As 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.