The verses came to mind this weekend as I read the Washington Post's excellent story about Joel Osteen, "the smiling preacher" who leads the 30,000-member Lakewood Church in Houston. The article notes that Lakewood is the largest and fastest growing church in the nation, making Osteen the "new face" of Christianity" and "the hottest commodity in the world of multimedia religion these days."
These are fairly impressive titles for a man who dropped out of college during his first year and never received formal theological training. But the history of the church is filled with stories of saints who were not educated by the standards of the world. What makes Osteen so dangerous is just how little his feel-good version of the gospel has in common with the goods news of "Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (I Cor. 2:2).
The Post quotes one sociologist:
Joel is doing it better than most. He is purposely seeking to lower the barriers that keep people from going to church. They don't know the hymns; they don't have to learn the creed. It's all there for them.Indeed. There is that troubling business in the gospels about the need to take up the cross and follow Christ. But people these days are ever so much busier than they were in the first century. Who has time to sit down and actually memorize the words of the creed when there's work, little Timmy's soccer practice, and "Desperate Housewives" to contend with? Who indeed?
Joe Carter of the evangelical outpost has said: "The day [Osteen] becomes the representative for evangelicalism is the day that I stop calling myself an evangelical." This is a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree.