strange fires

Joel Osteen's Painfully Obvious Omissions 

By Lance King and Rafael Martinez, Spiritwatch Ministries

Listen To Lance & Rafael's Spiritwatch Ministry Teaching

Both of Joel Osteen’s inspirational best sellers "Your Best Life Now" and “Become A Better You” have captivated America and the world. Everywhere you turn people are devouring them, from hairdressers to CEO’s. They are books that are described alternately as containing “seven steps to living at your full potential” as well as “seven simple yet profound action steps that will help readers discover the better things they were born (to) realize.” (1) Both books essentially boil down Osteen’s admonitions on living a more fulfilling life to seven points set forth for personal study. The announcements for the books go on to assert, like much of the rest of Osteen’s promotional ad copy for his books and ministry splashed all over Western civilization, that Osteen presents “key biblical principles .. that will uplift and enlighten you” (2).

Osteen’s religious element that promotes personal success is the unifying field that holds the elements of his inspirational writing together. If something is said to be coming from the Bible, the religiously inclined will always listen more closely and are more apt to take the point raised. So because we are a nation that values religion as equally as success, there are many Americans who now find Osteen’s homespun, can-do homilies to be a breath of fresh air. Millions upon millions of people who never darken the doors of a church find his teaching to be a refreshing spirituality that lightens their day and gives focus to an otherwise stiflingly secular and materialistic existence in postmodern Western civilization. And tens of thousands of people answer the call and visit Osteen’s Lakewood Church every week, with visitors from all around the world thronging the converted sports stadium.

The dynamic attraction of Osteen’s teaching and persona has not been lost on the mass media and Madison Avenue either: their refined presentation and packaging of Joel’s prosperity gospel has helped to create some of the greatest cultural buzz seen to date. With Victoria, his vivacious blonde wife at his side, Osteen’s own media savvy has helped him carve out almost seemingly overnight a prime time niche for his telecasts. Between sold out speaking engagements, news interviews, and daily broadcast coverage, an Osteen religious franchise and product line now operates so, well, successfully that it easily rivals any secular one around. Such presence and visibility coupled with a popular message has helped raise Osteen up as the new, smiling face of Evangelical Christianity, even if he – by his own admission – doesn’t quite understand what the term even means. His disarming charisma isn't lost on the masses whose enthusiastic consumption of his spiritual product has become a cultural imprimatur sanctifying it as Gospel truth. Since it meets the needs of so many people in so many places, it only stands to reason, many say, that Joel’s work simply must be divinely inspired, right?


There are serious omissions in his books that simply undercut whatever virtues they may have otherwise. This is a sobering reality that has to be faced when coming to grips with the implications of Joel’s writings; the immensity of their absence as noted in his two books is simply beyond our ability to fully grasp or fully describe. The very fact that such painfully obvious omissions are hidden in plain sight in Osteen’s teaching and preaching and yet are completely overlooked by millions of his disciples is without question the most disturbing issue we simply must raise. It is not only a statement about Joel’s errors but also about the appalling lack of spiritual discernment in the lives of his audiences and the times we live in.

The observation of these omissions is bewilderingly elementary and we are aware that just the very act of asking them will sound like we are filled with a terminal religious cynicism bent upon overturning the faith of those who reckon Osteen to be a great spiritual motivator in their lives. Indeed, that is the furthest thing from our hearts as well as our minds. We are not interested in smothering positive attitudes or squelching whatever inspiration may be in his teaching. But at the same time we cannot begin to do justice to our examination of what lies behind the smiles of Joel Osteen without begging the following questions for which we beg your indulgence and attention.   

Where Is Jesus?

For generations of Christian believers, the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ is at the heart of an authentic, transforming Christian faith. Jesus Himself said that he came so that those who would believe upon Him “might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10). Christ offers an unspeakably and personally fulfilling quality of life to mankind as a blessing bought at the cost of His sacrifice on the Cross and received by faith in Him through repentance from the sin that separates us from Him. But this breathtaking level of abundant life Jesus promises can never be fully attained to by anyone outside of that firm spiritual grounding in His Lordship over their lives. Commitment to Him as Savior and Lord is necessary for this. 

Listen to Christ’s own plainly stated conditions on this “abundant life” in John, chapter 15, verses 5-7, laying emphasis on the conditional nature of His promises here and note very carefully how Jesus deliberately qualifies the conditions for the kind of life He ordains for those who truly trust Him:

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. (KJV)

Without His direct fellowship in the intimacy of our very lives, we will never achieve the kind of increase that truly matters. That fellowship begins with our confession and repentance from the sin in our lives that has cut us off from God to begin with (Romans 3:23). The fruit that Christ would have us bear that would endure and truly fulfill our purpose in life is derived completely from our connection to Him. So therefore those not actively living in conscious fellowship with Him are actually destined for eternal judgment. This, we contend, is the Gospel truth underlying the great overall message of the Bible, which reveals that faith in Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of Christianity at exclusion of everything else.

Now this is hardly the kind of destiny the disciples of Joel Osteen who want to “find the champions” in themselves might really want to hear about and much less face. But this foundational spiritual principle has always been the Biblical introduction to following Christ as He intended. Those consciously living under the Lordship of Jesus as one of His disciples know and understand this and will passionately apply His commands and teachings to their own lives daily. In so doing, they have found as the generations of believers past have discovered that the gates of God’s merciful graces and loving kindness were opened wide unto them.

And Joel Osteen, for all of his warm deliveries about the goodness of God, completely misses this altogether in his books. The central place of the Person and work of the Son of God in a spiritual life entirely consecrated to God through faith in Him is not addressed in Your Best Life Now or Become A Better You. Any Biblical narrative mentioned is related solely to illustrate a motivational point of Osteen’s humanistic teaching. We’ve touched on a few of these instances already so we won’t rehearse this here. Indeed, as we’ve also mentioned in our second article, these references to Jesus Christ could easily be removed without any significant effect to the flow of Osteen's motivational thought whatsoever. These same notations of Christ almost seem shoehorned into the text as an afterthought, although to be fair to Osteen, we want to believe he’s not so jaded or crass as to do such a thing. But the effect still remains the same. Osteen betrays in his omission of Christ either a hideous ignorance of the heart of Christianity or a diabolically cunning rejection of Him for the sake of marketing his teaching. We would prefer to think the former is true, although if it is, Osteen’s credentials as a minister of the Gospel would seem to be spiritually bankrupt.

What is truly appalling here is the chilling absence in Joel’s books of any proclamation of the redemptive place that Jesus Christ should have enthroned in the hearts and minds of all humanity. He makes little to no attempt to clearly communicate the necessity for this to his audience. There isn’t any meaningful introduction in them toward the necessity of His Lordship over the hearts and minds of those seeking their best lives now by becoming better people. We have looked - it’s not there in either of the two books. Such an omission is beyond conscionable belief that a minister writing about Christianity could do such a thing, but it is the dreadful reality.  

No greater indictment of this can be found then through the very institutions of the world Osteen’s books flourish in. One evening while using to look up information on YBLN, we were randomly selected by the website’s customer survey programming to be offered usage of a concordance search function. The selected site visitors could then look up what the 100 most mentioned words might be in a given book. So we decided to use this function on YBLN to see what this word count might be for Osteen’s first book. 

The results below as seen in a screenshot, to use an overworked term, blew our minds .. 

Shockingly, in the book Your Best Life Now, the name of Jesus is astonishingly absent as this screen shot of the Amazon concordance feature as seen in 2005 shows above (3). And this is found in the book of a Christian pastor who is on record as categorically stating that his grasp of Christianity was based upon "Christ and the message of the Cross." (4) This statement by Osteen is simply not supportable by anything he pens in YBLN or BABY. His nebulous website statement about what the Lakewood Church stands for is hardly any more substantial then anything we’ve heard him say about Christ in his innumerable interviews.

Such an unthinkable absence wasn't lost on CBS anchorman Harry Smith in his 2005 interview with Osteen who, upon asking whether he was an Evangelical or not (prompting Osteen's glibly non-committal answer) politely confronted him about the apparent invisibility of the person of Jesus Christ in his book:

You see a megachurch, you assume "evangelical Christian", I'm reading the book and I'm like "where's the .." .. a lot of it is you talk about God a lot, and a little less perhaps then expected about Christ.(5)

Smith was probably being polite about this. His supposition behind the question is that Evangelicals typically uphold the person and name of Jesus Christ rather explicitly in their ministries and witness. This was lost upon Osteen, who then made his rather weak protest to this in his statement about Christianity's basis being "Christ and the message of the Cross." If that was the case, however, Osteen completely missed the opportunity to articulate this in the interview in a meaningful fashion. And it is overlooked in all the possible places it could have been discussed in a sensitive and yet meaningful fashion in YBLN, BABY or virtually any other time one might hear Osteen speak. Once again, the deafening silence of Joel Osteen defies any reasonable explanation that a Christian pastor just might be able to make.

This silence most likely contributed to Osteen’s disastrous gaffe on the CNN Larry King Live telecast of June 20, 2005 in which he plainly wavered on the necessity of knowing Christ alone for salvation. Asked point blank by Larry King if Jews and Muslims who didn’t believe upon Christ were wrong, Osteen’s evasive answer was that “I don't know if I believe they're wrong.” (Click here to view this video excerpt). This evidence of Osteen’s spiritual myopia on the exclusive claims of Christ as being the only way to God (John 14:6) betrays his towering compromise on this foundational precept of Biblical Christian faith. The indignation and outrage voiced by thousands of Christians for whom this is a non-negotiable truth could not be ignored by Osteen who issued a statement of “qualification” about his mea culpa on his website which suddenly disappeared only a few months later (6). This appeared to have raised more embarrassing questions about his fidelity to Christian faith then Osteen was seemingly prepared to face - but from which he learned an important lesson: when asked by King in a 2006 interview about the controversy, Osteen quite obviously had the talking point in hand and delivered a far more explicit assertion then before.

But this 2006 retraction hasn’t seemingly changed Osteen's approach to Christianity as spelled out in his books that still appear to be entirely Christless. His confession of faith is empty of any explicit emphasis upon the command of Jesus Christ for all to follow Him. This is an observation that many other Christians of all denominational and non-denominational stripes have made in protest to Osteen’s doctrine, only to be blithely dismissed by his disciples and apologists. They hotly take exception to this assertion that others and we would make on this point, complaining that we are being “negative” and that jealousy and dead religious tradition drive our protests. But only a blindly obstinate spirit can be the origin for such a baseless charge. The situation is as it is: Joel Osteen’s teaching has little to nothing to do with the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Osteen's total lack of understanding of the exclusivity of Christ was even more compellingly revealed in his December 23, 2007 interview on the Dec. 23, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace." When asked about Mitt Romney's run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency in 2008 by FOX anchor Chris Wallace, Osteen was asked if Mormons are Christians and if the theological claims of Mormonism are issues to be concerned over: the transcript of the interview spoke volumes about Osteen's depth of true fidelity to Christ:

WALLACE: And what about Mitt Romney? And I've got to ask you the question, because it is a question whether it should be or not in this campaign, is a Mormon a true Christian?

OSTEEN: Well, in my mind they are. Mitt Romney has said that he believes in Christ as his savior, and that's what I believe, so, you know, I'm not the one to judge the little details of it. So I believe they are.

And so, you know, Mitt Romney seems like a man of character and integrity to me, and I don't think he would — anything would stop me from voting for him if that's what I felt like.

WALLACE: So, for instance, when people start talking about Joseph Smith, the founder of the church, and the golden tablets in upstate New York, and God assumes the shape of a man, do you not get hung up in those theological issues?

OSTEEN: I probably don't get hung up in them because I haven't really studied them or thought about them. And you know, I just try to let God be the judge of that. I mean, I don't know.

I certainly can't say that I agree with everything that I've heard about it, but from what I've heard from Mitt, when he says that Christ is his savior, to me that's a common bond.

This dismissive comment of Osteen is breathtaking in its unimaginable twisting of Christian truth. His firm identification with Romney's Mormon views of Christ as a "common bond" and Mormonism as a form of orthodox Christianity are as unmistakably plain as the noon day sun at its' fully blinding zenith in an unclouded desert. Such a towering ignorance over the vast and unbridgeable differences between the heretical views of Mormonism and Biblical Christian faith can't be any clearer. It only demonstrates an unimaginable absence of spiritual discernment by Osteen and an utter dereliction of Christian ministerial duty to make a stand for the truth of Christian faith against the smooth claims of those who pervert it, like the self-proclaimed "prophet" Joseph Smith (Jude 3). Another global spectacle and flip flop of indescribably terrible import is again seen in Osteen's total failure to make known the truth of Christ in the face of heresy. The quote of the Chicago demonstrators of 1968 says it all: "The whole world is watching!"

Perhaps the most grotesque example of Osteen's betrayal of Christ can be seen in his ministry magazine Life Now for the Fall/Winter 2005 holiday season. The magazine cover, adorned with a single pristine white Christmas tree ornament is meant to be read in the context of the 2005 Christmas holiday season. And yet Osteen’s article doesn’t even mention the birth of Christ or the Advent season at all! (7) It isn’t until we read articles by his mother Dodie, brother Paul and his worship leader Cindy Ratcliffe that Christmas is even mentioned! And Dodie Osteen’s article, 16 pages into the publication, is the first place in the publication the Name of Jesus finally gets mentioned.  It is only when this part of Osteen’s magazine finally is read that Osteen's readers begin to grasp that the "favor" of God might have something to do with Jesus after all. Once more, the gravity of these observations seems lost on many who would insist that Osteen is a choice communicator of the Christian life. The fact that this omission does the gravest disservice to the spiritual destinies of millions of his readers and viewers who have no real commitment to Christ at all just doesn’t faze them.

One indignant “emergent worshiper” and music minister, in a post in his online blog, shared his indignation over objections to Osteen’s stumble on CNN. In his open mimicry of "edutainer" Chris Crocker's hysterical defense of Brittany Spears, he retorts “I’m just saying leave Joel Osteen alone. He is teaching 47,000 people a week how to live more like Christ. He values orthopraxy over orthodoxy. What do you think God values more?” (8) This emergent minister's rejoinder is just a typical reaction among those who feel that Osteen’s approach to Christianity is being unfairly maligned. In an all too familiar Evangelical oeuvre,  he suggests that the motives of those who disagree with Osteen's restating of Christianity are purely out of a sectarian disagreement over style of ministerial approach. Jealousy and tradition guarded by an old school of people dedicated to preserving a dead status quo, they imply, is behind the controversy.

For the practical purposes of our own critique here, we would say nothing could be further from the truth. In response, it can be seen in the Bible that God in Christ by the Spirit – the Triune Godhead – values both concepts of orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right practice) equally. Paul’s classic admonitions to his young ministerial apprentice Timothy are quite clear on this (1 Timothy 4:6, 12, 16). Peter’s letter encourages Jewish believers in the same vein (1 Peter 1:20-23 and 2:1-3) while the apostle James commands faithful believers to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 2:22). The question isn’t if “doing” (orthopraxy) is more important then being a “hearer” (orthodoxy): it’s whether what you are listening to and acting upon actually is truth that transforms. So Scripture is hardly silent on the matter. Teaching people to live like Christ isn’t the same as being in Christ.

If the “orthopraxy” of such a proposition was true, there would be no need to send Christian witness to the compassionate Buddhist, the kindly atheist and the contemplative Hindu whose positive outlook on life has no reference to Christ whatsoever. The claims of Jesus Christ that He alone is the way to God and abundant living would make absolutely no sense. The early church as glimpsed in the New Testament book of Acts displayed frightful amounts of belligerent intolerance by engaging in the disruptive practice of preaching Jesus and calling on men to repent and believe upon Him. Obviously we would energetically reject such reactionary thinking. 

So that distinction between living like Christ or being in Him still matters. It makes all the difference in a world caught between eternal life and eternal death. Jesus’ word of advice to the good, moral and generous life of the rich young ruler when he approached Christ in Luke 18:18-21 was terribly inappropriate. For by his own confession he’d kept the commandments of God about virtuous living since he was a youth. That was certainly an orthopraxy that God should have valued more!

And yet this rich, cultured young man knew there was something deep within him that he sorely lacked – his personal emptiness drove him to chase after a wandering rabbi in the Galilean wilderness to seek the answer from him. For all of his orthopraxy, for all of his sincere “doing”, he still keenly felt his lack, which was his actual estrangement from God. And Christ’s direction to sell all he had, give to the poor and follow Him was the purest declaration of orthodoxy, of sound doctrine, that anyone could expect to receive from the lips of the Master himself. Here, this rich man received a personal word of teaching that would liberate his bound soul – which sadly, he rejected. But Christ pulled no punch and spelled things out clearly. His directive teaching that He was the standard by which the young man would live – or die - is beyond refutation or question.

What does this matter? Joel’s complete omission of any substantial discussion on how the life and words of Jesus Christ are relevant to one’s “best life now” is shockingly scandalous. By default, therefore, his version of “Christianity” shared in this book is a pallid, shallow ghostly religion that lacks the most crucial focus of all – a Lord and Savior to bow the knee before. This is an omission impossible to ignore, monstrous to behold and yet masterfully disguised by the bright veneer of positive religiosity full of great claims but empty of eternal essence.

This Biblical word compels a pause to think about the enormity of this omission. We'll have to use it a lot here.









And we cannot tarry to discuss this any further.  There are further disturbing things to behold.  

Where Is The Gospel?

A “Christian” religion that has no meaningful place for the person of Christ therefore can offer no real proclamation of the Gospel that He came to call people to believe upon (Mark 1:15). Nothing can be more immediately apparent since Christianity is based upon the revelation of the teachings of Jesus, which are called the Gospel. And as we have seen, Joel’s tidily polished vignettes of Bible “truth” in both of his books give no actual explanation of how His atoning death, three days of burial, or literal resurrection should fit into his readers’ efforts to live their best life now. The greatest story ever told is never actually heard in Osteen’s writings: a sharing of the Gospel that presents Jesus Christ as the Savior needed by all men is not there. This plain truth sounds so brutally critical, so harsh, and yet we are not seeking to be as such. It’s just the reality as there for the entire world to see.

While I can certainly agree that a Christian doesn’t have to beat the proverbial “gospel drum” every time their faith becomes the subject of a discussion, at some point, to be truly faithful to being a witness for Christ’s Gospel, there can be no holding back in presenting it clearly. We should be unafraid to tell people of the need to confess and repent of their sins and turn to an active faith and trust in the merits of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for their salvation and adoption into the family of God. We’ve already noted, however, that Joel’s reticence at upholding the exclusive claims of Christ are on record. And the closest Joel comes to pointing people to Jesus for salvation in his writing is found on page 177 in the book YBLN – and in a single sound bite-sized invitation at its back. As we have said, since Joel has missed the mark on the role of Christ in his humanistic gospel, it is inevitable that the true Gospel would be also missing in action. His books are far more engaged with the trappings of motivational rhetoric than the delivery of Gospel truth. If that’s too much for a preacher to do in a best selling book, he should be doing something else then pretending to be a Christian minister.

While Osteen makes much of God’s loving kindness in his two books and at several points affirms the need to, as he puts it here in YBLN, “receive God’s mercy and forgiveness”, the context is always in the sense of doing so to achieving a purely personal objective unrelated to a renewed commitment to Christ. In fact, Osteen’s books are rank celebrations of a divinity more preoccupied with our materialistic needs then spiritual ones. We would challenge anyone to prove from Osteen’s books that he’s presented God in any other way. One comes away from them with the notion that “God’s grace” is more concerned with guaranteeing our personal success and has less to do with our fallen state as spiritual rebels needing to be reconciled to God through knowing Jesus as Savior. This is music to the ears of spiritually needy people not wanting to be “preached at,” whose portfolio is more of a concern then perdition.

Without the Gospel, Joel’s writing is filled with empty, self-centered spirituality that targets the wounded egos of his readers – not their empty souls that are in dire need of a Savior. Hence, Joel’s great draw among the unchurched as well as a sizeable number of people within the church today can be understood a bit more. A classic example of this is found on pages 177 and 178 of YBLN, in which he writes that seeking God’s forgiveness should be done so “you can move on with your life”:

“The Bible says, ‘The mercies of God are fresh and new every single day.” God knows we’re going to make mistakes. God knows we are not perfect, so He provides fresh, new mercy and grace every day. God doesn’t condone our sins; He doesn’t automatically condemn us either. The Bible says, ‘The Lord .. is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.’ If you’re going to avoid getting trapped in your past, you might learn to forgive yourself. You must be willing to accept God’s mercy. You can’t be so critical of yourself that you won’t receive what God has to offer… Let go of your past disappointments, failures and sins. God wants to do a new thing. He wants to restore you in abundance everything the enemy has stolen from you. Quit dwelling on those disappointments, mourning over something you’ve lost, and start believing God for a fantastic future!”

Note carefully how Osteen’s writing follows an all too familiar pattern.

He points to Scripture saying “the Bible says”, quotes verses of Scripture and launches right into another glib exposition of how God intends to bless us and then provides his spiritual antidote to a negative condition in our lives. In so doing, Osteen smoothly redefines repentance as “letting go”, forgiving yourself and being open to receiving a “new thing” from God in our lives. Personal sin is alluded to as of no greater moral consequence then the making of mistakes and experiencing disappointments and failures. And not surprisingly, there is again no clear explanation offered by Osteen on what confession and repentance of sin actually involves from the standpoint of true conversion by faith in Christ alone. There is just the charge to stop dwelling upon and living in the past and to be open to receiving a restoration of that which “the enemy has stolen from you” with God’s choicest blessings. This kind of emotive, moving and florid exhortation can be seen over in both of Osteen’s books. It sounds so Biblical – but it is anything but.

Contrary to what Joel and other Charismatics might say, this definitely isn’t the “full Gospel”, pun very deliberately intended. This Osteenian prose doesn’t contain the same Gospel that Paul the apostle had to receive and believe upon (1 Corinthians 15:3). Repentance from a Biblical perspective is a radical break from the sinful mindset one once had, the sorrowful realization of one’s moral depravity with a simultaneous renouncing of the direction taken under it to embrace the Lordship of Christ and His direction (2 Corinthians 7:10). But you’d never learn that by reading Osteen’s work. Does God’s kindness and patience lead us to repentance or to repentance neatly redefined as self-actualization? This is the great question of what the Gospel has come to mean in America and the rest of the fallen world in the last days. It is critically vital to understanding how Osteen essentially redefines what the Biblical Good News actually is. The Bible is clear on what repentance is but Joel Osteen’s explanation of it, at best, is seriously lost in translation.

With the foundations of Christianity – Christ and His Gospel – so completely absent from Joel’s discussion, is it then any wonder why there is virtually no discussion of Biblical doctrine on the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his books or teaching? If he cannot explain what repentance is, then Osteen apparently cannot explain what confession of sin and trusting in Jesus for personal salvation and renewal really means. Such an omission is a tragic loss beyond words, for believing upon the Gospel is the gateway into the abundant and eternal life Jesus holds out to those who will, as the old hymn says, “trust and obey” - for in reality “there is no other way.” 

Without the Savior, there is no Christian Gospel. And without the Gospel, there is no Christian faith. There’s little point of saying much more about it. Perhaps the problem is that the “hunger for truth” Osteen is celebrated as satisfying is really more a pandering to the masses’ desire to have itching ears scratched (2 Timothy 4:3-4).









Joel’s painfully obvious omissions in his books can’t get any worse then this. But as we will see, it sure gets close.  

Where Is The Call to True Biblical Discipleship?

Being compassionate, enthusiastic and loving persons of integrity striving for personal excellence in expectation of God’s blessing on their future is certainly a large part of the appeal behind Joel’s homespun exhortation in the two books he has written. Once again, we want to emphasize that these are noble personal objections to aspire to. A good name, as Scripture says, is to be desired above any literal riches (Proverbs 22:1). But Osteen’s failure to point his audience’s personal spiritual journeys toward a conscious submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ undercuts whatever positive insight he might offer otherwise. While Joel may confess a bit hastily that he does believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, his utter failure to clearly explain what it means to pursue the Christian life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is another breathtaking omission hidden in plain sight.

The call to follow Jesus involves a personal commitment to a far higher call then Osteen ever really describes. It is a path of personal self-denial described in Scripture as a death to self (John 12:24-25) so as to fully embody the Spirit of Christ in one’s radically renewed life. But this is lost in all of the focus on self-fulfillment that Osteen’s books and media are awash in. Indeed, Joel’s call to “change” has nothing to do with the Cross of Christ because it has no real connection to it. A citation from YBLN shows this in painfully carnal clarity:

You may not think it makes any difference when you when you don’t pay your bills on time, or when you tell those “little white lies.” You may think it doesn’t make a difference if you treat your friends one way and your family another. But if you don’t learn to pass those little tests, then God won’t promote you. If you don’t learn to do what’s right in the little areas, God can’t trust you with more. Remember, our lives are an open book before God. He looks at our hearts. He looks at our motives. God sees every time you go the extra mile to do what’s right. He also sees the times that you compromise and take the easy way out. (9)

While the moral principle here seems orthodox enough, Osteen still has it completely backwards here and is leading millions into the confusion of life’s priorities that he intentionally promotes. Instead of directing us to pass “little tests” solely for the sake of “promotion,” the Bible teaches that in the crucifixion of self-interest for the sake of truly knowing Jesus, we can experience His abundant life that He promises to those turning to Him, but that it comes at great personal cost:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?   Matthew 16:24-26

The Christian walk according to Osteen is at the sharpest odds with a balanced Biblical view on it. While Joel is right when preaching that God is loving and willing enough to bestow blessings upon mankind, Joel is woefully mistaken when he fails to make clear that the Christian life involves more than just expecting God’s best as we “trust Him” and go about our own way. God commands a wholehearted and radical submission to His Lordship of those who would dare to trust His Son for their salvation. Osteen, as always, treats the truth of Biblical discipleship in a shallow and one-dimensional manner, insisting that our “promotion” is God’s chief concern with humanity as evident in this passage from YBLN:

Prior to reading this book, you may have been down in the doldrums or stuck in a rut. Perhaps you were ready to give up on your dreams. Your weren’t excited about the people in your life or your career. But now you know better! Now you know that God has great things in store for you. It’s time to relight your fire; recapture your enthusiasm and adopt a fresh, positive, happy attitude.

.. Quit looking at what’s wrong and start thanking God for what’s right. Get up each day expecting good things. Start expecting God’s favor. Start expecting His blessings. Be excited about today. This could be the day things turn around. This could be the day you get your miracle. This could be the day you meet the person of your dreams. This could be the day your child comes back home. That’s how you stay enthusiastic even in tough times. You stay filled with hope. .. Stay passionate about seeing your dreams come to pass. Stay on fire and aglow. Whatever you do, do it with enthusiasm.

The Bible says, “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” Notice, we have to be more than obedient; we must be willing – willing to do the right thing, willing to live with a good attitude and with enthusiasm. (10)

Having a positive attitude and a expectancy in the goodness of God isn’t the issue. These aren’t the painful omissions Osteen leaves undone in his books that so concern us. It is Joel’s perversion of Christian faith that reduces an ardent pursuit of following Jesus through the outrages of life into an exercise of continual self-motivation concerned with “seeing your dreams come to pass.” When Osteen fails to reveal that entrance into relationship with God through the Door whom Jesus Christ is (John 10:9), there is no way to truly enter therein. That is the real failing of Osteen’s writing. He leads his readers up to the gates of heaven with a song in their heart and a smile on their lips but never shows them how to get in. To enter through the living Doorway of Christ is the only way that the entrance can be accessed. He is the narrow way that leads to life (Matthew 7:14) that few will find, and to walk in that direction will cost those who aspire to it the best they can offer – all that they are. That painful omission shouts from every page of Osteen’s two bestsellers.

And it is this timeless path of Christian discipleship, walked out in a personal lifestyle seen of all men, that frequently leads the believer into and yet through the worst challenges to godly living one could expect to endure. The denial of the sinful self by confession and repentance of one’s sins to Christ while also taking up a personal cross of renunciation and commitment of one’s life to Him is the entrance to life.  But along that path the cares and storms of life, accompanied by the buffeting of Satanic forces will come and aim squarely at overturning Christian faith (Luke 8:5-15) and detouring their walks with God in Christ by the Spirit. Any casual reading of the trials of the New Testament believers and the apostles themselves reveals this to be one of the sobering facts of life:

2 Titus 3:12 – “ .. all who will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution ..”

Luke 21:16-18 “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends: and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My Name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost.” (NKJV)

2 Corinthians 1:5-6, 11:23, 26-27: “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation ..”  “Are they ministers of Christ? .. I am more, in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often .. in perils among false brethren, in weariness and toil; in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness ..” (NKJV)

The troubles and trials of life are to be faced squarely by the man or woman truly desiring to live as Christ would have them, for the sake of that lifestyle of self-denial so that the character and spirit of Jesus would be seen in them to His glory:

Colossians 3:1-3: If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

Philippians 3:8-10:  .. I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death ..

This is the way of the cross that all Christians are to bear so that the grace and presence of God may be manifest in them before an unbelieving world needing to see Christ in them, the only true hope to God’s glory. But Joel Osteen would prefer that "God's people" channel their passion in an entirely different manner:

God’s people should be the happiest people on earth! So happy, in fact, that other people notice. Why? Because we not only have a fabulous future, we can enjoy life today! That’s what living your best life now is all about. .. Living your best life now is living with enthusiasm and being excited about the life God has given you. It is believing for more good things in the days ahead, but it is also living in the moment and enjoying it to the hilt! .. We need fresh enthusiasm each day. Our lives need to be inspired, infused, filled afresh with God’s goodness every day. (11)

“Don’t worry,” Joel says, “be happy.”

The Scriptural snapshots of the intense conflict a Christian will face in their earthly walk aren’t in Osteen’s Bible photo album. Even though it’s the unsung, unpleasant yet operative reality for millions of Christians all around the world across the ages, Osteen seems completely clueless about what this means in the real world.









While Christians would do well to understand that this doesn’t mean, as some Word of Faith cynics may smirk, that Christianity perversely invites and promotes suffering as a way of life. That is the kind of Holy Ghost straw man that Osteen and his Word of Faith ministerial tribe love to erect and tear down so as to sound more authoritative. It is simply an admission that tribulation and suffering can be turned around and used by God to build endurance, faith and as opportunities to demonstrate His grace in our lives:

Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.     Romans 12:12-21

This is the clearest, most razor-sharp glimpse of what it means to live out an authentic Christian life in a world filled with cruelty, injustice, deceit and hostility. This is as relevant as it can get, showing us how Christians under fire both endure and rejoice through tribulations at the same time – as members of a connected Body of Christ standing with one another in mutual love and support. It is a laser beam that slices through Osteen’s enthusiastic travesty of Christianity and is the kind of Christian faith this world is looking for and so seldom sees in Christendom today. In short, Romans 12 shows what Biblical Christian discipleship looks like, and it resembles Osteen’s version as closely as my 1978 Bobcat might resemble a 2007 Mustang GT. To say they only vaguely appear the same is the understatement of the century.

Life’s pains, trials and outrages that come to the believer are meant to be seasons in which endurance, patience, and joy are to fully flower in the heart and on the lips of the believer and provide a shining witness to a lost world. But Joel’s truncated view of Christianity doesn’t prepare anyone for what it may cost them in coming to know his “good God” through His only begotten Son. Once more, we have to say that we’ve looked in vain in his books for any clear direction to the high calling of love, devotion and fellowship with Jesus Christ that is the true foundation for one’s “best life now.”

How this has filtered down to the masses of Osteen’s disciples are enterprises of faith that are singularly telling. The expectations of the flocks of Joel Osteen are bent toward a far more self-centered focus: we submit these testimonies of those wholly captivated by Osteen’s alien vision of Christian “faith”:

“Both my late Pastor John Osteen and now my current Pastor Joel Osteen have encouraged me to Victory with their different but equally effective and highly complimentary styles. .. to think of my Heavenly Father as a big God who wanted to bless me with great and mighty blessings and fill my cup to overflowing with joy .. God is setting me up like Daniel said he would and giving me a name and fame (promotion) among all the people like He said in Zephaniah. I also work with God gladly and allow for these blessings of restoration and prosperity by simply believing my Heavenly Father, my Abba, loves me that much and that Christ has made me more than worthy to walk in Victory. I believe in and have been ‘coached’ to EXPECT the goodness of God and want to encourage all the readers to read my perceptions of a good God as taught to me by Lakewood Church and how this supportive and overcoming message of Victory is propelling me to heights unseen as of yet. .. I encourage all to learn of God through the pastoral message at Lakewood Church and Pastor Joel Osteen.(12)        

.. Many among his congregants said he tackled their problems. Mario Cervantes, 38, said that the church had taught him to name the things he wanted, and that he would receive them. "The Bible says, speak those things that aren't as if they are," Mr. Cervantes said. "Now I'm speaking my marriage to Isabelle," he said, gesturing to his girlfriend. "And having a relationship with my children. The Bible tells me that as long as I serve him, I shall have what I want. The reason I didn't name material things is that I know I'm here on borrowed time from God." (13)

But, Brandon," you say, "Even 1% of heresy is too much! I've got to blog about how Joel Osteen is the antichrist!" Yes, you are correct that 1% of heresy is too much. However, a differing Scriptural interpretation does not constitute heresy. Joel isn't preaching from the Book of Osteen. He is basing his beliefs and getting his sermons straight out of the Bible. (14)

I am very greatful for the daily inspirational messages that i receive from you since August 2007. Thank you for inspiring me through the word of God, i first saw you ministering on the satellite channel 78 of television broadcast network. ever since i have come to know God and firmly belief in the word of God. whats more great is the fact that i started to read the bible on my own, so far i am reading the chapters in Exodus, and my goal is to read the entire bible from genesis to the end. May the Lord continue to bless you in abundance, because i am sure to receive my blessing through you. My personal and work life has changed tremendously and i have been promoted to a higher position. Praise God (15)

We could continue on as there are no shortages of people posting on the Internet with such testimonies. But their common denominator is the tight orbit they maintain around Osteen’s prosperity and promotion principles which he insists are their Biblical tickets to guaranteed prosperity and blessing. We’ve already seen that such claims are without merit and that the teaching Osteen offers is an unbiblical mélange of scripture twisted out of context, mind-science occultism and an determinedly intentional avoidance of the full counsel of Scripture.

We must cite one final testimony that demonstrates how Osteen’s gutted version of Christianity is actually received in the universalistic perspective he intentionally set forth to write in. A young British Muslim woman, whose channel surfing aunt stumbled upon Osteen’s telecast there, shares her own experience with Osteen’s dumbed down dogma when invited to view it:

Joel Osteen is a Christian Minister of a Lakewood church in houston, and his sermons are so inspirational and amazingly useful for our practical lives, its great.His topics include ‘Having confidence in yourself’, ‘How to handle criticism’ , ‘dont have unrealistic expectations (from people you are in relationships with)’ etc. He always links his advice back to God. Though he bases his preachings on Christianity, many times quoting the Bible, his message is universal so always worth listening to. You can always take away so much from him.

 We need someone like this in our community. Joel Osteen preaches in an old sports arean which seats upto 16,000 people, and everyone attends his speeches with their Bible in their hands ready to receive teachings. We are just as eager to learn, and with someone like this giving such useful sermons but linking it to Islam, it would have an amazing impact. The way he speaks, with so much passion, always smiling just makes it that much more exciting to listen to. (16)

It is Osteen’s “universal” message that she gravitates to. It is Osteen’s practical advice she comes away with as the pearls of great price she’ll dwell upon to live by in perfect conjunction with her practice of the five pillars of Islam. Deeply encouraged by his “inspiration,” this Islamic woman can neatly filter away the “preachings on Christianity” to help empower herself to wear her hijab, defy British social secularism, and continue to view Muhammad as the preeminent prophet of God for our day. She does this with sincerity and enthusiasm, fervently believing (with good reason) that imams preaching like Joel Osteen could advance Islam’s advance signally. The claims of Christ, neatly sidestepped, are then of no consequence since hearers would already be on the way to their best life possible under the banner of the Crescent.

And this is where Osteen's path to a “better you” is taking a lot of other people who somehow miss where Jesus fits in.









Where Is God When It REALLY Hurts?

A final painfully obvious omission we will view (of so many we could have touched upon) is related to the classic question of suffering in the world today. Since Joel has focused his readership’s attention so much on their personal problems and issues, the inevitable question arises: where does Joel’s sunny optimism speak to the cold shadows of the hard edged realities of pain and suffering in life that aren’t easily addressed by a positive attitude? The book evades the issue altogether. 

His chapter in YBLN entitled “Trusting God When Life Doesn’t Make Sense” is a hurried, muddled essay focused on his acceptance of the leadership of Lakewood Church and his sister’s healing from a birth injury. It’s the shortest chapter of the book, and this omission of any meaningful application of his 7 steps to living life to the fullest is quite significant. BABY doesn’t even seem to touch on it at all.

We would contend that reason for this omission is simple to understand. When the storms of life involving personal tragedy, national calamity, seemingly senseless disaster and the sorrows of human existence in a fallen world rage, positive confession and keeping a good attitude will only go so far and have their limits. Osteen doesn’t appear to have any more capability of engaging the challenge then anyone else. He just only seems to sound that way.

Now while both of us don’t expect Joel to pen a comprehensive answer to the problems of pain and suffering in the world, we would hope that his religious managerial principles in handling trials might have some traction in the mire of painful reality. But they do not and Joel actually seems to run out of answers as well as patience when counseling those shattered by their trials and who have struggle in life to make sense of it all, let alone get past them:

That’s a message for us today. If you’re serious about being well, if you really want to be made physically and emotionally whole, you must get up and get moving with your life. No more lying around feeling sorry for yourself. You must stop going to back to file number two all the time. Stop making excuses; stop blaming people or circumstances that disappointed you. Instead, start forgiving the people that hurt you. .. You may never know the answer. But don’t use that as an excuse to wallow in self-pity. .. Keep in mind that just because you don’t know the answer doesn’t mean that one does not exist. You simply haven’t discovered it yet.” (17)

“Joel, I don’t understand why this has happened to me. Why haven’t my prayers been answered? Why did I get sick? Why did my marriage not last?” Some things you may never understand this side of heaven. If you are always trying to figure it out, it will only bring frustration and confusion. Learn to trust God and know that as long as you are doing your best, as long as you’re keeping your heart pure before God, you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. It may not be easy, but in the end, God is going to use it to your advantage. .. just keep pressing forward. Keep your joy and enthusiasm. You may not be exactly where you hoped to be, but know this: God is still in control of your life. Moreover, as long as you keep passing the tests, no forces of darkness can keep you from fulfilling your God-given destiny. ..

If you are currently in a storm, or if you are facing some severe difficulties, hear God speaking to your heart these words: “Rise above it. Quit fighting. Quit trying to change things that only I can change.” (18)

In essence, Osteen says, when pain and suffering intrude into our lives, we are just to get over it. Trust God, be pure, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and keep a good attitude so you can fulfill your destiny and gain your promotion. He just says it so nicely that the weight of his iron intent is cushioned by a silken approach well knitted together by his editors. While this rather blunt observation of his might what be many people locked into an obsession with past struggles might need to hear, it is rather a singularly uncharitable demand out of step with the New Testament ideal we’ve already seen:

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.    Romans 12:15-16

Pain and suffering are devastating situations that can easily overwhelm and immobilize us with sorrow and horror. In no greater measure does the love of God become incarnate then when a Christian reaches forth to provide loving concern to those impacted by tragedy and trial. The Christian response is to come along side, embrace the wounded or traumatized and if need be, share tears with them, commiserating with them with embraces and handclasps. That’s not always easy for people, and is often difficult to do, even distressing.

And yet it is part of the delicate process of consolation through personal presence and involvement that Christians are to dedicate themselves to supplying – especially when there are no easy answers to the outrages that life in our fallen world brings, from the stillborn child to the raped grandmother. Good Christian theology that seems so abstract and disconnected from the “real world” comes alive when embodied in the heartfelt touch of a Christian seeking to make a difference in a dark time when acting under conviction by that same doctrine. The popular old proverb comes into play here: people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care .. about them.

In short, Christians are to give place to the brokenness that the human suffering we see evokes within us and channel it into action that closes the gap. Our concern should draw us toward the need of the hurting and into our own intimate sphere of expressed care. It’s similar to what comes instinctively to mothers when their children run crying to them in fright or what older brothers do for a weeping younger sister whose date abandoned them. Done in the name of Jesus, such care is priceless, coming from the pastoral spirit and heart of the Shepherd who would care for His sheep through the very flock He has called out from the world.

While we feel that Osteen’s personal touch in his ministry and his encounters with people are genuine expressions of his care for the welfare of men and women, it is singularly shocking that he fails to call upon those seeking their Best Life Now to help others who aren’t having their best life then. He may make much about being compassionate and caring but provides no guidance about how to apply such care into the lives of those floored by it. His counsel concerning “certain things” that try the patience and faith of his readership, once again, is seen only in the context of personal “promotion”:

“God has promised if we will put our trust in Him, He will pay us back for all the unfair things that have happened to us. .. If you want to live your best life now, you must learn to trust God to bring about the justice in your life. .. Sometimes God allows us to go through certain things to test us. If you have somebody in your life right now who is not treating you right, that situation may very well be a test of your faith. God is interested in seeing how you are going to respond. Will you become negative, bitter or angry? Are you going to develop a vindictive attitude, always trying to pay people back? Or, are you going to turn it over to God, trusting Him to make the wrongs right? Are you going to pass the test so God can promote you?” (19)

The teaching of the New Testament found in Romans 8:17 and Philippians 3:10 provide for us a redeeming perspective on suffering in this weary world. It presupposes, as do the other verses we’ve reviewed on the trials faced by believers, that suffering is a reality that is not to be denied but squarely faced, endured under the grace of God and understood as actually providing a basis for fellowship with Christ. For He suffered the greatest agonies any human could face; indeed, he endured a level of pain beyond our capacity to comprehend when his atoning death on the Cross led to his separation from fellowship with His Father (Mark 15:34).

In fact, what so many fail to realize is that Hebrews 5:8 shows how Jesus Himself, as the incarnate son of man, learned a greater lesson in obedience to God from his enduring of the agonies of His passion. Even the sinless Messiah, fully anointed by the Spirit of God, was confronted with the choices to obey or not obey His Father’s will. For the sake of the salvation of mankind, Hebrews 2:9-10 further explains, Jesus chose to embrace the cross and in so doing, completely fulfilled the requirements of His Father’s justice. In execution of the will of God for His life and for creation itself, Jesus faced and endured unimaginable pain for us all. So as we live our lives in self-denial and in patient endurance of our own sufferings, be they originated from cancer or persecution, we can approach an intimate identification and fellowship with Christ like nothing else can. Enduring suffering brings us into a union with Him that, in spite of our struggles, supplies for us an intimate visitation of God’s grace to endure and rise above all of the pain that this fallen world may inflict (Hebrews 2:18 and 1 Peter 2:20, 4:19).

Our attempts to discuss just why pain and suffering therefore occur in a world where a loving God supposedly rules would go beyond the scope of this article. For now, we assert that the Bible shows that God uses it to “perfect, stablish, strengthen” and  “settle”  (1 Peter 5:10). If we are to follow Christ as our example in life then we must be ready to endure what He faced in our own personal walk. And no one is above this, no matter how many faith filled confessions of  “life” they can raise up to the heavens. As the Bible says, it does rain upon the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). No one is exempt from this fact of life. Suffering is never easy, always humbling, and seemingly endless. But it is there nonetheless. The central issue that determines how we overcome it comes down to what we do when trouble comes.

So another potent question surfaces then in regards to Osteen’s omission here: is Joel expecting his audience to believe that each time they face the crushing pains of tragedy and loss in their lives that they must view it as a situation in which God is testing them for a promotion of some sort? That’s really the only logical conclusion that Osteen’s teaching leads one to believe. He makes this presumption time and again in his writing. This leads us to ask: what kind of personal test would one have to pass for a shot at a promotion on their job or a bigger house with more room for one’s “stuff”?  Using this proposition, which is derived directly from Osteen’s teaching, let’s take this up the next level into the world of sorrows we’ve seen in the recent past:

  • How can a young Marine whose legs have been blown off in a roadside bombing in Iraq and who also suffered permanent brain damage – or any other gravely wounded and maimed soldier, sailor, airman or Marine - be expected to easily “get up and get moving” with their life?
  • What kind of promotion did God have in mind for the wife of an office worker who was on the 103rd story of the North Tower of the World Trade Center who never came home the night of September 11, 2001?
  • What kind of self-pity might a little six-year-old girl being violated by her father possibly be wallowing in? What “new thing” does God have in store for the parents of child horribly deformed by a birth defect?
  • If the parents of those 3 Indonesian Christian teenage schoolgirls who were beheaded by Islamic terrorists in October 2005 found it hard to smile, were they guilty of feeling too sorry for themselves?

What was God planning in these? And of the countless other unnamed tragedies that have afflicted those living their everyday lives?

Is “promotion” a good explanation here? Joel Osteen thinks so.

This is what Joel leads his massive global audience to believe. Perhaps this may not be his intent and it may certainly not be what they embrace either, but to be consistent to Osteen’s stated doctrine, that is where it logically ends. At this point, Joel Osteen’s positive   attitudinal adjustments are futile, ill-defined attempts to quell a raging forest fire of real-time crisis with a teaspoonful of water drawn from a leaking bucket. It is the ultimate irrelevance to those seeking meaning in their search for their best life whenever and wherever.

We suspect that the traumatized victims of tragedy and trial would much rather taken the opportunity to savor their lives one last time before their unspeakable disasters befell them, unconcerned about their “increase.”  We think that there are three Indonesian fathers who would long to hold their children one last time – and not a few mothers in New York City after September 11 as well. We think there are many forgotten and anonymous veterans who would love to be able to arise from a regular bed, put their favorite jeans on and feed themselves at their favorite local eatery one last time before going out on a fateful patrol in Ap Hung Nghia or Fallujah. We don’t think the parents of an anencephalic child who lived an hour after birth would care greatly about whether they received another SUV or not but would rather have had their child born with a developed brain and a complete skullcase.

In a rather perverse way, Osteen’s philosophy of life is unintentionally Darwinian and naturalistic in nature. It almost sounds as if he Osteen affirms that the strong will not only survive but also thrive simply by applying the trademark “seven keys” to their lives, thus enabling them to adapt to their adverse environment and evolve to a more successful plane of existence, leaving others to wallow and even die, however unnecessarily, in the muddy ponds of a dirtier world. Without meaning to be so relentlessly dismissive in tone, the books BABY and YBLN, when addressing the issues of suffering omit any real grappling with how they push us to the outer limits of faith in a loving God seemingly even farther off. To this tragic failure of Osteen to face this profoundly vital issue by simply evading it, there can only be one response:








Our Final Closing Observations

After the opening night service at the arena on Saturday, Julio Roman, 18, a seminary student who flew in from Chicago, walked out ecstatic. "Did it feel like church?" he said. "Yes, in a bigger, more extravagant way. No more little storefronts - this is the new face of church." (20)

While these incalculably profound shortcomings to Joel Osteen’s underlie his teaching, the band plays on. The books still sell and millions still flock enthusiastically to his roadshows across the nation. Thousands still fill the former basketball stadium turned into megachurch arena in Houston: Lakewood Church still packs them in. Joel’s BABY book is once again a runaway best seller with its own product line. The media is still pursuing Joel, still arousing global fascination, still moving men and women of all faiths to extol him as a great spiritual leader whose parish is the whole world seen in high definition and several dozen TV channels 24/7. And he can blithely, modestly confess to his lack of study about critical issues and controversial topics and still be viewed as a guiding light to the nations, as "America's Pastor." (Click to hear Joel's "candor" during his June, 2005 Larry King interview.)

Recently, the praise and worship wing of the church released a live compact disk of their worship called “Free To Worship,” with the characteristically Lakewoodian subtitle “Songs To Improve Your Life Everyday.”  Inevitably, we can read the hand writing on the wall – even the public worship of God can be used to “improve” our lives, to make our own lives better, to be a daily evangelical cup of spiritual java that that benefits us. Never mind that God in Christ by the Spirit deserve praise just for the fact that They are Who They are, let alone what They do for us. Worship of God, according to the Osteen media empire, can now be applied as part of a holistic approach to self-improvement. One wonders how many copies might sell these days of the live worship CD recorded by the four beasts of Revelation 4 that cry “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” It is tempting to utter a sigh of Selah here ..

But we digress. The liner notes on the inside of the CD, penned no doubt out of a very sincere heart, offer this doxology to the Son of God:

First, we give praise and glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is because of what He did for us on the cross that we are truly free to worship. Free To Worship is an expression of our love for the Lord and an outpouring of our commitment to share with the world the unconditional love and unending hope found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

These are wonderful sentiments that we are convinced the worship ministry of Lakewood truly feel. What is truly sad is that their senior pastor, the smiling preacher Joel Osteen can’t explain what it means to have a personal relationship with Christ to those seeking their best life now. It’s actually far beyond sad; it’s a sign of serious spiritual compromise for the sake of expediency and marketing.

For all of the lofty heights of encouragement that Joel may beckon us toward, ultimately we will find that the lowlands of reality will inevitably catch up with us. When it does, the superficiality of Osteen’s shallow precepts becomes painfully clear. His teaching of how he views God, Christ, the Gospel and His will for man, for all of its appealingly uplifting tone, only present a one-dimensional view of these crucial subjects that cannot be called Biblical. Encouraging elements of truth and exhortation are mingled with the distorted twisting of his Word of Faith Charismatic worldview that cannot properly equip the spiritual seeker with a balanced vision of Biblical Christianity. Without this, the essence of Christianity is lost upon millions of people who have enthusiastically embraced a spirituality that has no real connection to the Triune God of the Bible. How lamentable and saddening to behold such a spectacle of a man claiming to be a Christian minister whose global pulpit could be used so powerfully to proclaim the truth about Jesus, the Gospel and the Christian life to a massive audience in dire need of hearing about it .. and who instead are fed endless variations of motivational patter delivered with seemingly faultless sincerity, clarity and passion! 

Therefore, the spiritual sterility of Joel Osteen’s writing couldn’t be any emptier of life then ground zero after a nuclear blast. While it is regrettable that many Christians readily accept this perspective to begin with, what is of far greater concern is that far too many non-believing men and women embrace it as a fresh revelation of truth about God. Joel is seriously off track with his misinterpretation, distortion and oversimplification of Biblical truth. And yet so very few of his audience seem to really care or concern themselves about it – including the so-called Christian “leaders” whose book jacket recommendations laud Osteen’s teaching as fresh new revelation knowledge for our contemporary day.

That is the greatest concern of all that we have - in an age in which the lines between truth and error are increasingly blurred or obliterated, wave after wave of teachers spinning their media-driven teaching vignettes claiming their “new things” are inspired of God. Of them all, Joel has clearly been the most successful. But while Joel enjoys his best life now, it would behoove him to remember the sobering warning of Scripture that should make him walk a little more softly:

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.  James 3:1 (NIV)

The primrose path of Joel’s philosophy has an end, and it isn’t hearts and flowers but something far more rockier and thornier – and hotter. We have done all we can to entreat others to reconsider that direction for God alone knows how many have come across it and are stumbling enthusiastically into an eternally Christless precipice from which there is no coming back. May all who are seeking their best life now by becoming better people realize that a life in Jesus Christ alone is what they seek.

There is nothing more tragic than to see a beautiful fantasy slain by an ugly fact.

 E’n la sua volontade e nostra pace - niente più e niente di meno


(1) From the front cover of YBLN and on the ad copy for BABY seen at


(3) In an email received from’s customer service department, a customer service representative named 
Gajalakshmi.S explained that the concordance feature was a test feature run only randomly and temporarily. Email on file.

(4) “Osteen: God Is On Your Side”, CBS Morning Show 10/21/2007 

(5)  ibid 


(7) No longer accessible on the Lakewood Church website, this unbelievable edition of Osteen’s ministry magazine entitled Life Now! Fall/Winter 2005 can be downloaded here

(8) . The blogger, named Ken Bussell, also indicates that no one knows who goes to hell, either and approvingly cites “emergent church” prime mover  Erwin McManus as providing an anecdotal nod to his position.

(9)  YBLN,  p 289

(10)  ibid, p.303

(11) ibid, p. 296-297

(12) This breathless rhetoric of a Lakewood Church member was found in an online promotion of their business enterprise. This is the exclamation of an ex-NBA player and enthusiastically entrepreneurial member of the Lakewood Church named Spider Ledesma. This in no way implies Spider isn’t a believer, but his commentary on what he’s come away from his time under the teaching of both John and Joel Osteen is indicative of where his priorities and attentions perhaps really lie.           


(14) No longer active, this blog by a Joel Osteen follower named Brandon Hammonds is viewable at the Google cache for it found in this URL, an archive copy now on file: Hammonds is an avowed disciple of Osteen, but even he has to admit in a moment of candor that a question or two still comes to mind when he considers Osteen’s work. What Hammonds openly wonders about online is a telling indictment of the outer limits of Osteen's credibility

Is it possible that he is too positive? I know that I personally need to be encouraged, and certainly no one does it better than Joel Osteen, but sometimes I need a kick in the butt too. Obviously life is infinitely better when we spend our time focusing on the positive and thinking about God's goodness, but people need to be reminded that God gets angry and jealous too. They need to be reminded that He isn't mocked and that we can't just go around doing our own thing and expect Him to shower us with blessings.

Joel Osteen maintains that he doesn't feel like it's his calling to bring condemnation to people. He feels like it's his place to bring encouragement and hope. My question is this: does Joel Osteen owe it to his listeners to remind them of God's judgement? Or is he justified in sticking exclusively with his natural gift of exhortation, being sure to never alienate or condemn a single soul? After all, the last time I checked there was no lack of fire and brimstone preachers.

I don't know. I certainly understand his strategy, but as much as I love him, I personally wouldn't be comfortable with someone's entire spiritual diet consisting of Joel Osteen sermons.

Maybe that is why the blog is now closed – perhaps some of the questions that we’ve fielded came to mind. Only God, Brandon and his friends might know. It would be interesting to hear.

(15) You can read this South African woman’s story and others as they responded to an article on an Osteen “mission” to spread his prosperity gospel in the hinterlands of London, England – as if the already beleaguered and backslidden church there needed such a “shot in the arm” as Islamic extremists seek to take over the U.K. The link, while dated, shows the extent to which the spread of Islam is plainly targeted at converting England into a land dominated by Islamic law and culture.


(17) YBLN, p. 149

(18) BABY, p. 262, 263

(19) YBLN, p. 165


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