After reading Lionel Windor’s excellent little article on ‘nowism’ (the insidious Christian tendency to live for this world rather than the next) in last month’s Briefing,1 I couldn’t help noticing this fascinating snippet from Ross Douhat at The Atlantic Monthly.
Douhat is writing about the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts-Schori, and the extent to which her “theological premises are shared across the culture-war divide, by Christians who oppose gay marriage and abortion and voted eagerly for George W. Bush as well as by liberal Protestants who consider the contemporary [Republican Party] an abomination”. He says,
The people who read Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer and The Prayer of Jabez may be more politically conservative than the people who read A Wing and a Prayer [Schori’s book], and read certain passages of Genesis and Leviticus more literally, but the theology they’re imbibing is roughly the same sort of therapeutic mush. Indeed, the big difference between the prosperity gospel that Osteen and his ilk are peddling and Schori’s liberal Episcopalianism has less to do with any theological principle and more to do with what aspect of American life they want God to validate. And this difference, I suspect, has a great deal to do with social class. Osteen and Co.’s God wants us to pursue financial fulfillment because they’re largely preaching to entrepreneurial, upwardly-mobile members of the middle class, whereas Schori’s God wants us to pursue a more personal fulfillment—sexually, emotionally, philanthropically—because she’s preaching to a demographic that, financially speaking, has already got it made.2
Douhat is quite right: social-gospel Liberalism and prosperity-gospel Pentecostalism both seek God’s validation for their programmes of ‘nowist’ improvement. Their gospel is a set of aspirations for this world—either soft-left liberal hopes for a better society, or capitalist, middle class aspirations for a better life for me.
How different this is from the apostolic gospel of Paul who preached a “hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col 1:4-5), or of Peter who blessed God for causing us to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:3-4).
We need to be wary of ‘nowist’ insurgencies—from the left and the right!