“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us,” wrote A.W. Tozer over half a century ago in chapter one of his book, The Knowledge of the Holy. A right view of God is necessary not only for systematic theology but also for practical Christian living.
But in many places, the true concept of the holiness and majesty of God has been substituted for such a low view of God that, to quote Tozer, “it is utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men.” Exhibit A: Victoria Osteen’s words from her recent talk at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas…
"I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we're not doing it for God—I mean, that's one way to look at it—we're doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we're happy. That's the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God really. You're doing it for yourself, because that's what makes God happy. Amen?" (The congregation applauds.)
Social media was abuzz recently with a video clip of the above quote that ended with Bill Cosby saying: “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Not only is Osteen’s theology incorrect, it’s impractical. It doesn’t make sense of the despair we see in the Psalms, in Lamentations, or in the suffering of the Apostle Paul. One wonders how Christians today whose lives are marked by deep suffering, tragedy, or persecution for their faith could apply Victoria Osteen’s words.
How would you respond to a God like Osteen describes if you were a Christian dying of cancer, or you just went through a miscarriage, or your 16-month-old child just drowned? You’d want to spit in face of such a God. Only when we have met the biblical God, can we truly grieve and bear the unhappy aspects of life in a fallen world as He walks through those dark times with us (e.g. 2 Cor. 1:1-11).
Bible professor and author, Daniel Wallace, responded to Victoria Osteen's statement with deep concern that her view is the symptom of a much larger problem:
"Some of the most blatant narcissistic blather ever to come from a pulpit can also be laid at their [the Osteens'] feet. Not only narcissistic, but also blasphemous. One has to wonder how a megachurch in the buckle of the Bible belt can go on and on without the congregants waking up and smelling what’s being shoveled in their direction. If Lakewood Church is any indication of the biblical literacy, genuine devotion to Christ, and fellowship of the saints of the American evangelical church, we are in serious trouble."
"The evangelical church in America needs corporate self-reflection and corporate repentance. How we treat one another, how we honor God, what our understanding of and commitment to the gospel is, and how we measure true success all need a serious overhaul. The root problem seems to be twofold: the marginalization of the word of God and the ‘buddyization’ of Jesus Christ."
Your turn: What do you think of Victoria Osteen’s view of God? Is your happiness what 'gives Him the greatest joy?'
Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com