More Wisdom from a Dead Guy: Richard Niebuhr on "Osteenism"
Whenever I see a book referred to repeatedly by other authors I’m reading, I’m usually intrigued to read it for myself. This had yielded mixed results: the book Idols for Destruction, by Herbert Schlossberg, is one such book; after seeing it referenced in so many things I was reading a few years back, I read it for myself, and it has become one of my favorite books of all-time. Conversely, I was reading a lot of folks who quoted Lesslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, and I didn’t even finish it; it just didn’t resonate with me, at least what I read, nearly as well. But yet, I soldiered on, which led me to Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, a “Christian classic”, I suppose. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m nearly done, and it certainly is a masterful tome. Niebuhr is a theological scholar, of a class not generally given to great mirth, but one particular portion, which I reproduce below, both had me howling and at the same time thinking of “Osteenism”, which, if you need more definition, you haven’t been reading my blog very long. Without further ado, I give you Richard Niebuhr, speaking of how professing Christians (and this was 1951, mind you) had devolved a popular vein of “Christian faith” into:
“…banal, Pelagian theurgisms in which me were concerned with the symptoms of sin, not its roots, and thought it possible to channel the grace and power of God into the canals they engineered…(leading to) the psychological mechanics of a shabby revivalism, with its mass production of renovated souls, and the sociological science of that part of the social gospel which expected to change prodigal mankind by improving the quality of the husks served in the pigsty.”
Or, by writing books like Your Best Life Now, one supposes…