As I read Joel Osteen’s website and the answers he gives to reporters’ questions, the words of St. Paul ring true:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach contrary to the one who preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If aanyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9, ESV).
What is the reason for this post? Is it that I’m a Lutheran, and we just like to take potshots at people with whom we disagree? Perhaps that is true, but that’s not why I’m writing this. This is about someone with enormous influence, both among Christians and among those who are on the outside looking in. What do they see when they see Joel Osteen as a representative of Christianity?
It should set off buzzers, spinning red lights, and air-horns when a church website spends more space on its facilities, programs, your “spiritual needs,” and what you can get out of them to live a more fulfilling life than the space it uses on who Jesus Christ is. Sure, there’s lots of sugary, pious God-talk; but what does it have to do with Jesus? The only God you can know outside of Christ is a judging, demanding, absolute, and damning God, a God whose hands one fears to fall into, a God who is a consuming fire. That God, however, does not sound at all like the one being preached at Lakewood Church (a.k.a, Compaq Center). Is it a big surprise that only one of the five pastors/ministers/directors is ordained, and he’s last on the list?
They do mention Jesus in the “What We Believe” section, but it’s clear from the rest of the site that those parts about Jesus are the perfunctory doctrine, blah, blah, blah parts. What’s really important are the last two:
WE BELIEVE…every believer should be in a growing relationship with Jesus by obeying God’s Word, yielding to the Holy Spirit and by being conformed to the image of Christ.
WE BELIEVE…as children of God, we are overcomers and more than conquerors and God intends for each of us to experience the abundant life He has in store for us.
[You’ll look in vain for that last part in the Apostles’ Creed.] How do I know those are the most important parts? Because at the top of the page are these words: “Discover the Champion in You.” Substitute “Divine” for “Champion” and I don’t think Lakewood changes too much.
Actually, what I’m really wondering is what gives Joel Osteen the right to say anything for God? He’s not ordained; he’s not theologically educated. Did God call him to preach there? How do we know? And if we cannot be sure, we shouldn’t be listening. The only things that are assuredly done are the things that are Dominically done; the only thing that is Dominically done is making disciples by means of baptizing and teaching (Matthew 28); and forgiving and retaining sins (John 20). If Joel Osteen (or any other pastor, for that matter) is not doing those things, he is not to be regarded as carrying out what God has given him to do.
There are more, and not unimportant, things. Such as, how can a church sustain itself when it is based around the personality and good looks of its pastor, rather than the Word of Jesus Christ? Is it even proper for a pastor to have his own website linked on the church’s website? It is obvious even to the casual visitor (and I consider myself one, since I don’t spend the majority of my time on Osteen’s website) that Joel Osteen is the center of Lakewood Church, since one sees Osteen’s face more than anything else.
Or what about the fact that in this interview Osteen never once mention Jesus by name. This is not about a “Jesus-mention quotient;” it is about the center of a person’s message.
Enlightening quotes from the interview:
I think, too, that my message is just very positive and hopeful and I think people are looking for that. There’s so much negativity pulling people down, that I think they respond when you say, “You know what, God’s not mad at you, He’s on your side, He’s got a good plan for your life, and when we obey what He wants us to do, we’re going to prosper.” I believe God wants us to live—the bible says He wants us to live—an abundant life.
God’s not mad about sin and at sinners? God’s not mad at those who practice adultery, homosexual behavior, lusting, stealing, lying, murdering, gossiping, greed, and everything else that sinful humans do? No, He’s on your side. Nod, nod, wink, wink. Hmm, God on the side of sin. I think St. Paul had something to say about that. This is the problem with “preachers” who have no Biblical theology taught by others who are Biblical theologians: there is absolutely no critical thought about what he’s actually saying; no critical thought about what the Bible might actually mean, when Jesus says that He has come to give life, even abundant life.
To get back to the other question, I think the message is very practical and relevant. I’m not necessarily explaining deep, theological questions and doctrine and stuff like that—I’m talking about how you can live your everyday life. When I speak, I try to make it a point to talk about something people can use that day or tomorrow at work. It’s practical things—how the bible can relate to us today—and I’ve had people come from other churches and say “you know, I’ve learned more how to live life in a few months here than I have in a long time.”
Who needs the Bible for that? I can tell you how to live based on any religion that exists today. The Bible is absolutely worthless if it exists to help us live our lives.
A lot of the letters we get, people say “I used to go to church when I was little because my parents made me but I’ve never been back and you restored my faith” or “you know what, I thought the church was made up of hypocrites and stuff,” so I like to get beyond the church walls, to try to get out into the community, and I think that’s helped the book. I think it’s also just practical—”Hey, this makes sense, but it’s all backed up by the bible.” It’s all scriptural principles; I just don’t necessarily put 100 scriptures before I start to try to prove it.
The Church is made up of hypocrites. Even–it’s hard to believe–Joel Osteen’s church. There are no “Scriptural principles.” This is not AA. There are no “steps” to “your best life.” His whole message is vacuous crap.
I do think you have to follow your heart. I think that’s how God leads you—not in your head—because, some things—it didn’t make sense that I would want to take over the church when I had never spoken but one time before, but I just knew down in here [motions to his heart] I was supposed to do it. This way, God gets the credit; he’s the one who helped me with this.
What’s wrong with these statements? God gets the credit when I follow my heart. No, actually, you get the credit, because it’s your heart. God does not lead you in your heart; the devil does. If it’s not from outside yourself, it is a lie. (It can be a lie also from outside, but you can be sure it is a lie if it comes from inside.)
He can’t even bring himself to call sin sin. This is a theology of glory, plain and simple.
The thing that’s interesting about Lakewood is that it’s very diverse—there may be as many Democrats and Republicans as Independents—and I feel like the message God’s given me is hope and inspiration and how to live life, and I think the moment I go and say I’m a staunch this supporter or that supporter, I divide my audience . . . I tell people all the time, “We’re not for abortion, I don’t think that’s best, I don’t think gay marriage is best, but our doors are open to everybody.” We have every kind come in.
Abortion is not best? Gay marriage is not best?
How about destructive? How about an affront to God? How about abomination, Joel? Don’t want to divide your audience? Then you do not follow Christ, who divided mother from daughter, and father from son. That’s in the Bible.
We started a station before my dad died and I learned how to run the station—the lead in, the lead out, all the different aspects there—and I do think that’s given me a good background . . . Also, it’s important to me that the production of our broadcast is very high quality. I realize that you’ve got to have good cameras and lighting and good presentation if you expect your message to be received, because you’re competing with people, if that’s the right word, that are doing the Grammies and local news, and you can’t be subpar. That’s certainly helped us, because when people flip by and say, “What is this?” it’s on that same level.
That’s just plain ridiculous. Man, if only we could have gotten Paul and Jesus a good P.R. firm. Just think where Christianity could be today! Paul, on the other hand, said,
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV).
Why have I spent so much time on this? And I don’t have any doubt that someone will read this and angrily ask how I can criticise a preacher and a fellow Christian. (Of course, if you ask that question, you should read this before answering.) The same way the prophets and apostles and Jesus can: because they preach a false gospel, which, as Paul says, is really no Gospel at all.