What Joel Osteen says to Christian people about eating pork and shellfish...
What God says to Christian people about the same...
"Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.") Mark 7:18-19
"Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Acts 10:15b
"Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink...these are a shadow of the things that were to come...the reality, however, is found in Christ." Colossians 2:16a & 17b
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1
I don't know about you (to borrow one of Joel's favourite phrases), but I think Joel has a major hermeneutical problem; it's called failing to distinguish law & gospel. On an even more basic hermenuetical level, he's failing to make the necessary distinction between the Old and New Testaments, not taking into account the progressive nature of revelation.
Hermeneutics is the art, theory and practice of interpretation; in this case we are talking Biblical hermeneutics, which most pastors study as undergraduates. The proper distinction between Law & Gospel and the necessary distinction (distinction, not separation, mind you - the Bible remains a unified book) to be made between the Old and New Testaments are theological principles which guide the preacher to a correct interpretation of Biblical texts, i.e. one that leads to the proclamation of the Gospel and the salvation of hearers. When a Biblical expositor is ignorant of these principles, then at best confusion ensues, but at worst a false Gospel is proclaimed and people are encouraged to rely on their works, even if only partly, for salvation. It shouldn't surprise us then that Osteen says something like "When I do my best, God does the rest" part way through this message, a formulation that the medieval Occamist Gabriel Biel would have been happy with!
But even if Joel doesn't 'get' those hermeneutical principles, because he hasn't been to seminary or bothered himself too much with theology, is he not familiar with the clear scripture passages I have quoted? No, he is without excuse. Behind the boyish looks and the down-home, winsome manner, he is touting a death-dealing legalism just as spiritually lethal as the worst medieval works-monger. That so many Christian people seem willing to sit at his feet and imbibe what he says uncritically is surely testimony to the ignorance of the Gospel that reigns in much of popular evangelicalism (and elsewhere).
And that is the other side of this tragedy, that Biblically and theologically illiterate laity often respond positively to such legalism as Joel Osteen subtly teaches because it has the appearance of spiritual wisdom, at least according to fallen human standards. I'm reminded of the ex-Lutheran couple I once chatted to at a wedding...they left the Lutheran Church for Seventh Day Adventism because Lutheranism was "not strict enough for us". Not enough Law, too much Gospel freedom, eh folks?
Indeed, man inevitably feels more comfortable religiously when he is given something special to do in his religion, be it following a peculiar diet, the wearing of distinctive garb, the observation of special days and sabbaths, embarking on sacrificial pilgrimages or what have you. Harmless activities in themselves, perhaps even helpful for some people in objectifying their religion - up to that point, that is, when these practices become connected with meriting God's grace. And make no mistake, there is a powerful impetus within fallen man to elevate such indifferent things to that level. Is it really any wonder that Roman Catholicism, with its respect for the natural man, imported his natural theology into its system of doctrine?
The old evangelical theologians had a term for this stubborn delusion - they called it the opinio legis, after the phrase in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession : haec opinio legis inhaeret naturaliter in animis hominum - "this opinion of the law [i.e. that works merit remission of sins] inheres by nature in men's minds." It's the fundamental dogma shared by most religions of the world, regardless of what name they go by.
The opposite of the opinio legis is faith in Christ and his Gospel, which God has revealed to us by his Holy Spirit in his Word.
Well, I'm off to thank God for his mercies and have a ham sandwhich for lunch!
HT R. Scott Clark @ The Heidelblog