The following is an excerpt from a chapter, Counterfeit Christianity, in the book ERADICATE: BLOTTING OUT GOD IN AMERICA.
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Author, televangelist, and senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas Joel Osteen seems like a very likeable and well-meaning Christian man. His ministry reaches about seven million people every week in countries around the world through radio and television. Prior to October 3, 1999, Osteen produced the church’s television program for seventeen years. With no biblical education or experience, Joel Osteen succeeded his father. Prior to his father’s death, Joel had only preached once in his entire life and had no theological training.
Today, he is one of the most popular, well-known Christian leaders in America. Barbara Walters named Osteen one of the year’s “Ten Most Fascinating People,” and his popularity earned him some attention at ABC News as one of the “10 Most Fascinating People of 2006.” His church rakes in approximately $70 million every year.
Television news anchor Chris Wallace interviewed Joel Osteen on Fox News Channel and began the segment by saying Osteen “offers a message about personal growth and positive thinking, which may explain why he’s now pastor of America’s largest congregation.” Wallace asked him what Osteen thought it was about his message that people want to hear. Osteen replied:
I don’t know if I know exactly, but I think the fact that it’s positive, it’s hopeful, and I talk about everyday life…. And, too, I think, Chris, there’s a lot of negative things trying to pull people down, and I think people respond when you tell them that, hey, there are good things up ahead.
What Osteen just described sounds like a motivational pep talk. Apparently, others notice how seldom Osteen discusses what the Bible teaches on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, pornography, marriage, and other religions. Chris Wallace also asked why Osteen doesn’t get involved in politics or talk much about “abortion and gays and the social issues.” Joel Osteen explained:
Well, it started back with my father. He never did. And I just don’t feel comfortable as well. I don’t feel like that’s my main gifting. And I feel like when I stay focused on encouraging people, and giving them hope, and helping them live their everyday life, I think that’s where I can have the most impact.
He’s in good company. Non-views have become the evangelical norm, and Osteen takes the neutral route. Critics say Osteen preaches a word-faith prosperity gospel lite, which I like to call ‘Cotton Candy Christianity’. He can be overly positive and at times out of touch with human suffering. One popular quote by Joel Osteen is, “When you focus on being a blessing, God makes sure that you are always blessed in abundance.” So all we need to do is focus on being good and doing good? Tell someone who is confined to a bed with an incurable disease, or someone who lost their home, job, or lost a loved one that they’ll always be blessed in abundance.
In a 2011 interview with the Washington Times, Osteen told editors that he saw faith in America at an all-time high. He said that yes, people are struggling, but “our message is so much about hope.” He naturally evaded most political questions saying, “I don’t really take sides,” as it divides the people, adding that he prefers to “stay in my own lane.”
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Many of us would like to hear Joel Osteen dig into the Bible and give a bold presentation of the gospel of Christ without apology. When Mitt Romney ran for president of the United States, Osteen received a few questions from people about Romney’s religion. From the Washington Times interview:
“I believe that [Mormons] are Christians,” Mr. Osteen said. “I don’t know if it’s the purest form of Christianity, like I grew up with. But you know what, I know Mormons. I hear Mitt Romney – and I’ve never met him – but I hear him say, ‘I believe Jesus is the son of God,’ ‘I believe he’s my savior,’ and that’s one of the core issues.
“I’m sure there are other issues that we don’t agree on. But you know, I can say that the Baptists and the Methodists and the Catholics don’t all agree on everything. So that would be my take.”
Even though denominations may not agree on a few nonessential doctrines, they all base their faith on Christ and the Bible, not the Book of Mormon. Osteen has stated on several other occasions that Mitt Romney, a Mormon, “believes in his savior just like I do.” What does that even mean?
Joseph Smith founded Mormonism and Latter Day Saints (LDS) less than 200 years ago. Mormonism teaches God was once a man who progressed to Godhood, there is no Trinity, Jesus was not born of a virgin, and he is not eternal. We can safely say this is another gospel which is cautioned against in the New Testament. Smith also taught all other religions are of the devil and according to Mormon teachings, Joseph Smith “received visitations from Moroni, an angel of light.”
Mormon leaders have also taught that Jesus’ incarnation was the result of a physical relationship between God the Father and Mary. They believe Jesus is a god (small “g”), but humans can also become gods and salvation can be earned by a combination of faith and good works. Osteen must be careful because God will scrutinize his statements as leaders have the power and responsibility to influence many lives. In Joel’s case, it’s millions of lives.
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. (James 3:1) Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16)
Did you ever wonder why there is so much opposition or resistance to Christians? The God of all creation is our help and strength. We pray to a living God while the bones of the gods (or founders) of other religions can be found at their tomb or burial site. We have a Savior who overcame death and the grave leaving an empty tomb that shouts to the world that Jesus is alive.
During interviews on his book promotion tours, Joel Osteen often gives similar responses about being positive, changing your life, developing better habits, not being stuck in the past, doing the best you can, and [claiming] abundance. Osteen claims Jesus wanted us to live a “great life.” What about orphans? Street kids? Prison inmates? What about the handicapped, shut-ins, disabled Veterans, or the persecuted church? How [exactly] is a great life defined?
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Jesus said that in this life we can expect trouble, but to take heart because He has overcome this temporary world. (John 16:33). Jesus also talked about His kingdom in heaven and never mentioned visualizing a nicer house, car, boat, or financial blessing. Christ came to give us life, to destroy the devil’s work, to preach the good news to the afflicted and brokenhearted (Is. 61:1). He set us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).
Osteen says that talking about sin isn’t his main calling and that he’s “trying to make God more relevant” in our society. Let’s look at how Joel Osteen responded to a few more direct questions from Chris Wallace about Mormonism, from the 2007 interview on Fox News Sunday With Christ Wallace:
WALLACE: “Is a Mormon a true Christian?”
OSTEEN: “Well, in my mind they are. Mitt Romney has said that he believes in Christ as his Savior, and that’s what I believe, so, you know, I’m not the one to judge the little details of it. So I believe they are. And so, you know, Mitt Romney seems like a man of character and integrity to me….”
WALLACE: “So, for instance, when people start talking about Joseph Smith, the founder of the church, and the golden tablets in upstate New York, and God assumes the shape of a man, do you not get hung up in those theological issues?”
OSTEEN: “I probably don’t get hung up in them because I haven’t really studied them or thought about them. And you know, I just try to let God be the judge of that. I mean, I don’t know. I certainly can’t say that I agree with everything that I’ve heard about it, but from what I’ve heard from Mitt, when he says that Christ is his savior, to me that’s a common bond.” (Emphasis mine)
So let’s clarify here: Pastor Joel Osteen feels it is not his calling to get deeply into the Bible or to talk about sin. He also prefers not to think too much about other religions, but he believes Mormons are Christians. He focuses on the positive and promotes a word-faith theology that the more you do or say something, the more you will get as a result. I know this teaching well because I followed it for several years in my early Christian days. It is both addictive and deceptive. Who doesn’t want to be happy and “up” all the time? Most of us realize that not only is this unbiblical; it is not realistic.
The tragic thing is hoards of people are being influenced by Osteen’s limited theology, and they end up looking at God as some kind of genie. On page 306 of Your Best Life Now, Joel claims, “It’s our faith that activates the power of God.” When the emphasis is on the power of our own words instead of the power of the resurrection, something’s wrong. He goes so far as to say it’s more important to speak to your problem than pray about it (pg. 124).
The following quotes are from Your Best Life Now by Pastor Joel Osteen:
“The first step to living at your full potential is to enlarge your vision. To live your best life now, you must start looking at life through eyes of faith, seeing yourself rising to new levels. See your business taking off. See your marriage restored. See your family prospering. See your dreams coming to pass. You must conceive it and believe it is possible if you ever hope to experience it” (p. 4, emphasis his).
“You will produce what you’re continually seeing in your mind…. If you develop an image of victory, success, health, abundance, joy, peace, and happiness, nothing on earth will be able to hold those things from you … God wants to increase you financially, by giving you promotions, fresh ideas and creativity” (p. 5).
“God wants you to live an overcoming life of victory. He doesn’t want you to barely get by. He’s called El Shaddai, ‘the God of more than enough’” (p. 33).
“You will often receive preferential treatment simply because your Father is the King of kings, and His glory and honor spill over onto you” (p. 40).
“Our words have tremendous power, and whether we want to or not, we will give life to what we’re saying, either good or bad…. Words are similar to seeds, by speaking them aloud, they are planted in our subconscious minds, and they take on a life of their own…. Get up each morning and look in the mirror and say, ‘I am valuable. I am loved. God has a great plan for my life. I have favor wherever I go. God’s blessings are chasing me down and overtaking me. Everything I touch prospers and succeeds!’ (p. 122-123)
“It’s going to happen…. Suddenly, your situation will change for the better … He will bring your dreams to pass” (pp. 196-198).
There’s nothing wrong with trying to be positive, but where is this found in the Bible?
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Maybe you’re a fan of Joel Osteen. You may have read his books and have watched him on TV and are having a tough time accepting this. I strongly encourage you to pray about everything he or anyone teaches. If you sincerely seek God’s truth, He will reveal it to you. Osteen presents a kind of self-help program under the guise of Bible instruction. There’s nothing wrong with optimism, but pastors [and teachers] need to stick with the Word of God.
People who follow Osteen’s happy formula and then fail to get the positive results he promises end up disillusioned and worse, get mad at God and fall away from him. Don’t you think Christians are responsible for telling people what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear? You won’t get that from Mr. Happy. Smooth talk. Positive vibes. Prosperity and abundance. Flattering speech. Deceptive doctrine with a smile…. Cotton Candy Christianity.
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