Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Theologies of Convenience

A friend was telling me the other day about a Joel Osteen video, in which he was justifying his wealthy lifestyle by saying that God made Him rich so that people would want to be like him and thus find Jesus. (Interesting: Jesus said that you couldn't serve God and money, but it appears that what He really meant was, money is a great way to win the lost...).

Not a day later, I read a blogger on a (much more popular) blog write about a theological position that was pretty shaky biblically, but served well to justify his own lifestyle.

Then I read about Mark Driscoll's sex-based theology; over the years he has made a number of strange comments: men wouldn't cheat on their wives as much if their wives would dress up and look hot; women owe it to their men to give them oral sex; sex must be regular between married couples to keep the man's mood in check and his mind clear.

All of these have a common thread.

A while back, I started using a term when debating about science, called "Theories of Convenience". A theory of convenience is one which is not really supported by experimental or even good theoretical evidence, but is favored by the scientist because it provides a convenience for their worldview. For example, the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking freely admits that the universe is too perfectly fine-tuned for life for it to be coincidence. Thus one either must believe in God, or--as he does--believe in multiple parallel universes: this allows an infinite set of parallel realities, at least one of which would have the right conditions for life, and since we are alive, we must be in that one. This is a Theory of Convenience: it is not based upon actual physical fact, but is accepted because it is better than the alternative.

Be very, very wary of theologies of convenience. It is true that they may be right--they really may. Just because it is a theology of convenience does not necessarily mean that the young earth creation model is wrong...perhaps it is dead-on accurate!

But you should always hold a healthy skepticism when someone's theology ends up leading to a place that just so happens to be very convenient to him. Osteen's theology winds up allowing him to live in a wealthy decadence that few can imagine. Driscoll's theology winds up allowing him to demand that his wife dress sexy, give him oral sex, and have sex at his beck and call.

So just be very careful in these situations. Always take it back to Jesus--does their newfound theology match with the lifestyle that Jesus and His apostles led? Jesus was a virgin, and the apostles don't appear to have been coarse-spoken sex hounds. Jesus and the apostles didn't live wealthy lives either, but chose lives of poverty. So when you hear Driscoll and Osteen (and others) preaching these convenient theologies, make sure and compare them to the Word of God before you get too excited about them.


  1. On the prosperity gospel, Daniel comes to mind for me. It seems like there times when Daniel prospers, but it happens AFTER he has been faithful to God (the lion's den and v6:28 come to mind right away) and there doesn't seem to be an indication that Daniel had any thought of reward by disobeying the king's order. It seems like 'prosperity' pastors see two things: following God and prosperity. What it seems like they confuse is 1) the order (putting prosperity as a reason to follow God, thereby placing it above following God) and 2) having physical prosperity as a reason at all. (I like Matt Chandler's video on John the Baptist... "Jesus to John,'I'm the One, and you're going to be beheaded because of a stripper.' John,'Really? I didn't see it playing out that way for me.'")

  2. Ha...what a great quote from chandler...hadn't heard that. You're's like correlation vs causation...they confuse the fact that because some believers are prosperous and wealthy, that the one caused the other.