January 20, 2021

Outing Joel Osteen: A Challenge to the Evangelical Blogosphere

joel.jpg Before you read this post, I want to ask you to read two interviews with Joel Osteen and the first part of his book.

The first is at Beliefnet.com. The second is at FaithfulReader.com.

Here is the book excerpt at Amazon.

Here is a long excerpt from the first chapter of Your Best Life Now at Parable.com

Here are Osteen sermons. (Check dates. More recent ones reflect the concerns of this post.) Also, this is the closest thing we can find to a Confession of Faith.

Update 16: Here is Osteen’s recent apology for his interview on Larry King, where he did exactly what I told you he does. Included are my recations. And here is a long letter from Bob Ross at Pigrim Publications, who says Osteen is personally committed to the Gospel. I have no trouble with that. It’s his books, sermons and STATUS that are the problems.

Update 15: Here’s a commenter at the BHT defending Osteen and calling me out as too rash.

Update 14: The Detroit News Feature story. They are right on target: A New Age Gospel of Motivational Messages.

Update 13: Best Osteen post ever. Alex Arnold. Thank you, Alex.

Update 12: 2/7/05 I have decided to close the comment threads on the Osteen posts. Thanks to all who have commented, and I hope raising this issue has contributed to a better understanding of Mr. Osteen and what he represents in American Christianity.

Go directly to the “Outing Osteen” post.

UPDATE: The Faithful Reader site went down for a while. So just in case that interview may disappear, here’s the cached copy of the page.

UPDATE 2: I have made a list of all the current Osteen resources I could find in 20 pages of googling. I will add to the list.

UPDATE 3: Should I be seeking personal reconciliation with Osteen according to Matthew 18?

UPDATE 4: My response to some BHT questions, including my speculation about why Osteen won’t name books or influences in interviews.

UPDATE 5: It’s been quite a weekend. Record traffic. Biggest month in IM history, mostly off the last two days. Some wonderful blog posts have been forwarded to me. Thanks to everyone. This post on the Sacraments at Lakewood is a good one. (I am not about debating theology with Osteen. I don’t hear any theology from him. What is said at his web site or from the phone center is not what you will read in Osteen’s book.) Things are happening. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 6: My response to the objection “You should never criticize people who are winning others to Christ.” From a longer IM essay on Criticism.

UPDATE 7:Here’s another answer to a commenter: Is Osteen Ok for those who already know the Gospel, and just need a lift?

UPDATE 8: A MUST READ! Tim Challies does the grunt work of comparing the rhetoric of New Ager Marianne Williamson and motivational speaker Tony Robbins with Rick Warren. Why post that here? Do you need to ask? I said it at the BHT: There is a reason Osteen doesn’t name books and influences. Could this be why?

UPDATE 9 Osteen on MSNBC 2/1/05. He’s ok with being called a motivational speaker. Meanwhile, Michael Horton says what Osteen’s message really is: Fortune cookies.

UPDATE 10: Relevant scripture, and a story where “There really is a cliff!”

UPDATE 11: Amazon.com reviews of Osteen’s book, compiled by Byron Harvey. Also, Get Religion’s Osteen piece.

And for those who don’t care for what I am up to here, try this and this. Someone asked me if I wanted to pastor 30,000? 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.

UPDATE 12: Many excellent posts are out there, but few better than the BHT’s Richard. Updated: Tim Challies does a 5 star post on Osteen. Thanks, Tim. Updated again: Razorkiss has one of the best posts I’ve read. Very good information and quotes.

This is the pastor of America’s largest church. This will soon be the leading spokesperson for evangelical Christianity. This is the face and voice that will be heard speaking for the heirs of the Reformation. If you missed Jesus and the Gospel entirely, it’s because they weren’t there.

I want to know if anyone thinks we ought to try speaking up about this, at least once.

For those who haven’t heard the story, it goes like this.

John Osteen starts Lakewood Church. Osteen is a Baptist preacher, Texas style, who’s gone Pentecostal/Charismatic. The church grows to 10,000 members. Osteen preaches the Gospel, preaches missions, and is a respected “classic” Pentecostal/Charismatic leader. He isn’t, however, preparing for what happened next.

He died suddenly. Pentecostal churches the size of Lakewood are usually family dynasties, but Osteen didn’t lay the groundwork for his succession. His wife preaches for a while, and then his son Joel, who had been working with (I believe) the church’s media ministries. In other words, behind the scenes, apparently not planning to be pastor.

Joel tries out the pulpit. He’s not much of a preacher at first. He’s nervous, but the congregation is cheering for him. He’s cute, appealling and, eventually, funny. He’s got a beautiul wife. He’s charming, and tells a good story. He’s disarmingly vulnerable. He makes you feel good. He’s not like the usual ranting, angry preachers. He’s a nice guy.

Before long, Joel is comfortable in the role of pastor, and the church begins to grow. He’s preaching the usual word-faith stuff and things go well. But then Joel changes his emphasis….and things explode. In fact, in just over a decade, it triples to 30,000 and becomes the largest church in America. They buy the Compaq Center, former home of the NBA Houston Rockets. 18,000 seats. He’s on TBN, PAX and CNBC overseas.

What happened? Joel makes a remarkable shift away from his father’s style of more traditional Pentecostal/Charismatic preaching. He becomes a positive thinker- Peale and Schuller style. A preacher of “think positive and be blessed” principles. Prosperity preaching, but not with some tangled version of the Gospel at the center like so many on TBN (take Kenneth Copeland as an example.) It’s “have a better attitude and be blessed” motivational talks that have no relation to the essentials of the Christian Gospel. You rarely hear any theology or Gospel preaching. God is good and wants to bless you. Period. That’s it. Instead, Osteen’s messages are about “God’s Favor” on marriage, finances and career. Sin is never mentioned. In well over 25 hours of preaching that I listened to this year, Jesus was almost never mentioned, and when he was mentioned, it was in a perfunctory prayer in the last minute. Sin, the Cross, the atonement? Not there.

Osteen preaches about positive thinking, being blessed, resurrecting dreams and taking risks. His book is called “Your Best Life Now.” Despite endorsements from at least one preacher who supposedly understands the Gospel, the message of the Cross of Jesus Christ isn’t the focus of Osteen’s message- ever. It’s positive thinking. Good advice for people who need a lift relationally or financially. It’s the message of a good God who wants to bless you with a bigger house, a better job and, of course, a better attitude.

This Joel Osteen, a young man who stumbled into his father’s shoes, now is the most successful pastor in America, and will soon be a best selling author, seen and heard around the world standing in a pulpit, preaching pragmatic positive thinking, pure and simple, out of an open Bible. He will represent evangelicalism with his big smile and a message that would make Screwtape shout “Amen! Preach it brother.”

This is where evangelicalism has come to in 2005. This is what the heirs of the Reformation have come to accept as acceptable. This is what can be endorsed and advertised to evangelicals and be sure to sell millions of copies.

It makes me angry and I want to do something.

I have a simple question.

Is this going to happen with the silence of evangelicals, or will someone speak up? Will Osteen continue his arc to fame and leadership with little or no comment from those in evangelicalism who have the responsiblity of discernment? Are we going to sit still and just shake our heads, or might we do more?

I wonder how many of our churches are already populated by Osteen fans. How many deacons, elders, teachers and worship leaders are enamored with the adorable Osteen and his positive message? How many young people are going to be pointed to Osteen as a true shepherd of Jesus Christ? I know a lot of people in my world are lining up for the Osteen message as if he were just another version of Rick Warren. He’s not. He’s not one of us.

Make no mistake about this: Osteen isn’t confused about Jesus like many of the prosperity preachers you hear on TBN. Osteen is intentionally avoiding irrtiating language about sin because he wants to keep it positive every week. He is not just avoiding mentioning Jesus, the cross and the Gospel just because he is seeker sensitive. Joel Osteen is preaching the no-Gospel, no-Jesus message because it’s filling the church with thousands of people who want to hear it. Osteen will ignore his critics because the common people are voting every week- in book sales, ratings numbers and attendance- for his message.

At the biggest church in the country, Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, Pastor Joel Osteen preaches to some 25,000 people each week — and sin is not on the menu. Osteen said his goal is to “give people a boost for the week.”

“I think for years there’s been a lot of hellfire and damnation. You go to church to figure out what you’re doing wrong and you leave feeling bad like you’re not going to make it,” Osteen said. “We believe in focusing on the goodness of God.”

Osteen defends Lakewood’s ways, saying the lively and inclusive atmosphere is attracting a whole new generation of parishioners.

“I have parents tell me all the time that their kids will sit down and watch us on TV or that they want to come to the service because it’s simple and something they can understand,” he said.

Some Lakewood qualities that appeal to a younger set are “the best lighting and the best sound system,” a youth ministry program that attracts hundreds, and every service kicks off with 30 minutes of upbeat contemporary music — not hymns — played by a live band.

“It’s not a churchy feel,” Osteen, 40, said. “We don’t have crosses up there. We believe in all that, but I like to take the barriers down that have kept people from coming. A lot of people who come now are people that haven’t been to church in 20 to 30 years.”

…Lakewood’s attendance has grown so massive that the church recently bought the Compaq Center, a former sports arena, which is being remodeled to hold an even larger congregation.

“This will be the first church in the country to see 35,000 people,” Vaughan said.

He’s being sold to us by people who want to make money off his success, and they are counting on us to be sheep, “baaing” quietly, but going along to the slaughter.

Any analysis of Joel Osteen’s theology is going to have a hard time saying he is proclaiming the Christian message. The most popular preacher in Christianity is proclaiming a theology that is neither Christian, nor Jewish, nor Muslim, but is pragmatically pagan. Pagan in the sense of finding ways to gain the favor of god so he will do good things for you. Manipulating the deity to give you blessings. This is the ultimate example of Luther’s “theology of glory” chosen over the “theology of the cross.” I would rather a non-Christian hear John Shelby Spong a hundred times than hear this. Spong denies it all- outright. Osteen is presented as a Christian, but his message isn’t going to bring you to Christ, the Kingdom or heaven. It’s spiritual cyanide disguised as candy. If there is a hell, Osteen’s message won’t stop you or the people you love from going there, because the savior in his messages is YOU and the salvation he offers is a NEW ATTITUDE, and some resulting real estate.

The question becomes, will evangelicals do anything? Will they say anything? Will they register their objections to Osteen’s reshaping of the Reformation gospel into a positive thinking message that makes Robert Schuller look like John Calvin in comparison?

I have a challenge for one segment of the evangelical community: The Blogosphere. My fellow bloggers.

I want to challenge the Christian Blogosphere to devote at least one substantial post to outing Joel Osteen. Why is a man who doesn’t preach the gospel the most popular preacher in America? Are we going to take note of what kind of message is going to be identified as building the largest church in America? In short, who in the blogosphere is willing to stand up and say “Joel Osteen’s message of positive thinking as a way to God’s favor isn’t the Christian Gospel.”

I want to challenge my fellow bloggers to do something most evangelicals won’t do: speak up. I want you to post something. I want you to send that post to other bloggers. Send those posts to evangelical leaders, magazines and reporters. Send them to the publisher of Osteen’s book. Send them to pastors, elders and staff members. Send them to World and ask why Joel Osteen’s abandonment of the Gospel of Christ and the cross isn’t front page news. Send those posts to Max Lucado and John Maxwell and ask why they have endorsed a ministry that purposely avoids mentioning Jesus Christ, but eagerly embraces a different message. Send those posts to Christianity Today, Relevant, Boundless, Discipleship Journal and anyplace else you can think of.

Let’s ask the questions:

Is Joel Osteen a representative of the evangelical Gospel if he believes that Christianity is about getting blessings from God in this life?
In a time of suffering, AIDS, persecution and sacrifice by Christians around the world, is Joel Osteen the person who should speak for Christians who believe in the message that is being suffered for and died for by thousands?
When evangelicals have been represented by John Stott and Billy Graham, are we going to be silent while Osteen becomes the new voice of evangelicalism?
Is Osteen preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or are these “lifts for the week” something else entirely?
Why are evangelicals embracing this man, his message and his ministry? What’s wrong with us?

My challenge:

1. Write a post about Osteen.
2. Encourage other bloggers to do the same. (Forward this link if you wish.)
3. Send it out. Raise the questions, speak the truth. Nail something on the door of the world.

I can’t bear to think of those who have come before us handing us the Gospel through all their faithfulness and sacrifice, and we give it to a man like Osteen; a man who doesn’t want to preach the glory of Christ, but the possibilities of a positive attitude. A man who has betrayed the gospel and is growing rich and powerful on that betrayal.

Will you join me?