Dangerous Steps Towards Deification

My brother and friend Raekwon wrote on the possibility that Joel Osteen is an “enemy of the Gospel” [his words, not mine; I do find that Osteen is going about many good things in a very, very bad way], and one of Osteen’s fans responded, discussing how Osteen’s “book has changed my life”. It hit me in just the right [or wrong!] way, which inspired the following:

Bob: With respect, the writings of none of our brothers and sisters—as right or as wrong as any of them may be—should ever move us to such actions. If we’re moved to action, it should be an exposition of Truth that causes us to faithfully and purely self-examine and be ever more reliant on the saving power of Jesus Christ, the love of the Father, and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit. Anything else is the deification of any of our favorite writers, whether it be Osteen for you, John Piper for my brother Rae, or John Wesley for my own self.

Some notes on that:

  1. Yes, I’m trying to be even-handed, which is why I failed to criticize Osteen. Some folks call this weaksauce; I call it nuanced criticism.
  2. I used the phrase “exposition of Truth” because I don’t think any of us mortal sinners has a complete handle on the Truth. All we’re doing is passing on our little bits. [Yes, yes, Imperfect Mirror, etc. Thanks for catching on to my raison d’être here!]
  3. I inverted my recitation of the Trinity, for my own nefarious reasons. You may feel free to berate me or attempt to dissect that inversion in the comments. 😉 [Damn, I’m full of myself this morning, aren’t I?]
  4. I threw the JW in so Rae’s readers would know where I stood. Few folks recognize any Methodist theologians outside the bounds of the UMC [heck, few recognize them inside, either!]. I find that I, as many Methodists, are almost as equally affected by the work of Albert C. Outler—remember, it was he who invented the concept of “the Wesleyan quadrilateral” as a convention for contextualizing JW’s expositional methodology—as I am by anything John himself wrote. There are two reasons for that: 1) John’s writing is for another generation, used to his elocution, and 2) Charles wrote all the good hymns, anyway! But yes, I wear my Cross and Flame like a badge of honor in these discussions, something I have yet to repent of [mainly because I think I need to do it and don’t find it sinful, even when I come close to the very deifications I’m arguing against :sigh:].

Okay, I’m ending this entry before I write another parenthetical in an attempt to avoid a run-on sentence or actually, you know, self-editing. 😉

4 comments

  1. Huh. I’m not a part of your “regular crowd” (whatever that might be, but generally referring to people you know in person who contribute comments to your journal), so perhaps my thoughts are a bit out of context for your journal… but since this *is* the Internet, after all, and we’re all one big family with one Father, one baptism, one faith, et all., I’m going to throw in a comment/question.

    So… what exactly is the problem? The way you stated it, it sounds like we’re not supposed to be motivated to action by other people — only by God Himself.

    Which makes no sense to me, given the abundant injunctions in the New Testament requiring us to exhort each other, encourage each other, teach each other — all things that should motivate us to action. Of course, one could say that it’s God IN US that enables us to pass along Truth to each other in such a way that it prompts action.

    Perhaps I misunderstood your issue?

  2. Well, this may be a niggling distinction—I’m an engineer and, therefore, an ace niggler by trade and persuasion—but I think we need to react to God’s Truth coming through other people and not to those people themselves. See, we’re all just vessels…

  3. That’s cool. Ultimately, it is the Truth that we’re reacting to. I agree with the sentiment.

    On the one hand, we shouldn’t “deify”, as you put it, the messenger. Yet on the other hand, didn’t Jesus say:

    “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward: and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.” Mat 10:40

    To me, that speaks of honoring the person for the sake of who they are (a prophet, or a righteous person), not just because they’re carriers of the Truth. Doesn’t it kind of eliminate the distinctions? Doesn’t God call us to treat “the least of these” as if it were Jesus Himself?

    I suppose the heart of the issue is worship (as usual). It’s one thing to respect and honor someone and treat them with love and courtesy. It’s another thing to start worshiping them as if they were the Source of Truth. Is that your point?

  4. I suppose the heart of the issue is worship (as usual). It’s one thing to respect and honor someone and treat them with love and courtesy. It’s another thing to start worshiping them as if they were the Source of Truth. Is that your point?

    Essentially, yes. Books and writers don’t change lives—that’s Jesus’s business.

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