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The Osteens and Another Gospel

Sep 4, 2014

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:

osteensI 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.

He concludes:

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.

Postscript

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00-6OyXVA0M

The second one features a 20 second response to her unbiblical moonbattery: https://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.

www.albertmohler.com/2014/09/03/the-osteen-predicament-mere-happiness-cannot-bear-the-weight-of-the-gospel/
danielbwallace.com/2014/09/01/pastor-osteen-and-christian-narcissism-symptom-of-a-larger-problem/
www.christianpost.com/news/victoria-osteen-and-her-joy-robbing-brand-of-cheap-christianity-125720/

[1869 words]

24 Responses to The Osteens and Another Gospel

  • Osteen says that he chooses to focus more on the goodness of God and on living an obedient life than on sin. Osteen says that he tries to teach Biblical principles in a simple way, emphasizing the power of love and a positive attitude. When asked why he does not focus more on sin, the Devil and Hell in detail, Osteen stated in an interview with CBN News, “When I grew up, the Devil was a reason why I had a headache or the Devil was the reason I got mad today. We always blamed the Devil. I think today when I say the enemy, I like to make it broader. Sometimes the enemy can be our own thoughts. We’ve trained ourselves the wrong way. Or the enemy can be our own lack of discipline. Some people preach about Hell like you’re already going there, and to me the Gospel means ‘Good News.’ I’d rather say God is a God of mercy. So I think the people already know what they’re doing wrong, and I certainly believe in Hell. But to me, when I see thousands of people before me, it just doesn’t come out of me to say, ‘You guys are terrible, and you’re going to Hell.’ I’d rather say that God is a God of mercy. You’ve got to live an obedient life, but for every mistake you’ve made, there’s mercy there, and I believe we can do better”.

    He seems to be leading many people this way. It’s better and kinder to know the truth than sugar coated stories…

  • Umm, Victoria – The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Not the other way around!?!!

  • Hi!
    I just want to cry and not laugh at this false Gospel !

    My answer to this lost and blinded lady would be Galatians 2:20
    I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

    All we do IS for the Lord! Period! And when we sin, we do it against Him and His will on us! And when we do good to others, it’s as if we do it to the Lord!

    What translation of the Bible have they got??? Do they actually read it?

  • I nearly forgot to add what Jesus Himself said to his disciples :
    Luke 9:23-24 (KJV)
    “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

    For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”

    Where ‘s the me centered doctrine in that?

  • 1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

    2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.

    3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

    (2 Peter 2:1-3)

  • Thanks Bill. Weighing in as a Pentecostal Christian, born into a full-on Pentecostal background and the daughter and sister of Pentecostal pastors, I’m horrified by this rubbish. But I just want to add that at the same time, there are a lot of people who will point the finger at all Pentecostals, just as there are people who point the finger at all Anglicans because there are Anglicans who make outrageous statements. I really believe that we are heading into a new era where people will be known less by their denominations than by whether they are prepared to stand up for Jesus and Biblical Christianity, and more and more as the days grow darker. We are going to see more and more phonies coming out of every corner. We have to be prepared to weigh up everything that is said against the whole Word of God because the Bible promises that there will be a huge deception and falling away and no doubt that falling away will come out of each and every denomination.

  • I left a church which refused to condemn sinful behaviour because not only were they defrauding God, I saw the results of sin on the poor people who did not understand that it was ruining their lives. I believe you see the effectiveness of a preacher on the success (Christian, not monetary) of the congregation. I would not become a member of Joel Olsteen’s churh because I believe in the past, they have put monetary considerations before the congregation’s welfare. I sincerely believe, however that, at least, they are trying with limited understanding and human failings, to get people to do good instead of evil unlike the Church of England, for example, which, in some quarters, is actively promoting sin.

    People need to confess their sins otherwise they are extremely difficult to deal with. We often do not seem to realise that sin will not exist in heaven. There will be no more sacrifice covering our sins. We either deal with our sins now and become dead to them or we suffer the loss of that sinful part of our soul through the refining fire or if we are not redeemable, we are destroyed. If people have already dealt with sin, however, it does no good to keep harping on about things that will disappear.

    …and yes I do believe you are doing the Devil’s work by being an accuser of the brethren. Even Michael did not bring a railing accusation against the Devil himself. God is the judge. It is not our place. For your own sake, if you are to make it to heaven intact, that part of your nature will likely need to be removed. Different people need to come to God in different ways but I do feel sorry for people who will be hurt through poor teaching. The Olsteens should not be condemned for saying you should do good for your own sake but I agree there are other areas where they could do with correction.

  • Is Osteen Pentecostal? Glad you told me, cause I wouldn’t have picked that up by watching the meetings.
    Lakewood is officially non-denominational, so I’m not sure if Bill’s Pentecostal label is accurate. “Commercial, contemporary, prosperity, seeker-friendly” maybe, but not exactly Pentecostal – something a lot more obvious with the likes of Reinhard Bonke, Heidi Baker, Danny Nalliah…
    I agree with Dee Graf: It is not really about pente vs non-pente. The real key is about giving your life away. (e.g. Andrew White – vicar of Bagdad, an Anglican)
    BTW: The Osteen-like US mega churches of dubious prosperity doctrine are well represented by non-pente’s.
    Tim

  • Thanks Tim. Having written a 186,000 word thesis on this, a few minor points if I may. Most prosperity teachers are Pentecostals. Pentecostalism is not a denomination, so there are of course plenty of non-denominational Pentecostal churches and pastors. Osteen’s dad was a Pentecostal pastor, and Joel has never claimed that he was not in the Pentecostal/charismatic camp, although he takes pride in saying all sorts of different people like his stuff and attend his church – even atheists!

    Having said all that, however, Dee is quite right that not all Pentecostals and charismatics push the nonsense and false gospel that the Osteens do.

  • Dee, you have nailed an important issue of standing for biblical Christianity. I’m convinced this means speaking out on these issues, which Bill has done so convincingly for years.

    What Victoria Osteen promoted is clearly anti-biblical. We are to do all for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). I think Osteen has extended the definition of ‘selfie’ to incorporate me-centred worship. I’ve just completed an article to expose this, ‘An Osteen big-time blooper’: spencer.gear.dyndns.org/2014/09/05/an-osteen-big-time-blooper-2/.

    May the Lord help us to be discerning disciples in these dangerous days.

  • I like your web page. Thought provoking and I am sometimes allowed to have my say. Iron sharpens iron. Above I should have said Jesus instead of God as there is only one way to God and that is through Jesus -those two are so similar I sometimes mix them up.

    It also made me think of the Greek term “Anomos” (Strong’s 3551 – I looked it up again) which is quite correctly translated iniquitous or lawless. Its where we get the English term animosity. If you leave it at that you miss the subtlety of the word’s use in the New Testament. It literally means not receiving that (the pasture) which is handed down. What was handed down in the OT was, of course, the law. What was handed down in the NT, however, was the gift of the Holy Spirit. Another one of those subtle, little gems in the Greek that are not in the Hebrew.

    I also read today that a quarter of the world’s suicides occur in first world countries (which I believe make up far less than a quarter of the world’s population.) Evidence yet again, of the deceitfulness of riches.

  • A sad and heavy topic indeed!

    What was sensational however were the two clips in response to Victoria! I’m still laughing as I type!

    Sometimes a belly laugh is in good order.

    Thanks Bill!

  • Thanks Bill,
    Perhaps we could use the proper noun Pestecostal for everyone who claims to be, and the lowercase (pentecostal) version for those who mean to live it.
    If Acts 2 is the event (and church) they are named after, then it seems only a few percent of Pentecostals are pentecostal.
    Pity, because the perfectly Biblical intention of the P word gets dragged through the mud by a takeover of those who want a quick and easy McChristianity, with fries.
    Anyway – I find Michael Brown pretty much says it how I see it. (And whom Bill has quoted numerous times – e..g Strange Fire 2013).

  • This topic reminds me of the Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan published February 1678 in which this current generation is aptly described by Faithful and Christian in their conversation with Mr Talkative.

  • Hi Bill
    I sometimes wonder why these so called preachers call themselves christians…..with their clearly apostate message they preach all the while making money to finance their extravagant lifestyle. If there were any bereans in lakewood they must all be extinct by now. Such stupidity during these times is costing the real church big time being grouped together with the Osteen’s.
    We need more strong fearless people like yourself waging war in public.. Prayers for you and your ministry Godbless

  • Michael Weeks you said on 5.9.14 / 10am

    …and yes I do believe you are doing the Devil’s work by being an accuser of the brethren.

    Michael, can you please explain how you distinguish this which you believe is the devil’s work by Bill, from
    a) what Paul did in confronting Peter as recorded in Galations Ch 2
    or
    b) what other writers such as Peter, Jude, John and James wrote in the strongest terms in their letters?

  • Thanks John. Actually I had not seen that part of his comment. So he thinks to judge someone is to do the devil’s work? Well, he just judged me and claimed I was of the devil. Gotta love the gross hypocrisy and blatant double standards here.

    And of course we are to judge. We rebel against God if we don’t judge: www.billmuehlenberg.com/2008/10/08/thou-shalt-judge/

    So if you are going to keep coming here judging me and others, all the while telling us how evil it is to judge others, then you will of course find your time here coming to a real quick end.

  • Bill, you say that Osteen is a pentecostal and that his father was a Pentecostal pastor. I know it’s only Wikipedia but …

    “Osteen was born in Houston, Texas, and is one of six children of John Osteen and Dolores (“Dodie”) Pilgrim. His father, a former Southern Baptist pastor, founded Lakewood Church, of which Osteen is the current senior pastor, in the back of an old feed store” ???

  • Jo Deller, in quoting Osteen, says “…I think the people already know what they’re doing wrong, … .”

    Disagree.

    Adulterers in the church. Unrepentant.
    Greedy people in the church. Unrepentant.
    Heterosexually active unmarried people in the church. Unrepentant.
    Homosexuals in the church. Unrepentant and even proud.
    Thieves in the church. Unrepentant.

    I wanted to go from A-Z but I think I’ve made my point.

    Graeme

  • Thanks Graeme. But no need to depend on Wiki. His dad was a Baptist pastor at first but later moved on. As Joel himself says: “I grew up with my dad being Pentecostal and I felt like it was charismatic. I think it’s changed a little bit in that my dad’s focus was to bring the power of the Holy Spirit. I heard his message 1,000 times. His goal was to bring down the denominational walls that separate us. And I really think that we’re living in the day my dad dreamed of.”

  • I found your quote on www.christianpost.com/news/interview-joel-osteen-on-life-tragedy-and-why-he-shuns-prosperity-gospel-label-94355/.

    Another “interesting” comment on that same page is ‘I had somebody at my church Sunday who came by afterwards to say, “that was a great sermon,” and coming from an Atheist that means a lot.’

    Yeh, well, he could have preached “The church is wrong, there is no God” and a million atheists would have said that. Coming from an atheist, I’m not sure why it would mean anything …

  • Thanks Graeme, Yes I read that bit too. Very telling indeed, when even atheists like your stuff!

  • Thanks Bill. I’ve been going to a pentecostal church the last few weeks (after a lengthy church hiatus and a firm grounding in baptism) and experience for the first time someone speaking in tongues. I’m still processing the event, and it’s hard to know how to explain it to my very surprised children, but i’m happy to keep an open mind about this. Your article has been especially helpful. Thanks again.

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