Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tuesday afternoon heresy roundup

Around the web today, there are several in-depth articles about some popular heretics and persistent heresies you might want to check out.

Salon has a devastating critique of the narcissistic feel-good "theology" of Joel Osteen.
It’s a curiously childlike vision of faith — a point driven home in a homily offered up by Joel’s wife, Victoria, who serves as a kind of co-pastor of the separate domestic sphere at the couple’s revival meetings. When she finds herself assailed by cares, anxieties and negative thoughts, Victoria reported, “I visualize a bouquet of helium balloons in my hands, and I literally hold those balloons out and release them to the heavens … And as I release those balloons to Him, I say, ‘I may not have the power to change my circumstances, but God has that power to change our circumstances.’” In a later homily on the properties of unconditional love and forgiveness, Victoria delivered an extended gloss on what was apparently one of the few remotely traumatic moments in her suburban Texas upbringing — a time when, as a freshly licensed driver, she had taken out her dad’s car and negligently instructed a friend to roll down a passenger-side window that was malfunctioning, thereby breaking it once and for all. When she finally summoned the nerve to fess up to her dad, she found him to be disappointed but gloriously forgiving; he “didn’t judge my future from that one mistake” — and neither will the indulgent dad of the Osteen heavens. “You may not have been shown unconditional love in your life,” Victoria announced, “but God loves you unconditionally.” The problem, of course, is that even those of us who did survive unhappy childhoods are no longer 16 — and as a result, we need a God who can meet the challenges of the new responsibilities we’ve taken on as we’ve matured, not a figure of undifferentiated sentiment, handing our forgiveness and love like lottery tickets. 
The other childlike quality of the Lakewood account of divine grace has to do with the past — which, together with negative thinking, represents the closest thing to evil in the Osteen’s scheme of salvation. The past is bad because it mires believers in remembered hurts and slights, and thereby obstructs God’s grander design for their lives. “When we hold on to the past, when we don’t go to God, that just puts more baggage in our suitcases,” Victoria exhorted, in a not-altogether-wieldy metaphor.

This spiritual hostility to the past was an all too frequent refrain in the event’s musical selections — a monotonous offering of anthemic, bombastic Christian rock, all composed without the benefit of a single minor chord or any discernible melody. “I’m moving forward,” went the lyrics to one of these intra-sermon studies in Journey-esque hymnody. “I’m not going back / I’m moving ahead / I’m here to declare to you that the past is over.” An American idol contestant named Danny Gokey also offered testimony about how the Osteens had helped him conquer his depression in the wake of the untimely passing of his wife. Gokey then performed a Christian rock number of his own, “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me,” which seemed to make short work of his once-debilitating grief: “I don’t get lost in the past or get stuck in some sad memories,” he sang, rather creepily; the song’s bridge announced that “Age isn’t nothing but a number,” and then resolved on a Successories-style upgrade of a well-known Army recruiting slogan: “If I keep getting better / I can be anything I want to be.”

There’s a term from the psychiatric clinics that neatly captures the outlook of someone possessed of grandiose fantasies about the imperial reach of the self, and a principled refusal to acknowledge anything poised to diminish such fantasies — such as the passage of time. That term is “narcissistic personality disorder,” and it does nothing to detract from the positive features of the Osteen gospel — the injunctions to persevere in the face of adversity, or the appeals for donations to World Vision — to note that this is a system of faith tailor-made to sustain narcissistic delusion. To grasp the overweening self-absorption of the Osteen faith, one need look no further than the frequent recourse Osteen makes to his own success story in sealing the case for God’s providential plan for the believer’s own life. Now, unlike other well-known evangelists, Osteen can’t lay much claim to a hardscrabble Horatio Alger-style life story. His 1920s forebear in Pentecostal media preaching, Aimee Semple McPherson, was a single-mother missionary before coming into fame and fortune as an evangelical celebrity in the Radio Age; Billy Graham was the son of a poor North Carolina dairy farmer. Osteen, by contrast, was a second-generation evangelical leader, who’d been working as a TV producer for his father John Osteen’s growing ministry before he succeeded to the elder Osteen’s pulpit after his father’s death. His personal biography tracks closer to fellow Pentecostal TV preacher Pat Robertson’s background: Robertson was the son of a U.S. senator before finding his own adult spiritual calling.
Meanwhile, in an article that's actually been up for about a year but is making the rounds of the social networks today, Fr. John A. Peck of Preacher's Institute delves into the real origins of "rapture" theology.
The doctrine – called futurism – which would later become ‘the rapture’ originated and was submitted by Francisco Ribera in 1585. His Apocalyptic Commentary was on the grand points of Babylon and the Anti-Christ which are now known as the rapture doctrine. Ribera’s published work was called “In Sacram Beati Ionnis Apostoli & Evangelistate Apocoalypsin Commentari” (Lugduni 1593). You can still find these writings in the Bodleian Library in Oxford England. The work was considered flawed and faulty, and was ordered buried in the Church archives, out of sight, by the pope himself.

Unfortunately, over 200 years later a librarian to the Archbishop of Canterbury by the name of S. R. Maitland (1792-1866) was appointed to be the Keeper of the Manuscripts at Lambeth Palace, in London, England. In his duties, Dr. Maitland came across Francisco Ribera’s rapture theology and he had it republished for the sake of interest in early 1826 with follow ups in 1829 and 1830.

This was spurred along with the Oxford Tracts that were published in 1833 to try and deprotestantize the Church of England. John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) (A Leader of the Plymouth Brethren) became a follower of S.R. Maitland’s prophetic endeavors and was persuaded. Darby’s influence in the seminaries of Europe combined with 7 tours of the United States changed the eschatological view of the ministers which had the trickle down effect into the churches. 
Another contributor to the rapture ideology came through Emmanuel Lacunza (1731-1801), a Jesuit priest from Chile. Lacunza wrote the “Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty” around 1791. It was later published in London in 1827. The book was attributed to a fictitious author name Rabbi Juan Josafat BenEzra. 
Edward Irving (1792-1834) contended that it was the work of a converted Jew and proved that even the Jewish scholars embraced a pre-tribulation rapture line of thought. It wasn’t long until he had persuaded others to follow his line of thought which gave birth to the Irvingites. However, when chaotic disturbances arose in Irving’s services during the manifestations of these “gifts”, the Church of Scotland took action, dismissing Irving from his position as minister in 1832.

In 1830 during one of Irving’s sessions before his dismissal, a young Scottish girl, named Margaret MacDonald, fell into a trance. After several hours of “vision” and “prophesying” she revealed that Christ’s return would occur in two phases, not just one. Christ would first come visibly to only the righteous, then He would come a second time to execute wrath on the unrighteous in the nations. This rapture was promoted by Irving claiming he, too, had heard a voice from heaven commanding him to teach it. In March 1830, in Port Glasgow, Scotland, 15 year old Margaret McDonald made claim of her visions. Robert Norton published Margaret’s visions and prophecies in a book entitled, “The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets in the Catholic Apostolic Church” (London, 1861).

The ultimate result of Irving’s dismissal was the formation of the Catholic Apostolic Church, which still exists until this day. Irving’s movement grew and became the basis of modern day pentecostalism.

There is good evidence that John Nelson Darby, the father of modern dispensationalism, visited Margaret Macdonald in her home during her ecstatic episodes. He began to teach the rapture as a result, provided the idea with theological underpinings necessary for it to be considered legitimate, and his teachings were embraced by the Plymouth Brethren.
Darby’s teachings were embraced radically by Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921). Scofield adopted Darby’s (Ribera’s) school of prophetic thought into the Scofield Reference Bible of 1909 which was heralded at that time as the “book of books”, and continues to legitimize this false teaching in the eyes of many protestants.