The Bible Triumphant

Methoblogger John Meunier posted a week or so ago the parallel between Joel Osteen's creed about the Bible...and the creed of the Marine Corps Rifleman (Get your Bible, Get your Rifle).  He didn't know how to respond to it, so I'm offering to do so now! ;-)

If you've ever watched Osteen on TV or in person, the spectators at his parish hold their bibles in the air and recite with him Lakewood Church's Creed.

“This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have. I do what it says I can do, I am about to receive the incorruptible, indestructible, ever-living seed of God, and I will never be the same. Never, never, never. I will never be the same. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
In comparison, the Rifleman's Creed in the Marine Corps has a similar tone (though it is more complex)
“This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than the enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. My rifle and I know that what counts in war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, or the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit.
“My rifle is human, even as I am human, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other.
“Before God I swear this creed. My rifle and I are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.
“So be it, until victory is America’s and there is no enemy.”
What strikes me most is not the violence in the Rifleman's Creed (which is understandable), but the shared imagery of triumphalism.

The triumph of Christ is evident in the marketing techniques used by Lakewood.  From a white paper on the "business" of Lakewood (PDF):
[Osteen] raises his bible up in his right hand while reciting his creed. The upraised gesture symbolizes victory and championship. The image almost looks as if he won an Olympic metal. This reinforces Lakewood’s slogan that explicitly encourages championship
Lakewood’s catchy slogan is “At Lakewood, Discover the Champion in You!”
Compare this to the last line of the Rifleman's Creed:
“So be it, until victory is America’s and there is no enemy.”
Creeds and liturgies affirm and state what the community believes.  They are descriptive, but in some ways they become proscriptive.   By holding a bible up in your hand and reciting a rousing creed, a call to arms, then the bible becomes the tool by which triumph is achieved.  In Constantinian times it was conversion by the sword.  In contemporary times, it is conversion by marketing.

I am weary of triumphalism (anyone remember the "God Is On Our Side" documentary back in 2004?).  While I have no problems with the theological assertion that victory over death is true...the fruits (the effects) of such a way of framing that promise are often anything but humbly listening to the Spirit.  From the article linked above:
This is the problem of Christian triumphalism - it sees only success and believes in a God that generates that success. Any troubling evidence that all is not right is ignored. The personal and financial scandals of fundamentalist preachers are conveniently swept under the carpet. This is not a religion that lives by confession and forgiveness: It is a religion that knows that it is in the right, period. Jerry Falwell must be the smuggest man on earth. Instead of God being “other”, the one who is over and against us, God is on the side of the believer to whom he gives an absolute moral stance and a privileged insight into how the world works.
My friend Mike Slack has written much about Lakewood seeing only success.  Read it here.  Suffice to say, a God who wants you to be rich or prosperous definitely wants you to triumph over everyone else, not necessarily live in harmony with one another...especially since we will "win" in the end.

I believe in a God who does give us assurance.  But God does not give us faith to rub it in others faces.  I believe in a God who wants us to converse with one another, and find shared companionship on our journeys.  Manifestations of Christian triumphalism, whether in a huge parish like Lakewood or my small congregation, that sound like a call to arms point more to the sickness in that community rather than the presence of the Holy Spirit.

What do you think?
  • How do we walk the line of faith and assurance without rubbing it in people's faces?  
  • In what ways are the chest-beating assurance turning people away from Christianity more than they are thinking "I want to be a part of that team?"
  • If you are not Christian, what role does this kind of triumphilism play in your perceptions of Christianity?
Discuss.  Welcome to our visitors!

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Shannon December 2, 2008 at 3:23 PM  

God sees what is in the heart, not on the surface right? What we are concerned with here is that the surface presentation is not conforming with what we expect the Christian attitude of the heart to be; one of love. If you have love for another, do you rub what you have and they do not in their faces? Be it money, shelter, food, or faith, we are called to share what we have, be compassionate, help them to meet THEIR need (note, not our need, their need--too often I see what people share as more about meeting their own need). That means listening first with compassion usually. The obvious exception to that being when the need is readily identifiable like for example starvation. Its great to share your faith, but sometimes it more important to share your food first!

Assurance to me means a lack of fear. A lack of fear of the unknown, a lack of fear of those different from me, a lack of fear of those who may think differently than I do. Assurance from God frees us to act with audacious compassion as Jesus did.


That Neil Guy December 4, 2008 at 6:15 AM  

I love the idea of "audacious compassion" that ShannonB mentioned. It reminds me of Spong's wonderful advice to "love wastefully."

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