Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Captain’s Book Review – “Your Best Life Now”

“Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential” by Joel Osteen

I saw this book on the New York Time’s Best Sellers list. It was a self-improvement book and we could all use improvement. So I decided to check it out from the library (after a 2 month hold time – a popular book).

I didn’t realize the author was a televangelist until I started reading it – my first hint was the frequent use of “God”.

As a Muslim, there are a lot of things I agree with Mr. Osteen, but there are also some things that I disagree with and yet other things that are missing. Many Muslims believe that Islam is an extension of Christianity and Judaism and, except for some differences, our religions are basically the same.

Mr. Osteen uses personal stories and Biblical stories to get his points across. I will attempt to use verses of the Holy Quran when I can to make my point –either in agreement or disagreement.

I agree with…
I agree with Mr. Osteen’s positive attitude of life – the idea that you always need to dream big and make big expectations for yourself. I also agree that God will not change a person unless a person is ready for change. The Quran says:

“surely Allah[God] does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition” 13.11
Mr. Osteen makes a good point that God always has a plan for you – meaning that just because things don’t work out the way you want, doesn’t mean that God is punishing you. On the contrary, God may be doing something positive for you, but you just don’t see it that way at the time.

Sometimes misfortune is a test from God. Sometimes He wants to test your faith and resolve. Though Mr. Osteen does not talk about it, but one area of difference between Islam and Christianity is that bad Muslims can go to Hell, while some Christian denominations believe only in Heaven. In fact, this life is a test and our reward is the Heaven if we do well and Hell if we do not do so well. To quote a famous German philosopher:

“What does not destroy me makes me stronger.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche

I disagree with…
The biggest thing I disagree with Mr. Osteen is that he claims that God is on his side. This can be a dangerous and arrogant stance. To claim to have God on your side means that there is no need to seek knowledge and truth. A great man once said:

“I am not concerned whether God is on my side or not, but I am concerned whether I am on God's side.”
-Abraham Lincoln
Mr. Osteen’s idea that you should expect God to do favors for you. God does not owe anybody favors – favors are blessings from God and need to be earned through worship and adherence to God’s religion:

“Those are they on whom are blessings and mercy from their Lord, and those are the followers of the right course” 2.157
I also disagree with the statement that God has a fixed value for a person. A person’s value, I believe, is determined by a person’s actions and strength of faith. God says in the Quran:

“surely the most honorable of you with Allah[God] is the one among you most careful (of his duty)” 49.13

What is missing…
The main thing missing is the idea of forgiveness. This should have been the first chapter in Mr. Osteen’s book. A person cannot be an adulterous, porn-crazed, alcoholic and expect to be in God’s favor. The first step should be to ask God for forgiveness. One of the worst sins a person can perform is thinking that God will not forgive them – its right up there with not believing in God. Forgiveness must be sincere with an intention not to commit the same sin again. God says in the Quran:

“And you that ask forgiveness of your Lord, then turn to Him; He will provide you with a goodly provision to an appointed term and bestow His grace on every one endowed with grace, and if you turn back, then surely I fear for you the chastisement of a great day.” 11.3

Another big thing missing is the afterlife. His focus is entirely on this world, this life. Not once did I see even a reference to the afterlife. As a Muslim, I believe that this life is only a test. What happens to you here – good or bad – is not all that important because this life is temporary. Be careful not to get too caught up in the afterlife, however. Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib, an early Muslim leader, says:

"Work for this life as if you will live forever, and work for your next life as if you will die tomorrow."

Overall, the book was okay. Mr. Osteen provides a lot of good advice, though I think there are a few things needed to be changed and added. This books seems to focus to much on material wealth - if that's what you are looking for, this a great book. His personal stories are not typical – individual results may vary.


At 12:20 AM, Blogger K.W. Leslie said...

I find myself basically agreeing with your conclusions about Osteen's book; and even though I'm a Christian, I think my conclusions pretty much match yours.

I differ with a few of your conclusions, but this is because I refer to the Christian Bible rather than the Quran—

(1) God may change people whether they're ready for change or not. Not all the Hebrews were ready for God to free them from Egypt. Many of them spent their entire journey to Canaan complaining, and demanding to return to Egypt. Many of them died or were killed because of it. We serve God's timetable, not vice-versa. As you said, sometimes God wants to test us. Often the best way to grow a person is through a test that we're not ready for. Then we either show our resolve, or we throw ourselves entirely on God's mercy, and He comes through for us.

(2) Favors are not earned. Favors, by their nature, are free, unmerited gifts. If they were earned they would not be favors. God does not owe anyone anything, but He is gracious and merciful and we owe Him everything.

(3) Heaven is not a reward. We cannot, through our own efforts, make up for the sins we have committed. It is like a man who says, "If I never murder again, it will make up for murdering just this once." Heaven is achieved purely through the grace of God. We all deserve hell.

But otherwise, you're quite right.

(1) Our expectations must be big. God wishes to prosper us. Not necessarily with material possessions; Paul says the love of money is the source of all kinds of evil. (1 Timothy 6.10) God's idea of success is that we follow His will.

(2) Misfortune is a test from God. Amen. Yet we should not never assume that every test comes from God. Temptation, for example, comes from our own evil desires. (James 1.14)

(3) God is on His own side. It is foolishness to presume that He has taken yours. We must take His.

(4) We should not expect God's favor. Unless He has promised us His favor for obeying Him; and that favor doesn't necessarily take the form of monetary gain.

(5) God values everyone differently. Jesus does refer to people who are "least" and "greatest" in the Kingdom of God.

(6) Thinking God will not forgive us is right up there with not believing in God. I would even say it is the same thing.

On my own blog I complained a bit about Osteen's uselessness as an evangelist. Christians are expected to make disciples for Jesus (since He ordered us to) and in this Osteen's book certainly doesn't succeed. He makes a lot of people feel better, and spreads optimism, but not Christianity. This is not in itself wrong, but Osteen does this from the pulpit of his church, and the church pulpit is to only be used to preach God's message, not ours.

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