Commentary by Brannon S. Howse
I recently had the distinct displeasure of sitting down to read Joel Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now. I knew what to expect, though, because on several occasions I have watched his national television program.
Osteen’s message is overwhelmingly syrupy—Christian happy-talk on steroids. His “good news” sounds more like it came from the pages of Oprah magazine or a Dr. Phil book than from the Bible. If you are interested in health, wealth, prosperity and positive-thinking heresy, then Osteen’s your man. If you decide to see for yourself, though, I warn you that his book and “show” are so sweet you will likely get cavities if you take in too much. But then, cavities are the least of worries for those that follow Osteen’s man-centered Christianity.
Joel is fast becoming the poster-boy for America’s politically correct, wimpy, liberalized clergy. Like so many of his colleagues, Osteen wants to be liked by all and offensive to none. As a result, he chooses his words warily and shrinks from controversy like from a hot stove.
And what, to Joel, constitutes a controversial subject? Try “sin,” for example. It’s a word Rev. Osteen does all he can to leave out of his vocabulary. On the June 20th 2005 edition of Larry King Live, King probed Osteen on some truly provocative issues, but Joel wouldn’t budge in the direction of anything that might sound remotely like taking a stand:
KING: How about issues that the church has feelings about? Abortion? Same-sex marriages?
OSTEEN: Yeah. You know what, Larry? I don’t go there. I just ...
KING: You have thoughts, though.
OSTEEN: I have thoughts. I just, you know, I don’t think that a same-sex marriage is the way God intended it to be. I don't think abortion is the best. I think there are other, you know, a better way to live your life. But I’m not going to condemn those people. I tell them all the time our church is open for everybody.
KING: You don’t call them sinners?
OSTEEN: I don’t.
KING: Is that a word you don’t use?
OSTEEN: I don’t use it. I never thought about it. But I probably don’t. But most people already know what they’re doing wrong. When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change. There can be a difference in your life. So I don’t go down the road of condemning.
Osteen also masterfully avoids “sin” for most of Your Best Life Now. For 309 of its 310 pages, he sidesteps the central problem that keeps mankind from experiencing God’s best. Only on page 310 (after the endnotes) does he mention sin—one time. For 309 pages, he discusses faults, mistakes and flaws, but never sin.
Here are some of the ways Osteen goes out of his way to avoid the “S” word:
* Page 201: “A pastor of a large church in America unfortunately got off track and made some poor decisions, resulting in his resignation.”
* Pages 61-62: “Sadly, of all the people who came out of Egypt, only two men, Joshua and Caleb, ever entered the land God intended for them….Their lack of faith and their lack of self-esteem robbed them of the fruitful future God had in store for them…..Remember, God had already guaranteed the Hebrews the victory, but because of their poor self-images, they never made it into the Promised Land. They never fulfilled their destiny, all because of the way they saw themselves.”
Uh, Joel, the reason God didn’t allow that generation of Israelites to enter the Promised Land was because of their sin of disobedience (including idolatry). Not even in the loosest of modern paraphrases do you find any notion that the Bible says their problem was a lack of self-esteem or a mass poor self-image.
Osteen similarly avoids other “controversial” topics throughout until again, lucky page 310 boasts all the topics he’s tried not to bring up directly. Before that point, Osteen remains as politically correct as the best of congressional democrats, never using the words Jesus or Jesus Christ but instead referring only to “God.” And you’d never know living your best life would involve any change on your part. For 309 pages you never read of repentance or repent.
Also notably absent from Osteen’s book are virtually every other core Christian concept that might actually lead someone to a biblically abundant life. Osteen doesn’t discuss atonement, dying to self, picking up your cross, hell, the wrath of God, God’s jealousy, or the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I guess I should not be surprised. After all, the good reverend Osteen makes it clear to Larry King how he feels about mentioning such awkward Christian doctrines as hell:
KING: But you’re not fire and brimstone, right? You’re not pound the decks and hell and damnation?
OSTEEN: No. That's not me. It’s never been me. I’ve always been an encourager at heart. And when I took over from my father he came from the Southern Baptist background and back 40, 50 years ago there was a lot more of that. But, you know, I just—I don't believe in that. I don’t believe—maybe it was for a time. But I don’t have it in my heart to condemn people. I’m there to encourage them. I see myself more as a coach, as a motivator to help them experience the life God has for us.
If there were an annual Tell-them-what-they-want-to-hear Award, Joel Osteen would get my nomination. In his conversation with Larry King, in fact, he so obscures the “narrow road” to heaven, that most people could come away not even thinking there is a road. I mean, hey, we’re probably all already there, right? Again Joel and Larry discuss the non-answers:
KING: What if you’re Jewish or Muslim, you don’t accept Christ at all?
OSTEEN: You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know...
KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They’re wrong, aren’t they?
OSTEEN: Well, I don’t know if I believe they’re wrong. I believe here’s what the Bible teaches, and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God will judge a person’s heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.
Are your ears tickled yet? Doubtless any Hindus watching that night were pleased with Osteen’s affirmation of their faith in whatever. By Osteen’s standard, apparently sincerity about something is the only necessary qualification for entering heaven. I’ve also known of some fairly sincere atheists. But I’m concerned that heaven might make them a bit uncomfortable—what with the presence of that Supreme Thing they spent so much time not believing in. I’m sure if they follow Joel Osteen’s formulas, though, even atheists can make the best of heaven.
In concluding, I should acknowledge that, after being blasted by evangelicals for his comments on Larry King, Osteen placed an apology on his Web site. His contrition, however, was clearly a public relations move. He’s still pushing the same wimpy heresies.
People have been serving up heretical ideas for centuries, of course, so in a way Osteen’s version is nothing new. But there is something new we must say about his teachings—something New Age, that is. And we’ll talk about that next time.
Distributed by www.ChristianWorldviewNetwork.com