It's no surprise that major news networks, casting about for an expert on Christianity, would ring up Joel Osteen, senior pastor of the nation's largest megachurch. The title "senior pastor" rests a little awkwardly on someone whose shiny, eager demeanor recalls a perpetual 20-something, but when duty calls Osteen can turn down the smile and look thoughtful. Last week's duty was to appear on Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room on CNN and answer Blitzer's questions relating to Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate for president, including one asking Pastor Osteen how he would respond to a congregant who wants to vote for Romney but isn't sure he's a Christian.
Those are actually two different questions: Should a Christian vote for Romney? And are Mormons Christian? Answering the latter, Osteen acknowledged that the Mormon church may not be "traditional" Christianity, but he takes the broad view: If someone claims to believe "that Jesus is the son of God, that He's the Christ, that He was raised from the dead and is his savior, that's good enough for me." He also refused to say any manner of evil against students and staff at Liberty University who protested Romney speaking at commencement this year, because "Everybody has the right to their own views. Some feel stronger than I do, but … I'm trying to reach the biggest, broadest group. …"
His use of the word "broad" recalls a character in The Pilgrim's Regress, C.S. Lewis' allegorical account of his spiritual journey. At a critical point in their pilgrimage, the protagonist, "John," finds refuge in the house of genial Mr. Broad, a pastor who refuses to speak ill of any heresy:
"[A]s I grow older I am inclined to set less and less store by mere orthodoxy. So often the orthodox view means the lifeless view, the barren formula. I am coming to look more and more at the language of the heart.'"
But John desperately needs direction:
"'I am not sure that I quite understand. Do you mean that I must cross the canyon or that I must not?'
"'I see you want to pin me down,' said Mr. Broad, with a smile. 'And I love to see it. I was like that myself once. But one loses faith in abstract logic as one grows older. Do you never feel that the truth is so great and so simple that no mere words can contain it?'"
Mr. Broad has a point, and so does Mr. Osteen: Truth is great and simple, and we should listen to what one says about Christ. But they both oppose making things "too definite," overlooking the fact that Christ was rather definite about Himself:
"No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
The Mormon church uses many of the same words about Christ, but the implications are very different and the result is a different kind of savior-one who doesn't actually save but who reveals to good folks how they can save themselves. A road broad enough to include this interpretation is not a road at all, but more of a pasture where travelers wander back and forth smelling the flowers. Nothing wrong with pastures, unless you're trying to get somewhere.
The way to life is famously narrow (Matthew 7:13), and it's all about Jesus. Joel Osteen should have stuck with Blitzer's first question: Christians can disagree on whether to vote for a Mormon for president, but sooner or later they must speak definitely about who Jesus is and what He did.