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…


  1. Esdraelon on September 4, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Joel Osteen only attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma for a two year period without receiving a degree. Now something doesn’t seem quite right about this. Why can a man with virtually no higher level training in religious matters or Bible studies waltz onto a stage in hundreds of stadiums and speak on the matter? Why does a man with no qualifications have such a great following? (Osteen receives around seven million viewers world wide through his televised sermons.) I’m not entirely sure whether or not I feel comfortable with someone preaching the word of God, if they don’t know the word of God.

    Osteen does not preach about sin, he preaches about God’s ‘goodness’, failing to note that God is also a God of righteousness and judgement.Everyone wants the ‘feel good’ message by a ‘feel good’ ‘pastor’ leaving leaving out the reality of sin. Osteen obviously feels he is doing Gods work, but personally I feel one should weigh in the balance his message as pertaining to those he ‘reaches’ and those he ‘deceives’ (which is basically all of them) who never receive the ‘true’ message of the Word of God. Personally I believe , all things considered, he is doing the work of Satan. His ‘lie’ is to preach only a ‘feel good’ motivational message while leaving out the true message of Calvary.

    • Byron on September 4, 2012 at 7:34 pm

      I would only add that, while none of us can claim to “know the Word completely”–or anything close to it, IMHO–I am entirely sure how I feel about someone such as Osteen preaching it (and it isn’t “comfortable”!).

  2. Shane Ryans on September 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Thanks for the great review and suggestion i will check it out.

  3. Billy Birch on September 18, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Thank you so much for informing us! I had no idea. I will be praying. Though I never comment here, I read you faithfully. So I took this time out to comment. God bless.

  4. Billy Birch on September 18, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    I placed the above comment in the wrong post. I’m sorry. This belonged to the Warren Throckmorton request for prayer.

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