The “most influential work of popular theology published this century…” What is it? I disagree with Ross Douthat’s answer (in his book Bad Religion) to this question because I don’t think that book has been influential even if it has been wildly popular. The issue here is how to define “influential.”
By now you may wonder what book he had in mind and if you guessed Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now you would be right. We’re only twelve years into the century, so there’s not much to go by … but still, no one can doubt that 4 million sales, plus all the stuff around it, says something about (bad) religion in America.
If you could offer a better theology to proponents of prosperity theology, what would it look like? How does an economic theory work into your critique or your offer?
America’s premier heresy is the Health and Wealth gospel, and Douthat probes here and there in what has to be seen as a violent disregard of major themes in the Bible. But more of that later in this post. Osteen “comes as close to Billy Graham’s level of popularity” and his “cultural empire is arguably larger” and more than “200 million people around the globe tune in to his broadcasts” (182, 183). Comparing him to Billy Graham, Douthat observes Osteen’s message is “considerably more upbeat” and that his “God gives without demanding, forgives without threatening to judge, and hands out His rewards in this life rather than in the next” (183).
Overall, this approach is about “the refashioning of Christianity to suit an age of abundance” and a “marriage of God and Mammon” (183). It’s attractive to many: “millions of believers reconcile their religious faith with the nation’s seemingly unbiblical wealth and un-Christian consumer culture” (183).