I was not planning to write about this since discussing the Osteens is like mistaking Bill O’Reilly for Michael Oakeshott. But I am intrigued by the experimental Calvinist response to Pastorette Osteen’s remarks on the importance of experiencing happiness in worship. The issue is conceivably whether we pit God’s glory with our experience in worship. And sure enough, the experimental Calvinists echo Pastorette Osteen. Ligon Duncan reminds us that even the famous first answer of the Shorter Catechism (an experimental Calvinist product) combines God’s glory with our enjoyment:
The Reformed steadfastly affirm that the fundamental purpose of human existence is God’s glory, but we refuse to pit God’s glory and human happiness against one another (as Ms. Osteen, perhaps unwittingly does in her misguided exhortation). The very first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism gets at this. “What is man’s chief end?,” it asks. The resounding answer is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” In other words, our chief and highest purpose, goal and end in life is God’s glory. That is what we live for. Whereas many of our contemporaries think that God is the chief means to our highest end (happiness), the Reformed do not believe that God is a means to an end, he is The End. He is the reason and aspiration for which we exist. There is no ultimate happiness and satisfaction and fulfillment and joy apart from him.
BUT, the Reformed do not believe that God’s glory and our joy stand in opposition. We do not believe that those two things are in contradiction. Indeed, we believe that they are inseparable. The Reformed believe that it is impossible to pursue God’s glory without our own souls being blessed with everlasting good. We think that our fullest joy cannot be realized or experienced apart from the pursuit of God’s glory.
That is John Piper’s cue:
Christian Hedonism teaches that all true virtue must have in it a certain gladness of heart. Therefore the pursuit of virtue must be in some measure a pursuit of happiness. And the happiness, which makes up an essential part of all virtue, is the enjoyment of the presence and the promotion of the glory of God. Therefore, if we try to deny or mortify or abandon the impulse to pursue this hapiness, we set ourselves against the good of man and the glory of God. Rather we should seek to stir up our desire for this delight until it is white hot and insatiable on the earth.
And then Piper chimes in with Edwards:
Self-love, taken in the most extensive sense, and love to God are not things properly capable of being compared one with another; for they are not opposites or things entirely distinct, but one enters into the nature of the other. . . Self-love is only a capacity of enjoying or taking delight in anything. Now surely ’tis improper to say that our love to God is superior to our general capacity of delighting in anything. (Miscellanies, #530, p.202)
I am not saying that Piper, Duncan, and Edwards are wrong because they echo Pastorette Osteen. But it is striking to see how many people reacted negatively (Christian and not) to Osteen’s video and how experimental Calvinists are less inclined to pounce.
Now in the world of Reformed Protestant objections to Lutheranism, it is also striking to see how the funny Lutheran guy (thanks to our New Jerusalem correspondent) responds to the Osteen comment:
In their sermons and books, both Joel and Victoria Osteen give full-throated endorsement to the prosperity gospel, a theology which states that those enduring hardships, poverty, and sickness have only their lack of faith and confidence to blame for their suffering. There are, of course, some enormous theological problems with this Christianized version of “The Secret,” where you obtain God’s blessings by speaking them into existence. The first is that it has no basis in the Scriptures and conveniently ignores all of the words that Jesus speaks about the question of suffering, the cost of discipleship, and the blessedness of persecution. The second is that it offers nothing but despair to those who are faithfully enduring the crosses Christ has given them to bear. And the third is that such a doctrine simply doesn’t square with the lives of those who were the first to tell us about God’s blessings in Christ (self-promotion alert).
So is it bad for Victoria Osteen to encourage us to think of God as the “Treat Yo Self” Tom Haverford to our name-it-and-claim-it Donna Meagle? Most definitely. But surely it’s a few notches lower on the pole of theological indefensibility than speaking words that, one, say the exact opposite of what the Bible says; two, belittle suffering Christians with the insensitivity a man horking down a hot fudge sundae three inches from the face of a starving child; and, three, imply that St. Peter, St. Paul, and even Jesus Himself must have been really lousy Christians who couldn’t unlock God’s potential blessings.
In other words, the funny Lutheran guy sees here a version of the prosperity gospel. And so my point is whether we should see the prosperity gospel also at work in experimental Calvinism — as in the happier, the more you’re experiencing God’s presence, or the more holy you are, the more pious and spiritually successful you are. And lo and behold, along comes Mark Jones to confirm the point:
I am of the view that powerful preaching, by a minister who labours week-in, week-out, with his flock has a strong correlation to his own godliness. I think Robert Murray M’Cheyne was right to say, “a holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” A man who has been broken – who really does preach with “fear and trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3) – is a man people will listen to week-in, week-out. There’s a reason God “breaks” his servants: he wants them to preach as broken men, not as those who strut around like peacocks. There’s a reason old, seasoned ministers have a massive advantage over young ministers. And it’s a good reason – they speak with a type of wisdom that comes from many years of ministry. Personally, I rarely listen to preachers under the age of 45 – with apologies to my friends who are ministers under 45 (you know who you are).
In 1 Timothy 4:16 Paul writes the following to Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
A plain reading of the text leaves us with little doubt that personal holiness and perseverance in holiness are means (along with teaching true doctrine) that God uses in the salvation and sanctification of Christ’s bride. What a thought, for ministers, that watching ourselves and our teaching has eternal consequences for us and our people. That’s why, if you desire to be a minister, you’re either called or mad, though hopefully not both!
And there you have it — making the world safe for celebrity pastors (how else do we explain their success or their joy?).