August 10, 2020

Riffs: 01:02:08: Rocks Crying Out

joel-and-victoria.jpgUPDATE: There are many Joel Osteen posts at IM. Here’s one of the latest. Links will take you to others.

Commenters whose comment amounts to “Jesus wouldn’t be blogging” should not be surprised that I do not post your comment. I don’t want to draw you into this abyss of sin.

Slate Magazine’s Chris Lehmann tears into Osteen with all the truthfulness and disgust that thousands of evangelical pastors and teachers can’t seem to find.

This is a must read. Since Christian leaders can’t seem to speak out against an outright denial of the Gospel, rocks are going to have to speak up.

I salute Slate and Lehmann. Where’s this kind of reporting in Christian media?

A sample:

Indeed, if you bracket all the scary, irresponsible health-and-wealth cheerleading that jolts through Become a Better You, this exurban image of God the indulgent dad is among the more troubling features of the gospel according to Osteen. For it turns out that the divine hand turns up everywhere, at least in Joel Osteen’s life. God upgrades his reservations to first class on a long international flight; God spares his car in a water-planing wipeout on the Houston interstate; God allows Osteen and his wife/co-pastor, Victoria, to flip a property “for twice as much as we paid for it” in a once-sketchy Houston neighborhood; God swings a critical vote on the Houston zoning board to permit Lakewood to move to its mammoth Compaq Center digs—and God even saw fit 35 years earlier to ensure the engineer who designed the ramps leading to the Compaq Center provided easy parking access for Lakewood. This is a long, long way down the road from the inscrutable, infant-damning theology of this country’s Calvinist forebears—it is, rather, a just-in-time economy’s vision of salvation, an eerily collapsible spiritual narcissism that downgrades the divine image into the job description for a lifestyle concierge. Lakewood and Osteen seem to keep God so preoccupied it’s a wonder He can ever find the time to stock his fridge or whip out His wallet.


  1. Finally somebody breaks the silence about the plastic “preacher” that is Joel Osteen.

    I love the scripture used at the end of the article, Revelation 3:17 (NLT): You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.

    Put a toothpaste-commercial smile on that.

    (Feeling rather cynical today)

  2. I am by no means a Joel Osteen supporter, but I am going to sound like one in this comment. He too me is less dangerous than the others who are out there. He doesn’t take a salary from the church, he up until a couple of months ago drove a car he was given 9 years ago and he lives in the same house that he purchased 14 years ago. I don’t know if I would call him dangerous. I think the ones who the Senator called into question on their money tactics have more to explain and be held accountable with their preaching than Osteen does.

  3. So what did he do with $100+ million dollars last year? A good bit of it made by charging double digits for seats to hear him preach in stadiums.

    I’ve never said Osteen is a crook. I will say that his God and his Jesus are American Idols, and Osteen is leading millions into spiritual darkness.

    Here’s a recent quote left at this blog by an Osteen supporter:

    Who cares if he preaches the Bible messages or not. Perhaps the gospel’s messages are too old and stale and need a new interpretation; after all God hasn’t spoken again. I like to hear Osteen’s messages of hope and hard work because he propels you to look inside yourself and fix things up; don’t wait for God to do it for you; take charge, take responsibility and move on. The Gospels appeal to the poor or anyone that is not satisfy with life because they offer hope, but I never see Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or the like needing or looking for gospel messages. I like Osteen’s new hope. I don’t have to feel guilty for wanting something better for my family or myself. Osteen is not preaching envy and jealousy, but hard work and desire to conquer the barriers to carry you or me to the next level. It’s a new message of giving our gift “purpose” here on earth. Don’t wait for resurrection or eternal life, give it now. We don’t have any warranties that we’ll make it to the “eternal life” if any. Personally, I’m tired of others having what I desire and need the most while waiting for “things to get better with eternal life.” God left us his words; it’s up to us to make them work for as long as we need them. We shut down God every time we divert from our true purpose – the gift He sent us to experiment (sic) LIFE. Live and allow others to live – help others to live as well. Fill HIS purpose and you will feel GOD inside you like never before.

  4. Derek Smith says

    Did someone really say that?

    Lord have mercy.

  5. Olsteen is disgusting, and you are completely right about Christian media not saying anything. To me, this proves we are at an extreme, while thinking we are modern and enlightened. During the Reformation the penalty for public teaching of heresy was death.
    I think that was extreme. But now, we are on the other extreme of not only zero legal penalty, but we are supposed to be oh so gentle and diplomatic with those who teach lies about God. I am think this extreme is worse than anything done in past times.
    If you ask yourself who will fare better in the eyes of God, those who maybe went overboard protecting the truth of God, or those who not only do nothing, but will be diplomatic, and even vote into public office, those who teach lies about God?

    Also, on the comment about “infant damning Calvinists”. That is baloney, and you know it.
    Calvin believed that ALL who died in infancy went straight to paradise with God. We (ALL Christians) have no direct statements in Scripture concerning what happens to infants, so blaming us for it is a cheap shot and a lie.

    In Christ,


  6. James:

    Maybe you can explain to me why I needed to be told that a statement about Calvinism from SLATE includes some statements that I “know” aren’t true? Of course he says some things that aren’t true. He’s not a Christian as far as I can tell.

    Do you want me to launder the quote so that it’s inoffensive to Calvinists?

    And for the record, I can name a top 5 Internet Calvinist who believes God damns non elect infants.

  7. I’m pretty sure Lorraine Boettner could be added to that list as well.

    I hadn’t bothered to listen to Mr. Osteen until recently but when I was on a business trip, I ran across TBN while scanning the TV at the hotel. Holy cow I don’t see how people listen to more than 5 minutes of that stuff, much less come back week after week to hear it.

    Sadly, several of my relatives are among the ones who think he’s wonderful.


  8. Michael, not sure what you felt about the Blue Like Jazz craze across teh U.S. over the last few years, but after reading your blog, i just have to recommend a book to you and your readers for the new year. It is Brown Like Coffee. Kind of wacky but real challenging. I found it at . It seemed like it was kind of a response to Blue Like Jazz. I would be real interested to know what you think about Jazz, and then also Brown…

  9. I live in an affluent country in the Middle East. It is a Muslim nation. Christian literature is not allowed to be sold in the bookstores of the malls in this country.

    Osteen’s book is not only available, but prominently displayed on the shelves.

    ’nuff said?

  10. Umm, “rocks are going to have to speak up” to describe a piece in a magazine called Slate. Tell me that pun was intended and you get serious points for style, brother.

  11. Terri in Bellingham says

    Mark Driscoll showed a clip of Osteen preaching during a sermon a few weeks ago and then basically said “This is not true”. Pretty sure it was in his sermon on suffering and his point was that if we hold Jesus as a model, then trials and even suffering will be part of our lives and that God’s will for us is not peace, love and happiness but holiness and santification. Anyway, that pastor did speak out in a very clear way against Osteen’s message and that is encouraging.

  12. Terri in Bellingham,

    “God’s will for us is not peace, love and happiness but holiness and santification”

    Well put. While Michael was slightly critical of Dr. Thoennes in his post earlier in the week (specifically in relation to assuarnce), I think we all recognise the role of sanctification in the Chrsitian life. Something that Osteen seem to overlook (at least from my vantage point anyway). The focus on propserous gain lacks at least one great goal – virtue. while it is natural to seek comfort (all living creatures strive to satisfy their physical needs and reduce pain) it’s not necessarily virtuous. What’s natural aint necessarily noble.

  13. My pastor says this about Osteen:
    “What he’s doing is fine except for the fact that he uses the term “church” to describe his organization. ‘Self Help Ministries Inc.’ would be more apt. When it comes to proclaiming Christ, there is no there, there.”

    “Church” is where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached in it’s purity, and where the sacraments are administered in accordance with the Gospel.

    Thanks IM!

    – Steve

  14. Slate mag and IM are right on to expose Osteen for the fraud he is. Keep up the good work Michael.

  15. Bror Erickson says

    If the link yo gave me is any indication of what the book (brown like coffee) is like then I probably would not spend my money on it.
    I read Blue Like Jazz, and found it to be somewhat refreshing. No it was not a book that follows the orthodox outline. I as a Lutheran have a problem with just about everyones theology on some level. What I did not have a problem with was Donald Miller’s life/ or style. Seems like the “list guy” can’t get past the fact that Christians will drink, smoke and cuss, or that now this is getting to be more and more acceptable. I don’t have time for that kind of dribble. Was Donald Miller subjective in his writing, yes. But the “list guy” does a misnomer of attacking the fact that everyother sentence in Donald Miller starts with I. So does the great Christian classic “Confessions” by St. Augustine. Not that I would compare the two for doctrinal content. Augustine is in a league of his own.

  16. Where’s this kind of reporting in Christian media?

    Too busy with More Important Things:

    1) $aving $oul$.
    2) Young Earth Creationism Uber Alles.
    3) Pin the Tail on the Antichrist.
    4) Did I mention $aving $oul$?

    Indeed, if you bracket all the scary, irresponsible health-and-wealth cheerleading that jolts through Become a Better You, this exurban image of God the indulgent dad is among the more troubling features of the gospel according to Osteen.

    And why does Osteen get all these Special Indulgences from God while guys like you or me have to do it on our own? Is Osteen God’s Special Pwecious Widdle Pet and all the rest of us are dung? Do you realize the type of smugness that can cause among the “haves” and the envy and jealousy among us “have-nots”?

  17. I think this quote from the Slate article explains a lot about Osteen’s followers:

    (No matter how emphatically an arena full of believers may shout “Never, never, never,” they always sound like pouting toddlers.)

    And Osteen promises the Pouting Toddlers a Sugar Daddy in the sky who’ll give his Widdle Pwecious Darwings whatever they want, never inconveniencing them in the slightest. Everything breaking their way, always.

    What will happen when Reality steps in with a sledgehammer?

  18. Ya, but they’re so cute.

  19. I loved the comment against Osteen because he seems to really not realize what he is saying sometimes about God. The inference that God intervenes in such ways is comical.

    I also agree with Jennifer that he seems much less dangerous than a long list of others who have thousands of followers as well. Osteen at least avoids discrimination and hatefulness, which is the opposite of what Christ was or taught and the primary “way” of other prominent Christian leaders.

    Claiming that God intervenes to meet our petty desires, (or using the achievement of our petty desires as evidence of an active God) is elementary level sunday school thinking and it is done in a high percentage of churches throughout the world every week (by lead pastors).

    “What a beautiful day, God sure does answer prayers.” So, God changed the weather patterns of your regions of the world to suit your fancy, huh! Language about God needs a closer look throughout all of Christianity, not just in the teachings of Osteen.

  20. “What will happen when reality steps in with a sledgehammer?”

    They’ll all flock around the next Hitler.

  21. “What will happen when reality steps in with a sledgehammer?” A: They’ll all flock around the next Hitler.

    I laugh, but you’re right on target.

    Does anyone other than me think that American Christians, by and large, could use a heavy dose of God-given spiritual discernment?

  22. I wouldn’t get too bent out of shape concerning Osteen or any of his look-alikes. Consider the counsel Jesus gave the disciples concerning the Pharisees in Matthew 15:13-14.

    Populist religion has always consisted of this stuff. The masses gobble up the dainty and fattening morsels from the table and leave the crumbs of the Gospel scattered on the ground. In humility, we should follow the example of the Canaanite woman and gather those crumbs, rather than becoming disturbed by the spiritual gluttony of the masses.

    I would love to see a posting concerning the “Dark Night of the Soul”. It is funny how many were shocked to hear that Mother Teresa experienced the dark night (rather than health and wealth, I guess). We Americans can’t imagine a spirituality not laden with consolations. There’s a little bit of Osteen in all of us.

  23. Concerning the line of thinking that Osteen is not as bad as other prosperity gospel folks, I think the reasoning is wrong.

    Osteen is an ethical teacher. He pays his property taxes and his own mortgage (if not paid off already) and lives on royalties. He is up front about many things, except maybe his understanding of Jesus. Even that may be ignorance fueled by popularity. However, this makes him MORE dangerous.

    There are a number of prosperity gospel televangelists that are under investigation. Only God knows what will come of that and some will likely fall. But the Osteen faithful will look at mr. Osteen and say, “see our man is so right that the government cannot punish him.” It will be seen as a sign that Joel does not have any problems. With the others we can hope a stint in a jail and millions in fines will erode their support, but with Osteen I cannot see a way to bring him to account other than by God’s own hand. Perhaps he might have a moment of real understanding reading the Bible or not. Still I think he is one of the major problems in Christendom today.

  24. Thanks, IM!

    And thank goodness *somebody* is not giving Osteen a pass, even if — sadly — many Christians and Christian outlets seem to be, if not outright adding to the Osteen Machine.

    Joel Osteen, while perhaps not calculatingly malicious or a crook, is all the more pernicious because he’s cheerfully sleepwalking over a cliff and taking millions of people with him. He’s slick and smart and good at marketing, but that’s it… and he’s selling a dreadfully distorted, shallow caricature of Christianity.

    In fact, the entire business of the patented Osteen “Bible chant” gives me the willies even as it typifies the entire problem with Osteen-ism. There’s no Nicene Creed, no Apostles’ Creed, just a made-up cheerleader chant that focuses on how the individual can turn the Bible into a personal tool for self-enrichment. There’s not a hint of Christ anywhere except as a sign-off…It sounds almost like name-dropping.

    I’ve criticized him — and Lakewood — for a while now; in fact, when I was a kid, I lived in Houston and my mom forced me to go there with her several times. It was an absolutely horrible experience. When I had to raise my Bible and chant that little chant, I felt as though I were joining a cult. My mom is, alas, an Osteen fan to this day, and I suspect that for her as for many others, his toothy grin is the visual equivalent of Pavlov’s bell. Or, as a friend of mine recently quipped, “Ronald McDonald without his makeup on.”

    I also note Dumb Ox’s astute statement that populist religion is indeed often full of silly pablum. On the heels of that, the mainstreaming of Osteen — and the fact that he is now the face of American evangelical Christianity, is deeply troubling. The sheer scale of this is breathtaking, along with the speed at which the richness, heritage, and depth of thoughtful Christianity is reduced to a grinning book cover and the selfish desire for a Sugar Daddy Deity, the ultimate Helicopter Parent.

  25. The following questions are for Michael and everyone else who doesn’t like Joel Osteen.

    What is it you wouild like to see Joel Osteen do or what would you like to see happen to Joel Osteen that would satisfy your sense of rightness and fairness?

    What specifically would Joel Osteen have to do to make him okay in your sight?

  26. Leave the ministry.

    Go find out what it means to be a Christian from some people who are attempting to live like followers of Jesus.

    Pursue some spiritual formation from reliable mentors.

  27. Leave the ministry.

    Go find out what it means to be a Christian from some people who are attempting to live like followers of Jesus.

    Pursue some spiritual formation from reliable mentors.


    I really want to add “Stop visiting the dentist, just for a month or two” but that wouldn’t be constructive.

    You know what I would love to see? Joel Osteen in his perfect suit with his perfect face, reading his book “Your Best Life Now” aloud to a room full of the downtrodden and homeless. That might make him think for just a moment about what he’s saying. I honestly think he’s not being malicious. He just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t need to be punished, he needs to see what he’s doing for what it really is.

    Joel? I’m sure you’re reading, because everybody who’s anybody reads iMonk ;-), just stop for a minute, walk away from the flashy cars and the mansion, and spend a minute with God, who became flesh for us, who walked around for three years as a homeless man, who was spat at, bruised and battered for your sins, and hung on a cross, alone, to die. Then tell me that stuff you walked away from makes any difference to a person whatsoever. Our Best Life Now is solely comprised of loving that man who died on a cross and doing our best to be like him.

  28. dan macdonald says

    I spoke out against Osteen and Hinn before Christmas at a major student meeting on a major university here. Almost nobody had a clue about who Osteen was. Ah, the small mercies of living in Canada!

  29. What would I have Osteen do? I think Michael and Heather already said it.

    I would add that if Osteen does indeed want to continue as a self-help guru, then let him go and do that — but stop calling it “Christian” and stop calling it a “ministry,” because what he is doing is neither. Or let him go into (but never lead) an actual ministry that really does try to help others substantively; there are plenty of Christian ministries and charities that labor diligently, without fame or attention or a big operating budget.

    Also, I’d suggest that Osteen start getting educated, as Michael said — both in terms of mentoring and, I think, in terms of theology, history, and all those other things that get steamrollered in the great drive for materialistic gain.

    One more thing, since I’m evil. I’d make him go camping alone for a few weeks, away from all the trimmings and trappings of his empire, all that shiny stuff and public attention. Just him, a tent, some supplies, and his Bible — and the requirement that he actually read it. Cover to cover. More than once. Preferably in the Greek. (OK, I’m kidding about that last bit. Sort of.)

    (And Dan, don’t get me started on Hinn! 😉 )

  30. You might find it interesting that one of the posters at the blog, which usually offers tips to us technogeeks, chose Osteen’s “Become a Better You” as her favourite self-help book. I was surprised when I saw this – quite a coincidence.

  31. IMonk, what’s the male-to-female proportion of the Osteen supporters harassing you? From prior postings, I suspect it’s mostly female.

    Something about Osteen brings out the “SQUEEEEE! KAWAII!” reaction in a lot of women.

  32. This doesn’t really answer the question posed by G Baker, because it isn’t something Osteen can do. And my answer is different from prior answers in that Osteen would stay where he is.

    If he isn’t a true follower of Christ, I would love for the Holy Spirit to grant him faith and give him the new birth. If he truly is a Christian, then I would love to see personal revival — a work of the Spirit where he sees God’s holiness and his own sin and Christ’s person and work as if for the first time and he is changed by it.

    I would love to see these types of changes because that would change who he is and what he teaches completely. At that point he would be studying the Scriptures in order to teach faithfully, he would be loving God and loving others and looking forward to seeing Jesus face-to-face while seeking holiness here in this life. His preaching would change drastically and his ‘ministry’ would become one seemingly for the first time. All of this would impact a HUGE number of people with the gospel. I would expect that number to drop significantly if that happened, but at that point Osteen wouldn’t care. Yes he wouldn’t be a perfect pastor, but he would be one that is being conformed into the image of Christ.

  33. Pardon me for possibly beating a dead horse, but I heard another broadcast today on this subject. In this broadcast, Osteen’s preaching was compared to the theme of the children’s story, “The Little Engine that Could”: I think I can, I think I can. For me, this drew me back to John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, where Christian is lured by Worldly-Wiseman to climb the hill (Mount Sinai) to Mr. Legality’s house. The higher he climbed, the heavier his burden became. This is true of today’s self-help teachers: the harder one tries to become positive and good, the more one will realize how much he or she fails. The only hope is for Someone to remove the burden. For Christian, it was removed at the foot of the cross.

    There is another important lesson that Bunyan can teach us about this issue. In “Grace Abounding”, Bunyan credits God for protecting him from the questionable teachers of his day. If you have not fallen under Osteen’s spell,
    thank God for mercifully protecting you. Christ alone is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption “…that, according as it is written, ‘He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord'” – I Corinthians 1:30 (WEB).