The REAL sin of Victoria Osteen

I have on my bookshelves here, selected writings of Martin Luther and John Calvin, two founders and architects of the Protestant Reformation. I have not looked at these books in a few years now, but, as I recall, when one does read through them, one does not find very much emphasis on Jesus as a friend and personal savior. Various historians of religion point out that prior to the 19th century, Jesus was seen as playing a key role in the plan of salvation, perhaps in the sense of substitutional atonement, but the modern day emphasis on Jesus as a friend and “personal savior”, is only something that evolved in the past 200 years. I have read extensively in early Nicean writings, the Philokalia, and Aquinas’ Summa, and I can say that those writings also mention little of this present day notion of Jesus as friend and savior.

I realize that many people have been able to turn their lives around through religious faith, and escape the bondage of alcoholism, drugs, promiscuity, gambling, and a host of other evils. Some find their salvation in such things as 12 step programs, which simply refer to “a higher power”.

Our sitting president, George W. Bush, came to my mind today. I thought about the many who have walked into a store front church, and found their commitment to faith and sobriety through some ordinary pastor’s preaching. George W. Bush had to take a walk along the beach with the very Billy Graham himself, in order to snap out of his alcohol dependency. But then, George Bush is a very special person, so, he needs a very special pastor to convert him.

Gandhi once explained to someone, who had inquired concerning Gandhi’s religious beliefs, saying “My religious beliefs are a very personal thing, between myself and God.” I felt Gandhi was very wise to give such an answer. I agree with Gandhi.

But modern America can hardly relate to such an attitude. One cannot run for Presidency without standing up at a podium and explaining, in some fashion or other, how they have accepted Jesus as their “personal savior”. I often marvel that many and various religions have evolved into the commonality of one person, standing at a podium, with some open book, haranguing a crowd of spectators. Why should so many different religions amount to simply that? Why is faith and worship a public, objective and not a private,subjective matter?

I have often wondered whatever it might mean to say “Impersonal savior.” I suppose one things of the Hindu impersonal Brahman. Yet preachers seem obsessed with the term “PERSONAL savior.”

Last Sunday, I tuned in to Joel Osteen’s sermon. I swear, he must have used the term “anointed” several dozen times. It is a catchy word. The likes of Aaron and David were “anointed”. There is a Psalm which mentions the oil of anointment running down the beard. I suppose I could use one of the many Biblical search engines, and find all references in scripture to “anointed”. I rather imagine that the word “anointed” occurs far more times in Osteen’s writings than it does in the Bible.

My thoughts on all these matters tend to align more closely with Steinbeck’s idea in the novel “East of Eden”. Steinbeck is an unabashed Pelagian. Pelagius debated with Augustine, and lost the argument as far as the West was concerned. Pelagius believe that each human being was naturally endowed with everything that is necessary to make the freewill choice to be good. Were this not so, then why would Jesus tell the adulteress to “go and sin no more.” Anyway, Augustine argued that human nature was helpless and hopeless, and only divine grace could accomplish, not reform or transformation, but simply, forgiveness.

There is one passage where one of Steinbeck’s characters speaks of a person as being “like a white shirt, that has become soiled, but through much washing and scrubbing (freewill action and choice), it can become white again.” Elsewhere a character in “East of Eden” says, “a man can take the Bible and MAKE of it something mighty fine within himself.”

Let’s take the recent example in the news of Joel Osteen’s wife, and the incident on the airplane. She lives day in and day out with pastor Joel, and must surely said those “magic words” which cause a person to be “born again.” Now, the real sin on that airplane, was not whether Mrs. Osteen assaulted a stewardess. The real sin was that she was proud, and complained about a spill on her chair. The emphasis in Eastern Orthodox Christianity is to be humble, and long-suffering, a servant to all. The monastics of the Egyptian desert would jump at the chance to be humble, and clean up the spill themselves, or take the blame for another. Jesus said the same thing, regarding he who is servant to all, and takes the lowest place, shall be exalted.

– Originally posted Saturday, September 27, 2008

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