Hans Fiene takes down the Osteens

You may know of Pastor Hans Fiene from his uproariously funny and theologically profound Lutheran Satire videos.  He now has another forum, The Federalist, in which he has published the definitive critique of mega-pastor Joel Osteen.  His wife has created an uproar for saying that worship should be about our happiness rather than God’s glory.  But, says Pastor Fiene, the Osteens have said so much worse. [Read more...]

Scandals at the biggest Christian TV network

Christianity has a presence on television.  Unfortunately, its presence come from Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), a forum that presents a schlocky and embarrassing version of Christianity, its programming consisting mostly of “prosperity gospel” preachers.  It’s interesting how such ventures are so often accompanied by overt corruption and scandal.  From World Magazine:

A $50 million jet. Chauffeurs. Mansions in California and Florida. Clandestine affairs. Crimes and cover-up. Even a $100,000 motor home for the pet dog.

These are just a few of the allegations directed against the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and its directors in a pair of lawsuits filed in February by former employees of the nation’s largest Christian broadcasting network.

The first lawsuit, filed on Feb. 1 in U.S. District Court in California, contains charges by Brittany Koper, the former chief financial officer of TBN and the granddaughter of founders Paul and Janice Crouch. Her lawsuit is not against TBN but against Davert & Loe, one of TBN’s law firms. Koper’s suit says she discovered illegal activities when she became head of finance. Among the alleged activities: “the unlawful distribution of the TBN Companies’ charitable assets to Trinity Broadcasting’s directors,” some of whom are Crouch family members. The suit says “these unlawful financial transactions” exceed $50 million.

She took that information to Davert & Loe, seeking legal advice. The firm “acknowledged that the conduct in question was unlawful but nevertheless advised … Ms. Koper to perform and cover up such unlawful activities,” according to the lawsuit. The suit also says lawyers in the firm harassed her sexually. She seeks more than $500,000 in damages.

The other lawsuit is against Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, one of TBN’s corporate entities, as well as other TBN entities and Davert & Loe. Joseph McVeigh, Koper’s uncle, says TBN sued him in retaliation against Koper. A judge dismissed TBN’s claims against McVeigh, who now seeks legal fees and “punitive and exemplary damages.”

Both lawsuits paint a sordid picture of TBN, including allegations that Janice Crouch had an “affair with a staff member at the Holy Land Experience,” a TBN-owned amusement park in Florida. The suit also accuses Matthew Crouch, a TBN director and the son of Paul and Janice Crouch, of sexual and financial misconduct. Koper’s suit said that Matthew Crouch brought a gun to one meeting. He “began tapping the firearm … and asked Ms. Koper what she thought would happen [if] she wrote a memo to the board critical of Matthew Crouch’s financial improprieties.”

via WORLDmag.com | TBN again | Warren Cole Smith | Apr 07, 12.

Top religious developments of 2010

What do you think were the major developments in the world of religion for 2010?  I think we can do better than the lists from religious journalists that I’ve seen.  Look not only for events but also for trends that came into view in the preceding year but that might have a longer lasting effect.

I’ll go first:

–With the election of Matthew Harrison to the presidency, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod made a U-turn in direction, from a church body that officially wanted to emulate the rest of American Christianity to a church body that other American Christians may want to emulate.  The new president stands on the Lutheran confessional distinctives without being insular, and pushing the denomination in a winsome, compassionate, internationally-engaged direction.

–Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral went bankrupt.  Other positive-thinking, prosperity gospel ministries and believers ran up against the economic collapse.   Does this herald the end of that particular heresy?  Does it herald the decline of the megachurch?

Heresy in the Prosperity Gospel Movement

To add to this week’s posts on the Prosperity Gospel. . . .There is a lot of heresy in the Prosperity Gospel Movement, but that strain is facing challenges from within its own circles, from preachers who are now emphasizing saving money instead of ostentatious spending. From Prosperity gospel faces challenge: frugal savers :

For 40 years, the Rev. Charles Cowan has been preaching that God wants Christians to prosper. So he's not about to change the message, no matter how bad the economy looks.

That includes telling his followers that if they are faithful in giving to the church, God will reward them financially.

"We want to be sure that we are taking care of honoring God, because his Word tells us that if we honor him, he will honor us," said Cowan, pastor of nondenominational Faith is the Victory Church in Nashville.

Despite the economic downturn, the prosperity gospel remains alive and well. Pastors like Cowan or televangelists like the Rev. Creflo Dollar and the Rev. Kenneth Copeland continue to promise that financial blessings will follow donations to their ministries.

But it faces a challenge from a new austerity gospel, which says God blesses those who work hard, save their money and pay off their debts.

The article goes on, detailing the controversy within the movement.

Both sides, of course, are still in the same conceptual error, making the gospel and faith a matter of MONEY, in direct contradiction to Scripture. Again, we have a theology of glory vs. the theology of the cross. I can’t understand why the real Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners is not enough for anyone.

Also, I have heard that much of the growth of Christianity in the developing world is of the Prosperity Gospel variety. Is that right? If so, we may be seeing the rise of a new religion rather than the advancement of the real Gospel.

The Prosperity Gospel and the Megachurches

In her article Did Christianity Cause the Crash? – The Atlantic (December 2009), Hanna Rosin points to the connection between the “prosperity gospel,” which teaches that God will make you rich if you only have enough faith–by which is meant positive thinking–and America’s megachurches:

Among mainstream, nondenominational megachurches, where much of American religious life takes place, “prosperity is proliferating” rapidly, says Kate Bowler, a doctoral candidate at Duke University and an expert in the gospel. Few, if any, of these churches have prosperity in their title or mission statement, but Bowler has analyzed their sermons and teachings. Of the nation’s 12 largest churches, she says, three are prosperity—Osteen’s, which dwarfs all the other megachurches; Tommy Barnett’s, in Phoenix; and T. D. Jakes’s, in Dallas. In second-tier churches—those with about 5,000 members—the prosperity gospel dominates. Overall, Bowler classifies 50 of the largest 260 churches in the U.S. as prosperity. The doctrine has become popular with Americans of every background and ethnicity; overall, Pew found that 66 percent of all Pentecostals and 43 percent of “other Christians”—a category comprising roughly half of all respondents—believe that wealth will be granted to the faithful. It’s an upbeat theology, argues Barbara Ehrenreich in her new book, Bright-Sided, that has much in common with the kind of “positive thinking” that has come to dominate America’s boardrooms and, indeed, its entire culture.

It seems clear to me that, unless I am missing something, the prosperity gospel is a different gospel than that taught in Scripture–namely, Christ crucified for sinners–and that it constitutes a new religion, and not Christianity at all. (Am I wrong? I’d be glad to hear otherwise.)

This seems to be largely a phenomenon among African-Americans, Hispanics, and poor people in general who get caught up in big dreams sold to them by their preachers. Does anyone know if it has penetrated to the white suburban megachurches? (Rick Warren, for one, condemns the teaching.) Does it show up (I shudder to think) in any Lutheran churches?

Those Christians caused the economy to crash!

Throughout history, societies facing a crisis have blamed unpopular minority groups, turning them into scapegoats. Jews were the frequent victims. Now, The Atlantic Magazine publishes an article entitled Did Christianity Cause the Crash?.

The thesis is that all of the believers in the “prosperity gospel” were encouraged by their megachurches to take big risks that brought the economy down. The author cites lots of poor people who testified about how God gave them a house, even though they had no money and bad credit.

There may be a point here about the churches in poor communities. But the prosperity gospel is so alien to any kind of orthodox Christianity that to say “Christianity caused the crash” is surely guilt by association, scapegoating a religion by citing people who really don’t follow it.

Still, the article is an interesting window into the prosperity gospel phenomenon. I’ll blog more on that tomorrow.

HT: Jackie


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