The clergy bears much of the blame for this distorted image of Christian life. Sermons often focus on how God offers the only true satisfaction. Pastors urge their congregations to repent of sexual immorality, drugs, alcohol and other vices because those behaviors hurt them, keeping them from all the blessings that God desires to give them. Sin, therefore, is little more than a barrier to a life of happiness and abundance, and should be shunned in order that believers can enjoy "abundant life."
Going deeper into what descends from 21st Century evangelical teaching, our sociologist would discover copious evidence that Christianity is primarily concerned with maintaining the egos of the faithful. Many pastors and Christian writers carefully promote self-esteem as being essential to Christian development. As a result, following Christ degenerates into just another spiritual path to personal reassurance, allowing believers to value themselves and feel comfortable in letting Jesus focus His love and attention on them.
As an example, Rick Warren's book, Purpose Driven Life, opens with the statement, "It's not about you." From there, however, Warren launches into 40 chapters (quoting Scripture from multiple translations and often out of context) explaining the ways in which knowing God's purpose for their lives, while advancing God's Kingdom, will ultimately benefit them. Despite his startling opening statement, Warren delivers the subtle message that, once they learn God's purpose, they indeed will experience deep satisfaction...making it all about them after all.
Joel Osteen is a bit more blatant, proclaiming that, if we obey God, people can live their "best lives now." God, in Osteen's world, promises prosperity in this life, making Himself a means to an end. Through Osteen, our sociologist might conclude that Christianity centers on worldly success, as believers use faith to bring about desired results. Again, God's job appears to be that of catering to the wants and perceived needs of His creatures.
But Christian leaders don't bear sole responsibility for corrupting and diluting the Gospel. Although Bibles and good study materials are increasingly available both electronically and in hard copy, Biblical literacy even among those who have been Christians for multiple decades is breathtakingly low. Even people who attend churches that offer deficient instruction (and in certain parts of the country, Bible-believing churches are few and far between) have access to websites that provide sound doctrine. A few can be found on the left sidebar of this blog, under the heading "Christian Thinking."
The Bible does present God as an incredibly loving Father who eagerly blesses His children, even in this life. Very frequently, He does grant petitions, clearly demonstrating His joy in providing over and above what His children ask of Him. He loves His creation. So please, don't interpret this post as implying that He is unconcerned with His followers. In truth, His love for humanity took His Son to a Roman cross so that He could shed His blood to atone for human sin. He offers those who believe in Him eternal life, where they can behold His Face, finally and forever free from their propensity to sin.
But His wonderful promises, as much as they benefit believers, are ultimately given for His glory. Everything He does is a reflection of Him. Rather than existing to serve His creatures, then, He has created His people to glorify Him.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~~1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)