-24. After rejecting Christ, Israel was shut out of the banquet. Many of those invited were killed in A.D. 70, the year the Temple fell. Luke 14:24 sums it all up (prophetically) in a single sentence: “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.”

And, finally, even the wealthiest of men aspiring to be a man of God (and multi-millionaire best-selling author) cannot possibly be confused after reading Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

It should be evident to anyone having only a passing familiarity with the New Testament that Joel Osteen is simply pretending not to know the answer to the rather direct question posed to him by Larry King. At least two inter-related motives (for his decision to feign ignorance) are rather obvious.

1. Joel is getting rich from book sales and is concerned that telling the truth about the exclusive truth claims of Christianity would result in a loss of income. It should go without saying that avoiding the truth results in a loss of souls for Christ. But Joel Osteen seems to care more about lost income than he does about lost souls.

2.Joel Osteen has a really big church and is concerned that telling the truth about the exclusive truth claims of Christianity would result in a loss of congregants. Of course, many pastors are overly concerned with the size of their churches. When they gather at conferences, “How big is your church?” is always the question most frequently asked by one pastor to another. And, of course, the bigger churches do tend to be the wealthier ones. It all goes back to the choice between lost souls and lost income.

Clearly, pastors who can’t figure out – or pretend to be unable to figure out - the clear meaning of John 14:6 will have some explaining to do when they reach the other side. Much is expected of those entrusted with the awesome responsibility of leading a church.

Perhaps less is expected of the nominal Christian who flippantly dismisses the exclusive truth claims of Christianity. But, regardless, he is wrong to do so for at least two reasons:

1. When people shy away from exclusive truth claims they reinforce a dangerous trend in our society; namely the spread of relativism as a moral philosophy. Nowadays, people so frequently utter the phrase “It’s true for you, but not for me” that the words “truth” and “belief” are seen as synonymous. They are not.

2. The moment a nominal Christian denies John 14:6 he becomes an ex-Christian. If a man says that many religions provide a path to salvation he is, in effect, saying that Jesus was not telling the truth when he said otherwise on numerous occasions. If Jesus was not telling the truth then he did not lead a sinless life. If Jesus was not telling the truth he could not be God or even a “great moral leader” as some prefer to call Him.

There is a powerful tendency these days for men to want to appear to be, above all things, tolerant. After all, it sells books and builds big churches. But G.K. Chesterton said it best when he said that tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions. It might also be said that tolerance is the virtue of a man without salvation. Every man must choose between Truth and tolerance. He cannot choose both and expect to dine at the Great Supper.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.