There is a serious problem with Victoria Osteen’s “worship for yourself” theology. At first it may seem nuanced or even about semantics. But in reality, there is a wide chasm between right theology and the Osteen gospel.
God Does Want It To Go Well With Us!
It is true that when we worship God and obey Him, we do benefit. And it is true that God is passionate about our obedience for the sake of our lives and the lives of our children “going well.”
23 When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leading men of your tribes and your elders came to me. 24 And you said, “The Lord our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him. 25 But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer. 26 For what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? 27 Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey.”28 The Lord heard you when you spoke to me and the Lord said to me, “I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good. 29 Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever (Deuteronomy 5:23–29)!
So, yes! God is passionate about our lives going well as a result of our connection with Him. However, if I approach God and say, “Ok, I want my life to go well, so I will surrender to God’s wishes” that is equivalent to an immature turning toward God in order to avoid hell. We could call it a “fire insurance” level of maturity. In such a case we might say, “Well, it’s a start.” But to have this as the core motivating factor worshiping God belies at best a severe immaturity and at worst a humanistic “use” of God that is actually more akin to a worship of ourselves than it is the true worship of the living God!
When a man finds the woman of his dreams, he doesn’t say, “Look at all the cool things I will get if I marry this woman!” On the contrary, he says, “I would be willing to suffer the loss of everything in order to marry this woman!” Why? Because he has encountered someone who captures his heart! Because he has recognized the woman’s great beauty, inside and out! The difference is palpable!
Only a minor investigation into what is known as the “prosperity” gospel reveals exactly this kind of twisted theology that places self on the throne. It also goes hand in hand with what is known as “hyper-grace” theology which refuses to deal properly with sin. Both of these streams converge in the Osteen gospel.
The Enlightenment Turn To The Subject
For some time now I have been documenting what is known as the “turn to the subject” or the “Copernican turn.” In short, the turn to the subject is the Enlightenment era rejection of the authority of the Church and the Bible, and an embracing of the self. The turn to the subject is explained well in the following quote:
It was, however, the modern “turn to the subject” that proved decisive. Kant’s call for “autonomy,” for the individual’s “release from a self-incurred tutelage” to such heteronymous authorities as the Bible and the Church, embodied the spirit of the Enlightenment. Increasingly, individual reason and conscience became the arbiters of religious truth. Although the Romantics rejected the appeal to autonomous “reason alone,” they nevertheless shifted the source of spiritual authority to the “religious self-consciousness,” that is, to religious experience. The entire nineteenth century can be viewed as an effort to resolve the increasingly problematic issue of authority. 2
So, what does the “turn to the subject” look like in the church in the twenty first century? I believe it manifests itself in the form of liberation theology, the social gospel, gay Christianity, the prosperity gospel, hyper-grace, just to name a few of its ill-effects!
1 Livingston, Fiorenza, Coakley, and Evans, Jr., Modern Christian Thought: The Twentieth Century, (Fortress Press: 2006), page 2.