CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Will the Real Gospel Please Stand Up?

May 18, 2009

I recently bought two books I did not want to buy. I hate dishing out hard-earned money on books I consider barely worth stealing (at least one of them!). But because both books are such mega-sellers, I had to break down and get them in order to properly analyse and discuss them.

Both books have been out for a few years now, both have sold zillions of copies, and both are in many respects fairly similar. That is the really scary part. You see, one book is written by a popular Christian preacher, while the other is written by a leading New Age mumbo-jumbo huckster.

But their story lines are so similar at so many points, that as I was reading them, I sometimes had to look at the cover to see which of the two I in fact was reading. Incredibly both books contain so much parallel thinking, that it is often hard to distinguish the two. Consider these four representative paragraphs:

“Try this for a couple of weeks and see how it changes your reality: Whatever you think people are withholding from you – praise, appreciation, assistance, loving care, and so on – give it to them. You don’t have it? Just act as if you had it, and it will come. Then, soon after you start giving, you will start receiving. You cannot receive what you don’t give. Outflow determines inflow. Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you already have, but unless you allow it to flow out, you won’t even know that you have it. This includes abundance. The law that outflow determines inflow is expressed by Jesus in this powerful image: ‘Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap’.”

“Starting today, get on the offensive and start making positive declarations over your own life. Every day, say things like ‘I am blessed. I am healthy and prosperous. I am competent. I am called. I’m anointed. I’m creative. I’m talented. I am well able to fulfil my destiny’. If you want to know where you are going to be in five years, then just listen to your words. You are prophesying your future. If you want to be stronger, healthier, happier, if you want to break addictions, then start declaring it right now. Remember, you will eat the fruit of your own words, so bless the future.”

“The voice in your head will be telling sad, anxious, or angry stories about past, future, or imaginary events. The voice will be blaming, accusing, complaining, imagining. And you are totally identified with whatever the voice says, believe all its distorted thoughts. At that point, the addiction to unhappiness has set in.”

“Don’t live with regrets. Don’t go around saying, ‘Well, I should have done this or that. I should have gone back to college.’ Or, ‘I should have spent more time with my family.’ ‘I should have taken better care of myself,’ No, quit condemning yourself. Your analysis and observations may be true, but it doesn’t do any good to put yourself down. Let the past be the past.”

So which two quotes are written by the Christian, and which two are written by the New Ager? Kinda hard to tell, huh? They all seem to express quite similar sentiments. Actually the first and third quotes are by the New Age guru Ekhart Tolle, from his book, A New Earth (2005). The second and fourth quotes are from Joel Osteen’s book, Become a Better You (2007).

All four quotes have to do with the belief that words have power; that you can create your own reality by your speech; and that life is really about mind over matter. Of course this has long been a staple teaching of the Mind Sciences and the New Age Movement. More recently it has been picked up by the Word of Faith Movement and the health and wealth gospellers.

Both teach the power of words, and how we can visualise things into existence. Both claim that we need to focus on positive thoughts and utter positive words, and we will create a positive future. Occult groups and cults like Christian Science have long taught this, and as of late some prosperity preachers and Name It and Claim It teachers are also pushing these beliefs.

So here we have a big-time New Age teacher and a big time Christian preacher proclaiming nearly identical messages. Many more such similarities can be pointed out between these two books. (And you get more of the same in Osteen’s sermons and other writings.)

Now while there is much common ground between these books and authors, there are obviously some major differences. The chief difference of course is that Osteen is a Christian. However, in reading his book, one would be hard pressed to clearly know that. The truth is, Jesus is actually seldom mentioned in the book. In fact, Jesus is quoted far more often in Tolle’s book!

Indeed, key Christian terms are almost absent in Osteen’s book. Vital biblical terms such as sin, salvation, the cross, judgment, hell, redemption and repentance are rarely found in his book. God gets mentioned quite often, but for the uninformed reader, there are not that many clear indications here that the author is a Bible-believing Christian.

This may not be surprising. Osteen has made it clear that he thinks theology is unimportant. As he has said, “I’m not called to explain every minute facet of Scripture or to expound on deep theological doctrines or disputes that don’t touch where real people live. My gifting is to encourage, to challenge, and to inspire.” Or again, “My message is not about doctrine. I don’t have to get 50 references from Scripture in a sermon for it to be a good sermon.”

Interestingly, Tolle agrees. He too speaks about blockages to spirituality when people “harden their doctrinal positions”. But Christianity is above all a faith based on truth and doctrine. The Apostles’ Creed for example summarises the basic doctrinal beliefs that one must adhere to in order to claim to be a Christian.

To play down doctrine and theology helps no one, but simply makes the Christian message indistinguishable from any other religion, philosophy or ideology. In Christianity truth matters and doctrine counts. We play it down to our own detriment.

But Osteen seems to want his book to be a doctrine-free zone. The Christian gospel is simply lacking. In fact, it is only in the very last page of the book (p. 377), under the title “We Care About You!” that any sort of gospel message is in fact found. The rest of the book is little different from thousands of non-Christian feel-good self-help books.

It is all about how you can be a better you, as the title suggests. It is about how you can feel good and look good and feel more positive about yourself and have a better self-image and a better bank balance and better health and better relationships and better everything. It is all about you in other words.

But the truth is, the biblical gospel is not about you at all. It is about the one true God who is worthy of our worship, fear, praise and adoration. It is about denying self, taking up our cross, crucifying the flesh and serving others. The biblical gospel is entirely opposed to the me-first theology of popular self-help books and feel-good pop psychology.

Jesus was our model in all this. He did not spend his life obsessed with self and trying to obtain better self-esteem, lose weight or get expensive cars. He came to serve others and give his life a ransom for many. And he told his disciples that the servant is not above the master.

The follower of Jesus is to give his life away in selfless service for others, just as Jesus did. He is not to spend his whole life obsessed with me, me, me. “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” Jesus said (Matthew 10:39). Any theology that is fixated exclusively on self is not the biblical gospel.

It is little wonder that Mr Osteen’s church is the biggest in America. He is telling people exactly what they want to hear. But we are called to tell people what they need to hear. We are not to tell people that they are just fine and can order their entire lives around themselves, but that they are lost sinners on the way to hell, and desperately need to renounce sin and self and turn in repentance to Jesus Christ and let him become the boss.

A follower of Jesus is someone who has renounced sin, died to self, and decided to live for God and others. That message will never be popular, and that is why true prophets and pastors are always rejected by the crowds. The masses do not want to hear about Christ and him crucified.

Yet Paul said that was the only message he was going to preach (1 Corinthians 2:2). And he said he was not ashamed of this gospel (Romans 1:16). Those who faithfully proclaim the gospel of Christ will be reviled, rebuffed and persecuted. It brings shame and reproach. It did to Jesus and it will to all true followers of his.

Now am I saying that there is nothing of value in the message of Osteen? No, there are some general helpful themes and emphases here, many of which can be found in secular thought. There are indeed such things as psycho-somatic illnesses. There is some truth to the value of a positive outlook on life, and so on. But that is not what the Gospel is primarily about.

And am I saying that Osteen is not a believer or that he is not trying to follow Jesus? No. But with all due respect, he really does not seem to be proclaiming the whole counsel of God, which Paul commanded us to do (Acts 20:27). If we simply tell people what they want to hear, we do them no favours. And we end up sounding a whole lot like plenty of other secular and New Age pop preachers who also proclaim a me-centred message. That is just not good enough for ministers of the Gospel.

[1727 words]

41 Responses to Will the Real Gospel Please Stand Up?

  • The Christian lives in a constant state of warfare. We are undercover agents and resistance fighters in enemy occupied territory. Our means of survival and attack is to live by the word. When Jesus was assailed by Satan, each time, he answered his adversary with “It is written.”

    Maybe what these writers miss is the whole context of the war in which “we live and move and have our being” (to misquote Acts 17: 28). Soldiers don’t live on ”feel good” factors or a diet of oozy woozy, sentimental choruses.

    I certainly think it is useful to have compiled a story line to remind me each and every day of who I am, where I have come, where I am and where I am going.

    I forget so quickly and I need something like those speed cameras that tell me precisely what speed I’m doing in a built up area. I need reality checks.

    I have therefore constructed a story line, divided it into roughly 16 hourly sections, to which, if need be, I can refer at any point in the day,

    In the morning it is starts with Biblical quotes that describe the nature of every man; it them goes onto the power of sin, the consequences of sin and ends with quotes about Satan and his tactics.

    About midday it then begins with the goodness and grace of God and then God‘s mercy, followed by the work of the Holy Spirit and then our new position, privileges and responsibilities as members of Christ’s household.

    In the evening there are verses connected with the need for integrity and the need for being who we say we are and finally the need and purpose for the testing of our faith.

    It is not something to which I have to refer frequently, except at times when I am under heavy attack from my own flesh, the world or the devil. Perhaps I need to knock it up into a pocket size booklet so that it might be of use to others.

    David Skinner, UK

  • Bill, I think that maybe you have been a bit too generous with Osteen, as he professes to be a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ does he not? But this isn’t the Gospel of the risen Christ, our Redeemer, the ‘Man of Sorrows’ who spilled His blood for us.

    So much of this teaching is not biblically sound, and as you point out it certainly isn’t anywhere close to being balanced biblical teaching. When a church looks and sounds similar to the world in it’s teaching and culture then that is a fair sign that it has little of value to offer the world for it no longer retains its salt or light, and as such the very least is that it needs to be ‘chopped off’, or more drastically it is working against the plans and purposes of Christ.

    The bible paints a picture of the Christian life as one focused on seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, which focuses us on the plans and purposes of God who calls us to share in the suffering and burdens of others, just as Christ suffered, and assumes that a true Christian *will*, not might, be persecuted for his faith. Osteen and his ilk, and similar kind seen in this nation as well, point us towards the idols of self-fulfilment through lifestyle and material things, not toward Christ and His glorification.

    The Apostle Paul warns against those who would lead people astray with fine sounding words, calling these false prophets and teachers ‘wolves amongst the sheep’ who are destined for the wrath of God.

    Garth Penglase

  • Thanks Garth

    I tried to be fair to Osteen. But yes I am aware that some Christians will think I have been far too easy on the guy, while others will think I have been far too hard on the guy.

    As is often the case, the biblical balance is difficult to achieve. On the one hand we are commanded to warn against false teaching and lousy doctrine, but on the other hand we are commanded to seek to maintain the unity of the body of Christ, to uphold one another, etc. It is often tough to get these matters right, and we all must pray and think carefully about how we proceed here.

    I actually started to write this article some time ago, but thought I would sit on it for awhile, knowing it would generate some controversy, to say the least. So let the debate continue (but hopefully with love and grace!).

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,

    As I read the four paragraphs, I was looking for the break – the distinction between the two authors – and I found none! I can only think of one NT scripture suitable for these:
    2 Tim 4:14-15 www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20tim%204:14-15;&version=31;

    Thanks for the warning.

    John Angelico

  • Bill, I consider myself very fortunate to attend a church that emphasizes theology, doctrine and the need for every believer to study not only the Bible, but the great Christian teachings of the past. You can find it at www.cclf.org. Our senior pastor is a Trinity graduate, as you are I believe. Many of us are currently in a systematic theology study called Fenceposts, the audio files for which are available on the site.

    As for Osteen and his ilk, these are dangerous people. He seems to be actually promoting ignorance of the Gospel and cherry-picking of the “good bits” in Christianity while ignoring anything that may make you uncomfortable. A better self should be a by-product of fixing our attention on God, not the goal of our lives.

    Jane Steen, Illinois, USA

  • Q:What do you get when the spiritually discerning and those that are able to rightly handle the Word of God leave the Church?

    A: A MegaChurch

    The Apostle Paul tells us that wolves will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves (Acts 20:30). Popularity, prestige and comfort is the lifestyle of choice of the megaChurch “Super Pastor” and it doesn’t come cheap.
    The fact that there are 30,000 people in his Church seeking to have their ears tickled every week from a Biblical ignoramus like Joel Osteen is evidence of the end-time apostacy. Slick marketing techniques, health & wealth message, contempary music and a watered down more inclusive message means megabucks for his megaChurch.

    Unfortunately here in Australia we have our own home grown Biblical ignoramous that have gladly embraced the American megaChurch winds of doctrines. The most prominent and most dangerous is based in Sydney N.S.W and has written many books, one of which was titled “You Need More Money.” Here too, music and money dominates and like the American megaChurches they are closed to Godly correction and are well down the road of
    irretrievable apostacy.

    Nino Suraci

  • “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

    I often wonder if guys like Osteen are even capable (I won’t mention willing) to give a reason why they say they are Christians. I’m sure their congregations are equally confused. I don’t know about you but I am about sick of the pseudo spirituality dressed up in anti-intellectual, anti-doctrinal, anti-theological garb. Invariably its a short step to anti-biblical…

    Good one to David Skinner for reminding us again the authority by which Jesus spoke.

    Thanks for subjecting yourself Bill to much drivel for our enlightenment. I know guys like RJ Rushdoony read thousands of books he did not like in order to understand

    Phil Twiss

  • When God spoke to Moses, he spoke to Moses. Jesus is the Word become flesh. Sure, there is a place for understanding the culture one lives in, but the Word of God should be considered to be the ultimate treasure, power and weapon by anyone who wants to call themselves a Christian. This can only be achieved on an ongoing basis by personal study, as boring as that may sound to some. But, like most things in life, there really is no other way – you want the rewards, you have to pay the price.

    But if I can – as someone not given to do copious amounts of reading and study (unlike our dear Bill who’s even willing to shell out hard-earned to read drivel) – discipline myself to finding space and time each day (mostly) to a systematic study of a part of the Bible and commit to get to the end with a goal in mind, then pretty much anybody should be able to do likewise. I go to a weekly class which, along with the notes and daily studies, has a good balance between personal work and insight fed from those leading the class. If I may be so bold to recommend BSF, there are classes all around the world.
    www.bsfinternational.org

    I’m sure there are other organizations and churches also which understand the importance of personally gained biblical knowledge and give priority to increases people’s understanding and see them grow. But do something if you are not already diving into this treasure. Pay the price, it really is worth it.

    Those who follow Osteen and defend his low view of Scripture probably think that his message has more relevance than God’s to change people’s lives eternally for good because somehow something is different about humanity in 2009 than in the first Century. That’s a big mistake. If nothing else, Christians should know the Bible well.

    …btw, so tell us, Bill, are you such a reading tragic that you even read the sides of cereal packets in the morning?!? 😉

    Mark Rabich

  • And here’s more of the same false Christianity, at the opening of the Anglican Communion meeting in Jamaica this week.

    From Andrew Brown of the Guardian UK, via Andrew Bolt’s blog at the Herald-Sun:
    An all-inclusive almost totally watered-down hymn to…. er…something or other…

    John Angelico

  • This might be an appropriate place to alert others to The Ravenhill Challenge. Osteen and his church would certainly benefit.

    Ewan McDonald.

  • Osteen says that he is “not called to … expound on deep theological doctrines or disputes that don’t touch where real people live.” Oh, but doctrine does impact massively on daily life. I’ve come to realize (and Bill’s blog has played no small role in that!) that in order to live a righteous, godly life in this day and age — heck just to be able to distinguish right from wrong, what with all this post-modern relativism — I need to know what Scripture says about all these issues, and that involves thinking about the big “theological questions” too! Osteen’s statement is one step removed from outright labelling Scripture as “irrelevant”.

    When divorced from the Word, those excerpts from Osteen start to resemble the patterns of the world. Man doesn’t live by bread — and material prosperity and good health and success and happiness — alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Success as the world sees it is not the kind of success that God sees, so we shouldn’t be conforming to the ideas of “success” that the world promotes – Romans 12:1-2. (I’ve been learning this lately in my own worklife!)

    So, are we prosperous and healthy and blessed in our lives? Has God as in Psalm 103 satisfied all our desires and healed all our infirmities? Then we do well to remember that Christ is Adonai our Lord and Master, we are slaves to righteousness, and all we have belongs to God and for his glory and building his kingdom.

    Olivia Tan, San Diego, USA

  • Wow. Ewan, thanks for this link.
    Garth Penglase

  • Thanks Bill
    It’s sad to see men naming the name of Christ preaching a man-centered gospel. As you said, it’s all about Him, not about us.
    May we all ask the Lord of the harvest to send out faithful men who will contend earnestly for God’s honour, and who will not hold back from standing on His Word just because it’s unpopular. May we all be faithful with the measure we have been dealt.
    Isaac Overton, Canberra

  • I suppose the one eternal and certain way of discerning between a valid preacher and a false prophet is this; selflessness and selfishness. The valid preacher will just do his/her work for God and expect nothing back except a whole heap of people going off to heaven one day, whilst the false prophet is simply, yet blatantly carving off profits for him/herself, ie. money, adulation and even sex. Surely anybody can see through a false prophet.
    Phill Moncrieff

  • Thanks Bill, I notice that Joel Osteen is the main speaker at Hillsong 09 confernece.
    Martin Turner

  • The church of Jesus Christ had a mandate to go into all the world and share the good news of a loving saviour who came to serve and give his life a ransom for many and who set us free from our sins with His precious blood. What great news.
    Churches that continually focus in on themselves instead of serving Jesus puff up with pride and loose sight of the great commission. First priority is to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness not seek your own kingdom!
    May we all be reminded of praying for our churches and pastors and leaders that they will always preach the whole counsel of God.
    See this bible site: www.blueletterbible.org/
    Michael Bourke

  • Hi Martin, with Osteen as the main speaker the Hillsong Conference has reached capacity. These false teachers don’t have to explain themselves anymore as the folowers of the bless me gospel are demanding to pay good money to have their ears tickled. Can someone tell me who is responsible for such a dumbing down of Christians in Australia? Can anything be done about it? It’s no wonder that Christianity has little credibility in our society. With such large numbers of brainless adherents of a prosperity Gospel along with the Christian left and the cults exhibiting a counterfeit Christianity to a discerning public. God help us.
    Nino Suraci

  • Thanks guys

    Yes Brian Houston of Hillsong Church in Sydney and Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas are very similar in many ways (not just because of the overlap with the name Houston). Both are into the Prosperity Gospel and both have the largest churches in their respective countries. Osteen has 47,000 members and Houston has 21,000.

    The debate arises of course as to whether these big numbers are solely due to the work of the Holy Spirit; are due to people who like hearing messages about getting rich; or are perhaps due to a combination of the two. There would be many reasons why people go to these churches, and presumably some would be better reasons than others.

    So we need to be careful about tarring them all with the same brush, but it is indeed interesting that churches which focus a lot on money and wealth attract such large numbers. I wonder if they would have such large crowds if they emphasised the dangers of wealth and the risk of riches.

    For what it is worth, I earlier did a piece on megachurches and large crowds: www.billmuehlenberg.com/2007/10/09/thoughts-about-megachurches/

    And when Houston’s book came out in 1999, You Need More Money, I bought it and wrote a review of it: www.billmuehlenberg.com/1999/11/28/a-review-of-you-need-more-money-by-brian-houston/

    One can say this much at least: like Osteen, theological and biblical depth are not exactly Houston’s strong suits.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • These modern preachers are the products of the word-faith school of Kenneth Hagin/E.W.Kenyon who both are regarded as fathers of this false gospel. A positve message of success and prosperity and ‘abundant life’ is what people especially the young would love to hear. That’s the way these preachers attract the crowd to grow their churches and build their own vatican and empires. Sound doctrinal messages does not seem to be relevant anymore. We should not just pray against this trend but take a stand and speak out boldly against such false prophets and teachers whenever we can.
    Barry Koh

  • As I was reading those first two quotes above, ringing in my ears was the phrase “fake it until you make it”. So much of modern, western, populist Christianity has been infected with this disease. The idea that you can present a false front and somehow thereby gain from this (and presumably gain God’s acceptance in the process) is a false doctrine. Didn’t Jesus castigate the Pharisees for doing exactly that? He said something about “hypocrites” and “white washed tombs full of dead men’s bones” if I recall correctly. If faking it until you make it was such a good idea, wouldn’t Jesus have instead commended the Pharisees for putting on such a convincing show of piety?
    Stephen Frost, Melbourne

  • You hit the nail on the head Bill. Osteen is mostly criticised for not preaching fire and brimstone but I don’t think for the most part that’s the issue at all. In all of his sermons I have watched I can hardly remember him quoting scripture or expounding upon Biblical passages & themes at all and as you said he hardly ever mentions Jesus’ name. I wouldn’t be so hard on Houston in that regard though – he generally does mention the fore-mentioned things.

    The prosperity gospel is a very confused doctrine. Prosperity teachers caricature beliefs about money in mainstream Christianity as believing in poverty. I don’t and most Christians don’t believe in poverty at all. I believe in being free of debt, paying off your mortgage and owning your own home and having sufficient resources to service familial and personal needs. Most Christians can achieve this if they are fiscally responsible. How does the prosperity diverge? Well it says instead of buying a new Holden Commodore you buy a million dollar ferrari, instead of buying a sufficient house to service familial needs – you go out and buy one or a few 10 million dollar houses in exclusive real estate. The issue with prosperity teaching isn’t that it teaches against poverty but it promulgates excess indulgence.

    Some people also have problems with the tithe they promote but again that’s not the issue either in my opinion. Believers shouldn’t tithe because they might get financially rewarded but only in the context of the great commission – go out to all the world and preach the Gospel. We should give to plant churches, provide services and outreaches for people to come to the saving knowledge of Christ. Anything outside of this context is wrong.

    I don’t think prosperity preachers are necessarily wicked, for the most part they are very misguided and in need of correction and in need of our prayers.

    F. Trpimir Kesina

  • I find Joel Osteen’s church service really uplifting. Yes, he is very short on doctrine, which is so essential to our walk with the King, as what we believe governs our actions, but I would hope that there’s mid-week bible studies for his people to get into this so-essential thing. There is a big difference in me confessing that I am a lovely person and deserve every good thing to happen to me (a lie), and the Biblical truth about myself. The first leads only to deception which will let us down, but the second will bring us further into God’s destiny. Yes, of course we must seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to us, but to go around each day burdened down with all the issues of the hour is not good, as the joy of the Lord is our strength. Joyce Meyer is right when she says we must enjoy everyday life. I find this a real tightrope-walk when I know I must inform myself of all the evil battles the enemy is fighting in order to fight intelligently against him. This is where I think Joel Osteen comes in as a really good helper. I think we can all use a dose of his positive. Who else would be bold enough to have the mob all hold up their bibles and make that declaration he gets them to make each week? I thank God for his positive uplifting style.
    Ian Brearley

  • Thanks Ian

    Surprisingly there have not been too many supporters of JO thus far – most of the comments have been rather critical. So you are to be commended for your bravery! And yes you are quite right that joy and a positive outlook are quite important. And I realise that many believers watch or listen to JO for that very reason.

    But the question is, is there any serious biblical doctrine coming though? You say, “I would hope that there’s mid-week bible studies for his people to get into this so-essential thing”. I certainly hope so too. But what if there isn’t?

    Every time I hear him or read him, it is the same old message. Over and over again it is about how you can be a happy chappy. It is the standard pop psychology, fell-good self-help stuff, which zillions of secular motivational speakers push all the time. So how does what JO teaches differ from that?

    Sure, having it preached sometimes can be good, just like having marshmallows sometimes can be good. But to live on a steady diet of marshmallows, with little or nothing else, is clearly not good, and to continue in such a diet will result in certain death. In the same way, taking just one small snippet of biblical teaching and making it your core message week in and week out will result in spiritual impoverishment, and maybe even in spiritual malnourishment and eventual death.

    So yes we need to be uplifted and edified, but I would have thought that the NT is full of uplifting and edifying content, even as it teaches doctrine, theology, counting the cost of being a disciple, etc. But thanks for being willing to enter a bit of a lion’s den here at the moment. Other defenders of JO are welcome to enter the debate and share their thoughts here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Blogger Miriam Franklin exposes alot of false prophets and teachers. Of late Todd Bentley has got the most flack. She has exposed the high luxurious lifestyle of many prosperity teachers. Of late many prosperity teachers in USA are in financial troubles because of their wasteful lifestyle and huge capital projects, and are forced to put on sale many of their properties and assets being unable to pay their mortgages. They have even resorted to selling ‘annointed’ oil and other items to raise money. Appeals to supporters do not seem to bring much success as in the boom days because believers in the prosperity gospel are equally hit by the financial crisis in the USA like the rest of the nation. What happened I wonder? Does’nt the prosperity formula work and keep believers prosperous when others are hit? What a con job and deception. God wants you to be rich? What a wonderful formula to solve the global proverty problem. It’s more a formula to enrich themselves.
    Barry Koh

  • The most positive thing that I know of is Collosians 2 v 15 and a couple of verses before it. It says “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross.”

    My Jesus has given me total victory over the enemy through his death. What can be more positive than that? I don’t need money or self esteem to enjoy the fruits of that experience and you will note that we didn’t have anything to do with it.

    Mind you, I am not at all surprised that the church has slid into a non-biblical Christianity. After all, most churches have abandoned the truth in favour of tradition.

    Derek Prince, one of the greatest biblical scholars God has given us, points out in his book “Rediscovering God’s Church” that the pattern for the church then and now is in the New Testament.

    How many churches look anything like a New Testament church? Where is the Sunday morning preaching songfest in the New Testament? Where is the daily meeting together for fellowship, teaching, prayer and meals in tody’s church?

    When you compromise on essential and replace it with tradition, it is difficult to stay true to the pure word of God.

    If Osteen is a false prophet then that is what he should be called bearing in mind that Jesus did not call the Pharisees nice things aka a generation of vipers and whitened sepulchures.

    Roger Marks

  • Hi Ian, good to hear the p.o.v. of someone who goes to Osteen’s church. Others have talked about the type of preaching that can lead people astray – the problem is that a lot of these discussions seemingly have two sides.

    An example is what Stephen Frost said in terms of ‘faking it until we make it’ – there are a couple of different approaches to that and everything has to be in context. For instance, I do not wish to portray myself as someone who I am not, but when I start out in a new area I do act, speak and try to think the way that a person who is successful in that area would act, speak and think – I do agree with Goethe who said that if we act the way we are then that is what we will remain. That was also Mary Kay’s version of ‘fake it til you make it’ and I tend to prescribe to that. Then there’s faith – speaking things into being those which are not. That by some could be considered living in unreality, even ‘faking it’ – declaring something to be so that isn’t (well not in physical reality yet).

    But I think all of these discussions miss the main point. Joel Osteen purports to be a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As such Christ must be the very centre of his teaching, and straying into areas which are not central to the Gospel message is a bad recipe – anything that leads us away from Christ and Him glorified in us is not good, and much of this preaching seems to be doing, even though it is portrayed as such – ‘God gets glory out of His people being prosperous’. This was said to me by someone in my own church – a statement that is misleading in the extreme, but is often the core of the prosperity doctrine & preaching. To say that our wealth or lifestyle is a strong witness would be untrue, since the world has these things already – what it doesn’t have is peace with God.

    I ask you, just how much of the messages from Joel Osteen are focused on identifying sin, calling people to repentance, and showing the pathway to redemption through salvation in Jesus Christ, and then in discipling people in the fundamentals of Christian doctrine so that they in turn can better love their families and their community and reach out with the ‘Good News’ – not the financial wealth/rescue package, or the better ‘inner peace’ package, or the how to handle teens package, or any other self-help package.

    We are at war. We are not on a cruise liner, but a battleship. The Christian life is about overcoming through the blood of Jesus Christ & the word of our testimonies – Jesus promised us persecution IF we declare Him as The Way The Truth and The Life. We certainly can have some fun along the way but if we as Christians are consumed about our temporal lives on this Earth then we are missing the reality of eternity with God. I leave you with Matt 26:31-46

    It is the wrong question. While we spend so much time on learning how to use the scriptures to become wealthy there are millions who haven’t heard the truth and haven’t had God’s love demonstrated to them in a practical fashion.

    The right question is what are we supposed to be focused on? living with eternity in mind, or living for now? living a witness such as Mother Teresa and the thousands of unsung heroes of the faith who have given up their lives for others, or becoming wealthy so that we can do this life in our own strength, so that we don’t have to rely on God’s provision, you know, just in case he doesn’t come through for us?

    Garth Penglase

  • Dear Bill,
    I like what American grace/trinitarian theologian Ken Blue said when he was asked does he watch tele-evangelists.”No” he replied. “I don’t hate myself that much!” I agree. These people like osteen and houston are do more try harder religious crapola exponents that have nothing to do with Christianity, except in the minds of their followers and people looking in from the outside who mistakenly think this is Christianity. These people do so much damage and as Jesus said, “where there is a corpse, the vultures will flock!” Your description of Christainity worries me too. So what do I see as Christianity? Jesus was and is not an example to follow in some prescriptive way. We simply cannot meet the standards he himself exhibited. But fortunately for us, we are included in His life. He is the vicarious man, who through the incarnation joined with ALL humanity and has reconciled the world to the Father.We are not meant to do more and try harder. We are meant to Let Them love us, receive Their love and then pass it on, as the Love of Father,Son and Spirit transforms us. The exhortations in the Bible then become descriptions of what the Christian life looks likes as Their love leads you by the Holy Spirit. Not prescriptions of what you have to do! This ties in with the middle voice in the greek. This middle voice is the voice of participation. So when the Bible says to do something, in English we take it as we have to do it. But in Greek, it means that as we let Them love us and participate in Their life, this is what it looks like. Covenant, not contract. Unconditional response, not religious doing! This so freeing, and of course, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and the truth shall set you free! That truth is the God/Man Jesus Christ! Sets us free from religious crapola and manipulation by the likes of Mr osteen,houston,joyce meyer etc.
    May you just be in THEM,
    Lou d’Alpuget

  • Thanks Lou

    Of course we have been through some of these debates before. As to you not preferring my “description of Christianity”, that is curious, since I simply cited the commands of Jesus (eg., take up your cross, deny yourself, etc.).

    And I am afraid your understanding/presentation of Biblical Greek is not all that helpful here, for several reasons. The middle voice is seldom the polar opposite of the active voice in Koine Greek. What you are speaking about has more to do with the passive voice it seems. The middle voice comes in at least 5 forms, with some (eg., the direct middle voice) being very close indeed to forms of the active voice. There are many subtle nuances found among these various voices.

    And it is not voice so much as mood that is the real issue here. The imperative mood has to be taken seriously. Consider a passage like Luke 9:23, about taking up our cross. The Greek verb for “take up” is apato, which is in the active voice and the imperative mood. I suspect this would be true of the bulk of Jesus’ commands.

    Of course in the NT the imperative is usually based on and flows from the indicative. First the theological proclamation is presented (the indicative), then the moral exhortation is given (the imperative). They go together time and time again in Scripture. What God has already done for us (the indicative) becomes the basis on which we are to act for God (the imperative).

    If someone says it all depends on us and nothing to do with God, we verge into heresy. But with all due respect, when someone says it all depends on God and has nothing to do with us, we also verge into heresy. Sure, when it comes to the initial aspect of salvation (justification), it is all of God. But the entire Christian walk (sanctification) is based on what we do and how we cooperate with God. That is why the NT is full of imperatives (commands, orders, exhortations). We are rightly commanded to do many things (the imperative) as an outworking and demonstration of what has already been achieved by Christ on our behalf (the indicative).

    But I have written this up elsewhere: www.billmuehlenberg.com/2008/06/27/on-emergents-and-false-dilemmas/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • While Osteen operates outside of sound theology he is by no means alone. The prosperity/victory message gained tremendous momentum in North America after World War 2. America prospered post war and never suffered homeland devastation. While respecting its personal sacrifice America was in good shape to embrace its new middle class comfort fuelled by a huge media power. Evangelism flourished and good theology was twisted to accommodate the beautiful middle classes. While there were obstacles along the way (civil rights movement and Vietnam) it grew well in the soils of comfort and self worship and consumerism. Unfortunately the media crosses global borders with little hindrance and this evangelism is taking root in Europe, Australia, and Singapore etc. So now we have Osteen. And there is another big picture at play here. The church is suffering from a Theology crisis. Seminaries only attract a splinter of total worshipers and often sermons are sugar coated to remain attractive and keep the money coming in. We need to get back to the Christ our suffering God and our ultimate love.

    Thanks
    Craig McKinley

  • Love your work always Bill!
    Dean Pannell

  • Dear Bill,
    Thanks for your reply. What I am trying to say is that we participate in Their life. They do not want to be God without us and we live in that reality. They have adopted us afterall in Christ. I was not advocating that we do nothing. What I was trying to get away from is the do more try harder religious message that plays on our guilt, which does not work. As we know that we are loved and accepted unconditionally just as we are, we simply do not stay the way we are. Examples of this abound in the NT. We are transformed by the renewal of our minds when we meet Jesus. If we don’t understand this, we can fall foul of the sort of exhortations put out by the likes of osteen et al to get us to do what they want. Galations talks about how these people manipulate us for their benefit-not to set us free!
    Blessings,
    Lou d’Alpuget

  • Thanks Lou

    Yes I know where you are coming from and agree with you in part. But getting the biblical balance right is always critical. Push too far in one direction in this debate and we can end up going in an unbiblical direction.

    Take the passage you mention (Romans 12:2). The Greek verb for “be transformed” is metamorphoosthe. To return to our discussion of Greek verbs, here we have the imperative mood, yet the passive voice. So here we are commanded to do something, yet we are reminded that it involves letting God do it on our behalf.

    Once again we have this strong idea of cooperation with God. On the one hand we are ordered to be transformed, but on the other hand, the transformation is the work of God in our lives. But it is clearly a two-way street. We each have a role to play. When the human role is minimised or ignored, we get a wrong picture of what the Christian life is all about, just as we get a wrong picture when we downplay or ignore God’s role. Both are part of the overall package.

    Also, the positive command to be transformed is coupled with the negative command to not be conformed to this world (in this case the verb is middle voice and also imperative mood). Clearly we have a responsibility and obligation not to let the world squeeze us into its mould, although again God helps us in the process.

    So everywhere in the NT we are given orders about what to do and what not to do. We must do our part, and God will do his part. Thus it is not a case of either God or us at work, but both God and us at work. It is a team venture through and through.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear Bill,
    Yes I agree it is both THEM and us.A great example is when Jesus changed the water into wine. Why didn’t he simply say “wine” instead of getting the servants to fill the water jars which required a lot of effort? He wanted them to participate in what He was about to do. What I am saying is that as we respond to the Holy Spirits’ leading, we will naturally tend towards Christ like behaviour and naturally follow what He commanded us to do. My point is that we do not do to get. We already have every blessing. We do as a response and as a participation. We ride the horse in the direction it is already going.
    May we exhibit the love of Christ as we let THEM us and radiate it out in good works, which are a reward in themsleves.
    Blessings in THEM,
    Lou d’Alpuget

  • Thanks Lou

    Hopefully we agree more than we disagree. For what it is worth, the other day I was thinking about the judgment of believers’ works, future rewards, and so on. Those future judgments obviously have something to do with what we now do as believers for Christ. Again, we are saved purely by grace through faith, but then we work out our Christian life, seeking to please him, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:9.

    And just now I was flipping though Tom Wright’s popular-level commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, and read his thoughts about 2 Tim. 4:6-8 which deals with a “crown of righteousness” which will be awarded one day to Paul and all those who “love his appearing”. Says Wright about such rewards, and how it ties in with justification by faith: “God retains the initiative, and remains the ultimate source of energy, but the Christian is called and required to work hard with that energy.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill and others, wow! I can’t believe how critical some of the comments on this blog are. I love listening to Joel Osteen – he is one of my favourite preachers. After listening to him on many occasions I have come to the conclusion that he is following the calling he believes God has placed upon His life and he is staying true to that. Good on him for doing this (even if he is highly criticised because of it).

    To call him a “false teacher” (Nino) I think goes way too far.

    He has been highly criticised on this blog for not getting his theology right and not proclaiming the gospel message. I encourage bloggers to take a read of 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, in particular, “v14 now the body is not made up of one part but of many and v 21 the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!” My point is, can we really say of people like Brian Houston and Joel Osteen – we don’t need you!!! I think not. God does not want division in His body (v25). V27 says that we are the body of Christ and each one of us is apart of it.

    As an eye-witness, and part of the body of Hillsong (the new Brisbane campus) I can testify that people are being saved; the gospel message is being proclaimed and lives are being transformed.

    Is anyone aware of all the good works which the Hillsong Church does? Is anyone aware of the number of salvations that are occurring through the Hillsong Church where the gospel message is preached? People ARE getting saved. The gospel message is preached and people are responding.

    I’m wondering if those who are so critical of Brian Houston have ever attended a Hillsong Church Service or a Hillsong Conference and experienced the awesome presence of the Holy Spirit? I encourage you to give it a go if you haven’t already.

    For those who are so critical I would ask these two questions: (i) are you following and being obedient to what you believe the Holy Spirit is asking of you? I believe Joel Osteen and Brian Houston are following the convictions of their hearts; according to many they may not have it ‘all right’ – but hey! have you??? (ii) are you focused on saving souls? Without a doubt, and from personal experience Brian Houston is.

    Simone Curran, Brisbane

  • Around the 1980’s I was watching the hungry children die of malnutrition in Africa, on tv. I felt anger and compassion and I asked the Lord, why did Jesus die, what good was His sacrifice if there is still so much suffering in the world. You are my spiritual father and owe me an explanation. Well, the radio dial was on a secular station and the dial moved by itself to the Christian station. The answer shortly came from Vernon Turner who came on in the afternoon. He said ‘”today we are talking about suffering, Jesus died not to make life easy for us but to make our peace with God”. In my walk with God I believe the Spirit also made me aware of my own negative thought processes, once you are aware you can change them, otherwise they can weaken you and make you give up.
    Angie Volmensky

  • See Paul Washer tell it straight on Joel Osteen and the others like him:

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=igKhXFAfnzI

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I don’t believe is prosperity gospel but i am a constantly depressed person and Joel lift’s me up. I know he is a “feel good” preacher but I desperately need to feel good.
    Catherine Blair

  • Thanks Catherine

    I of course do not know anything about you so I don’t want to be amiss here, but… Yes there is a place for encouraging and uplifting messages. But that cannot be the staple diet of the Christian. Hard truth and tough love was the core message of Jesus and the disciples. Warnings, challenges, rebukes and exhortations are all part of the gospel, so we must be careful that we fail to proclaim (or hear) the “full counsel of God” as Paul says. And respectfully, the Christian life has never been about just feeling good, but about obedience and holiness.

    But we can keep you in prayer. I too can easily get depressed, but going to the Word of God, instead of the suger-coated messengers is what revives me. Bless you.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • And see here for more:

    How can the pastor of one of the biggest churches in the world refuse to give a simple and unambiguous pronouncement of what the gospel is?
    www.billmuehlenberg.com/2013/06/06/how-not-to-become-a-better-you/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks again Bill for your strong stand on GOD’s truth. I also thank the Lord, for the wisdom he has obviously given you. It also seems to me, that when I read exposes such as yours, that Ezekiel Chapter three, particularly, verses 17-21,and chapter 33, 1-20, are applicable. It is apparent also, that they need to read and understand the ‘Golden Rule Matthew 7 v. 12, and Matthew Chapter 22 verses 35-40, which explains that on these hang the law and the prophets, or this is the law and the prophets. But the whole message here is that the whole word of GOD, is summed up in one word, LOVE, being GOD’s unconditional ‘AGAPE LOVE’. So if Mr. Osteen does not love us with that genuine LOVE from GOD, then obviously he will not tell all of GOD’s truth which in my mind are inseparable. Secondly if he loves all those that listen, both the saved and unsaved he will warn all of the impending fiery lake of fire, if one does not believe in and love our Lord, until parting from earth. Otherwise the terrible suffering at Calvary by our precious LORD is of no affect to him and all his believing (Osteen’s) listeners, so then they are all going down. What a waste and a tragedy.

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