Very seldom do I enjoy reading a book on the subject of religion that has been written in the last 20 years. They seem mostly to contain little meat and are derivatives of, “Your Best Life Now”. If the authors were more honest, their titles should read, “ Making God Work for You”, “Getting God on Board With Your Plans”, “What God Can Do For You”, “Adding God to Your Life”, etc.
In many modern theological books, there is no humbling oneself before God, no admission of what we truly are without God. In reality, these books are more about using God for one’s own benefit. We have both read works by and have visited in person with Christian leaders who literally believe that the Bible is a book of godly principles that are best incorporated into a lifestyle so that the person can be successful in business, government, and personal relationships. They see the Bible as a “how to” guide for successful living—they look at the principles therein and see them only as a way to be successful in this life. They literally scour the Bible and books of Biblical quotes and find ways to fit them into their already existing life—they do not view the Bible as a book that points to God in such a way as having to lay down their lives (leave their nets) and follow Him. They only see the book as a way to improve their nets, much like a book of spells or potions.
I read Joel Osteen’s mega seller, “Your Best Life Now.” I wanted to see what all the hype was about . I picked up a copy one morning and read it in its entirety the same day. I didn’t hastily just thumb through the book. When I had finished, my copy looked like it had been attacked with a neon green highlighter. The areas that I had highlighted green were not great quotes I wanted to remember, but instead were areas of disagreement. Never before had I finished a book that I disagreed with to this degree. In vain I kept looking for the source of all the hype. I did highlight one or two things hot pink that I thought were good. But in the words of my great grandmother, “Even a blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while.” This book by Osteen was one of the first to gain acclaim in an era of display racks lined with other prosperity gospel and Christian self-help titles that we still haven’t escaped, although recently, it seems to be morphing into a movement that champions a misguided version of God’s love, making it permissive instead of enduring.
What I find interesting is that if you go back to a time when books actually offered meat to readers and required thought to comprehend, a common thread connected these books: they warned of a trend in Christianity and where it would lead if it weren’t stamped out or at least brought under control. What was this trend? That Christians and the churches they constitute were losing the fear of God, and by losing this fear, we would no longer feel the need to be humbled before Him. If left unchecked, it would lead to a time where instead of Christians picking up their crosses and following Jesus because of who He is and our need for Him, they would claim to follow Jesus, but not for who He is. They would follow Him for the benefits they believed they could receive from following Him. True Christianity involves humility, repentance, and change in life direction. Crony Christianity involves neither. In Crony Christianity, I just add God to my life.
It is clear that from today’s religious climate, two things can be deduced : 1) writers from yesteryear were on to something; 2) we never got the trend that they warned about under control.
Now, it seems, we are trying to justify ourselves by reading books that tell us that God is pleased with us even if we just add Him. We really don’t have to follow him; He loves us anyway.