Al's latest blog is about Houston mega-church pastor Joel Osteen. Osteen's commitment to prosperity theology has been well documented, not least by Internet Monk Michael Spencer, who describes him as a "motivational speaker pretending to be a Christian pastor". I certainly concur with Spencer that Osteen's very existence is an indication that something is very seriously wrong within American evangelicals.
The good news, it seems, is that Mohler, one of America's most prominent evangelical leaders, has taken notice of Osteen's popularity and influence, and has blogged about him.
But, of course, the bad news is that Mohler equivocates. His blog is not a detailed, point by point dissection of Osteen's grave theological errors and nor is it a call for us all to warn our fellow believers about such teaching. Instead it is, well, nothing.
Most of Mohler's article about Osteen is simply a direct quote from The New York Times. When Mohler actually writes something he starts off by essentially discrediting the NYT. "It would not be fair to characterize Mr. Osteen's ministry based upon a profile published in The New York Times" he says, which pretty much questions whether or not Osteen actually does teach bad theology since, well, you just can't trust the "MSM". Mohler then says "The real test of his ministry is what he does in the pulpit (or on the platform of his church, as it happens)", which of course, is true. Then comes a most cowardly and inept conclusion:
The first question is this -- Would anyone watching his television program, or sitting in his vast church facility, hear in Mr. Osteen's message a clear and undiluted message of Gospel proclamation? Would this person have any reason, based on hearing Mr. Osteen's message, to know himself as a sinner and to understand how the cross of Christ is the only ground of his salvation? Would he come to know that Jesus the Christ is fully human and fully divine, and that He came in order that we might have everlasting life -- not just a good parking space?Mohler doesn't answer any of these softball questions himself, preferring his readers to make their own judgements. In fact, Mohler does not give any real opinion at all - and that is a grave problem. This final paragraph can be read in three different ways:
1. Mohler H8s Osteen
For those who recognise that Osteen is preaching a false message, Mohler may appear to be on their side. Certainly Michael Spencer thinks so, and is over the moon about Mohler's latest words.
If a knowledgeable Christian with a love for Christ and the Gospel and with a knowledge of prosperity doctrine turns on Osteen's TV show, they will conclude that Osteen does not preach the Gospel, nor does he preach the cross, and nor does he preach salvation. For this person (of which Michael Spencer is a good example), Mohler appears to be on his side.
2. Mohler (hearts) Osteen
But for those who support Osteen and think he's the ants pants and the bees knees, Mohler's conclusion defends their position. "Of course Joel preaches the Gospel" they would say, "Of course he preaches and believes in the cross of Christ". Osteen supporters would be quite happy with Mohler's article because they know that their Joel is doing all these things - even though it is obvious that what Osteen supporters think "preaching the gospel" is and what Osteen opponents think it is are actually quite different.
During the Osteen controversy at Michael Spencer's site, quite a number of Osteen supporters turned up on the comments thread and said wonderful things about him and how he preaches the gospel and everything, while at the same time not engaging with the details of Michael's arguments against him. The Osteenie-boppers, who do not really understand what "preaching the gospel" is, would not see in Mohler's words any implicit condemnation at all. If Mohler was making a criticism, his choice of words was woefully inarticulate.
In short - when confronted with Mohler's last paragraph from his blog, Osteen supporters would feel vindicated and supported. Mohler is not criticising their Joel. He is, through the use of rhetorical questions, implying that Joel is okay.
3. Mohler says something about Osteen.
And what of those who don't know much about Osteen? Well, since Mohler isn't exactly condemning Osteen in his article, ignorant readers may just conclude that the "MSM" is going overboard and indulging in typical Christian-bashing without checking the real facts - which are, of course, whether Osteen preaches the truth or not. Mohler hardly encourages these ignorant readers to make these checks themselves.
If there is any example of postmodernism infecting the church, Mohler's last paragraph is a good one to use. Osteen critics see Mohler being critical of Osteen, Osteen supporters see Mohler being supportive of Osteen. It depends upon who the audience is and what their presuppositions are to determine the meaning of the text. In this sense, Mohler's article is a wonderful example of "the death of the author" in action.
What is lacking in Mohler's article is his explicit support or rejection of Osteen and his teaching. He's happy to excoriate and expose the "works of Satan" in such areas as homosexuality, abortion, socialism and the Democratic Party, but when it is absolutely clear that Satan is also working through the evangelical church via the false teaching associated with prosperity theology, Mohler writes a piece that is as compromising as they come. Why?
I think the reason is because of his close ties to "Focus on the Family" (he's a board member). Osteen and his church, while indulging in the false teaching of prosperity theology, are nevertheless part of the evangelical mainstream. Osteen's followers and fans are probably numbered in the millions. If Al Mohler came out and slammed Osteen for his teaching, FOTF may incur the wrath of millions of Osteenie-boppers. It's hardly likely that Osteen would respond to Mohler's criticisms by admitting his sin, repenting and then preaching expository sermons for the rest of his ministry career. A Mohler/Osteen fight would be a battle between two evangelical heavyweights - both exuding power and influence over millions of Americans. It would be a contest that would confuse many and could possibly split the evangelical movement.
So, for the sake of appearing unified, Mohler writes a blog article that says nothing, that is written in such an expert, postmodern way that Roland Barthes himself would love it.
But this is not what Mohler should have done. He should have been courageous and boldly spoken the truth. He should have written a blog article that rips apart Osteen's teachings and exposed them for the falsehoods they are. But he didn't. He chose to be political. He chose to shut his mouth, keep his head down and follow the party line. Mohler has decided that evangelical unity is far more important than standing up for the truth.
I have criticised Mohler many times in this blog. Apart from this recent debacle, Mohler appears more than willing to compromise rather than come out for Biblical truth, even when it goes against the grain. One example of this is his unbiblical stance on the consumption of alcohol. Another example is his support for the use of torture.
So here's an evangelical leader who thinks alcohol is evil, torture is okay, and that prosperity theology is not a serious problem.
Enough is enough. Mohler should repent, resign from ministry, and retire.
© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
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