Picking on Joel Osteen

Why is everyone picking on Joel Osteen? Now, I have a reputation of being rather hard to please (I don’t know where that comes from, by the way. I like a lot of things. I guess it’s just that when I don’t like something, I’m pretty upfront about it.), but I have to admit, I like Joel Osteen. And, I can’t figure out why so many Christian bloggers and leaders dislike him so much.

I started catching Mr. Osteen on TV about 3 years ago, as I’d be flipping channels late in the evening. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a program from start to finish, and I can’t even tell you what channel or when he’s on. But, whenever I catch him I am compelled to watch, if only for a few minutes. I just happen to like him.

After catching him a few times, I realized that for one thing, he’s an excellent speaker. He speaks slowly and deliberately, taking time to address various sections of the 30,000 people in the stadium (when I first started watching, his church wasn’t nearly that big). He is also very honest, making himself the brunt of his jokes, and generally lifting up his wife in the process (that’s actually unusual – most pastors I’ve seen tend to use their families as object lessons, displaying their faults for the church to see, and I hate that). And, he’s positive; he either makes me feel better than I had a few minutes earlier, or he’s convinced me that I’ve got to change my attitude (which makes me feel better, too). So what’s not to like? My wife didn’t care for him at first, until one particular message caught her attention. She still doesn’t agree with everything she hears from him (not that we listen to him more than a few minutes every once in a while by accident), but she now understands why I like him.

Over the past few months I’ve read a few blog posts which take issue with Osteen; however, as I’ve read through them, I haven’t found much there. Michael Spencer, the internet monk, who I usually like, is pretty blunt: “Again, as I’ve said before, every evangelical leader needs to personally and by name repudiate and separate from Osteen….” Ben Witherington, whom I also like, has also come out against Osteen.

I’ve spent some time searching the web to find out more specifically why people don’t like Osteen, but I haven’t found anything that to me warrants all the vitriol. Granted, he teaches positive thinking. Granted, he doesn’t preach Billy Graham-type messages. But, does he have to? Perhaps he doesn’t think Sunday mornings are the place for evangelistic messages. There are plenty of people who agree with him. Even still, last year alone apparently 18,000 people came forward after the invitations he gives at the end of each sermon. Who’s to say that these people aren’t taught the “proper” gospel after the cameras are turned off? Has anyone actually investigated the church to see what they do with new converts? Does anyone really know what Osteen’s theology is? Are people in Lakewood Bible Church confused about who it is who has saved them? Not that I’ve been able to read. Perhaps he is a heretic; if so, please show me.

Personally, I think people have heard enough “works” based messages, if that’s what these people mean by their complaints that Osteen isn’t “preaching the cross” (which I tend to think it is). Those who believe in a works-based gospel (which according to Paul, is no gospel at all) don’t really believe in the cross. Osteen is not telling folks they can think their way into Heaven (or out of Hell). what Osteen tells people is to change the way they think and act; that their lives will improve as they stop being negative, and stop being jerks. People spend thousands on shrinks to tell them the same things, what’s wrong with hearing it for free?

As much as some may not want to believe this, the Bible is full of Good News. It gives us thousands of years of examples of how to live, and how not to live. Take a look at what Jesus taught- forgive others, love your neighbors, etc. Have you ever seen anyone criticize Jesus for failing to preach “the Gospel” to the Rich Young Ruler? What about when he refused to judge the woman caught in adultery. He merely gave her some good advice, and sent her on her way. Any criticism here?

Again, I’m not saying that Joel Osteen is a great theologian, or that he’s not got some issues. However, I fail to see enough error to justify him being criticized so strongly. if someone thinks that Osteen is failing in some way by not loading folks down with heavy guilt trips, I suggest that they go ahead and gather 30,000 people and tell them themselves. But then, there are plenty of people doing that already.

5 thoughts on “Picking on Joel Osteen”

  1. Personally, I’m not into suffering. 😉

    On the other hand, I don’t believe that we should expect to avoid suffering. I am part of a church that believes in healing and miracles; however, I have suffered from some health issues for many years, have lost loved ones, etc. So, that point of “the already and the not yet” reality of the Kingdom is where I live. I don’t like suffering, but I don’t expect to avoid it in this life. When miracles happen (and they do) then it’s great. If they don’t, we live by faith. And, there’s always hope…

    I was having this same conversation with the pastor of our church yesterday. The whole issue of faith is a problem for some people; in reality, you don’t need faith when there’s no suffering… you need faith when there is. Those people I know who tend toward “claim it” thinking seem to have the most messed up lives. Then there are those who expect to suffer (and think of it almost sacramentally); their lives are messed up, too.

    My personal philosophy is that we should “go for the gusto,” looking for the abundant life (not necessarily material, by the way), but not lose hope in times of suffering. I like to remind people that the Holy Spirit is called the “comforter” for a reason.

  2. I am still sort of forming my “theology of suffering” so to speak, and I’m doing it here so this is all thinking out loud.

    I am reminded of the following scripture in James 1:

    Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

    Again, this doesn’t seem to square with “escape via positive thinking” theology.

    I would agree with you that one can minimize fruitless suffering through wisdom, but sometimes, regardless of the quality of our choices and decisions, we will still suffer. Again, I’m thinking of Paul. Paul’s suffering is what we could call fruitful suffering.

    If Osteen’s theology is that we can avoid suffering and lack through correct thinking, how will one of his discples process their times of trial? James 1 indicates that suffering/trials/testing ultimately leads to perfection and completeness.

    So if we seek to avoid suffering at all cost, when will our maturity develop?

    Interesting topic… enjoying it.

  3. Michael, I appreciate your comments. I was wondering when someone would challenge my support of Osteen…

    I haven’t personally heard him teach that you can avoid all suffering by changing your attitude, but it’s certainly true that you can minimize your own suffering by changing obviously bad behavior and stupid thinking. The Bible is actually full of advice (especially in the “wisdom” books of the OT, but also in the NT) on things of that nature.

    My point with regard to the Rich Young Ruler was that Jesus only dealt with his greed; he never preached what Evangelicals would call an “evangelical” message. Was Jesus saying that giving away his money would save him? I don’t think so. Evangelicals may have gotten to the point of idolizing their take on the Gospel, and missing out on what else is there.

    Now, I am totally committed to John 3:16, but also to the 1st of the “4 spiritual laws”: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” I don’t think going to Heaven when you die (and a life of suffering before that) is the extent of that plan. Certainly Heaven is part of the gift, and suffering may be. Osteen recognizes that.

    However, again, I think Christians (and others) can avoid a lot of needless pain and misery simply by not being so stupid. So, in that light, I think Osteen (and John Tesh’s radio show, too) is perhaps filling a void that the Evangelicals have forgotten.

    Thoughts?

  4. “…he speaks slowly and deliberately”

    And don’t forget the blinking – he blinks A LOT.

    “Over the past few months I’ve read a few blog posts which take issue with Osteen; however, as I’ve read through them, I haven’t found much there. Michael Spencer, the internet monk, who I usually like, is pretty blunt: “Again, as I’ve said before, every evangelical leader needs to personally and by name repudiate and separate from Osteen….” Ben Witherington, whom I also like, has also come out against Osteen.”

    I’ve been reading Spencer and Witherington too, but found better articulated objections in John Piper and Mark Driscoll. Piper and Driscoll point to the fact that Osteen is anti-suffering (which sounds kind of weird… because aren’t we all?). But more particularly that Osteen seems to say that if you have a postitive attitude and enough faith, you should never experience suffering of any kind, be it financial or relational. Driscoll and Piper both point to biblical examples of the opposite in the lives of both Jesus and Paul.

    In parts of the NT it does indicate that we should expect to suffer – not that we should DESIRE to suffer, but that we should not be surprised if we suffer.

    I should mention that I’m making these observations as an outside party. Other than an excerpt of the recent 60 Minutes story I had heard of Osteen but had never seen or heard him speak. He does seem like a genuine, down-to-earth, very NICE guy, I’ll give him that.

    “Perhaps he is a heretic; if so, please show me.”

    I’ll have to watch the 60 Minutes piece again but Michael Horton does actually call Osteen’s teaching heretical.

    “People spend thousands on shrinks to tell them the same things, what’s wrong with hearing it for free?”

    Well, technically free, yes, but somehow he still manages to collect tens-of-millions of dollars each year from offerings and sales of his books.

    “As much as some may not want to believe this, the Bible is full of Good News.”

    The Good News is, and always will be, that Jesus died for our sins and came back to life 3 days later. This, as Paul says, is of first importance.

    “Have you ever seen anyone criticize Jesus for failing to preach “the Gospel” to the Rich Young Ruler? Any criticism here?”

    Jesus essentially told the rich young ruler the exact opposite of Osteen’s message. To follow me, Jesus says, it will cost you your affluence. Now I don’t take that as a universal command to everyone – the young man’s problem was the idolization of his wealth – but it does point to the fact that we may not always prosper in worldly ways and that just as the world hated Jesus, so it will hate us.

    “…if someone thinks that Osteen is failing in some way by not loading folks down with heavy guilt trips…”

    I don’t think that’s a fair juxtaposition. This is not an either / or – one is not either encouraging people OR loading them with guilt. All minister’s should encourage and all ministers must lead their flocks into all truth, part of which is that we are sinners in need of salvation. The Holy Spirit convicts and comforts.

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