Every so often, as I am surfing through the channels on my television, I will run across Joel Osteen. His big-toothed smile always beams across the cable lines, and his message always seems to be the same. But it must be a popular message-the television broadcast of Lakewood Church's services reaches 100 million homes, and Osteen's book Your Best Life Now was a New York Times Best Seller.
An interview on Larry King Live a couple of years ago provided a glimpse into the heart of Joel Osteen's message. There is no doubt that Mr. Osteen is genuine in what he says, just as there is no doubt that he earnestly desires to provide some type of guidance to those who hear him. However, after reading the transcript of that interview several times, I could not help but notice several areas in which the teachings of Joel Osteenand many others like himfall short of Biblical demands.
First, one cannot help but be taken aback by Osteen's aversionnot just avoidance but aversionto anything remotely related to doctrine. Time and again, Larry King attempts to provoke a position statement from the "smiling preacher," only to be met with a watered-down response or a direct dismissal. Notice Osteen's noncommittal attitude after being asked, "But don't you think if people don't believe as you believe, they're somehow condemned?":
You know, I think that happens in our society. But I try not to do that. I tell people all the time, preached a couple Sundays about it. I'm for everybody. You may not agree with me, but to me it's not my job to try to straighten everybody out. The Gospel called the good news. My message is a message of hope, that's God's for you. You can live a good life no matter what's happened to you. And so I don't know. I know there is condemnation but I don't feel that's my place (emphasis mine throughout this article, CP)
Admittedly, Joel Osteen, even if he were to voice his beliefs, would not come down on the Biblical side of such teachings as salvation, worship, etc. But he's not even willing to stand up for the denominational version of these ideals! Larry King followed a question regarding belief with the following:
KING: What if you're Jewish or Muslim, you don't accept Christ at all?
OSTEEN: You know, I'm very careful about saying who would and wouldn't go to heaven. I don't know...
KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They're wrong, aren't they?
OSTEEN: Well, I don't know if I believe they're wrong. I believe here's what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God will judge a person's heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don't know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don't know. I've seen their sincerity. So I don't know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.
Every time King confronts him with a question that hits the Biblical bedrock, Osteen stammers and shimmies his way out of the question. His answer to the all-important problem of human suffering is "I don't know Larry. I don't know it all" (which is true to an extent, but his knowledge seems horribly limited). Osteen's favorite filler statement in this interview is "I don't know&," and truly he doesn't appear to know much of anything. But God's Word provides a different picture. Jesus taught, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32), and He commanded His followers to "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). Paul commanded Timothy to "preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Timothy 4:2). To be sure, Paul's picture of preaching as 2/3 negative is vastly different from Osteen's smiling motivational lectures.
Just as disturbing as Osteen's lack of knowledge and concern for the core truths of the Gospel is his focus on material success. Consider this exchange between King and Osteen:
OSTEEN: I think, I hear it meaning a lot of different things. One I think a lot of it is that I'm not condemning people. And I don't know, but Larry I talk, I mean every week in our church we're dealing with people that are fighting cancer, that have their lost loved ones. That are going through a divorce. I mean, I talk about those issues, and to me I don't see how it can get any more, you know, real than that. So I don't know what the criticism is.
KING: What is the prosperity gospel?
OSTEEN: I think the prosperity gospel in general is -- well I don't know. I hear it too. I don't know. I think what sometimes you see is it's just all about money. That's not what I believe. It's the attitude of your heart, and so you know, we believe -- but I do believe this, that God wants us to be blessed. He wants us to be able to send our kids to college, excel in our careers. But prosperity to me, Larry, is not just money, it's having health. What good is money if you don't have health?
KING: Also many in the Christian belief are wary of too much material, aren't they?
OSTEEN: Yeah, I think some of them are. But to me, you know, I hope people get blessed if they can handle it right. Because it takes money to do good. You know to do things for people. To spread the good news. So I think it's all a matter of your heart.
Though Mr. Osteen attempts to do the old Texas two-step around the issue, it's clear to see his focus is on the material rather than the physical. Those who listen in ignorance to Osteen's messages cannot help but get the impression that righteousness equals wealth. Preachers of his breed are merely reproducing the philosophy of Job's friends: "Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? Or where were the righteous cut off?" (Job 4:7). However, such a materialistic view of God's blessings is full of serious holes in light of the nature of the world. How many who have bought into such philosophies end up echoing the sentiments of the Psalmist: "For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (Psalm 73:3)? Joel Osteen might have trouble gaining support for his prosperity gospel from the literally millions of New Testament Christians here and in foreign lands who labor to get by from day to day yet remain faithful to God. To be sure, God has promised the faithful Christian the necessities of life (Matthew 6:25- 33), and those who abide by godly principles will fare better than those in similar circumstances who do not, but the focus of the Gospel message is salvation of the soul, not of the bank account (Matthew 6:19-21).
The crux of this issue is simple: Joel Osteen and others of his mold provide what the masses want to hear. With "itching ears" (2 Timothy 4:3) people in general want someone "preaching" to them who will not challenge them to improve or rebuke them for their sin, but who will stroke their fragile egos and reinforce their beliefs that if they work hard and are more or less good people, they will be blessed materially. Sadly, there is so much lacking in that message that mankind desperately needs.
Friend, are you spending your Sundays listening to someone who pats your head but whose best answer to the serious questions is, "I don't know"? Are you longing for the breath of fresh air that only the pure Gospel represents? Find a faithful congregation of the Lord's church and submit to God's authority in your life. Become a Christian, or dear Christian, thirst for truth. Long for the only prosperity that will last spiritual prosperity.
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McMinnville, TN 37110
1 See full transcript at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0506/20/lkl.01.html
- The Bible (37)
- The Church (33)
- Holy Spirit (2)
- Bible Authority (11)
- Calvinism (7)
- Nature of God (9)
- Faith (19)
- Family Matters (7)
- Denominationalism (10)
- Attitudes (46)
- Christian Living (57)
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