Heaven And Breakable Lines

ABC rebroadcast a Barbara Walters special about heaven the other day. In her research she questioned a number of people from various religious persuasions–the Dalai Lama, an Imam, a Rabbi, a Cardinal, a Mormon (who adamantly said Mormons are Christians), a pastor of an inner city Baptist church, and Joel Osteen, apparently the “conservative Evangelical” representative.

One reviewer’s remarks about Mr. Osteen:

A slicker preacher I’ve yet to find. He totally preaches the prosperity gospel, and does not even begin to be a true Man of God as he admits himself that he avoids anything controversial in his sermons. That man is gonna have a lot of explaining to do with the Lord one of these days.

That person is more tactful than I am. The only word that came to my mind after listening to Mr. Osteen was smarmy. He seemed ingratiating, mostly concerned about not stepping on anyone’s toes, and happiest when he could talk about prosperity. So when Barbara Walters came right out and asked him if he believed Jesus was the only way to heaven, he seemed genuinely apologetic that yes, believing in Jesus was the only way.

How sad! Christ and God’s promise of eternal life is not something to apologize for!

If I could explain it to Barbara Walters, I’d use a word picture.

Suppose you fell into a swift river. You’re being swept along toward a waterfall that will surely mean your death. A rescue boat reaches you and wants to throw you a line.

“Not that one,” you call. “Throw me the pretty orange one or that fluffy cotton one.”

“Those won’t hold your weight,” the skipper answers. “You need this solid line.”

“But it will be too rough on my hands. Throw me something that won’t hurt so much.”

“This is the only one that is strong enough. Here.” And he heaves the rope toward you.

“Never mind,” you say. “I see a branch sticking out of the water. I’ll grab that and hold on until someone throws me a better rope.”

“That branch is attached to a log headed for the waterfall, same as you.”

“Better then that prickly old rope.”

Please, Barbara, I’d conclude, understand that Christians don’t say Jesus is the only way to heaven because we’re being spiteful, exclusive, or judgmental. We say He’s the only way because nothing else solves our sin problem. All of us. With the sin problem. In need of a way to salvation.

Sadly, Mr. Osteen had a chance to declare before a national television audience the great love of God who sent His Son to rescue sinners who have no other means out of the destruction we face, and all he could say was, I’m afraid He’s the only way.

I wish Barbara had interviewed someone who had actually asked the very questions she was addressing, from a similar perspective. Lee Strobel, the author of The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, comes to mind. He actually was a an investigative reporter, an atheist, and he made the decision to dig out the facts about the claims of Christ in the same way he’d go after any other subject he wanted to uncover.

The result was inescapable truth that led Mr. Strobel to faith in the One Way Mr. Osteen was so hesitant to discuss.

A High View of God

One of my criticisms of The Shack by William P. Young was that it portrays God as less than Who He is. The god of the shack is Nanny-god, regular-Joe god, or ethereal-sister god, but not the High and Holy God revealed in Scripture.

Sadly, others professing the name of Christ also have a low, though different, view of God. I’m thinking particularly of the name-it-and-claim-it crowd that rally around such works as Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now or Become a Better You. I found it interesting that one of the main criticisms in the Publishers Weekly review of Best Life was this issue of how the book portrays God:

Many Christian readers will undoubtedly be put off by the book’s shallow name-it-and-claim-it theology; although the first chapter claims that “we serve the God that created the universe,” the book as a rule suggests the reverse: it’s a treatise on how to get God to serve the demands of self-centered individuals. … Theologically, its materialism and superficial portrayal of God as the granter of earthly wishes will alienate many Christian readers who can imagine a much bigger God. (emphasis mine, here and in the following quotes)

This skewering of who God is evidently is not new. A.W. Tozer wrote about a growing low view of God within the church back in 1961 in his book The Knowledge of the Holy. Today his words seem prophetic:

The message of this book … is called forth by a condition which has existed in the Church for some years and is steadily growing worse. I refer to the loss of the concept of majesty from the popular religious mind. The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. (p. 6)

What I find particularly interesting is what Mr. Tozer identified as the effects of a low view of God:

With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. (p. 6)

Ironic. Mr. Young claims that Man’s greatest need is relationship with God, but by stripping God of His awe, of His justice, of His holiness, he is putting forth ideas that countermand the very thing he advocates.

Mr. Tozer goes on to say

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us … Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. (p. 9)

How important, then, that we look at God’s revelation of Himself rather than at some men’s imaginings of Him, be they hopeful and entertaining or not.

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