Andrew Sullivan points toward a Time Magazine covery story on the so-called "Prosperity Gospel" movement. Here's a sample:
Osteen's relentlessly upbeat television sermons had helped Adams, 49, get through the hard times, and now Adams was expecting the smiling, Texas-twanged 43-year-old to help boost him back toward success. And Osteen did. Inspired by the preacher's insistence that one of God's top priorities is to shower blessings on Christians in this lifetime--and by the corollary assumption that one of the worst things a person can do is to expect anything less--Adams marched into Gullo Ford in Conroe looking for work. He didn't have entry-level aspirations: "God has showed me that he doesn't want me to be a run-of-the-mill person," he explains. He demanded to know what the dealership's top salesmen made--and got the job. Banishing all doubt--"You can't sell a $40,000-to-$50,000 car with menial thoughts"--Adams took four days to retail his first vehicle, a Ford F-150 Lariat with leather interior. He knew that many fellow salesmen don't notch their first score until their second week. "Right now, I'm above average!" he exclaims. "It's a new day God has given me! I'm on my way to a six-figure income!" The sales commission will help with this month's rent, but Adams hates renting. Once that six-figure income has been rolling in for a while, he will buy his dream house: "Twenty-five acres," he says. "And three bedrooms. We're going to have a schoolhouse (his children are home schooled). We want horses and ponies for the boys, so a horse barn. And a pond. And maybe some cattle."
"I'm dreaming big--because all of heaven is dreaming big," Adams continues. "Jesus died for our sins. That was the best gift God could give us," he says. "But we have something else. Because I want to follow Jesus and do what he ordained, God wants to support us. It's Joel Osteen's ministry that told me. Why would an awesome and mighty God want anything less for his children?"
This is a truly mind-boggling perversion of the message of the Gospel, and in fact turns the entire notion of Christian love on its head. Whereas Augustine said that the essence of sin was the human person turned in upon him or herself, Osteen's version of Christianity is all about turning inward on ourselves. Sullivan, who again, is right so often that I don't understand how he can be wrong so often, writes this:
There are few messages more obvious in the Gospels than a disregard for the biological family and a rejection of earthly wealth. Jesus says nothing about abortion or homosexuality, but he is quite clear about abandoning your spouse, parents and children and divesting yourself of all worldly goods. These are terribly difficult doctrines; and few of us who call ourselves Christians are able to live by them. But most Christians have at least not deceived themselves into thinking that the Gospels are actually about family life above everything and wealth as a critical element of Christian life. Until now. The Prosperity Gospel is one of the greatest blasphemies against the message of Jesus - but it is increasingly a part of the American "Christian" landscape. After all, why lambaste the wealth your congregants crave when you can demonize the minorities outside? This Time cover-story is chilling about what has happened to Christianity in some parts of the country. Just dont expect the religious right to criticize it.