My Take on Joel Osteen

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HE’S KNOWN AS “THE SMILING PREACHER.” When Joel Osteen’s dad, Pastor John Osteen, of the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, passed away of a heart attack in 1999, the church John had founded in an abandoned feed store 40 years earlier had grown to 6,000 members.

Joel, the youngest son in a family of six children, spent the last 17 years of his father’s ministry responsible for the church’s growing television outreach—an idea Joel had suggested to his dad. For many years, John Osteen encouraged his son to preach, but Joel always declined, preferring to work behind the scenes.

But on January 17, 1999, Joel finally accepted his father’s invitation and preached his first sermon. No one could know that this would be the last Sunday of John Osteen’s life. Six days later, he passed away suddenly of a heart attack.

Soon the church installed Joel as the new Senior Pastor of Lakewood, with his wife Victoria as co-pastor. Almost immediately, weekly attendance began to grow at an astonishing rate, and in 2005, Lakewood moved into its present new home in the former Compaq Center—a 16,000-seat arena once home to the Houston Rockets basketball team.

For years now, Lakewood has been America’s fastest-growing and largest church. Each week, 47,000 people attend Lakewood’s four services—and the attendance continues growing. It’s hard to miss Joel’s preaching on cable, and equally hard to miss his books—Your Best Life Now and the recently released Become a Better You—both in turn #1 on national best seller lists.

He’s been named the “Most Influential Christian in America,” Lakewood’s is the most-watched religious broadcast in America, and at 44 years of age, Joel’s influence continues to expand—amazing, when considering that just eight years ago, Joel was virtually unknown, even in the Lakewood Church!

Millions clearly admire him, but Osteen has plenty of critics as well. He’s accused of preaching only rebranded positive thinking self-helpism, of presenting “Christianity Lite,” of setting forth a “cotton candy” gospel. These detractors say he presents a shallow, dumbed-down message that avoids any talk of sin, suffering, major Bible doctrines, and the cross.

I’ve listened to Joel’s broadcasts. I have both of his books. And I’ve formed some opinions about Joel and his message.

On the downside:

True, Joel’s preaching does not include the entire Bible message. If he errs the most, it’s probably not so much, in my opinion, in what he preaches—as in what he doesn’t. But a couple of thoughts now on that:

First, any preacher/pastor alive carries human DNA, meaning that not one of them is perfect. And I’ve never met or heard a preacher yet who presented everything the Bible has to offer or kept it all in perfect balance. Maybe God gets some part of His message through each unique preacher.

Second, maybe those who criticize what he preaches might reflect on whether preaching a steady litany of condemnation, judgment, dry doctrines, and a focus on sin rather than salvation has really paid off in drawing people to Jesus.

Some preachers and even some churches are known far more for what they are against than what they are for. So perhaps before attacking the “positive” gospel, it’s a fair question to ask about the power and effectiveness of “negative” preaching.

I can think of a long list of truly positive Bible teachings and information that I’ve never heard Joel preach about. Could he perhaps benefit from expanding his message? I would say he could.

Now, on the upside:

Having personally been inspired and encouraged by much of what Joel has preached and written, I’m convinced that the key to his enormous success is perhaps found in one word: Hope. People are stressed, beaten down, discouraged, and fresh out of hope in this life—and that’s too often even before they’ve stepped back out of the church sanctuary!

Joel’s message of relentless hope and optimism is being met with a tidal wave of response from people hungry to believe in a good and loving God who truly cares about them and believes in them. They can’t get enough of a religion focused on the positive side of the ledger.

Critics, even in the only church of which I’ve ever been a member, assail the whole “megachurch” idea, even as they apply constant pressure to produce more numbers in their own faith. Let’s not pretend that at least a part of the motivation here isn’t plain old-fashioned jealousy or envy.

If I read my Bible correctly, the universe is involved in a titanic struggle between good and evil. And in decades of reading that Bible, I have yet to find one example of anything negative on the side of God and good—or positive on the side of Satan and evil. Any preacher whose primary fault is focusing “too much” on the positive is going to stay OK in my book, whatever his weaknesses.

I’ve been in a relationship for quite some time—and one great benefit of it is that my companion always makes me want to be a better me. Not only does she motivate me toward that goal but she shows me much of the “how.” Joel’s preaching has done the same for me, supplying hope I didn’t have before and motivating me to become all that God makes possible for me.

I have another blog called Beggars and Bread. Joel may not offer me key lime pie. He also might not, on the other hand, offer me strong medicine. But I’ve found much spiritual bread—and been drawn closer to The Bread of Life—through his words.

If to others, it all seems like cotton candy, I have no argument with you. But we’re each free to advance our own opinions—our own “take” on people and things. This is mine.

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9 responses to this post.

  1. I too agree with all you have written here. No preacher can give all the Bible says in a complete balance all the time for he/she is human. People have to be drawn to the word by HOPE. In the time that we live in people are weary of anything new that requires time. If they feel they are already stretched for time there has to be something there that will convince them it will help them and ultimately give them hope for a better life. Lakewood grows because people find HOPE there. They find that Jesus cares for them and they can lean on his everlasting arms and that they can cast all their cares upon him.

    To the critics. Look in the mirror. YOU who is without sin cast the first stone.

    The Bible says; “..Touch not mine anointed and do my prophet no harm” This scripture is not necessarily meant to mean in the physical. We must watch what we say at all times. Our conversations must be chaste.

    God Bless

    Reply

  2. Once again, Joel Osteen’s utter failure to uphold Christian truth in an age of apostacy only further supports what is all too clear about his teaching: it is spiritually bankrupt.

    Here is a link to articles our ministry has created on Osteen’s heretical compromise that is anointed as “Christianity” today.

    http://www.spiritwatch.org/behindsmile.htm

    Reply

  3. One of the things I appreciate about Joel’s preaching is how he focuses on lifting up what he is FOR….not attacking what he is AGAINST.

    To me, it’s always been sad that Christians sometimes feel driven to label anyone who doesn’t believe as they do with such terms as “heretical” or “spiritually bankrupt.”

    I don’t find the Word urging me to be intolerant of the sincere beliefs of others, even if I believe them to be in error. Nor do I see condemnation as part of the Gospel message we’re called to share.

    Reply

  4. Posted by David on January 31, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    I wish those who keep attacking Joel would re-examine their own self and ask, “What GOOD am I actually promoting by placing JUDGMENT on others?” GOD calls different people for different tasks. Just because you’re called to teach or sing or play an instrument doesn’t mean we’re called to preach. Equally, just because we’re called to preach doesn’t mean we are called to preach HELL FIRE and BRIMSTONE. What position are YOU (criticizers) holding in the church and what does spending time downing people instead of praying for them doing for YOU. 2 Corinthians 5:10

    Reply

  5. Posted by Glen* on March 22, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Joel is one of the (few) who actually preach on the meat of the word of Christ. I,ve been to a large number of churches where most ,if not all of the members were saved ,and they all had to sit and listen to the repentance message time after time again and again, Milk is for the unskilled (the new christians) and the meat is for those who wish to grow in christs word! Its fulfilling to hear an uplifting message instead of doom and gloom every time one hears the gospel. I think Joels critics are really unskilled in the word and (need) to hear and understand that joel is putting bait in front of the sinners eyes and a unlearned person who hears Joels inspiration would want to be a part of what he is talking about!
    If you! were to hear some thing good was about to happen, you also would want to know how to get a piece of the pie ! right? and that why joels church is as large as it is today for he feeds the flock MEAT!

    Reply

  6. Posted by Nomad on August 18, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    I was not raised in a church and had to explore my faith and a church setting on my own. Believe me, it has been very hard. I have been in and out of churches for many years. Part of the reason for this is because of all the criticizing and bickering. A few years ago, I started watching Osteen’s show and he convinced me to try going to church again. I really enjoy Osteen’s positive message and it is my belief that God wants to help and support us. I do not believe that Joel is pushing a financial message, but one simply of “growth” and goodness in life. If anyone watches his show regularly, they would see this. In fact, there is no emphasis on money. I get more “money” talk and request for donations from my own “real live” church. I also think that since our nation was/is founded on freedom of religion, we should be respectful of this church and refrain from ridicule. Likewise, folks who ridicule Osteen’s clothing, hair…are showing bias and judgment. Believe me…this “bad mouthing” sends folks walking away from Christianity and running away from any church. With reference to the case…my sense was that both of these women need to make many changes in their lives. My gut (and nothing more…only a hunch) tells me that Osteen needs to engage in some personal reflection. I don’t for a minute feel that she assaulted Brown. Based on testimony and the verdict, it seems Brown was over sensitive , “less than” honest, and greedy. Any chance she (Brown) will continue with that therapy? We need to be grateful to this judge for making an accurate and important decision. Our lives would be chaotic if any person without cause could accuse of us of wrongdoing and collect money damages. Hopefully, both of these women will grow from the experience and become much better people in the end.

    Reply

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  8. Posted by nimk on November 2, 2008 at 11:18 am

    i watched John Osteen for years and he’s easily the most effective and best minister i’ve ever seen. i, along with probably millions of others, wept at John’s passing. what would we ever do without his incredible preaching? John loved Jesus with all his heart, it was plain for all to see.

    after John passed, i continued to watch the broadcast, of course, but Joel couldn’t hold my interest. he’s not fervent about God like his sweet daddy was. God, thank you for John’s ministry. what a blessing he was to so many.

    and then when Joel practically denounced Christianity on the Larry King show, well it was too much for me. as for the content of what he preaches now and what his books contain, i can’t say, as i don’t watch and haven’t read his books, but i did hear him denounce that Christ is the only way to heaven.

    if John Osteen went on Larry King, you who knew John, either from television or personally, do you think he would have hem-hawed around and then ultimately denied that Christ is the only way to the Father? i hardly think so. it wasn’t John’s way. John’s way was to shout from the rooftops the Good News of Jesus Christ! amen?

    wasn’t Joel listening to his daddy’s sermons? doesn’t he read the Bible? why lie to America on the Larry King show. how many millions of unbelievers who NEVER go to church or view Christian television were watching that night? he had a chance to show that Jesus is the way, and instead he chose to denounce it.

    it’s the truth, and it’s why i don’t watch and don’t promote Joel Osteen to anyone. you can watch it on youtube.com for yourself if you are unaware he did it.

    IMHO Joel is trying to ruin everything his father built (spiritually) and it sure makes me sad.

    heartbreaking, truly heartbreaking.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Sola Fash on April 5, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I’ve not heard him denounce Jesus Christ as….. but I also think you should try and find out what he means, it’s not possible for him (Joel) to denounce Jesus Christ as the…… who has been the source of his ministry’s success.

    Reply

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