Watching Good Morning America while sipping coffee is a daily ritual for me. This morning's program highlighted Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, the largest in the United States. The segment focused on the church's recent move into the Compaq Center (after $75 million in renovation), former home of the Houston Rockets. (By the way, the unveiling of Lakewood's new facility is GMA's free video clip of the day.) Osteen's message was described as "motivational Christianity" and of course, mention was made of his bestseller, Your Best Life Now. A clip from an interview with Pastor and Mrs. Osteen answers why this man is so popular. Osteen said, "Today, people aren't so much looking for doctrine. They want to know how to live their lives." So, if you're not looking for biblical doctrine, look no further than Joel Osteen. You won't be disappointed. You won't find what you're not looking for. But, if what you're after is biblical instruction about how to live, then you should also stay clear of Osteen since that too is a matter of doctrine.
This morning I also received an email from a friend who recently discovered this post about Osteen written earlier this year by Michael Spencer. An excerpt:
Joel makes a remarkable shift away from his father's style of more traditional Pentecostal/Charismatic preaching. He becomes a positive thinker- Peale and Schuller style. A preacher of "think positive and be blessed" principles. Prosperity preaching, but not with some tangled version of the Gospel at the center like so many on TBN (take Kenneth Copeland as an example.) It's "have a better attitude and be blessed" motivational talks that have no relation to the essentials of the Christian Gospel. You rarely hear any theology or Gospel preaching. God is good and wants to bless you. Period. That's it. Instead, Osteen's messages are about "God's Favor" on marriage, finances and career. Sin is never mentioned. In well over 25 hours of preaching that I listened to this year, Jesus was almost never mentioned, and when he was mentioned, it was in a perfunctory prayer in the last minute. Sin, the Cross, the atonement? Not there.
Osteen preaches about positive thinking, being blessed, resurrecting dreams and taking risks. His book is called "Your Best Life Now." Despite endorsements from at least one preacher who supposedly understands the Gospel, the message of the Cross of Jesus Christ isn't the focus of Osteen's message- ever. It's positive thinking. Good advice for people who need a lift relationally or financially. It's the message of a good God who wants to bless you with a bigger house, a better job and, of course, a better attitude.
If, like me, you missed this when it was originally published, I encourage you to make time to read it and consider taking up MIchael's challenge.
UPDATE: Did someone declare this Joel Osteen Day and forget to tell me about it? I just found out that even the New York Times has a story on the megachurch pastor. Dr. Alan Wolfe, one of the people quoted in the article, describes Osteen as being very telegenic and "in the tradition of Jim Bakker, but focused less on financial prosperity than psychological well-being." The article also illustrates Joel's ecumenical appeal. A self-described "hard-core Catholic" testifies that he was drawn by Mr. Osteen's motivational messages. Concerning this point the article states:
If not for the religious references, Mr. Osteen's sermons, on topics like procrastination, submitting to authority and staying positive, could be secular motivational speeches. This is by design. "The principles in the Bible will work for anybody," he said. "If you give, you will be blessed. I talk about things for everyday life. I don't get deep and theological."If you too would like to preach to an arena-sized crowd each week, just follow Osteen's sermonic formula:
Mr. Osteen begins each sermon with a joke and follows with anecdotes from his own life, about how through faith he received a house, a parking space, a happy marriage. There is no time to ruminate on theological puzzles, like why God allows people to suffer.