Twisting God’s word: Forgiveness and the sin nature: Adrian Stanley, Helmut Thielicke, Joel Osteen; and Rabbi Hirsch to the rescue

 

Many modern preachers attempt an “original” twist to a biblical passage and in so doing twist the original meaning. They feel the need to please themselves and their audience. And they – preachers and audience – adore it because it’s all about “you.” Truth be told, the Bible is about God in Christ, not about you. It’s often difficult to tell whether these preachers/pastors know or care to know what the original says.

I examine a few mutilations of God’s word where i focus on forgiveness and the sin nature of the human race. I examine three Christian views: Adrian Stanley, Helmut Thielecke and Joel Osteen followed by the Jewish view of Rabbi Hirsch, which puts these Christians to shame.

Adrian Stanley

Adrian Stanley uses the word “leverage” to describe to “forgive” sin. The verb “leverage” has the metaphorical meaning of “to exert power or influence.” In the second video of the Louie Giglio series “God is so great,” Andy Stanley says the following: ” “He will have leveraged your sin for his glory’s sake. He (God) will not be undone.” This means, according to the dictionary definition of “leverage,” that God will have exerted a power or influence over a person’s sin for His glory.

Stanley uses the term “leverage” repeatedly.

As creatures, Andy Stanley says, who were created with more potential to reflect His glory than anything else in creation, it is our role, it is our duty, it is our opportunity to reflect the Glory of God who invites us to call Him ‘Father’” even as a race who has abused the privilege of our freedom. It means that in the middle of your wealth, your pain, of gain of loss… you can ask God ‘how can this be leveraged for your glory.’”

And:

At the end of the day, we can say ‘God, if you can leverage sin for your glory, certainly you can leverage this (my life’s situations), and I make it available to you. It’s for your glory. It is for your glory. It is for your glory.’ And when that happens life begins to make sense, for suddenly we are living our lives in the context of life, which is the glory of God – the Father.”

Stanley continues:

At the end of the day, we can say ‘God, if you can leverage sin for your glory, certainly you can leverage this (my life’s situations), and I make it available to you. It’s for your glory. It is for your glory. It is for your glory.’ And when that happens life begins to make sense, for suddenly we are living our lives in the context of life, which is the glory of God – the Father.” (The “New Model” of Evangelism: Has God also leveraged forgiveness out of his vocabulary? https://onedaringjew.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/the-new-model-of-evangelismhas-god-also-leveraged-forgiveness-out-of-his-vocabulary/). I’m not sure whether “leverage” is intended as a synonym, a euphemism or an evasion.

If God can “leverage” our sin, stern, as Stanley says, he can certainly “leverage” my life for his glory. But why does Stanley not use the very biblical and term “forgive”? Is he catering to his hip sheep? After God forgives people – who, without exception, were previously dead in sin – God promises to “leverage” their lives, that is, believers are his workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). The process of salvation starts with divine grace and has its practical outworking in good works. Ephesians 2:10 describes this process. Here is this verse in context:

Ephesians 2:1-10

1 And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, 2 wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience; 3 among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest:–

4 but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: 7 that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: 8 for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not of works, that no man should glory. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.

Helmut Thielicke (and Philip Yancey)

Helmut Thielicke says (and Philip Yancey, who quotes Thielicke approvingly in his “What is so amazing about Grace,” Zondervan, 1997, p. 175):

When Jesus loved a guilt-laden person and helped him, he saw in him an erring child of God. He saw in him a human being whom his Father loved and grieved over because he was going wrong. He saw him as God originally designed and meant him to be, and therefore he saw through the surface layer of grime and dirt to the real man underneath” (Helmut Thielicke, “Christ and the meaning of life,” Grand Rapids, Baker, 1975, p. 41).

An important question to address in the above paragraph is: “What is the attitude of a “guilt-laden” person toward God. Does it follow that if you feel guilt that you feel more than mere remorse, that you feel repentance? I don’t think so. “Guilt” is the human condition; but, so is pride. Guilt – except in rare conditions such as psychopathy – begets remorse: “I feel, really and honestly, bad about this or that.” But  repentance is a different mental state altogether, namely, its about longing for forgiveness and falling on your knees before a holy God and pleading for mercy. “Woe is me, for I am undone” (Isaiah, 6:5).

When Thielicke speaks of a “person”, and the “man underneath”, he seems to be talking about anybody who feels guilt, which is the whole human race (except possibly psychopaths, and even there we are not sure what they feel). And there lies the problem with Thielicke’s portrait of sinful man.

Thielicke’s Jesus and Thielicke’s human being are not the people described in the Bible. The Bible says the opposite: Jesus did not see “through the surface layer of grime and dirt to the real man underneath,” because the real man underneath was not only superficially grimy, he was filthy. The “real man” of the Bible is totally depraved in his very nature.  Everything in the Bible glorifies God and abases man. God saves men and women not because deep down they are good, but in spite of the fact that deep down they are evil. He chooses to save them – for one reason only: because He wants to. The natural man despises such a God. Many professing Christians do so as well. But that is the God of the Bible. God floods the whole Bible – but not everyone – with mercy, and “I will show mercy to whom I will” (Romans 9:15), and its got nothing to do with you or me.

(See Why do you call me good?)

Joel Osteen

At church service I attended, the preacher began by holding up his Bible and telling us that Joel Osteen holds up his Bible before all his sermons. I blurted out: “Then he puts it down and that’s the last we get of any Bible.” Osteen starts each of his presentations with “I always like to start with something funny,” and after the funny bit and while the audience laughter is still in full throat, he holds up his Bible and says: “This is my Bible. I am what it says I am, I have what it says I have, I can do what it says I can do. Today I’ll be taught the Word of God. I boldly confess my mind is alert, my heart is receptive, I’ll never be the same, in Jesus name.”

Chris Rosebrough (Pirate Christian radio) often airs snippets of Osteen’s “sermons,” which begin with his standard intro. Immediately after the words “Today I’ll be taught the word of God,” Rosebrough interrupts: “No we won’t.” Osteen’s antics are surely among the most flagrant abuses of the Bible he holds up, which he obviously does not hold dear – well, certainly not up on the stage.

One of Osteen’s sermons is called “Programming your mind for victory” (You Tube link). The blurb on You Tube says “Let Joel bring hope to your life in a fresh, new way in this inspiring message that will remind you of God’s restoration power and His divine plan for your life, even in the midst of difficulties and pain. Let this message inspire you that even through difficulties, God has a plan to strengthen and prepare you for an exciting, expansive….”

… eternity? Not a chance in hell.

In this presentation, Osteen uses, predictably, the terms “software,” “hardware” and “virus.” I said earlier that I’m not sure whether Adrien Stanley’s “leverage” is intended as a synonym, a euphemism or an evasion of “forgiveness.” What I am more sure about is that when Osteen uses the terms “hardware,” “software” and “virus,” he not only evades the true picture of fallen man but mutilates it. Here is a transcript of the relevant part of Osteen’s sermon ( aired on Pirate Christian radio) with Rosebrough’s interjections.

Osteen

You can have the best computer ever made but if you put the wrong software in it, it’s not going to function as it was designed. All of us have had to contend with computer viruses. They get into the computer and contaminate the software. They’re slow, you can’t access the files. The hardware is fine, the problem is the software..

Rosebrough

This is the Pelagian heresy. If you were suffering from cancer but didn’t know, went to doctor, he examined. he said take some aspirin and see me next week. The following week, I feel worse. Doctor: “Come in and we’ll do another examination. External. You look fine.” Make an appointment at another doctor. does full examination. you’ve got cancer. if nothing done you could die. a bad diagnosis will result in the wrong treatment. is the reason why there there is so much evil, armies, police officers, sins in our own life . Reason for this is that you were born dead, dead in trespasses and sins. No one is good. Total depravity, original sin. We are born in bondage to sin, to the devil. When it comes to God, No one has free will. It is God who has to unbind us. Ephesians 2:1 – We are by nature children of wrath. not born morally neutral, not good. inherited a broken nature from Adam. Only solution is Jesus. Osteen is going in the direction of denying original sin.

Osteen

“Somehow the inside’s got messed up, now the software is contaminated. In the same way he stepped back and said another masterpiece. , your hardware is perfect, the right size, the right nationality, you have the right gifts. Not only that, God put the right software in you. from the very beginning he programmed you to be healthy, victorious, creative.

Rosebrough

That’s a weird list. focussing on success here and now. but the fruits of the spirit is self-control etc. Osteen is on about earthly success. We are to pursue holiness, take up our cross.

Osteen [my comments in italics]

Your original software says you can do all things through Christ. [Olympic swimmer, brain surgeon, very very rich, never sick?]. He programmed that whatever you touch will prosper and succeed. He programmed the head and not the tail, lend and not borrow, victor and not victim. You were programmed to live an abundant, victorious faith-filled life. that is how your creator designed you [Not you, but Adam – before he fell]. But the reason why we don’t experience this abundant life….

Rosebrough 

…is because we are born dead in trespasses and sins.

Osteen

…..is because we have allowed viruses to contaminate our software. We think, “I’ll never be successful, I’m not that talented,” I’ll never break this addiction, I’ve had it too long….

Rosebrough 

Addiction here is a euphemism; here he is talking about sin.

Osteen

….I’m slow, clumsy, unattractive; nothing good is in my future, because our software is infected, we go around, low self-esteem, not believing for dreams to come to pass….

Rosebrough 

Not believing for dreams to come to pass. Where does the Bible say that?

Osteen

…not expecting anything to turn around. There’s nothing wrong with you….

Rosebrough 

There’s nothing wrong with me! We’re born dead in trespasses in sins.

Osteen

… like a computer, you’re not a mistake. One of the best things we can learn to do is hit the delete button. When negative discouraging thoughts come attempting to contaminate your software, that thought says, “You’ve seen your better days; its all downhill from here. That’s a virus trying to keep you from your destiny. …my software says, ‘the path of the righteous gets brighter and brighter.’

Rosebrough

Whose righteousness are we to pursue? Romans 3 – righteousness comes from God. There is nothing wrong with you according to Osteen. Pelagian. All about the here and the now.

Comment

The term “software” in computer speak refers to information, which is non-physical. “Hardware,” in contrast, refers to the physical device that processes the software. The software-hardware analogy Osteen uses can be confusing. Osteen, I presume, is not contrasting physical with spiritual, but spiritual with spiritual. For Osteen, the spiritual “software” is what you imbibe into your spirit – the grime, the guck, while the spiritual “hardware” is synonymous with God’s blueprint of you; Thielecke’s (above) “God originally designed and meant [you] to be, and therefore he saw through the surface layer of grime and dirt to the real man underneath.” “Flesh” in scripture often refers to fallen human nature:

Romans 8:5-8

5 They that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace: 7 because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: 8 and they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

Osteen captivates but is, at best, not captive to the Word of God. The Bible says:

2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Although we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh 4 (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds), 5 casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

In contrast, Osteen is indeed succeeding in reprogramming the minds of his narcissistic admirers sucking on his infernal lollipops as he leads them down the broad path of destruction. Osteen and his followers have missed the mark, but not the beast.

Rabbi Hirsch

Let a Jew teach Osteen a thing about how to reconcile to God, which Osteen has no clue about.

Open almost any “Introduction to Judaism” book, says Rabbi Hirsch (Can a Reconstructionist Sin?) or consult almost any commentary to the High Holiday mahzor, and one inevitably finds the explanation that the Hebrew word het (sin) means something like “missing the mark” — as if life were no more than a game of darts. Our moral and relational failures receive a soothing bromide of reassurance: We need only try harder next time, with hope that we’ll hit the target more often. The operative concept is that we need to be reassured, rather than reassessed.”

Hirsch continues:

But without first engaging seriously in a deep moral inventory, how can we honestly move forward in life? Without the courage to descend into the depths of our failures, how can we presume to ascend in pursuit of our better self? As the Reconstructionist mahzor states, “reducing sin to the status of an almost inadvertent error hardly seems tenable in the light of our awareness of the horrors of which humans, individually as well as collectively, have proved capable. The concept of sin, in fact, seems more, rather than less, important as we move into the 21st century — not for what it tells us about God, but for what it suggests to us about ourselves.” (My italics). (See Sin in Adam and his descendants and how to reconcile to God: Jewish Orthodox and Jewish Reconstructionist views).

I italicised the phrase: “the horrors of which humans, individually as well as collectively, have proved capable.”  I suggest that Hirsch has not got to the heart of sin. The horrors of which we humans are capable – horrifying as they are – are only the symptoms; the products of our sin nature, our original sin nature that we inherited from the father of the human race, Adam. Most Christians and Jews deny that Adam was a single man  and many Christians and all Jews reject the doctrine of “original sin”, namely, that we are all born with a sin nature that we inherited.

What does sin “nature” mean? Lewis Johnson explains (I have transcribed this from one of his messages):

One of the reasons why people have such a shallow view of sin is because they have not been taught to think rightly about sin. If you ask a man whether he is a sinner, he understands you to mean that he is a great flagrant outbreaking transgressor against the principles of morality that are found in the Bible. If you tell him that he is a great sinner in the sight of God, he thinks you are accusing him of being a blasphemer or a perjurer or a thief, an adulterer or a murderer. But without any of these forms of outbreaking forms of sin there may be a deep and damning hatred of the word of God in that man’s heart.”

But we must go deeper. Why do the unregenerate hate the word of God? Because of unbelief. Every sin is a failure to respond to the word of God. This is clear in the Tanakh (Older Testament) as it is clear in the Newer Testament, where God’s word is manifested through another (single) man, the second (and last Adam), Jesus the Christ, or if you prefer the Hebrew,  Yeshua HaMashiakh.

If the only options for me were reverting to Judaism and following Osteen – pass me the chopped liver.

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2 thoughts on “Twisting God’s word: Forgiveness and the sin nature: Adrian Stanley, Helmut Thielicke, Joel Osteen; and Rabbi Hirsch to the rescue

    • SlimJim

      Although this rabbi, as is true of Judaism as a whole, does not believe in “original sin,” he is a million miles away from the “Christian” tripe of a Joel Osteen.

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