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.