Alrighty. After a vigorous push last night...and after doing some fast-forward skimming...I'm finished with Your Best Life Now
. For many portions of Osteen's mighty work of systematic theology, I'll confess that I was moved by the same spirit Osteen describes on page 281:
"You may be thinking, God, I shouldn't have to put up with this. I don't understand this. Why don't You get this person out of my life?"
About ten percent of this simplistic paean to material blessityness was like chewing ice with a rotted tooth. The opening chapters and the penultimate chapters were radiant with the buzzwords of the prosperity Gospel. One is acting in order to be blessed. In order to be blessed with abundance, one must give with abundance...and that means not just tithing. God really
starts in with the "supernatural favor" when you give more than just a tithe. To do less than tithing...well...golly...it's like "stealing from God."
At first, I was having a hard time making my way through page after page of chapters with rhyming titles like "The Seed Must Lead." I felt my cortex screaming at the onslaught of canned anecdotes and materialism, and I began to despair. How would I ever make it through this book?
I turned to the Lord for guidance, and He showed me the way out. In the more egregious sections of the book, I began to tack three simple words onto the end of each chapter and section heading. Those words were: "In Your Pants." Here are some sample headings...try it yourself:
- Plant Some Seed
- In the Time of Need, Sow a Seed
- Sowing and Growing
- Do Something Out of the Ordinary
- Keep On Standing Firm
- People Are Watching You
I know, I know. But desperate times call for desperate measures. With this great truth revealed to me, I found the rest of the book far more entertaining.
Beyond that little bit of silliness, there was something else I discovered about Osteen that surprised me a bit. With only very minor editing, it would be easy to not dislike him at all. Yes, his book is more motivational speaking than deep contextual analysis of scripture. But as I noted earlier, only about ten percent of this 300 page tome is so suffused with the prosperity gospel as to be irredeemable. I know, a little leaven ruins the whole loaf...but then again, simul justus et peccator
, and let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
For the other 90%, I found myself thinking: Yes, this is crushingly simplistic. No, I'd never, ever, ever go to this church without having received at least a partial lobotomy first...and even then, I'm not sure I could take it. But time after time, as I picked my way through his piquant little rhyming verses, I found myself thinking: Dagnabbit, I hate to admit it, but that's not bad advice. To be honest, much of the rest of it might actually be useful to some folks. Most of it sounds much like this:
"..quit struggling, stop worrying about it, and simply do your best to love God and live for Him, love others, and let God change you in His own way and His own timing." (p. 197)
He talks extensively about the value of hope, forgiveness, love, charity, volunteerism, and self-sacrifice. He's relentlessly, chirrupingly positive and hopeful, and try as I might, I could not manage to get my knickers more than partially twisted.
This isn't true for all his critics, though. Take a look at this seething critique of Osteen, written by a hardcore fundy.
What seems to annoy this critic most intensely is that in an interview with Larry King, Osteen expressed a genial tolerance of other faiths...and didn't try to get Larry King down on his knees saying the Jesus Prayer. More deeply, I think what cuts at the heart of most fundys is that Osteen succeeds..not with the hard-edged orthodoxy that is supposedly necessary for growth...but with a Reaganesque Pollyanna positivity.
Having endured my trial by pablum, I suppose my ultimate response to Osteen is more nuanced than I would have anticipated. I would never ever never steer anyone with two functioning neurons to rub together his way, but to be bluntly honest, my advice to anyone who had already read him and asked me what I thought would be mixed.
I'd point out where he errs...and O Lordy does he err. But he's not Benny Hinn. I wouldn't demonize everything he says, because that wouldn't be..well..it wouldn't be discerning.