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Joel Osteen has been the center of popularity and criticism for some time now. I, myself have even thrown a couple of elbows his way for some of his statements.

In the last couple of days the Texas pastor has been somewhat exposed for his inconsistent understanding and application of theology (see Dr Mohler’s article). The result is a bit of commotion (conveniently coinciding with the release of his new book Every Day’s a Friday).

At the same time, I have to call a timeout. CNN featured a story on the smiling mega-church pastor today and indicated that Osteen is being criticized by many for preaching “a gospel-lite.”

This is just unfair and uncalled for. There is enough fodder from the preaching file of Joel Osteen to confirm that this is simply not true.

Osteen does not preach a gospel-lite because he doesn’t preach anything near the gospel. To call what he does anything like gospel is not fair to the gospel. When I want a soda I grab a “Diet Coke” because I still want a Coke without the calories. What he does is more like drinking Mello-Yello. It is not a Coke product. To say he is preaching a gospel-lite is simply not true. He is not preaching a Christian product.

It has been widely reported that Osteen is preaching a prosperity gospel that is laced with self-help. He is part televangelist and part Dr Phil.

It was interesting to read in the CNN article what one of his defenders articulated:

“Osteen may not have the grasp of theology and church history that some pastors have, but he knows how to connect with ordinary Americans through a therapeutic message that draws heavily from pop culture…”

Did you catch that? His loose grip on theology and church history is a virtue along with his “therapeutic message.” The danger with Osteen’s approach is that it’s billed as Christian while it is devoid of the gospel. When Jesus is mentioned it’s like Osteen is stealing his bandwith just to promote his brand.

This is another unsettling reminder of just how uncalibrated he is to historic orthodox Christianity. The call to discipleship is not a calling of self-fulfillment but self-denial. Jesus said as much himself:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9.23)

The denial of self is the repudiation of the value, identity and potential of the self. It is the full renouncement of the self and the full embracing of Christ. In Osteen’s preaching that denial is carefully replaced with the word fulfill. This is deadly because it’s not only false but it doesn’t work. It’s a sham. You will not enjoy Your Best Life Now if you follow Jesus. On the contrary, you are promised conflict and difficulty (Phil. 1.29; 2 Tim. 3.12). Look at church history. Look at Paul. Look at Jesus.

Keeping with Osteen’s theme and new book, Every Day a Friday, isn’t it ironic that Jesus too lived a number of Fridays, most notably Good Friday when he was crucified because of what he believed and taught. Yes, we follow that guy. And yes we Christians preach about that day.

A Christian preacher who does not emphasize the sin-atoning cross of Christ is not preaching a “gospel-lite” because they are not preaching the gospel.

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20 thoughts on “Why I’m Disagreeing with Some of Joel Osteen’s Critics”

  1. donsands says:

    “On the contrary, you are promised conflict and difficulty (Phil. 1.29; 2 Tim. 3.12).”

    This is so true for most Christians in other nations for sure. We have it rather easy here in the States. But the truth remains, Jesus said, “If they hate Me, they will hate you.” And the reason the hate comes our way is that we speak and live the truth of the Bible. The dark world hates the truth, and hates the light. John 3

    here’s a quick video, where Mark Driscol says something that I liked. I don’t really trust Mark, but here he nails it.

    have a great weekend Erik, and especially a wonderful lord’s day as you come together to adore our Savior, and share the love of Christ with his beloved ones.

  2. John says:

    boosh! Nailed it!

  3. GP says:

    Excellent post. One thing to note: Mello Yello IS a Coke product.

    1. Erik says:

      Trying to be clever and I spilled the soda all over myself. Thanks GP.

  4. Michelle says:

    Erik- I wish I could give you a hug and a high five all at the same time! :0) This is so true!

  5. Alissa says:

    This is smack dab true. I read Mohler’s article this morning and just couldn’t believe some of the sound bytes from that interview.

    Actually, just any interview he has ever done. What balderdash. He would do well for himself to just stop being interviewed.

  6. Ironically, following Jesus like you described actually does lead to what is truly the best life possible (Luke 9:24).

    Unfortunately, the prosperity gospel’s version of “your best life possible” is a very weak counterfeit of actually living out our God-given purpose (I’m thinking along the lines of Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Life”)

  7. Rob Grayson says:

    Erik, thanks for so clearly telling it like it is.

    What worries and, to be honest, scares me is that even in my country (the UK), so many Christians seem to be unable to detect that Osteen and his like do not preach any kind of biblical gospel. I wonder how it came to this…

    Thank God that the one true gospel of Jesus Christ is infinitely better than anything any man can come up with!

  8. Pastor Matt says:

    Great post, bro. I’ve had people leave my church because of my criticism of “health & wealth” preaching. The oddest thing I have seen was a few years ago at a conference where thousands of pastors applauded a well-known author state that every community needs to define the Gospel for themselves and then, 15 minutes later, applaud Matt Chandler preach on 2 Cor. 5:21. Strange days.

  9. Ben Schroder says:

    Great article, Erik.
    I was really worried at the title of this post (hehe) that you might defend Osteen’s “gospel” but you nailed it right on.

  10. Larry says:

    It sometime hard to find Christianity in his message. I read RC and Calvin and Owen. They are all about Christ and God … no cool aid here

  11. Tyler Nuzum says:

    Great article, read it to my roommates, very winsome.

  12. JohnBrian says:

    Perfect timing!

    I preached at a church’s 125th Anniversary dinner on Sat. night. My title was “The Message of the Church.” My first point was that the message was about Christ, and quoted from this post to show that many messages are NOT about Christ.


    1. Erik says:

      Glad it was helpful. That is amazing.

  13. John_D_11 says:

    Great point about Every Day a Friday and Jesus’ self-sacrifical Good Friday.

  14. Marvin Torgeson says:

    Hello Pastor Eric:

    Several of my Christian friends are so taken back by what I say about Pastor Joel. To them I must be reading back hieroglyphs. What I have said for years now is Pastor Joel is a moralist plain and simple. His teachings are moralistic sermons borrowing ethical and moral scope from scripture and american Christian culture. Pastor Joel is not a gospel preacher in any sense that I derive from scripture, but a legalist in the purest sense. But a legalist from the liberal end, a kind of teacher that uses morality and law as a lever or means to obtain “your best life now”. If Joel ministers correctives or admonitions or advice its always in the form of submission to moral rightness and the blessing of moral uprightness found in its peace-making ethic.

    Who argues against this? Well no one of any common sense. But, the man of God is not to live his life based upon the advantage of common sense, he must live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Its here that the godly man must part company with our popular Pastor and follow the Spirit into a life of devotion to Jesus himself and love of His word. All these things you all know, but we are seeing that a vast audience of Joel’s listeners do not agree with us, nor do they discern that Pastor Joel is presenting something vastly different from ‘the gospel’.

    It appears that Joel’s listeners do not differentiate between moralistic sermons and gospel-grace ministry. To me the difference is as wide as the Grand Canyon, but to others, they are both the same. Its my desire that if I have opportunity, I want to speak to Joel’s listeners too, because I want to present to them the gospel that saves by grace. They have been fed upon moral-isms that bring advantage to the individuals life. Jesus is an add-on because Joel’s principles will work irregardless. The atonement of Christ is a stumbling block to moral-ism because it emphatically says “you don’t measure up and you will never measure up”. Its precisely because Joel understands the ramifications of the presentation of the atonement that it is so lacking. So in closing, its my opinion that Pastor Joel withholds or as Romans 1 says “who hold the truth in unrighteousness”. My brothers its ‘repressing’ the truth to his hearers and substituting what he believes is a god robed in the terms and phrases his hearers recognize. The choir is silent, the audience is pleased, the consciences are un-pricked the alarms of fear never go off.

    This is the fight of faith my friends, the fight not only recognize the subtle but deadly cancer of moralism but to resist it in others and be on the look-out for it upon the wall where God has made us watchmen.

  15. Marvin Torgeson says:

    Erik: Clarification to the above post…

    I said..”it is precisely because Joel understands the ramifications of the presentation of the atonement that it is so lacking.”

    It should have read…It is precisely because Joel understands the ramifications of the presentation of the atonement that his sermons are so lacking of its truth.

    sorry hope this helps.

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Erik Raymond

Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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