April 24, 2017

Osteen Redux

osteen_1144428723.jpgAs far as this blog goes, Joel Osteen posts have been good business. The largest traffic in the history of IM came from my original posts about “the smiling preacher.” I have it on good authority that, sometime in the near future, my famous Joel Osteen post is going to be getting some large attention. I thought it would be a good time to revisit Mr. Osteen, and update my one excursion into the sport of watchblogging.

I’ve continued watching Joel Osteen’s preaching at least twice a month for the past year. I’ve also continued to read his interviews and commentaries as they have appeared on the Internet. Since Osteen has, on at least one occasion, issued a statement clarifying his personal commitment to some form of orthodox Christian belief, I had some hopes that whatever attention was paid to Osteen’s beliefs might show up in more attention to the Gospel in Osteen’s message.

This has not been the case, and Osteen has continued his trajectory away from any recognizable form of evangelicalism. In his speaking and writing, Osteen continues to be a positive thinking guru and motivational speaker who uses the trappings of a Christian pastor and preacher to tap into a gullible, compromised audience whose great commonality seems to be their agreement that Joel is personally charming and “Your Best Life Now” sounds a lot more interesting than “take up your cross and follow me.”

One of the most significant Osteen interviews available today is an interview with CBS’s Harry Smith. In this interview, Smith tells Osteen that his message seems similar to the message of motivational speaker/positive thinking guru Norman Vincent Peale. Osteen’s response is no surprise.

“It’s amazing,” Osteen said. “I was preaching two or three years when someone gave me one of his books. I was going to say, ‘He thinks like me.’ I think like him. It seems like it’s the same base there. God is on our side and if you think right, I believe, like Norman Vincent Peale did, that your life follows your thoughts. You get up negative, oppressive, you’re (sic) day will go that way.”

My concern about Osteen is centered in Osteen’s refusal to articulate the Gospel, but to instead give a positive thinking philosophy of motivation and success framed with a few Biblical references. While Osteen claims that the cross is the basis for his faith, his messages and books have no more of the cross in them than the messages of a Muslim or a Buddhist. Doctrines such as the incarnation, depravity, repentance, faith in Christ alone, the atonement, and taking up the cross are invisible in Osteen’s ministry. This is not an accident. Osteen and his handlers are clear that this is on purpose.

A recent TBN interview of Osteen by TBN heir Matt Crouch was interesting to me as well. In the interview, Crouch was trying to find a way to ask Joel why it is he doesn’t preach Jesus Christ and the Gospel. He was reaching for some kind of term, finally settling on “pre-evangelism.” Osteen, of course, agrees with everything, though what he understands by “pre-evangelism” no one will ever know. The significant thing is that it’s not a secret to anyone that Osteen doesn’t preach about Jesus and the Gospel. On this there is remarkable agreement. The differences come in how this is explained.

In a typical “pro-Joel” testimony, you will hear from someone who says they always hated television preachers and never listened to them, but they love Joel and never miss him because he isn’t like other preachers. At this point, Joel supporters assure us we are moving this person toward Christ. An informed Joel observer will note that keeping Jesus and the Gospel out of sight completely seems to be working well for Joel, and there is no evidence that this a “pre-evangelism” strategy for presenting Christ. It’s eliminating everything in the Gospel that in any way might offend, and calling talks on attitude and positive thinking “Christianity.” Minus a few decorative mentions of the Bible, Osteen’s talks could largely be given by any guru, witch, imam, pagan or humanistic psychologist.

Osteen appears to be continuing on his chosen trajectory to become the most influential preacher on the planet by abandoning the Christian faith in favor of a very American and very Christless message of salvation from a bad life by positive thinking and behavior change. Osteen’s charm and good looks have won over millions, and most evangelicals are too mired in the materialism and “good life” pursuits at the root of Osteen’s message to effectively challenge him.

Conservative evangelicals are strangely silent about Osteen, even though he outdoes liberals, mystics, the emerging church and many outright apostates in his abandonment of the Gospel. One of the reasons I am a post-evangelical is that I see little evidence that evangelicalism has the ability to separate itself from a successful minister who threw the Gospel itself away in order to be popular. Osteen is the present and the future of evangelicalism. If this is where we’re going, you can have him, and the whole movement.

I’ll close with a summary of my criticisms of Joel Osteen.

1) As presented in his books and messages, Joel Osteen isn’t an evangelical. He’s a motivational speaker.
2) No matter what his personal or occasional doctrinal statements, Osteen’s books and sermons are absent the Gospel message.
3) The vast majority of Osteen’s message is simply advice for being a better person- the antithesis of the cross and the Gospel.
4) The MSMs attention to Osteen as a successor to Billy Graham should be loudly opposed by every pastor, preacher, teacher, leader and blogger in evangelicalism.
5) The promotion of Osteen by publishing interests is an outright detriment to the cause of Christ in the name of making money.

One last note. Someone said that I don’t like Osteen because he is successful and has a large church. While I am not a fan of large churches, I would quickly point out that I admire men like Piper, Keller and Driscoll, all with large, growing churches. That Osteen has turned the thermostat to the temperature of the culture and the masses have shown up is not evidence of anything in particular. Crowds show up for everything from worship to wrestling.

Comments

  1. Justin Buzzard says:

    Good, thoughtful analysis of Osteen’s gospel-less message. I’ve linked to this over at Buzzard Blog.

  2. In an evangelical world that is dominated by the question, “How big is your church?”, Osteen is the King of the Hill. It doesn’t matter that his preaching owes more to Tony Robbins than Charles Spurgeon. Might makes right. Joel holds up his Bible at the beginning of his motivational messages, so he must be a Christian preacher.

    And men and women who know better, idly sit back and allow this untrained man to confuse hundreds of thousands of people (from his TV pulpit) about the person of Jesus Christ and the true Evangel.

    God help us all!

  3. In Jan. 2005 Osteen did an interview with Evan Smith for Texas Talks – a Charlie Rose style interview show done by the PBS affiliate in Austin for Texas Monthly Magazine. Here’s a link to some clips from Osteen’s “no cajones” schtick:

    http://www.klru.org/texasmonthlytalks/archives/osteen/osteen.asp

  4. “Any church that cannot provide a meaningful interaction between pastor/elders and the entire congregation, in the homes of the members, regularly, personally, is too big. Megachurch numbers don’t represent churches, but denominations that gather in one room occasionally. I say this to everyone from Piper to whomever: Keep it small enough for shepherds to know the sheep.”

    Dern you to Heck iMonk! I have been successfully dodging church for the last two years by telling anyone that asks that I attend Saddleback or Lakewood. They have no idea that you’re lying because nobody can possibly know if you’ve been there or not. I just download the latest lecture from the church website and *poof* I’m an instant congregant. Very convenient…and you’re trying to ruin it all!

  5. Jeremiah Lawson says:

    If someone on TBN is asking you why you don’t preach about Jesus and the Gospel … that I’ll admit I never anticipated happening. I’m still remembering the second Paul Crouch was informed that not all Christians believe in a secret rapture by a Christian scholar who was about to have his show on early Christian literature summarily cancelled.

  6. Perhaps its Joels Purpose Driven Bank account that keeps him from presenting the true Gospel.

  7. I believe the reference you are looking for is – 2 Timothy 4:3 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;”

    I think of Osteen as sugar. Pleasant right now, but lacking in nutritional value, and harmful in large quantities. I have learned things from him, but I worry that he is creating the sorts of ‘believers’ who are likely to quickly back-slide when tribulation comes. Such people are then somewhat innoculated against future receptance of the Good News.

  8. The funniest and saddest bit I read recently on Osteen involved putting the word “suffering” in the search engine on his website.

    0 hits. Not a big surprise. I am appalled by the guy. He makes my skin crawl. If he uses scripture at all he must just ignore massive chunks of it.

  9. Thanks for this article, but I’m just wanting clarification about point 3: “…advice for being a better person- the antithesis of the cross and the Gospel”.

    Is advice for becoming a better person antithetical to the Gospel? Or is making “being better” the core of the message – instead of the cross – the antithesis?

  10. After investigation, I am appalled at the insistence that Joel (and I use his first name because he speaks in such a kind and friendly manner) is a liberal with no doctrine. I found him to be quite conservative as he “spoke the truth in love” – rigidly, yet tenderly, insisting that if I was going to live my life as God intended I needed to get more rest, change my eating habits, and exercise on a regular basis – and he gave examples of how he had done just those things. If he were truly seeking popularity only, surely he would have encouraged my nightly bowl of ice cream (or two) and a flop on the couch instead of being so dogmatic about my need for change. I felt empowered and inspired, especially during that more brief than I had been told “sinner’s prayer” at the end (sometimes one must make sacrifices for commercial breaks). I was informed if I had repeated that hurried prayer “they” believed I had become a Christian. In just one “episode”, I was given the secrets for happiness here and maybe in the “hereafter”. I don’t think I even need any follow-up. Talk about get-rrr-done!

  11. Paul:

    >Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works. –Robert Farrer Capon

    Osteen preaches the law; what we should and ought to do. He preaches American style salvation with better lives and more real estate. The cross, the Gospel as the announcement of what God has done that we cannot do, is completely absent.

    If you are in a church that tells you to be a better person…may I offer some advice? Leave.

    Go hear the Gospel that Christ died for sinners and that, better person or not, he loves you as much as God can love a person, and you might become a better person 🙂

    Read Luther and Robert Capon.

    Peace…MS

  12. While I think it’s important that we examine teachings of brothers who state they are of the faith, we walk a fine line. We can’t forget Mk. 9:38-41 here..and must remember that thousands might be coming to Jesus sincerely through the vehicle of Joel Osteen (by God’s design).

    Humbly submitted.

  13. The reason I closed the comments on the previous post is so this kind of apology for Joel wouldn’t arrive every day. The argument that we ought to approve and applaud the success of men like Osteen because their success in winning some to Christ by God’s sovereign ability to speak through anyone is never used in scripture. It’s never used in scripture. Never. It’s a pragmatists argument, and it’s not humble. It basically says that while God has spoken clearly on what is to be preached- Can Osteen read the New Testament? esp I Cor 1-2?- we can say that “well…God is using him so we can’t judge him.”

    Same logic applies to Mormons. JWs. Cults. Apostates like Spong. God’s sovereignty isn’t the point of this discussion. God can save people by means of an episode of House M.D. if he wants. The point is that Osteen is the pastor of the largest church in America and he denies the Gospel intentionally. Finding ways to include his success in the Kingdom is simply finding ways to say the plain and obvious statements of the Bible don’t matter. Our numbers, money and success determine if God is with us.

    This is what’s killing evangelicals. This is the poison that’s made evangelicals in American pagan materialists with a Jesus who pays off your credit cards to the glory of God.

  14. Mr Spencer,

    I appreciate the “sharpening”.

    I agree with much of what you say. Evangelicals are in danger of being permissive with who we “align” ourselves.

    And, if I had a choice, I wouldn’t attend Osteen’s church. He doesn’t help me love Jesus more.

    That said, Osteen (as you say yourself) does make reference to Jesus after most of his tv sermons and invites viewers to pray the sinners prayer.

    You say that Osteen is more or less a motivational speaker – a postive “guru”. I agree. But, aren’t most pastors motivational speakers? Aren’t they trying to motivate you to love Jesus? Yes. They are – in essense – cheerleaders.

    While I think Osteen’s “aim” is wrong – with too much focus on trying to be a better person -..he isn’t about condemning Jesus’ teaching.

    Osteen has posted on his site, what he believes. And, he specifically states that Jesus is the only way. We need to take him for his word.

    I’ve seen some crazy means by God has chosen to save men. And, He often uses the foolish of the world to shame the wise (which is to say that Joel may be seen as “foolish” to the academic world).

    We would do well to focus our energies more on the those who don’t know Christ and those who are proposing false doctrine.

    Grace,
    A

    (Just wanting to comment on your last post..no need to post this – thanks).

  15. Aaron,

    I appreciate your generousity toward Osteen.

    1. Osteen has inherited this church. We should look at the changes he has made. When your first interview is an announcement that “the cross and that stuff” won’t play a big part in your message, it’s safe to say you are making some changes.

    2. There is a vast amount of the Bible- old and new- that pertains to the need of leadership to be faithful to the gospel. To assess Osteen as a faithful pastor, what will have to be done with those sections of the New Testament? Should they be considered as imnportant in the first century but not important for us today? I’m pretty sure that if Billy Graham said that he was in total agreement with Peale or that he didn’t intend to mention sin any more or that his crusades would now be about learning to eat better and get along with people, we’d all say something was terribly wrong.

    3. Osteen’s manner, smile, warmth, etc. simply don’t count in evaluating him on the level of message, and the presence of those things don’t make his abandonment of the message less serious.

    4. I’ll close by saying that the appeal to God’s sovereignty in saving people where the Gospel is not preached is a matter of the glory of God, not- in any way- a matter of how we should evaluate the messenger.

    peace, MS

  16. My wife and I attended church this morning. At least that is what the signs at and on the building indicated about the place that we attended.

    Yet, it was difficult throughout the “worship service,” at numerous times, to determine whether we were actually in a church. All the musical elements of the service were distinctively acts of performace. The opening song was a solo performance of Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.” Another performer played the piano and sang, imitating the composer of the song he sang, “Candle in the Wind” (Elton John, for those who may not have known).

    My wife and I were outraged.

    Joel Osteen is just one among many who have altered the gospel message.

    How tragic it is when we fear lest we offend humans but by choosing not to offend them, we offend God.

  17. I Joel Osteen has brought more people to the Lord then most. He loves people and is passionate about God. I think that GOD did not send you to judge nor rip someone apart. I think you need to look within yourself and when you are perfect like Jesus then maybe God will call you to JUDGE and criticize his children that are doing a mighty work in this WORLD!! Search your soul before you search someone elses!!!!

  18. The inanity of the comment above from rklavalle is disheartening. The internet monk has observed many messages from Joel Osteen and compared them to how the Bible defines the task of a minister of the gospel and shows how Joel Osteen does not heed Paul in 2 Timothy 2:8 “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (ok so he didn’t say all that, but I’m sure that is where the internet monk is coming from). If the internet monk cannot even do that, a legitimate mental exercise let alone as a preacher of the Gospel himself, without the state of his soul being questioned – well it leaves me feeling like somebody somewhere through out a couple of priorities.

  19. This pretty much says it all 4 me.This is the transcript of a Larry King interview of Joel Osteen.

    http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0506/20/lkl.01.html

  20. Rather timely, given that Time magazine has just hit the stands with an Osteen piece. That this should even be a subject of debate shows how low average Christian spirituality has become in the West. Yech!

    Mort

  21. wanderinwoodsman says:

    I am a first time reader and poster. I found your blog on Joel Osteen while searching for sermon ideas on Job 42. I affirm you comments especially your assessment that the evangelical movement is incapable of seperating itself from the prosperity movement. The latter is just popular enough that most preachers are afraid to alienate members of their congregation who have brought into the heresy.

    I share your frustration with the state of the church, especially the evangelical branch. It has become conformed to a materialistic, patriotic, and imperialistic sentimental distortion of the gospel. I just may have to keep reading your blog to remind myself that others share my views.

  22. well done on pulling back the curtain on Joel, great snake oil from that guy — in church the other night, a woman nearby noted that a flyer for an upcoming concert by a well known Christian music artist showed a dour look on his face. (great solid guy by the way) Perhaps she said he simply had no joy, and on her part, how sad, how could he present Jesus to people. Maybe he is missing something she said — but….wow, how about Joel! (I wanted to gag) she shared that she had seen Joel Osteen recently, and boy howdy what a man of God, he had a wonderful smile and was certainly a great ambassador. Remember Harold Hill? We’ve got trouble right here in river city and it’s in many parts of the Church among those without discernment.

  23. she-she62 says:

    To all commenters’:
    Lets talk doctrines for a second. The whole old testement letters of pauls never mentions the hell that is preached today as burning people for all etenity. When was this hell created and why was’nt Adam and Eve not warned of this etenal burning place? Also has anyone really went into great research on the beginings of the kjv of the bible. I myself read out of the concodant literal new testement and it makes alot of sence to me.It is translated from the greek vocabulary as it should have been done. And the word Hell is a lot different place translated right then a place of eternal torment. I think the reason that most people can’t take the smile of Joel Olsteen is because he is truly happy in his travels with Christ. If this were the same for all who disagree then maybe you should search yourself and stop worrying about how these people get along.Love one another and let God do the judging. Lets just assume that God will save all in the end, how will you be judged for the judgements you gave. I happen to believe that my Lord came here and died for all. The path you take in this world is your own and hell will follow you all your days without Christ. I say it this way. I am forgiven of my sin And I was saved from the foundation of the world.

    May god bless all.

  24. John MacArthur has not shied away from addressing the Joel Osteen problem in the church, and has called him a heretic in a recent sermon. But yes, most OTHER so- called evangelicals are strangely silent–don’t want to ruffle feathers or be unpopular themselves, I guess.

  25. Interesting how someone who can interest so many people in religion without ramming down their throats, ‘you are a sinner, you are a bad person etc’ is now condemned ? instead making people feel good with hope, why is that a bad thing. Since when does someone need years of biblical training to pass the word, surely guiding someone to find their own path is a better way, than some pretentious righteous minister spouting as if they and only they are ‘right’ because of years in a seminary. Is that not a little arrogant. many people would look at and consider religion if it weren’t forced down their throats, now someone has been sucessful with this softer more humane approach and is being condemned for it, ‘ careful those who cast the first stone ??’
    different route, same result.

  26. Im curious what you think of the lady on tbn with pink wigs? I think this would help me understand your critique of joel osteen

  27. joel oslsten… has given somethimg to the christian world that has been greatly needed….bALANCES…. i believe the church has been un balanced for years.. jesus came to give to life… balance and love..and most of all forgiveness..

  28. Caren,

    Jesus also came to call sinners to repentence. And He was hardest on the religious leaders of the day.

  29. Caren,

    I’d have to wonder if you even read what imonk said? His comments are accurate and well stated. They are no an attack on Osteen , but rather the concern about twhat he teaches! Osteen may be a lot of things, but he is no Orthodox Biblical preacher. He does not teach the Word!

    Might I suggest that you read the works of C.H. Spurgeon and/or Jonathan Edwards for about a year or so. Gain some perspective on Biblical exposition.

    I’m not sure how you support your belief that the ” the church has been unbalanced for years”? Exactly where in scripture do we find Jesus teaching about “balance”?

    One cannot come to Christ without first understanding their depravity and need of a Savior. Without the Gospel being presented, how can anyone receive Christ?

  30. Sophie Shih says:

    In his speaking and writing, Osteen continues to be a positive thinking guru and motivational speaker who uses the trappings of a Christian pastor and preacher to tap into a gullible, compromised audience whose great commonality seems to be their agreement that Joel is personally charming and “Your Best Life Now” sounds a lot more interesting than “take up your cross and follow me.”
    My concern about Osteen is centered in Osteen’s refusal to articulate the Gospel, but to instead give a positive thinking philosophy of motivation and success framed with a few Biblical references.

    While Osteen claims that the cross is the basis for his faith, his messages and books have no more of the cross in them than the messages of a Muslim or a Buddhist.

    Doctrines such as the incarnation, depravity, repentance, faith in Christ alone, the atonement, and taking up the cross are invisible in Osteen’s ministry. This is not an accident.

    Osteen appears to be continuing on his chosen trajectory to become the most influential preacher on the planet by abandoning the Christian faith in favor of a very American and very Christless message of salvation from a bad life by positive thinking and behavior change. Osteen’s charm and good looks have won over millions …

    most evangelicals are too mired in the materialism and “good life” pursuits at the root of Osteen’s message to effectively challenge him.

    Conservative evangelicals are strangely silent about Osteen, even though he outdoes liberals, mystics, the emerging church and many outright apostates in his abandonment of the Gospel.

    One of the reasons I am a post-evangelical is that I see little evidence that evangelicalism has the ability to separate itself from a successful minister who threw the Gospel … away in order to be popular. Osteen is the present and the future of evangelicalism. If this is where we’re going, you can have him, and the whole movement.

  31. Sue Ann says:

    I sat down last night tormented by who said they me loved but not my daughter.then i was called upon to watch Osteen.The message that was delivered gave me strength.i dont watch much of those shows.But when i do there is always a message and gift from GOD.Not all messages are ment for you.Patients ,Listen, and learn!

    God Bless,sue ann