I have penned many pieces on megachurch pastor Joel Osteen. But people say, “Oh, leave them alone” or “Don’t be so judgmental” or “We should not criticise other Christians” or “Do not touch the Lord’s anointed” etc, etc. Are they right? Should we just remain silent on the man and his ministry?
There are plenty of times when we can refrain from passing comment. There are plenty of times when we can just let a few iffy things pass. There are plenty of times when we can just agree to disagree and move on. There are plenty of times where we can graciously wink at silliness or minor aberrational teachings and practices.
But this is not one of them. As I have highlighted and documented on numerous occasions now, we do not have here just a silly celebrity preacher, a theological marshmallow, and a big time entertainer. What we have here is someone preaching another gospel, negatively influencing countless millions of people in the process. When that happens, the person must be called out, or we are being disobedient to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Listen to the extremely strong words of Paul as he takes on a serious deviation from the gospel in Galatians 1:6-9:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
In 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 we find more of the same:
I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
The Osteens do not preach the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ who calls us to follow him in faith and repentance, as we die to self, crucify the flesh, and daily take up the cross. Indeed, core biblical terms like sin, repentance, forgiveness, the cross, and judgment are almost never heard from their pulpit.
Instead all we hear is it is about me, me, me. It is a me-centred gospel through and through. God is just an add-on to a completely self-centred and self-absorbed life. God is nothing more than a celestial butler who exists for one thing only: to keep me happy.
The latest outrage from the Osteen camp was this incredibly bizarre utterance from Victoria Osteen. Countless concerned Christians are now talking about this unbiblical, indeed, anti-biblical, comment of hers:
I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God–I mean, that’s one way to look at it–we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. . . . That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. So, I want you to know this morning — Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. . . . When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?
While the congregation howled in approval, they are dead wrong. We exist for God, not him for us. The claim that as long as we are happy and that’s all that matters is New Age poison pure and simple. It has absolutely nothing to do with biblical Christianity – not even in the slightest. And as I mentioned, plenty of other folks are deeply troubled, not just by this one remark, but by the entire “gospel” of the Osteens.
Al Mohler hits the nail on the head:
America deserves the Osteens. The consumer culture, the cult of the therapeutic, the marketing impulse, and the sheer superficiality of American cultural Christianity probably made the Osteens inevitable. The Osteens are phenomenally successful because they are the exaggerated fulfillment of the self-help movement and the cult of celebrity rolled into one massive mega-church media empire. And, to cap it all off, they give Americans what Americans crave — reassurance delivered with a smile.
Judged in theological terms, the Osteen message is the latest and slickest version of Prosperity Theology. That American heresy has now spread throughout much of the world, but it began in the context of American Pentecostalism in the early twentieth century….
There is nothing really new in this message. Anyone familiar with the New Thought movement and later books such as Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich will see a persistent theme. The important issue is this — Prosperity Theology is a false Gospel. The problem with Prosperity Theology is not that it promises too much, but that it aims for so little. What God promises us in Christ is far above anything that can be measured in earthly wealth — and believers are not promised earthly wealth nor the gift of health.
But to talk of the promises of God to believers is actually to jump outside the Osteen audience. The Osteen message does not differentiate between believers and unbelievers — certainly not in terms of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In their sermons, writings, and media appearances, the Osteens insist that God is well-disposed to all people and wills that all flourish, but there is virtually no mention of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No reference to sin as the fundamental issue. No explanation of atonement and resurrection as God’s saving acts; no clarity of any sort on the need for faith in Christ and repentance of sin. Instead, they focus on happiness and God’s “immeasurable favor” to be poured out on all people, if they will only correct their thinking.
Furthermore, God’s pleasure in his human creatures centers in his desire and will that they come to faith in Jesus Christ and be saved. The great dividing line in humanity is not between the rich and the poor, the sick and the well, or even the happy and the unhappy. The great divide is between those who, in Christ, have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s glorious light.
Mere happiness cannot bear the weight of the Gospel. The message of the real Gospel is found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That is a message that can be preached with a straight face, a courageous spirit, and an urgent heart in Munich, in Miami, or in Mosul. If our message cannot be preached with credibility in Mosul, it should not be preached in Houston. That is the Osteen Predicament.
Daniel B. Wallace warns against a gospel of “Christian narcissism”. And the problem is, this dereliction of duty in proclaiming the true biblical gospel is not just confined to Lakewood Church, the biggest church in the county:
The Osteens have been criticized for a number of things, not the least of which is being soft on sin and twisting the gospel. Now, some of the most blatant narcissistic blather ever to come from a pulpit can also be laid at their feet. Not only narcissistic, but also blasphemous. One has to wonder how a megachurch in the buckle of the Bible belt can go on and on without the congregants waking up and smelling what’s being shoveled in their direction. If Lakewood Church is any indication of the biblical literacy, genuine devotion to Christ, and fellowship of the saints of the American evangelical church, we are in serious trouble.
Finally, Matt Moore says this about this other gospel:
Lots of people seek happiness apart from God but throw His name all over it. Using God for His this-side-of-glory gifts (aka the American Dream) without any real love for Him or desire to know Him doesn’t count as seeking happiness in God. He takes no pleasure in that. But this is what I fear is happening in an incredibly large number of American Churches. This is what I fear is happening in the Osteen Church, based on the many things I have heard both Joel and Victoria say over the years. I won’t pronounce judgment on them before the time (1 Corinthians 4:5), but I will say with certainty that taking the immutable, unstoppable and infinitely holy God of the Bible and reducing Him down to a three-wish celestial butler who is only here to make us happy — without us really having to surrender to, worship, adore or enjoy Him — is absolute heresy. There is a massive difference between enjoying God for who He is and “enjoying God” for what temporary or material blessings He can give you.
But this heresy is the ‘gospel’ of today’s western spirituality. We refuse to worship a God who is opposed in any way to how we wish to live our lives. “God” is just this generic divine being who is here to affirm and bless whatever we feel like He should. We get to decide what we feel like is right or worthy of our worship, and then we yank the Holy One down off His throne and demand Him to bow at our feet and bless us our god-forsaken pursuits of purpose and joy.
Speaking as an ex-homosexual, he discusses how so many duped believers are trying to bless their sinful lifestyle in the name of divine love and acceptance. He then writes:
The cheap ‘gospel’ of western spirituality says that the path to happiness is accepting and loving yourself as you are, and believing that God wants to affirm you in whatever way that you choose to live out your life. But the real truth, the biblical truth, is that true joy is found not in self-acceptance, but self-denial. Not the insane, pleasureless I’m-gonna-beat-myself-with-a-stick-every-time-I-have-a-bad-thought kind self-denial, but the denial of sinful, me-centered thrills and spills for the sake of experiencing a better, pure, God-centered joy. The reality is that if we’re seeking happiness outside of God Himself, we’re short changing ourselves.
Sometimes to keep a bit of sanity here, all we can do is have a good laugh. Well, these two short videos offer a terrific laugh – otherwise you might break out in tears. The first one features a three-second reply from Bill Cosby to Victoria’s flakiness: www.youtube.com/watch?v=00-6OyXVA0M
The second one features a 20 second response to her unbiblical moonbattery: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NauXtlDLE7A
At least have a look for a brief respite from being overwhelmed with the horribly compromised and carnal state of the church today.