A few weeks ago, Victoria Osteen was discovered on a recording from their Texas church saying some things that have outraged people. Here is a clip from that recording:
What bothers people the most is she claims that God determined that our human happiness is His highest priority. This seems to smack up against what the church has taught for 2000 years. Namely, that we exist for God’s pleasure and not the other way around. One observation I have to make about it is this: This clip is consistent with what the Osteens and most other Word of Faith teachers have been selling for years. If people are angry at her comments now, then clearly they haven’t been paying attention.
But the other side of this coin relates to another famous pastor, John Piper. For years, Piper has put forward his concept of man and God in a theology he calls “Christian Hedonism“. Summarizing this belief, Piper defines it this way:
By Christian Hedonism, we do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. We mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end. We should pursue this happiness, and pursue it with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy you cannot love man or please God.
Of course, you can see the differences between Osteen and Piper immediately. Piper believes we are happiest when we pursue the highest good. Osteen believes that the highest good is our happiness. So clearly they are saying something different. But it is the one point of true similarity I want to note.
Both of these teachings focus on the happiness of man as the greatest measure of our life. If we are happy–for Osteen this could result from anything, for Piper from pursuing the highest good–then we are fulfilling God’s purposes for our lives. But is happiness the goal of our lives?
The teachings of Jesus do not focus on happiness. They focus on obedience. And Jesus tells us quite clearly that there are times when we will be persecuted, treated badly, rejected and despised. If you do what is right, you will ULTIMATELY be blessed. But that does not necessarily mean you will be happy.
One implication of Piper and his neo-Calvinist theology is that our choices in life are fairly meaningless. Out of that pseudo-determinism (my description, not his) that he teaches comes the idea that man is essentially a ‘robot’. God chooses certain people to be part of the kingdom, He chooses these ones to be righteous, and He chooses these ones to be happy. All those not chosen by God are miserable and will become an example of what it looks like not to be chosen by God.
Piper tries to mask this determinism by hinting that we can choose the highest good and therefore find happiness. But this is not true. According to neo-Calvinism, God does not allow us to make choices outside of God’s will. Therefore, there are no choices other than God’s choice.
At least Osteen’s teachings are honest. The Osteens have never claimed to be anything other than what they are: Prosperity teachers. Piper gives people the impression they can choose to do right or wrong, but then teaches that God has already determined and decided what choices we will make.
And that means there are no choices. In the end, God determines who will be happy and who will not.
It’s no more encouraging or any better teaching than what the Osteens are saying.