Christianity Today has an interview with Ron Sider that should be required reading for everyone who identifies him or herself as an evangelical Christian. Sider has for thirty years or more been calling Christians to live lives consistent with the Gospel, to eschew the materialistic excess of our culture, to care for the poor, and to share in each other's sufferings. The CT interview is well worth reading.
By contrast, I'm currently reading Joel Osteen's best-seller Your Best Life Now, and although I don't question Osteen's sincerity, and I certainly don't question his success (He's taken a church from 7000 members to close to 30,000 in about six years, if that's a measure of success), I really wonder whether his concept of God's will for our lives is accurate. According to Osteen God wants us to be materially successful and wealthy and He yearns to shower us with miracles great and small. Osteen believes that being aware of "God's favor" confers some special status on us that gives the believer who is conscious of it a sort of immunity to troubles which afflict those who fail to claim God's favor. Osteen seems to claim a special skill at divining the mind of God, insisting several times on every page that he knows what God wants, thinks, wishes, wills, and is going to do for those who claim His favor.
I have a difficult time accepting all of this. I don't know that God particularly wants us to be wealthy so much as that we be faithful. There's no Biblical precedent for thinking that wealth should come with one's status as a child of God, but there is Biblical warrant for expecting that persecution and other afflictions will beset us.
Nor do I think God summons up supernatural interventions to secure for us a parking space at the mall, as Osteen informs us God did for him. How must Osteen's claim that God answered his prayer for a parking space sound to a mother who has prayed her eyes out for a dying child to be made well only to have God not grant the request? Miracles are not trivial events dispensed by God like candy thrown from the divine carriage to poor waifs in the street. They are momentous and purposeful, at least those recorded in the New Testament are, and we have no reason to think that God works miracles more promiscuously today than He did then.
Osteen is surely correct in urging us to maintain a positive outlook on life, but his theology would be alien to people like Dietrich Bonhoffer who wrote The Cost of Discipleship, his portrayal of the Christian life seems coarsely materialistic, and he makes God, whether intentionally or not, into a cosmic Santa Claus.
Ron Sider seems to us a much more authentic voice on the matter of how Christians should live their lives. We recommend him to our readers.