Review of critical facts is often the most important aspect of learning, and learning is what separates competent people from the incompetent.  With that in mind, here are two important facts we’ve learned this week.

1.  We learned that we should never take nude pictures of ourselves on our smartphone.

These pictures will inevitably end up published by thieves and criminals.  We all agree, I think, that these thieves and criminals should be punished to the furthest extent of the law.  I actually would go one step further.  People who view these images on the internet are, in comparison, the same as people who knowingly buy stolen parts for their car at a chop shop.  So, some level of prosecution should go out to these people.  If the feds will go after teenagers who download illegal music, why not go after people who go search out illegally obtained pictures.  These photos are stolen goods, and should be treated accordingly.

However, once the damage is done, once people have seen your southern zones, you can’t put that genie back in the bottle.

Jennifer Lawrence has a right to privacy.
Jennifer Lawrence has a right to privacy.

If you must take naked pictures of yourself (which I strongly recommend against) use an old fashioned Polaroid and hide them in your sock drawer.  Greenbean promises that you’ll never find nude pictures of him on the internet.  Never.


2.  We learned that Joel and Victoria Osteen are not theologians.

This really is not news.  However, Victoria highlighted that fact a bit when a video surfaced of her saying this:

When we obey God, we’re not doing it for God…we’re doing it for ourself. Because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. Do good ’cause 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.

Okay, give me a moment to take off the cool Panama Jack hat I’m wearing right now and replace it with the theologian hat.  Good, now I can think straight.  Let’s analyze what is wrong with her statement.  First, she implies that somehow our behavior makes God happy.  The reverse of this would be that our behavior can make God sad.  This kind of talk about the Lord borders on tribal religion where the key task is to determine if the Almighty Reese’s Pieces God is happy today or if we need to appease his unhappiness with libations of milk and offerings of peanut butter.   Is God happy today or sad today?  Let’s find out?  Who brought the holy coconut?

Proper Christian theology teaches us that the Lord exists in perfect trinitarian community:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Scriptures teach us that the Lord becomes angry at some actions and delights in others, however it is never implied that he is sitting around in Heaven waiting for us to make him happy, as if his happiness depended upon us.

If God is waiting for us to make him happy, then his existence is likely the saddest in all of creation.

The second mistake she makes is that she puts human beings at the center of the worship expression.  That is beyond wrong.  However, it would be difficult to argue that most American Christians practice anything other than a worship experience that ‘makes me happy.’  So, though wrong, Osteen has plenty of company in her idolatrous doctrine of human-centric worship.

Now, here is the twist to what we learned this week.  Osteen, for all her failings, is actually tip-toeing up to something important.  Our lives are happier, better, more enriched when when we follow the Lord and live according to his ways.  I have argued for years that even if there were no such thing as the supernatural, no eternal life, and no spiritual joy, I would still preach that the Jesus way of life is the best way of life because it is.

That doesn’t minimize the supernatural or argue against the power of God or eternity, but it speaks to the power of the ethics and pathos in the life of a Christ-follower.  It would have been better if Osteen had said it that way, because that might have been what she kind of intended.  However, she didn’t, because, neither she nor her husband have taken the time to learn from people smarter than them about actual theology.  They’ve been too busy making an empire and playing a role–the role of superstar celebrity.



image from cinemablend.com


Earlier this week I tweeted (yeah, I Twitter; @jamiedgreening) that I was reading the book A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church by Warren Cole Smith.   Almost immediately a pastor friend of mine asked me to write a review of it when I was finished.

Smith’s premise can best be summarized from a brief sentence near the end of book.  He writes:

In fact, it is unfortunate that perhaps the most apt metaphor for the megachurch’s relationship to the body of Christ is that of the cancerous tumor; as it grows, it kills the body. (p. 216).


This one sentence encapsulates the gist of Smith’s complaint.  He has come to believe that megachurches and the people who lead them are doing great harm to the overall church in the United States.  I thought it would be impossible to find someone who was more cynical of the church-growth movement than I am, but I was wrong.  The deeper I got into the book I decided it should have been titled Why I Hate Megachurches.  Smith is a reporter, not a pastor or theologian and he goes at his work with the kind of fervor that an investigative journalist might go after a story about faulty car seats for infants or tainted milk in school cafeterias.  One gets the feeling that a certain glee at the “Aha, I got you,” came over his face as he put the book together. 

I have to admit I like his style.  He does not hold back names or direct accusations.  He goes after all the big named people:  Joel Osteen, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren.  In fact, he accuses Rick Warren of downright lying and Billy Graham of heresy in salvation theology.  Smith even goes after dead people, devoting a large amount of print to attacks on Finney.  The best parts of his book are when he is outlying the theological weakness of most of Protestantism right now and how quickly we buy into faddish things.

The book is not for the squeamish.  Smith very capability surveys broad scopes of history, theology, and business.  In fact, the “Christian-industrial complex” is a favorite topic of his.  Perhaps his best chapter covers the Christian music industry and how it has taken something that is free, worship, and added a price tag to it.  I liked that chapter.

The thing about Warren Smith is that he is interesting.  Whether or not you agree with his premises or his complaints his writing is engaging.  Sometimes I agreed with him, and sometimes I wanted to immediately send him an email in refutation.  I particularly felt this way over his continued insistence that a Calvinist approach is the only real sustainable theological way of doing church.  I am a non-Calvinist yet I still agree with much of what he says.  Not all, but much.  However, he kept me engaged and that really is all I ask of writer.  It is so boring to just agree with everything.

The book was written in 2008, which means it is a little dated.  However, not much has changed in the Evangelical world since he wrote.  However, much of what he laments are already being addressed by myriad people.  For example, much of his sentiment is captured in Eugene Peterson’s recent memoir The Pastor.  Many of us have begun to get the feeling and sense that the way we’ve been doing church for the past 50 years has failed.  The system is broken.  We do not have more Christians than we used to have and the a majority of those following Christ today are not as theologically, biblically and morally sound as believers were in the past.  Smith’s tone and sensibility resonate with me.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to look critically at the state of Evangelicalism right now.