We are getting really close to episode 200. For those of you who have been with me for most of this journey or all of this journey, thanks for hanging in there. I hope this is still bringing value to you in your weekly and daily life.
But here’s what I’d like to do to celebrate 200 coming up. Go to the contact form, submit what your favorite episode has been. Shoot me a note, tell me this was the one that was most helpful or even send in a question along the way that you’d like me to hit on the podcast. And what I’m going to do is after we get to episode 200, I’m going to draw four names from those submissions who have sent in their favorite or most helpful episode, and I’m going to send you a book. So you can tell me which book you would like if you get chosen. It’ll either be Unapologetic: A Guide for Defending Your Christian Convictions or it will be Gender: A Conversation Guide for Parents and Pastors. So I’ll give away two copies of each of those books on episode 200. So go the the website, send in your favorite or most helpful podcast that we have done.
But today I want to talk about a topic at the intersection of Christian life, theology and apologetics. You’ve probably noticed that we often hit topics in these different areas but in my mind they overlap and are very related. So let’s talk about what encourages us and how do we determine what we should let encourage us. Basically, what are the sources of teaching that we allow in our lives and what should we allow in our lives. I’ve realized this has become more of a concern such that we’re going to cover it today, because of several conversations I have had over the last few years.
Now in this episode, we’re going to talk about different public figures by name. My intent is not just to tear them down or throw them in the mud, but to talk about some of their ideas. And I do think public teaching, public ideas can be critiqued publicly. This is not a church discipline Matthew 18 type of thing, where we need to go to someone privately. I think we can, in love, talk about ideas that are out there and we should. The New Testament does this all the time. This has been the practice of the church for thousands of years, to talk about public teaching in public.
But my intent, like I said, is not to tear people down, but to simply talk about their ideas. And the reason for this topic today is several conversations I’ve had around Joel Osteen and Rachel Hollis. Now Joel Osteen you’re probably familiar with, but Rachel Hollis has written two books over the last few years that have generated a fair amount of publicity. One is called “Girl, Wash Your Face” and the other is called, “Girl, Stop Apologizing.” I’m just going to, at a very high level, summarize some of the themes that are present. This in no way is a total reflection of the books.
Basically, these books, Rachel Hollis and Joel Osteen would find themselves at home in some of the following themes or types of statements. This idea that we are enough. Like if you’re wondering, do you measure up, yes you do. You are enough in yourself. You should believe in yourself. That God helps those who helps themselves. That God wants you to be successful and/or healthy or wealthy. That he wants you to declare and achieve your goals. These are all ideas that are at home with these two people and many others, frankly. We don’t have enough time today to talk about the full range of views that these two hold, and they are different characters.
Osteen is the pastor of a very large church. And when you listen to him preach, which I have done before and I think it’s important if you’re going to critique or talk about someone’s teaching, you should at least be somewhat familiar with it. But when you listen, there’s not a gospel presentation that aligns with what you see in the scriptures. And I don’t simply mean something tacked on at the end, I’m simply saying the message does not present and hold up Christ as the only hope anyone has in this life, both before and after salvation. That’s not present. That’s not good. And yet people often find him to be encouraging.
I have been surprised personally at the people in conservative evangelical churches who have found comfort and encouragement from also listening to Osteen, kind of on the side, in addition to the sermon at their church. Now that’s a whole other topic, how do we think of pastors and preachers that are far away from the local church we’re apart of, I’m not going to get into that today. But all that to say, I have been surprised at the people that find him to be encouraging. And it kind of took me aback.
It’s the same situation, actually, with Rachel Hollis. There have been people I have been surprised that have found her to be encouraging. And it made me question, well why is this? These are people who have different theological commitments, that probably have a different world view, and yet there’s this overlap at the point of these two teachers, and frankly many others. And what I realized is, is that something may be encouraging to us and still be harmful to us. Something can be encouraging to us and still be harmful to us. This happens all of the time. I mean, this is actually in a different way, my personal struggle with sweets. I find sweets very encouraging and they are not good for me. People have said recently, “Oh you’re dressing nicer.” It’s like, “No, I’ve run out of the clothes that are more casual that actually fit, so I’m wearing my nicer clothes.”
But all that to say something can be encouraging and still harmful to us. And it’s the same way with teaching. It was this way for thousands of years. Paul talks of those when he’s at the Areopagus in Acts 17 “who like to have their ears tickled.” Now that’s a negative phrase, but they wanted to hear something that was encouraging to them and interesting, not necessarily something that was true and wholesome.
So here’s my first point of two for today, something can encourage us because of our sinfulness when it’s clothed in religious language. And we often give these ideas a pass. So something can encourage us due to some sinful part of us, especially when it’s clothed in religious language. I think of a lot of the heresies in church history. They were often done by people who were well intended, who even used the Bible, and yet they were wrong. Clothed in religious language, we are much more likely to let something pass by.
For instance, there are some ideas out there that may sound like they even belong in the Bible, though they don’t. Or that they could be a part of a sermon and they shouldn’t be. Like God wants you to rely on yourself, to trust in yourself. Don’t listen to those people who are negative and tearing you down, God believes in you, you should believe in you. Well the worldview behind all of those statements is actually very opposed to scripture. It does not find its foundation in scripture. We are not told to believe and rely on ourself, but to trust in and rely on God. Not just for salvation but for our daily life and sanctification.
There’s a reason why in James it says, “don’t even say that you’re going to this town tomorrow except unless the Lord wills it.” There’s a reliance on God even in our travel plans we should have. And as we see in the model prayer from Jesus, that we acknowledge that even our food comes from the hand of God. And so when we say, well I’m relying on myself for everything I do, that’s a self-reliance, maybe even a self-idolatry. That’s not a good idea, but it is incredibly common today. Because it’s cloaked in religious language, but it appeals to a sinful part of us. We want to rely on ourselves. What was legalism? A desire to rely on yourself for your own righteousness and achievement. We do not need to be told to rely more on ourselves, we need to be told to rely more on God.
What about another idea that God wants us to be supportive of all people, including our LGBT friends. He wants us to be loving to them. That’s an idea that sounds really good, and some people can’t identify the problem with it. Well, the problem is if we allow support to be defined as affirmation of something God believes as sinful. That’s something that’s very common. Rachel Hollis actually holds this view that we should be affirming those who are a part of the LGBT community. That sounds good until you understand that this isn’t true love because love doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness and it doesn’t encourage someone in something that takes them further away from God as we see in 1 Corinthians 6. So that’s an idea that’s popular, clothed in religious language but that is actually anti-biblical.
Another idea that might be popular is that God wants you to trust that he’s going to bring something bigger and better into your life. Well this talks about trust or maybe that you need to have faith that God is going to do this. But why should we think that, and who defines bigger and better? Scripture never promises us that God is going to bring some big worldly successful thing into our life or that our relationships are going to go better. It actually talks of us being appointed to suffer. That suffering is ordained for the Christian. And so many other things.
You look at the life of Jesus and of Paul, these are not lives where something bigger and better in a worldly sense was right around the corner. No, it seems like it got worse until the end and then they went to glory with God in heaven. That is the bigger and the better thing that we hope for in trust, but that’s not what these teachers often mean. But it sounds good because you’re talking about trust. Well biblical trust has an object, Jesus, but it also has a realm, a scope, that it’s exhibited in. We have no confidence to trust Jesus for something he never has said he will give us.
Right, if I say I’m trusting Jesus that a new car will appear in my driveway, yeah, I’m trusting Jesus, but for something he never promised. And a lot of times these teachers today that kind of fall into this category are telling us to trust Jesus, that sounds good, it gets us to lower our defenses, but they’re telling us to trust him for things he never promised to give us. And they’re also often telling us to trust him for things that appeal to the sinful side of ourselves, right? Because sometimes we’re encouraged, because of our sinfulness by something clothed in religious language. So we have to be really careful there.
Now, the second point, there’s no neutrality when it comes to ideas. There’s actually, I would say almost no neutrality in any area of life, and we’ve cashed that out in previous episodes, but there’s no neutrality when it comes to ideas. And why do I say this? Because this is actually incredibly crucial to understanding this whole topic today. I was talking with a sister in Christ about one of the Rachel Hollis books, and she was kind of defending Hollis while at the time saying, “I see all of the problems with the ideas you’re talking about, but I think people have been too harsh on her.”
And I do think that’s true. I do think people have been vitriolic in their critique of ideas. We should critique ideas and not criticize people. That’s important, that we’ve lost that distinction today. And I’ve tried to do that. I have not said anything personally about Osteen or Hollis. I’ve talked about their ideas and so if you have a problem there, hopefully it’s because of the ideas. And if you have a problem with the ideas I’ve critiqued, well show me where in my ideas I’ve gone wrong. It’s not enough just to say, “You shouldn’t critique other people.” Biblically we’re told to look for false teaching and talk about the teaching, and that’s what I’ve been doing.
But this lady was saying that she, in spite of disagreeing with a lot of the ideas, found the content to be encouraging. And I thought about how to reply there, and that’s when, as I mentioned earlier, all of this kind of came into focus for me, and I realized there’s no neutrality with regards to ideas. There’s no neutrality with regards to what encourages us. And we can be encouraged in something that is harmful. And often that actually is the case.
Sometimes if we’ve been hurt, think of a circumstance where someone in a relationship has harmed you, someone might say, “Well you know what, when you continue to try and work this out with that person and reconcile, you’re just keeping that wound open. And you just and you just need to cut them off. You need to protect yourself.” Many people I have heard, have been in that circumstance and they have found that advice encouraging. And that is actually often the wrong advice. Now if someone is maliciously trying to harm you continually, yes, there’s definitely godly wisdom in putting some distance there, but if you’re trying to work it out and everyone just keeps getting hurt and they’re trying their best and it’s messy, no, biblical wisdom does not say, “Separate yourself to protect your heart,” It says, “Bear with one another.” Stay in the messiness, work it out. And yet we might be encouraged to do the wrong thing by someone else who maybe even sounds well intended.
Colossians 2 speaks to this idea of there being no neutrality. It says,
“Therefore just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him firm in your faith, just as your were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” And here’s the key point, “Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ.” It goes on to say so much more that I’d love to dig into, just theologically and practically, but that’s really important.
Don’t allow people to captivate us through empty deceitful philosophy and human tradition. There is conventional wisdom today like don’t let people keep hurting you, even if you’re trying to work a situation out, right, where both parties are trying. That sounds good and it’s just unchristian, it’s ungodly. There are ways of encouraging people who maybe are down after something has gone wrong in their life. Depend on yourself, believe in yourself, you can do it, that sounds good. It might even get them to stand up off the ground, but it’s not Christian, it’s opposed to Christianity. Now what we find, our solace and our hope and our dependence and our strength in, is Jesus. Right? So don’t allow people to captivate you, to take your attention, to maintain your focus, to capture your heart through elemental teaching and deceitful philosophy. That doesn’t mean all philosophy is deceitful philosophy. There is Christian philosophy and there is deceitful, worldly philosophy.
Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 2 again where he says,
”For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards. For the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but they are powerful by God, for tearing down strongholds.”
What kind of strongholds might they be?
We tear down arguments in every arrogant that is raised up against the knowledge of Christ and we take every thought captive and make it obey Christ.
We need to examine what is encouraging us, what we are learning, what the inputs are to our life and say, “Do they actually accord with the teaching of Christ? Or do they accord with the elemental teachings of the world? Is this conventional wisdom? Is this worldly wisdom? Does it only make me feel good because it appeals to a sinful desire?” If it does, cut it out. Get rid of it. Take that thought captive and make it obey Christ.
Even the things that encourage us must be godly things, or the encouragement itself is ungodly. That’s really important for us to understand. There’s so much else I’d like to say here, I’m kind of over my time cap that I kind of set for myself on these episodes of about 14-15 minutes, but let me simply say, am I dumping on Osteen or Hollis? Again, no, I’m not. But I would also say, so few people today take the time to read books, so if you’re a person who’s going to read a book, read a good book. There are so many other better resources out there, ladies and just everyone in general, that will encourage you in things that are godly, will train your heart to think more in line with scripture and not further away from it. I’d be glad to make recommendations. And hopefully this is something you can work through as a part of your local church community.
But let me leave you with something from Paul in Philippians 4. This is Paul writing while in prison and he says, “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think on those things.” And those things find their definition in the gospel and in scripture. So it’s not just whatever makes me feel good, whatever society defines as just, whatever I think looks lovely, no. Those have objective definitions in scripture and we must, using those objective definitions, then think on those things. And that should be what we hopefully train our hearts along with the Spirit’s work to actually find encouraging, to be built up by. So be careful what’s encouraging you. Encourage those around you to be more discerning in how they are encouraged and what they think about, and remember there’s no neutrality and we can’t just let our guard down when someone uses religious language, even if their ideas are appealing to the sinful side of ourselves.
Well I’ll talk with you next week on Unapologetic. Make sure you go and submit something on the contact form so you get entered to win a copy of a book in three weeks. I’ll talk with you next week.