One of the most prominent faces in the world of Christendom is that of Joel Osteen. Even non-believers are familiar with the trademark smile, which almost seems to be painted on Joel's face. His soft spoken nature and obvious respect for others stands out in today's world. He seems to be a paragon of virtue and in Catholic terminology, a saint. But Mr. Osteen is not without detractors and many of them are vociferous in their condemnation.
Here's a recent article about a theft of the church's weekly collection:
Some people seem to think it's a sin, or at least obscene, for a church which has an attendance of over 40,000 per week to take in a collection of $600,000. That averages about $15 per person. That certainly doesn't translate to an obscene amount of money in my eyes. The usage of the money is what concerns me; not the amount. I think this article was extremely unfair to Osteen and his church. I think a lot of the criticism of Osteen is unwarranted. I also think there is room for some concern.
Osteen's father was a Baptist pastor who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As a result of the clash between traditional Baptist theology dealing with the gifts of the Spirit and his experiential taste of an encounter with God, the senior Osteen started the church, which his son Joel now leads. This is a story of success and hope. But has the church taken a wrong path as is now seeking how the spiritual life can profit the fleshly life instead of how human flesh can profit the kingdom of God? Osteen's sermons focus on people. They seem to be mostly about using God to get what we humans want. The true gospel, in the eyes of many people, is for humans to seek how they can serve God so He gets what he wants. I have joined the latter camp at this stage of my life, so I'm not letting Osteen off the hook without asking some questions.
Osteen perhaps falls in the camp of those who preach a prosperity message. We, who are supposed to be like Jesus who said that he had no place to lay his head, are told that we should be rich. I've not heard a lot of Osteen's sermons, but I suspect he doesn't speak on the topic of reducing life's desires. His gospel seems to throw together two mutually exclusive paradigms of life, according to Jesus. God and mammon. Jesus said we can't serve both.
Why is there no cross in the church? Is it too painful to have a reminder of Calvary to be a goad for the flesh? I have to wonder how many sermons are given on taking up our cross to sacrifice for the One who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us. That kind of pep talk doesn't seem to please people and make their day. Osteen seems to be more attuned to pop psychology and self help messages as opposed to the idea of pouring our lives out as a living sacrifice. Are Osteen and his followers flirting with the road to Hell as a result? The judgment falls on each person individually. My potential take on this question is this: Jesus said that the rich man who gives something to the poor and trumpets the fact has already has his reward on earth and won't receive one in Heaven. Perhaps people who believe in Jesus but choose to walk the path of least resistance will also reap their rewards here on earth. Perhaps they enter in Heaven, but the additional rewards of being faithful servants will not be theirs.
In a world where some ministry leaders live lavishly off of donations made by people who live in much more humble circumstances, Osteen is commendable. He doesn't take a salary from the church. His nice home and lifestyle are paid for from the royalties from his many books and his speaking engagements. I don't begrudge the man the money he gains through his efforts in that arena.
Osteen made the following quote: "You have to be careful not only how you spend each day, but also with whom you spend it. To redeem your time, you may have to prune off relationships that are not adding to your life." I have to question the validity of this or at least seek to clarify it. People who bring constructive criticism I believe do add to our lives, but we seldom view their contributions as positive. According to Osteen's philosophy, we might jettison a relationship with the person who brings some negativity into our lives.
Another reason Osteen falls under criticism is that he seems wishy-washy about the word of God. He doesn't use the Bible much in his sermons. He stated on a TV interview that being gay is a sin but won't keep people from going to heaven. I co-wrote a movie and book entitled Right to Believe, which raises this question. Can someone stubbornly cling to their sin and still enter into Heaven?
Paul Washer is a man I respect greatly. If you're never heard him preach, go out to YouTube and check him out. His opinion of the gospel of Osteen is very low and is something he passionately argues against. I personally feel that we are called to a sacrifice and hardship myself. However I have to ponder the passage in the Bible that says that the hand shouldn't say to the foot, what good are you? Perhaps Osteen and his church are a different part of the body of Christ and have a different function than I do. I'm not responsible for Osteen carrying out God's will in his life. I am responsible for my own walk, which requires me to focus on what I need to do and say, instead of what Osteen should not be doing or saying.
Joel Osteen is very sincere. I don't believe in bashing people. We are not called to bring people down but to combat sin and error. Any false ideas need to be brought down, but we should have grace with people, the same way God does with us. So I suggest that people bash and trash the message but not the messenger. Jesus mentioned that with the type of judgment we use on others, we will be judged. Thus I caution people to not judge Osteen and his wife on a personal basis. Much of the criticism of Osteen is unwarranted and perhaps incited by petty jealously. In our search for truth, can we please rise above that and address the issues and not the players?