Joel Osteen

By Jeff Laird

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- No, I don't have an obligation to approach him in a private, personal way. These are all points others have made to him and about him many times before, so it's nothing he hasn't been counseled about before. And this isn't one sermon or a single book, it's the core and foundation of his approach to ministry. So I'm not approaching him as a wayward brother, but as a false teacher (Revelation 2:2).

- No, I'm actually not judging his intentions, or his heart (1 Samuel 16:7). For all I know he really thinks this is what God wants him to say. But despite what he intimated to Larry King, opinion does not change reality (1 Timothy 1:5-7). Osteen's message is incomplete, false, and ultimately damaging to the legitimate Gospel (Hebrews 4:12). And he certainly gives ample ammunition to those who think he's financially motivated. Saying certain ideas "limit his appeal" isn't too far from saying they "don't sell books".

- Finally, Osteen's popularity has nothing to do with his accuracy. I'm amazed at how many people blithely tell me Osteen must be right, because he has so many people listening to him and buying his books, because people are made happy by the things he says. Well, telling people what they want to hear isn't exactly a recipe for failure (2 Timothy 4:3). The fact that people are willing to accept a worldly, easy, cheap version of the Gospel shouldn't surprise anyone, let alone a Christian believer.

For the saved, Osteen's teachings are like the hollow candy shell: empty calories, better spent on something more nourishing. Christians need to be disciple in truth, and taught to live up to the standards of our Savior. Not given excuses for doing whatever, whenever, however, as long as we're happy. Legitimate communion with God is incredibly liberating, and uplifting. But true love means telling people what they need to know, like it or not, and a good teacher wants his students to not just feel better, but to actually be better (Ephesians 6:4, Hebrews 5:12).

For the unsaved, Osteen's ministry isn't just a problem, it's a flat-out obscenity. In theory, some people have stumbled across salvation through the fleeting glances at the Gospel Osteen manages to dredge up. I have no doubt his church has done positive things for many people. I also have no doubt that Osteen only makes passing remarks about a "relationship" with Christ, without detailing what that means, how to obtain that relationship, or how to grow in it. After all, those things would restrict his "appeal" (Romans 1:16). So his audience is oblivious to their actual need for a savior (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

Going from candy shells to brass tacks, nothing Joel Osteen says is going to help a person with legitimate questions about faith to the Lord. Osteen's leaving the lost right where they are, with a handful of counterfeit candy instead of leading them to the Cross and an empty tomb. His message won't build real discipleship; there's no more substance for the believer than for the unbeliever. Nor is his message going to sustain faith in a crisis. When things go bad, people quickly realize God won't prop their 401k merely because they thought happy thoughts. And if personal prosperity or existential morale is how they define the Gospel, then Osteen's teaching has merely set them up for a fall.

Instead of a means for reconciliation and redemption, Osteen frames Christianity as cosmetic self-help scheme that never gets any deeper than a grin and a checkbook. A true preacher of the Gospel does not avoid any topic — especially the crucial ones — simply because some people don't like to hear it. And they don't emphasize success and emotion over the truth. Sincere or not, honest or not, well intended or not, Joel Osteen is not preaching the Gospel, and neither are the other prosperity-slash-motivational-slash-Christian icons. He should not be supported, or encouraged, by those with a love for spiritual truth and a concern for the lost.

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  Controversial-Issues  |  Current-Issues  |  False-Teaching

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Published 3-17-2014