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Pep Talks for Successful Living
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I was talking with a fellow evangelical Christian, an older woman whose circumstances required that she live with her aging and abusive father. To say the least, this was a trial, but she said she had recently had a breakthrough.

"I was watching Joel Osteen, and he was saying that we should not whine about our circumstances, but accept them as God's way of strengthening us, and use them to love those who make our lives hard. That really helped."

This made me curious: Exactly what was Osteen preaching? I had heard mostly scathing critiques of the best-selling author and Houston pastor. So I listened to a few of his sermons. It's been said that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Osteen is right more frequently than that. As I flipped though the channels and caught messages by other so-called prosperity preachers, I found the same thing. They regularly offered wise counsel on how to strengthen marriage, raise kids, handle suffering, and so forth. They often talked about how trusting God can offer calm and hope in the face of adversity.

Yes, I cringed at the occasional allusions to faith and financial prosperity. But that was rare. Most of what I heard was a combination of biblical and psychological wisdom shaped for an audience that knew hardship. Or, as historian Kate Bowler put it in Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, the prosperity preachers offer "a comprehensive approach to the human condition"—one that gives hope to desperate people.

So what's the problem?

If we look at the preaching and teaching in mainstream evangelical churches, apparently not much. Tune in to many a church website, and you'll find comparable sermon series on improving relationships, ...

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hide thisNovember November

In the Magazine

November 2013

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